Archive for September, 2008

Baptism in Acts 2:38 (Part 3)

There is, however, a third possible interpretation of Acts 2:38. In the end, it makes the most sense to simply take Peter’s words at face value: If the Jews at Pentecost were to be forgiven and receive the promised Holy Spirit, they must repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus.


In this way, the prepositional phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins” modifies both the command to “repent” and the command to “be baptized,” and the preposition “for” (eis) indicates the purpose (or result) of repenting and being baptized in water. This view fits perfectly with the basic flow of Acts 2:14–38—Peter preaches the gospel to the Jews (vv. 14–36); the Jews ask how they must respond to the gospel (v. 37); Peter says they must repent and be baptized (v. 38a); and Peter says that if they do, they will be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit (v. 38b).


This, however, brings us back to the original question: In light of the clear biblical teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, why would Peter present baptism as a necessary response to the gospel?


The key is to understand this: To be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ was to publicly declare one’s allegiance to Christ and one’s desire to follow Him as a disciple. For this reason, when Peter exhorted the Jews to be baptized, he was commanding them to express their allegiance to Christ, an allegiance that was indeed a necessary response to the gospel. In this way, the command to be baptized incorporated both the physical act of water baptism and the commitment to Christ it symbolized. At the same time, as James Dunn writes:


It is false to say that water-baptism conveys, confers or effects the forgiveness of sins. It may symbolize cleansing, but it is the faith and repentance which receives the forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit who conveys, confers and effects it…. [In Acts 2:38], Peter’s basic and primary demand is for repentance; the forgiveness of sins can be promised to the [one who is baptized] only because his baptism is his act and expression of repentance.


In the context of Acts 2, then, an unwillingness to be baptized would have exposed an unwillingness to obey the gospel and become a disciple of Christ. In that sense, and for that reason, the Jews had to be baptized to be forgiven, for to refuse baptism was to refuse Christ and the salvation He offered.


As an illustration, consider the rich young ruler in Mark 10 who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him: “One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). This raises the question: Is giving away all your possessions a prerequisite for conversion? No. But Jesus knew that the chief idol in the heart of this man was materialism—his love for his possessions is what kept him from following Christ. Therefore, by exhorting him to give away all his possessions, Jesus was commanding him to repent of his sin, and repentance is a prerequisite for conversion. In this way, Jesus called for an external response that would indicate an internal reality, just like Peter did in Acts 2 by exhorting the Jews to be baptized as an outward expression of their repentance and allegiance to Christ.


Throughout the book of Acts, belief in Christ and baptism in His name were integrally related. As Richard Averbeck writes, the early church


could not conceive of a true Christian who was not willing to express commitment to our Lord [in baptism]. That was not one of the options given to the person being evangelized. He either trusted Christ and was baptized, knowing the implications in terms of commitment and lifestyle, or he rejected the truth.


Although its textual basis is disputed, this is reflected clearly in Mark 16:16: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” Some respond to this verse by asking: But what about those who believe but are not baptized? The answer is that the idea of an unbaptized believer is completely foreign to the New Testament—it is not even entertained as a possibility. In the New Testament, a person was not baptized for only one of two reasons: either (a) he did not want to become a Christian, or (b) he believed in Christ and yet was physically unable to be baptized. In fact, the closest you find to an unbaptized believer in the book of Acts is the Ethiopian eunuch for whom water was not immediately available (Acts 8:26–40).


Robert Stein explains it this way:


In general a person could not be converted to Christianity in the New Testament apart from baptism. When individuals in the first century heard “Repent and be baptized” or “Believe in the Lord Jesus and be baptized,” none of them thought, “Can I do the first but not the second?” No one came to the conversion experience with questions as to whether baptism was necessary for becoming a Christian because the apostolic preaching stated that they must be baptized. Thus the rejection of baptism was a rejection of the divine program for conversion!


Baptism, then, was a necessary expression of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ without which they could not be said to have truly “believed.” Baptism without faith was meaningless, and faith without baptism was unthinkable—it was not even presented as an option.


