Willis: Repent! Water and Promises for Everyone! Acts 2:38-39.

We are down to the final parts of the thesis before the conclusion. After that, I will start to post pieces that will connect Baptism to long promised mental health and human condition pieces. So, here is the second to last piece of my thesis! I hope it helps educate and assist understanding Baptism.

Acts 2:38-39

Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς Μετανοήσατε, καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν, καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος·ὑμῖν γάρ ἐστιν ἡ ἐπαγγελία καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν καὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς εἰς μακρὰν ὅσους ἂν προσκαλέσηται κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν.1

What is being said here? Peter (Πέτρος) tells the people to Repent (Μετανοήσατε) and be Baptized (βαπτισθήτω). This Baptism occurs in the name of Jesus Christ (ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). What does this Baptism accomplish? Peter answers. It is for the forgiveness of all of their sins (εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν). And that in the same Baptism, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος). These gifts (forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit), or as Peter states, this promise (ἐπαγγελία) is for those who heard it and to their children (τέκνοις ὑμῶν) and all those are at a great distance (πᾶσιν τοῖς εἰς μακρὰν).

However, Bruce would disagree that this is all occurring in Baptism, stating, “Baptism [is] an outward sign of repentance and remission of sins….”2 and “…baptism in water [is an] external token.”3 Also, “…baptism [is a] visible sign by which… [repentant believers] were publicly incorporated into the Spirit-baptized fellowship of the new people of God.”4 Bruce also states:

It would indeed be a mistake to link the words ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ with the command ‘be baptized’ to the exclusion of the prior command to repent. It is against the whole genius of biblical religion to suppose that the outward rite could have any value except insofar as it was accompanied by the work of grace within.5

By saying all of this, Bruce would reject the initial interpretation as presented. Instead, Baptism is regulated to a merely symbolic baptism, a sign of what has occurred within the believer. Keener supports Bruce on this, writing, “…water baptism was meant to symbolize and (ideally) accompany the gift of the Spirit…”6 Darrell Bock would add to Bruce’s comments on repentance, stating, “…repentance, not the rite of baptism, leads to the blotting out of sin…”7

To further add to the opposition of the initial interpretations above, Hans Conzelmann does not agree that the promise is for the children of those who were present. Rather, Conzelmann writes, “’and to your children,’ should not be taken literally, but looks toward future generations.”8

So, what is the correct way to view the text from Acts 2:38-39? How does this text fit into the rest of Scripture and the interpretations of the other verses made in our previous sections? In order to answer this we must look at each individual question one at a time. We will first address who is the actor here in repentance and in Baptism. Of these two, we shall address the subject of repentance.

Do individuals repent of their own power? No. Repentance (μετάνοιαν) is a gift from God. For example, we see this in Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25. In both of these verses, we find the word δίδωμι (ἔδωκεν in Acts 11:18 and δώῃ in 2 Timothy 2:25), this word means to give, grant, or bestow. It can even carry the meaning of directly causing something to happen.9 God, in both of these verses, is said to be the one to grant (δίδωμι) repentance. It is of His doing—His work. Additionally, it is God who leads us to repentance, as seen, for example, in Romans 2:4.

Here, God is said to lead (ἄγει) people to repentance (μετάνοιάν) through His kindness (χρηστὸν). From these verses, we can conclude that repentance is not a work of man. So, when Peter calls upon the people to repent in Acts 2:38, though the call is personal, to the individual, it is not the individual who repents by their own power. Rather, it is God who grants to them repentance. Once again, God is the one who provides repentance. This is not to say that the individual does not express repentance when they pray, “Lord, forgive me of my trespasses!” Indeed, the individual speaks these words from their new nature—from faith—which is also a gift from God. But it is God who enables, allows, and empowers the individual to speak these words.

Now, Peter also tells the people they are to be baptized (βαπτισθήτω). This occurs in the aorist imperative passive. This passive tells us they are to receive it passively. Since we know from our other sections that Baptism is a circumcision not made by human hands (Colossians 2:11-12), that being the work of man, who else can apply this Baptism? It is God who applies it to the person. This is in agreement not only with the exegesis of Colossians 2:11-12, but also with the other verses from Scripture as discussed above, showing that believers are passive recipients in Baptism. God is the actor. The one who baptizes is God; the people merely receive it as a gift.

Since the actor in Baptism has been identified, we turn specifically to the purpose of Baptism. As indicated by Peter, after repentance comes Baptism. What does Baptism accomplish? As noted in the initial interpretation, Baptism is done for the forgiveness of sins (εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν). εἰς is difficult to translate because as a preposition it can take multiple meanings depending on context. Here, it is commonly translated “as, for,” as in “for the forgiveness of sins.” However, this is not specifically needed to carry the meaning that in Baptism the forgiveness of sins is granted.

