Answering a false interpretation of Acts 2:38
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Saturday, August 15, 2009 at 12:56pm
I am adapting my “Tyranny of the Paradigm” essay for a Christian Standard article (next year); this is one small part of it:
Finally, an absolute, a priori commitment to the sola fidei paradigm leads to an irrational distortion of NT texts that relate baptism to salvation. One example is a rather common twisting of Acts 2:38. It is an argument that attempts to separate baptism from forgiveness through a blatantly faulty analysis of the Greek forms in this verse.
E.g., Cal Beisner, in a little booklet titled “Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation,” gives this interlinear translation of the Greek [I’m not sure this will come out well in FaceBook]:
Metanoēsate kai baptisthētō hekastos humōn
You (plural) repent and be baptized each one of you
epi to onomati Iēsou Christou
in the name of Jesus Christ
eis aphesin tōn hamartiōn humōn .
for (the) remission (of the) sins of you (plural).
The argument begins with Beisner noting that the verb “repent” is plural, and that the “your” in “for the remission of your sins” is also plural. (Beisner inserts “plural” at these points.) But, he says, the verb “be baptized” is singular: “Let each one [hekastos] be baptized.” Beisner concludes, “This makes it clear that ‘remission of your (plural) sins’ is the result of ‘you (plural) repenting,’ not of “each one (singular) being baptized.’”
John MacArthur agrees that this is a proper interpretation. “Support for that interpretation comes from the fact that ‘repent’ and ‘your’ are plural, while ‘be baptized’ is singular, thus setting it off from the rest of the sentence [as parenthetical]. If that interpretation is correct, the verse would read ‘Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins.’ Forgiveness is thus connected with repentance, not baptism.” (In a letter from MacArthur shared with me by Don Wallace, spring 2001.)
Those who use this argument seem to deliberately ignore the fact that the singular verb “be baptized” is emphatically pluralized by the immediately-following words, hekastos humōn, “each one OF YOU” (plural). True, the verb “be baptized” is grammatically singular because its immediate subject is “each one” (hekastos), but the addition of the plural “of you” (humōn) clearly shows that the application of this verb is intended to be plural. It is the exact same plural word used in the phrase “remission of your (plural) sins.” Beisner, of course, chooses not to insert his explanatory “(plural)” after the first humōn, because this would just call attention to the weakness of this argument. (See John 7:53 for a similar combination of a plural verb with a singular hekastos.) The only reason for ignoring the obvious is the tyranny of the sola fidei paradigm.