To be concluded Friday with part 4.


This article was adapted from chapter 6 of A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptism (The Woodlands, Tex: Kress Christian Publications, 2008).

Baptism in Acts 2:38 (Part 2)

A second possible interpretation of Acts 2:38 is that the prepositional phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins” modifies only the command to “repent” and not the command to “be baptized.” For this reason, it is said, only repentance is a prerequisite for the forgiveness of sins, and baptism comes afterward.


The main argument for this view involves a subtle grammatical distinction between the two commands in Acts 2:38. “Repent” is a second-person plural imperative, while the command to “be baptized” is a third-person singular imperative. Because the pronoun “your” in the prepositional phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins” is second-person plural (like the command to “repent”), this phrase is said to refer only to repentance and not to baptism. In this way, the second command in Acts 2:38—“and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”—is viewed as parenthetical. Therefore, according to this view, the meaning of Acts 2:38 is this: “Repent [in order to receive forgiveness of your sins] and let each one of you [who has repented and been forgiven] be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”


Although this interpretation of Acts 2:38 is possible, its subtlety and awkwardness make it highly unlikely. In the words of A.B. Caneday, this reading of Acts 2:38 is “clumsy and strained, and therefore doubtful.” Furthermore, as Robert Stein suggests, if the apostle Peter had “wanted to demonstrate that the forgiveness of sins was associated with repentance only, he could have said, ‘Repent for the forgiveness of sins and in addition be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,’ but he does not.” In fact, as Stein writes,


If anything the wording of Peter’s command associates forgiveness with baptism even more closely than with repentance, for the expression “for the forgiveness of sins” is separated from the verb “repent” by “and be baptized each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (nine words in the Greek text).


Furthermore, the closest antecedent to the plural pronoun “your” in the phrase “of your sins” is not the plural subject implied in the command “repent,” but rather the plural pronoun modifying the subject of the second command: “Let each of you [plural] be baptized…for the forgiveness of your [plural] sins.”


It is better to understand Peter’s change to the third-person singular as a way for him to stress that his command was directed to each and every one of his listeners. In fact, as Carroll D. Osburn has demonstrated in her 1983 article in Restoration Quarterly, evidence indicates that the use of a third-person singular imperative in conjunction with a second-person plural imperative was a common idiom which allowed “the speaker addressing a group to address members of that group individually.” This construction enabled Peter to emphasize to his hearers that not a single member of the group was exempt from the command to be baptized.


To be continued Thursday with part 3.


This article was adapted from chapter 6 of A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptism (The Woodlands, Tex: Kress Christian Publications, 2008).

Baptism in Acts 2:38 (Part 1)

Shortly after being commissioned to make disciples of the nations by baptizing and teaching them, the apostles began to carry out this mandate. On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter preached the death and resurrection to the Jews who had gathered before him, concluding his sermon with the astonishing claim that “God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36). His listeners were pierced to the heart, and they cried out to Peter and the other apostles: “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter responded to them, saying:


Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).


This verse is difficult to interpret because it seems to indicate that water baptism is a prerequisite for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since the Bible clearly teaches that man is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, how can Peter imply that baptism is a condition for salvation? There are three primary ways that evangelicals have answered this question.


The word translated “for” in the phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins” is the Greek preposition eis. The first possible solution to the difficulty of Acts 2:38 is to say that eis is causal and should be translated, “because of.” According to this view, Peter is exhorting the Jews to be baptized because their sins have already been forgiven: “Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because of [eis] the forgiveness of your sins.” For example, A.T. Robertson writes, “I understand Peter to be urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (repented) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of the forgiveness of sins which they had already received.” A popular way to illustrate this interpretation is the idea of someone being “wanted for murder.” Such an individual is not wanted so that he can commit murder, but rather because he has committed murder. In this case, the English preposition “for” has a causal meaning.


