April 26, 2013 10:49 pm

The New Testament Church Part 5

Posted In: The Blog, The Church

Re-Blogged From Dewayne Dulaney

In our last post, we began to study the answer to the question of how to be saved from our sins by Jesus. In our study we looked at Acts 2:1—38. We saw that on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' death, resurrection, and return to heaven, Jesus' promise to the apostles that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to proclaim the message of salvation began to come true. We noted that the apostles taught that this happened in accordance with the Old Testament prophecy in Joel 2. We also noted that they taught that the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah had started to come true in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and in the events of Acts 2. We also saw that while Peter's audience was guilty of terrible sins, God graciously offered them forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit upon meeting two simple conditions: repenting and being immersed in water in the name of Jesus.

Up to this point, most of the “Christian” world would agree with my analysis of what Peter told his audience to do. While some would differ on how baptism was done, and how it should be done now, all agree that the apostle told the Jews on Pentecost to “repent and be baptized”. On what we discuss next, however, there has been, and continues to be, considerable disagreement. This, however, is not because people do not understand Peter’s meaning, but because many are not willing to admit to and follow what God revealed through Peter. This is due to many reasons, including human pride, but mostly due to not accepting the plain meaning of the passage because of human teachings about the Bible.

The controversy comes from the way the next phrase, “for the forgiveness of your sins”, is to be connected with the phrase “repent and be baptized”. The Bible’s teachings about how to be saved are so plain people need help to misunderstand them. Sadly the devil, and those who are more committed to human teachings about the Bible than to the teachings of the Bible, are more than willing to help people misunderstand. Thus, the controversy. To be fair, some of those who do so sincerely think they are following the Bible when they are not. Sincerity, however, is not enough when it comes to pleasing God: Nicodemus doubtless was sincere, but Jesus told him he needed to be born again to be saved (John 3:3—5). Saul of Tarsus had been sincere when he persecuted Christians, but he learned he had been wrong to do so (Acts 23:1; 26:9—11).

Rather than admit the plain meaning of the passage, and follow its instructions, however, most of the “Christian” world denies that both repentance and baptism are necessary to have forgiveness; they insist that only repentance is. This is despite the fact that Peter told the people on Pentecost to both repent and be immersed (baptized). So we must ask, would Peter’s audience would have understood it this way? What did they think he meant?

Remember, Peter’s hearers had been reminded that judgment was coming, but that those who “called upon the name of the Lord” would be saved from that judgment. He had informed them that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they crucified with the aid of the Roman authorities, was in fact the Lord who was going to judge them. He had been raised from the dead and was ruling at God’s side. When they asked “What shall we do?” they were asking what to do be saved from the coming judgment. They were guilty of sin in murdering Jesus, as were the Romans; they, like all accountable human beings, were guilty of many other sins, as well, as are people today. They felt sorrow over this and other sins and knew they needed forgiveness. These conclusions are clear from the passage before us. Therefore, the natural conclusion to draw from Peter’s answer is that he was telling them how they could have forgiveness: by repenting and being immersed.

In other words, the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” is giving the purpose or goal of the two commands repent and be baptized. As we continue reading Acts 2, a few verses later we are told that “those who accepted his message were baptized”, verse 41. This would seem to indicate that his hearers, in fact, believed they needed to be immersed to be forgiven, to be saved, just as they needed to repent or change their hearts concerning sin.

