Acts 22:16 and Baptism

Acts 22:16 and Baptism
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 12:59pm

A RECENT INQUIRY: Some Bible versions [e.g., Holman Christian Standard Bible] are translating Acts 22:16 as, “Be baptized and wash away your sins BY calling on his name.” This is different from other versions and can be construed differently in meaning. Can the Greek be translated that way? What is the more accurate translation? And, does the ending relate to what’s happening in baptism or is it a separate action? Thanks for your input.

MY REPLY: It is true that a Greek participle can have an instrumental meaning (“by”), as in Matt. 27:4, “I have sinned BY betraying innocent blood.” So, this is grammatically possible in Acts 22:16. Is it an acceptable translation? Does it matter? I will make two comments.

First, even if this could be a proper translation, this would not change the relation between baptism and salvation. The two main verbs in the sentence, which are imperatives, are “get yourself baptized AND [kai] wash away your sins.” They are joined with kai into a single event. The aorist participle, “having called on his name,” modifies both of the main verbs equally. The same thing is true in Acts 2:38, where “repent AND be baptized” are two imperatives joined by kai, with the prepositional phrase “unto [eis, “for the purpose of”] the forgiveness of sins” modifying both equally. Thus interpreting the participle instrumentally in 22:16 would not connect it ONLY to the second imperative (“wash away your sins”); it would still be connected to both together(“get yourself baptized AND wash away your sins”).

Second, I would oppose the instrumental translation in 22:16 (“by calling on his name”) on theological grounds. Translating it this way would be equivalent to saying that our sins are washed away BY something WE do, i.e, by our confessional prayer of calling on the name of the Lord. This would be salvation by works, a violation of grace. (This is the very reason I reject the common translation in 1 Peter 3:21, that baptism saves us because it is a PLEDGE [eperotema] of a good conscience–i.e., because of something WE are doing therein. This again would link salvation to OUR works. See my chapter on this verse in my book, “Baptism: A Biblical Study.”) Thus the best understanding of this participle in Acts 22:16 is still simply temporal, namely, “HAVING CALLED on his name.” I.e., having humbly called upon [prayed for] God to keep his promise of salvation (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), get yourself baptized and wash away your sins. This is similar again to 1 Peter 3:21, where the word eperotema is best understood not as a pledge but as a request, appeal, or prayer. See my chapter on this verse in the baptism book.

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