Although this interpretation solves the apparent theological dilemma, I believe it is unlikely for four reasons. First, despite claims to the contrary, there is little or no precedent for the causal use of eis either in the New Testament or in extra-biblical literature of the time. In fact, of the 1,607 uses of the preposition in the New Testament, only three are possibly causal (Matt 3:11; 12:41; Luke 11:32), and even these are questionable. At the outset, then, there is a heavy burden of proof against this interpretation.


Second, a causal use of the preposition eis simply does not fit the context of Acts 2:38. As Jack Cottrell writes:


We must remember that Peter’s statement is part of his answer to the Jews’ question of how to get rid of the guilt of their sins, especially their sin of crucifying Christ. They specifically asked, “What shall we do” to get rid of this guilt? Any instruction Peter gave them would have been understood by them in this light, and must be so understood by us today. When he told them to repent and be baptized “eis the forgiveness” of their sins, the only honest reading is that baptism is for the purpose or goal of receiving forgiveness. This meaning is actually demanded by the context.


As Cottrell explains further, the instruction to be baptized because their sins have been forgiven “is the exact opposite of what would be expected and required in the situation. The whole point is that the Jews’ sins are not forgiven, and they are asking what to do to receive such forgiveness.”


Third, baptism is connected with forgiveness in Acts 2:38 in the same way that repentance is. Therefore, it would seem that if repentance is for the purpose of bringing about forgiveness, so is baptism. Consequently, if the causal view is correct, Peter is instructing his hearers to repent because they have been forgiven, an interpretation that neither makes sense nor corresponds to biblical teaching elsewhere.


Fourth, in the other four uses of the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” in the New Testament, the preposition eis appears to indicate purpose or result rather than cause (Matt 26:28; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; 24:47; cf. Acts 3:19; 11:18). Jesus’ use of the phrase in Luke 24:47 is especially relevant, for there He tells His disciples that “repentance for [eis] forgiveness of sins” is to be “proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 is the very first example of this proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.


To be continued Wednesday with part 2.


This article was adapted from chapter 6 of A Biblical Critique of Infant Baptism (The Woodlands, Tex: Kress Christian Publications, 2008).

Responding to the Local Paper

John Piper is a good example of how to interact with the local community (see a Godward life).  I tried to follow his example today when i wrote a comment in reply to this article:

The newspaper article began this way, “Donnley Dutcher, pastor of St. John United Church of Christ, is going to present a seminar on “Homosexuality in the Church – A biblical education event showing an open way to do church.” Dutcher said he wrestled with the question of where homosexuality fit in the church more than 30 years ago. This led him to read a book called “Jonathan Loved David” by Tom Horner, which discusses homosexuality in a historical and biblical manner.”

Here is how i responded via email to the editor.  The editor posted my entire comment in the opinion section of Sunday’s paper.  Also of note,  one of our church members said that he talked with a few of the people who attend Pastor Dutcher’s church and that they disagree with Dutcher’s understanding on this issue as well.

Pastor Dutcher is correct in calling Christians back to the Scriptures with regards to the topic of homosexuality. Human tradition should never trump God’s final authority the Word of God. The Christian church is made up of redeemed sinners who have been saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:1-10, Galatians 3:10-11, Romans 3:23). Those who have experienced the saving grace of God in their lives should not look down upon others in a self-righteous, condescending way (Luke 18:9-14); after all, but for the grace of God their go you and I.

As a fellow pastor I could not disagree with Pastor Dutcher’s conclusions more. In fact I’m reminded of the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! The Old and New Testament Scriptures are crystal clear with regards to the sin of homosexuality. If repentance (turning from sin to God) is a necessary part of genuine saving faith (Luke 13) than it is imperative that what God labels as sin is rightly described for what it is.

One of the most encouraging passages of Scripture is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Paul writes, Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, or thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. The early Christian church was not much different than the Christian church of today. Paul says, using a past tense verb, and such were some of you. In other words, the cross of Christ has freed us from our enslavement to various habitual, life dominating sins. Let us rejoice again in the saving power of Christ and in the tender mercies of our heavenly Father.

Humbly submitted,

Pastor Caleb Kolstad
Sr Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Freeport

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