Not only does taking Peter’s statement in light of the passage as a whole lead to these conclusions, these conclusions are confirmed by the consensus of Greek scholars both in the past and in more modern times. In the Greek text of Acts 2:38, “for the forgiveness of sins” is εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν (eis áphesin tōn hamartiōn). The same phrase occurs in Matthew 26:27—28, Mark 1:4, and Luke 3:4. In Matthew 26, Jesus is referring to shedding his blood on the cross, symbolized by the cup as he institutes the Lord’s Supper. In Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:4, the reference is to John’s immersion or baptism. The key term here is the word εἰς (eis), a preposition. Of the various meanings of εἰς which occur in the New Testament, the Arndt-Gingrich lexicon defines the use in these passages and Acts 2:38 as “4. to indicate the goal...f. to denote purpose, in order to, to...for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven Mt 26:28, cf. Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3; Acts 2:38” (BAGD, p. 229). In its article on baptízō, “immerse”, BAGD states “b. of Christian baptism...γ. w. the purpose given...Acts 2:38” (pp. 131-132). Other Greek scholars who agree with BAGD that purpose is indicated by eis in these Scriptures include E.D. Burton, Edgar J. Goodspeed, H. B. Hackett, and J.A. Alexander (McGarvey, p. 40; Reese, pp. 77-78; James D. Bales, The Case of Cornelius, pp.88-91). Another key Greek scholar who agrees with this is C.F.D. Moule, who lists eis áphesin tōn hamartiōn in Acts 2:38 and Mk. 1:4 under the meaning for eis “with a view to, resulting in”, which amounts to purpose (An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, p. 70). As additional evidence, it should be noted at least two commentaries on the Greek text of Mark accept this understanding of the phrase in Mark 1:4 (C.E.B. Cranfield, Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary, p. 43; Robert A. Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary 34A, pp. 19-20). So does the United Bible Societies’ Translator's Handbook on the Gospel of Mark (p. 12).

A number of English Bible versions have also recognized that eis denotes purpose in Acts 2:38. Notice the following:

so that your sins may be forgiven—NIV (1973 edition; regrettably, changed in later editions and in TNIV); Simple English Bible New Testament (SEB)

so that your sins might be forgiven—Hugo McCord (McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel)

in order to have your sins forgiven—Edgar J. Goodspeed (The New Testament: An American Translation)

that you may have your sins forgiven—Charles B. Williams (The New Testament in the Language of the People)

so that you may have your sins forgiven—J. B. Phillips (The New Testament in Modern English)

so that your sins will be forgiven—Contemporary English Version, Good News Bible (digital editions)


with a view to the remission of your sins—Richard F. Weymouth (The New Testament in Modern Speech)

in order to the remission of sins—Living Oracles New Testament

McGarvey cites both Hackett and Alexander as recognizing that eis áphesin tōn hamartiōn refers back to both of the commands, including “be immersed”, not just to “repent” (p. 40). Brother J.W. Shepherd, in his classic Handbook on Baptism, cites Hackett and a number of others who recognized that our phrase is dependent on both the verbs “repent” and “be baptized’ (pp. 339-359).

Against the plain sense of our passage, and against the noted Greek scholars mentioned above, the Greek scholar A.T. Robertson argues that in this passage eis áphesin tōn hamartiōn means “because of the forgiveness of sins”. That is, that they are to be baptized because their sins are already forgiven. Robertson admits that eis could indicate purpose here, but rules it out because of his “faith-only” views (Word Pictures in the New Testament, digital edition). Those views are contrary to the plain teaching of the Bible (I will demonstrate why in a future article in this series.). This approach is also counter to sound biblical interpretation. If we believe the Bible to be God’s authoritative message, as Robertson professes to do, then we must humbly approach the text and allow the Bible to shape our doctrinal views, not the reverse!

Regarding the claim by Robertson and others that Peter meant people should be immersed because they were already forgiven, Brother David Roper points out “Even on the surface, this seems a strange interpretation. Hurting people cried out for forgiveness, and Peter answered them concerning what they should do after they were forgiven?” (Op. cit., p. 85) It is indeed a very strange interpretation, and it doesn’t fit grammatically any more than it does logically. (More on the logical problems raised in a moment.)

Robertson, as a Greek grammarian, should know this: looking back at the Greek text for a moment, we observe that the phrase “repent and be baptized” is μετανοήσατε καὶ βαπτισθήτω (metanoēsate kai baptisthētō). In this case, we want to focus on kai, “and”. Now it is interesting that Robertson, in his comments on this type of conjunction states “The copulative (connecting) conjunctions...simply present the words or clauses as on a par with each other. The primitive conjunctions were monosyllables like καί, τέ, δέ.” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 1178) Now if these conjunctions “present the words or clauses as on a par with each other”, grammatically speaking, whatever connection “be baptized” has with “for the forgiveness of sins”, “repent” has also. This is so because the two verbs are joined by the conjunction καί, “and”. Given this, if Peter is telling the people to be baptized because their sins are already forgiven, as Robertson and others claim, he is also telling them to repent because their sins are already forgiven! This was recognized by Brother McGarvey also. As he stated in his commentary on Acts,