Even if εἰς is translated “into,” or “in,” as in “baptized into the forgiveness of sins,” or “baptized in the forgiveness of sins,” the εἰς still connects forgiveness to Baptism, as in it is something that occurs within the Baptism. Repentance is separated from this, not only because of the καὶ, but also because after the command to be baptized, Peter declares that this same Baptism is done in the name (ὀνόματι) of Jesus Christ, and that this thing—that is, Baptism—in the name of Jesus Christ is done for the forgiveness of sins.

Lenski confidently holds to this, exclaiming, “This [εἰς] preposition so closely connects remission with Baptism that nobody… has been able to pry the two asunder.”10 Lenski expands on this, explaining that the εἰς can function grammatically as sphere or aim and purpose/effect.11 What Lenski means by this categorization is expressed in the following quote:

Sphere would mean that Baptism is inside the same circle as remission; he who steps into this circle has both. Aim and purpose would mean that… Baptism intends to give remission; in him, then, who receives Baptism aright… aim and purpose would be attained.12

This means that if the εἰς is interpreted grammatically via the sphere, Baptism is the thing which brings about the remission of sins. This does not remove repentance as that which also remits sins, but means Baptism likewise accomplishes this. If εἰς is interpreted grammatically via effect (aim and purpose), Baptism intends—or rather promises—to give remission of sins, and if one receives Baptism, they receive what is promised.

The conclusion follows: Baptism is still the very thing which brings about the remission of sins. Das expresses this same conclusion, stating, “…Peter says in Acts 2:38: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you… for (Greek: ‘eis’) the forgiveness of your sins… ‘Eis’ means literally ‘into’ here. In other words, baptism actually takes us ‘into’ the forgiveness of our sins.”13 This understanding of the Greek text allows us to understand (and verifies) that it is here in Baptism that the forgiveness of sins is found.

However, Bock would seek to even challenge this when discussing scholar Polhill’s opinion on Acts 2:38, “Polhill… discusses how εἰς (eis) can mean “for the purpose of” or “on the basis of” suggesting baptism is on the basis of the forgiveness of sins, but this is less than certain grammatically, given that this is not a common force of εἰς. Rather, baptism is simply to be associated with the forgiveness it pictures.”14 However, as noted from Bauer, εἰς does not carry this meaning. εἰς primarily means to go into or in.15

If Bock’s definition were accurate, it would make texts such as Matthew 2:11 very confusing. In this text, εἰς is used in the context of the wisemen coming into the house where Mary and the child Jesus are located. If Bock was correct, then the wisemen would simply be associated with entering a house, or rather the wisemen symbolized entering the house where Jesus lay. In Acts 2:38, Baptism is that which enters one into forgiveness of sins; by being baptized, one enters into the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is literally the thing which works the forgiveness of sins. Thus, Bock has no real grammatical basis for his assumption.16

As stated above, none of this means that repenting of one’s sins does not lead to the forgiveness of sins. Repentance, as noted above, is an act of God that enables men to seek forgiveness and find it. Without repentance, there cannot be forgiveness of sins in the first place. This is explained by Martin Chemnitz in the following way:

Therefore where there is no repentance, and no good but only evil fruits follow, there certainly is no true and saving faith… he who does not seek or does not retain the grace of God in Christ, but spurns and rejects it, he does not have true faith… they are under this sentence of divine judgment: He that does not believe shall be condemned.17

Chemnitz here acknowledges the importance of faith and repentance in the Christian life. This also addresses and answers ideas proposed by Bock, for example, who once again states, “…repentance, not the rite of baptism, leads to the blotting out of sin…”18 It can be assumed that Bock makes this comment out of concern and desire for the preservation of Sola Fide. Here, Chemnitz maintains Sola Fide, the value of repentance, while also preserving the efficacy of Baptism.

Two more points remain to be discussed from the text of Acts 2:38. The first is the idea of the promise belonging not only to those in the immediate crowd, but also for their children and families. This is important to discuss because it connects Peter’s declaration to Jesus’ command as found in Matthew 28:19. As we discussed in the first section, the command to baptize all nations meant all people everywhere. Yet we see scholars such as Conzelmann suggest that Peter’s promise here is not applicable in the same way.19 Instead, Conzelmann interprets this section of Peter’s message to apply simply to future generations, not the crowd’s actual current family.