But this interpretation is subject to two insuperable objections. 1st. To command men to repent and be immersed because their sins were already remitted, is to require them not only to be immersed on this account, but to repent because they were already pardoned. There is no possibility of extricating the interpretation from this absurdity. 2d. It contradicts an obvious fact of the case. It makes Peter command the inquirers to be immersed because their sins were already remitted, whereas it is an indisputable fact that their sins were not yet remitted. On the contrary, they were still pierced to the heart with a sense of guilt, and by the question they propounded were seeking how they might obtain the very pardon which this interpretation assumes that they already enjoyed. Certainly no sane man would assume a position involving such absurdity, and so contradictory to an obvious fact, were he not driven to it by the inexorable demands of a theory which could not be otherwise sustained. (p.41)

Perhaps the following illustration will help. Suppose a man and his wife plan to have a cookout tomorrow and invite some friends. The husband says to his wife, “Honey, would you please go to the grocery store and buy some steaks for the grilling?”. Now anyone reading this with a good command of English recognizes that both “go to the grocery store” and “buy some steaks” are necessary to have the grilling tomorrow at the cookout. No one who understands English and who has normal intelligence would argue that “for the grilling” in the husband’s question means “because the grilling has already been done”.

It is interesting to see that a writer from the same denomination as Robertson, J.W. Willmarth, recognized the problems with this “because of” interpretation, and strongly spoke against it over a century ago:

This interpretation was doubtless suggested, and is now defended, on purely dogmatic grounds. It is feared that if we give to eis its natural and obvious meaning, undue importance will be ascribed to Baptism, the Atonement will be undervalued, and the work of the Holy Spirit disparaged....Such methods of interpretation are unworthy of Christian scholars. It is our business, simply and honestly, to ascertain the exact meaning of the inspired originals, as the sacred penmen intended to convey it to the mind of the contemporary reader. Away with the question—“What ought Peter have said in the interest of orthodoxy?” The real question is, “What did Peter say, and what did he mean, when he spoke on the Day of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?”

But having entered this caveat, as a lawyer might say, it may do no harm to show that dogmatic dangers here exist only in imagination. The natural and obvious interpretation cannot give undue importance to Baptism, for Baptism is here united with Repentance and Faith. It cannot undervalue the Atonement, for Baptism is one resting upon, and deriving all its value from, the name of the Lamb of God; and this is distinctly understood by the person baptized, who submits to the rite as a believer in that name. It cannot disparage the work of the Spirit, since he alone effectually calls men to Repentance and Faith; and it is by (Greek, in, within the influence of) one Spirit that we were all baptized into one body, i.e., the Spirit leads the penitent believer to Baptism and blesses the rite. (1 Cor. xii.13)...Shall we never learn that Truth has nothing to fear from a true interpretation of any part of God’s word, and nothing to gain by a false one?...The truth will suffer nothing by giving to eis its true signification. (“Baptism and Remission,” The Baptist Quarterly, July 1877, pp. 304-305; cited in Balespp. 88-91.)

A final thought on this part of our study of Acts 2: it will be helpful to look at two other passages where the Greek phrase translated “for the forgiveness of sins” is used, Matthew 26:27—28 and Luke 24:47. Brother David Roper pointed out that in Matthew 26:27—28, Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is about to happen. He
handed them the cup and said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. (Roper’s emphasis; I have quoted from TNIV) He points out that same phrase is used in Luke 24:47 concerning
the future proclamation by the apostles of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. (Again, his emphasis; quoted from TNIV)

While some may see a conflict between these passages, asking “Which saves from our sins, Christ’s blood or man’s obedience?”, Brother Roper shows there is no conflict. He says, “Matthew 26:28 tells us what cleanses us of our sins—the blood of Christ.

Luke 24:47 and Acts 2:38 tell us when the blood cleanses us of our sins—when we repent and are baptized” (Op. cit., 85-86). We will look further at the question of how faith, grace, and obedience are related in a future article.

Peter also promised that those who repented and were immersed would “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Some suggest this refers to receiving miraculous abilities. The phrase could mean either “the gift given by the Holy Spirit” or “the Holy Spirit as a gift”. Peter goes on to state this promise is not only available to them, but also to their children and all whom God will call (v. 39). In a later account in Acts he states the God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). We also read in Romans 8:9, 14—15 that those who belong to Christ have the Holy Spirit living in them. However, with the exception of the case of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10—11), and that of Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, we only see Christians receiving miraculous abilities from the Holy Spirit when the apostles laid their hands on them (Acts 6:5—6, 8; Acts 8:4—24; 19:1—17). Therefore, since our passage in Acts 2 does not mention the apostles laying hands on those who responded to Peter’s message, what they received was the regular indwelling of the Holy Spirit, not a miraculous gift.

The Crowd’s Response to Peter’s Preaching (v. 41)

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day”, Luke tells us in verse 41. So clearly they did not have the problems with God’s instructions that some moderns have. We would do well to follow their example of humble submission to God’s will. Verse 47, taken along with this verse, show that the Lord, not human beings, added them to the body of Christ, the body of the saved. In Acts 2:44 they are called the believers; later, in passages such as Acts 5:11; 8:1 they are called the “church”, Greek ekklēsía (The King James Version, following late manuscripts, has “added to the church” instead of “added to their number” in Acts 2:47.). Later in Ephesians 1:22—23 and Colossians 1:18 we are told that Christ’s body is the church. Those who were baptized in New Testament days were led to do so by the Holy Spirit , so as to form one body (1 Cor. 12:13). Therefore, it is correct to state that these three thousand believers in Jesus became members of Christ’s church—the New Testament church we are studying in this series.

Those who practice sprinkling as a substitute for immersion sometimes claim that the three thousand who responded could not have been immersed, supposing there was not enough water available. However, this argument is weak. Luke 24:53 mentions that the apostles were “continually at the temple, praising God” as they waited for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit and his power to begin their mission. The temple in Jerusalem is frequently called a house for God in both Old and New Testaments. Therefore, it is likely that the “house” where the apostles were when the Holy Spirit came, empowering them to speak in foreign languages (Acts 2:2), was the temple area, probably the large outer court called the Court of the Gentiles. The fact that Acts 2:47 states that after their conversion the believers “continued to meet together in the temple courts” would seem to imply their first meeting was also at the temple courts. (“Courts” in this context means “courtyards”, not judicial courts.)

There were at least two sources of water readily available to the temple complex, both of which would have been ample to immerse people. The first of these would have been needed for both the priests who served at the temple and the worshipers. In the Old Testament, immersion was the means for maintaining purity, especially for priests (Leviticus 15; 16:4, 24). Purification by immersion in ritual baths was necessary for all Jews to enter the temple and to participate in its services during major festivals (Numbers 9:10; Jn. 11:55; Acts 21:24-27; Josephus, Wars 1.11.6). A number of these ritual baths, or miqvaot (singular miqveh), have been excavated in Jerusalem, Jericho, and other places. By rabbinical law these had to hold at least 60 gallons (227 liters) of water and be deep enough to completely immerse the body (“Cultural and Historical Notes: Baptism in the Ancient World”, in NIV Archaeological Bible, p. 1562).

The second source of water for immersion was the Pool of Bethesda (also known as Bethzatha) in Jerusalem. It was actually a double or twin pool and was located to the north of the temple mount. The surface area of the enclosed water was over 3.10 square miles (5 square kilometers).The pools were likely built to provide ritual cleansing for visitors to the temple. (“Archaeological Sites: The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem”, inibid., p. 1728) Either of these sources of water could have been used, or even both. Whenever God asks human beings to do something, he never asks the impossible, and always in his providence provides a way for those who trust him to do what he asks of them.


Today, the question asked by the Jews on Pentecost is just as relevant as it was then. We all have sinned against God; in our own way, because of sin, each of us is guilty of crucifying Jesus. But if we are willing to humble ourselves and respect God by following his instructions, we can be saved just as these people were. The question is, are we willing? Are you?