Here, we see the word τέκνοις accompanied by ὑμῶν. Ὑμῶν, meaning you, occurs in the genitive (a possessive), 2nd person plural. This tells us that Peter is speaking of the children of those he is speaking to, that is, the children of the crowd. It does not mean future generations. Conzelmann, as with Bock, does not have any grammatical basis to say this is not meant to be taken literally. Rather, the text itself communicates a literal idea, that the promise found in Baptism is granted to the crowd and their family.

It is correct to say Peter is speaking of many outside of the crowd and their families, when he mentions the πᾶσιν, who are μακρὰν. That is all people who are at a great distance. It can also mean those who will take a long time to reach.20 We can thus conclude that Peter’s message applies to all people, much in the same way as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19.

The final point to address is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter declares that those who receive this Baptism will “λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος”—that is, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is important first to note the word δωρεὰν. This word means a gift that is given freely, with the additional meaning that no payment is expected in return.21 So, this same gift is thus given freely and without payment expected in return.

This adds to the passive nature a believer plays in their Baptism. Not only does God baptize them; He also provides this gift freely and expects nothing in return. Additionally, this same gift is not the ecstatic gifts of tongues or healing or other such abilities, such as the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on that same day of Pentecost. Rather, this gift is the Holy Spirit Himself. Lenski explains this, saying, “The genitive is appositional; exactly as in v. 33, the promise is in the Holy Spirit, so here the gift is the Holy Spirit.”22 As in the Holy Spirit His very self coming to the believer.

The gift possesses the Holy Spirit, hence why Lenski mentions the genitive case. Lenski is supported by Matthew Carlton, who writes, “The Holy Spirit is the gift that you will be received from God. It should not sound like the gift is something from the Holy Spirit.”23 Even Bruce, who disagrees that it is Baptism which forgives sins, agrees that it is the Holy Spirit Himself who is given, stating, “The gift of the Spirit is the Spirit himself, bestowed by the Exalted Lord under the Father’s authority…”24 Here not only is there agreement with Bruce in that the Holy Spirit Himself is bestowed, given to dwell within the believer in Baptism,25 but also we find ourselves able to agree with Bruce when he states that it is the Father who bestows the Holy Spirit in Baptism, if by this Bruce means it is God who is at work within Baptism, and thus God the Father who gives the Holy Spirit in His same work.26

We are able to conclude from the above that the text of Acts 2:38-39 reveals that Baptism carries with it the forgiveness of sins, in that it provides this very thing. Additionally, Baptism is promised to all people in all places. And that it gifts the Holy Spirit Himself, so that He may indwell within those same people for which Baptism is promised. And finally, that God is the one who works this Baptism. He is the actor; He is the worker of all that is promised within Baptism. This is what Acts 2:38-39 communicates.

1 Nestle and Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 325-326.

2 F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (London, England: The Tyndale Press, 1965) 97.

3 F.F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988) 70.

4 Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 70.

5 Ibid.

6 Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Introduction and 1:1-2:47, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012) 976.

7 Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007) 144.

8 Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1987) 22.

9 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 242.

10 R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1934) 106.

11 Lenski, Interpretations of Acts, 106.

12 Ibid.

13 Das, Baptized into God’s Family, 13.

14 Bock, Acts, 144.

15 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 288-291.

16 Even in the case of εἰς meaning with respect to or reference to, it does not remove its ability in this context to carry over the same meaning, that Baptism forgives sins. If this interpretation were to be used, we would perhaps word it “Be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, with respect to the forgiveness of sins.” This would still mean that the forgiveness of sins is provided by the Baptism. Either way, εἰς directly connects the forgiveness of sins to Baptism in a way that tells us it is Baptism that provides that same forgiveness. Even if we used it to interpret εἰς, which would be grammatically improper given the context, we would see “…at the forgiveness of sins,” marking Baptism as the place at which the forgiveness of sins is found.

17 Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1981) 114.

18 Bock, Acts, 144.

19 Conzelmann, A Commentary, 22.

20 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 613.

21 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 266.

22 Lenski, Interpretations of Acts, 107.

23 Matthew E. Carlton, The Translator’s Reference. Translation of the Acts of the Apostles (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001) 27.

24 Bruce, Book of the Acts, 71.

25 Bruce would not specifically agree it is water Baptism that gives the Holy Spirit. However, as shown already, there is no reason to remove water Baptism as being the Baptism here in this context.

26 This is truly not Bruce’s meaning given his support that water Baptism is a mere symbol, that forgiveness is not granted by this same Baptism, and most certainly given that Bruce’s statement, “The baptism of the Spirit… took place once for all on the day of Pentecost when he poured out the promised gift on his disciples… baptism in water continued to be a visible sign by which… [believers] were publicly incorporated into the… new people of God…” Bruce, Book of the Acts, 70.


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