In the next article in the series, we will look at the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family in Acts chapter 16. I hope you will join us, with an open Bible and an open mind.

Works Cited

“Archaeological Sites: The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem”. P. 1728 in NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk

Through Biblical History and Culture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Bales, James D. The Case of Cornelius. Delight, Arkansas: Gospel Light Publishing Company, 1964.

“Baptism”, Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph # 628. English translation. 2d ed. Online at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church website, http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/628.htm. Copyright © 1997 Amministrazione Del Patrimonio Della Sede Apostolica.

“Baptism: VI. Matter and Form of the Sacrament: (b) Proximate matter”, The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1917 ed. Online at New Advent, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm#VICopyright © 2007 by Kevin Knight.

Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other
Early Christian Literature.
 Translated and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich. 2d ed. Revised and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Broadus, Edwin. “The Question of the Pentecostians”. Gospel Advocate. January 16, 1986. P. 36.

Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Bible. N.p., 1810/1825; Digital edition: module in MacSword Bible study software for Macintosh OS X, version 1.3 beta. Online at http://www.macsword.com/.(A version for Windows is available at The Sword Project, Crosswire Bible Society,http://www.crosswire.org/sword/index.jsp. Click on the Software link to go to the download page.)

Conant,Thomas Jefferson. The Meaning and Usage of Baptizein. New York: American Bible Union, 1864. Repr., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1977.

Cranfield, C. E. B. The Gospel According to Saint Mark: An Introduction and Commentary. The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary. C. F. D. Moule, General Editor. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959.

“Cultural and Historical Notes: Baptism in the Ancient World”. P. 1562 in NIV
Archaeological Study Bible.

Glinert, Lewis. The Joys of Hebrew. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Guelich, Robert A. Mark 1-8:26. Word Biblical Commentary 34A. Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1989.

Johnson, B.W. The People's New Testament with Notes. Digital edition: module for e-Sword®: The Sword of the LORD with An Electronic Edge (Windows software). Version 7.8.5. Copyright © 2000-2007 Rick Meyers. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Online at http://www.e-sword.net/. A edition of the commentary for Macintosh OS X is available as a module for MacSword Bible study software, version 1.3 beta. Online at http://www.macsword.com/.

Mac Gallery, http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/1217/MacGalleryIndex.html I found the "Made with Macintosh" banner here. (No copyright info listed)

McGarvey, J.W. A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles. 7th ed. Lexington, Kentucky: Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co., 1872; rpt., electronic edition, Adobe Acrobat Reader (PDF) format, by Ernie Stefanik, 1997-1998. Public domain. Found online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library,http://www.ccel.org/.

Microsoft Office 2004: Mac: (Clip Gallery included images). I found the green question mark image here. © 1983-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Microsoft Office Online: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/default.aspx (Clip art and photos). I found the immersion (baptism) image and the "Roman Librarian" image (by the "You're Invited to Comment" statement) at this site. © 2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Moule, C. F. D. An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek. 2d ed. Cambridge, London, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959.

Reese, Gareth L. New Testament History: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Acts.Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1976.

Robertson, A.T. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. 4th ed. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934.

 Word Pictures in the New Testament. Digital edition: module in MacSword Bible study software for Macintosh OS X, version 1.3 beta. Online at http://www.macsword.com/. (A version for Windows is available at The Sword Project, Crosswire Bible Society,http://www.crosswire.org/sword/index.jsp. Click on the Software link to go to the download page.)

Roper, David L. Acts 1—14. Truth for Today Commentary: An Exegesis and Application of the Holy Scriptures. Eddie Cloer, D. Min., General Editor. Searcy, Arkansas: Resource Publications, 2001.

Shepherd, J.W. Handbook on Baptism or Testimonies of Learned Pedobaptists on the Act and Subjects of Baptism, and of both Baptists and Pedobaptists on the Design Thereof. With an Introduction by J.A. Harding. 3d ed. Nashville: by the author, 1912. Repr., Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1972.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional     © 2012 Power Up Ministries — All Rights Reserved.
Designed by Premium WordPress® Themes     Powered by WordPress®