Baptism and Forgiveness

From: Bruce Terry (
Date: Mon Jun 03 1996 - 09:49:01 EDT

Wow! I'm gone for a week and come back to 66 Kbytes of comments on baptism
and the forgiveness of sins. Allow me to add a few more.

1. In spite of the intense discussion, if I am not mistaken, there is more
consensus in the scholarly world about the meaning of EIS AFESIN TWN hAMARTIWN
hUMWN that this discussion would indicate. Consider BAG under BAPTIZW "w. the
purpose given", under EIS "to denote purpose"; TDNT (I, 539) under BAPTW
"Elsewhere EIS is mostly used finally to denote the aim sought and
accomplished by baptism"; Abbott-Smith under BAPTIZW w. EIS "of the element,
purpose, or result"; Thayer under BAPTIZW "to obtain the forgiveness of sins";
Cremer under BAPTIZW "what the word was designed to indicate was, so far as
EIS was used, the relation into which the baptized were placed"; Brown's DNTT
(I, 146) under Baptism "it is 'for the forgiveness of sins." This last
article is by G.R. Beasley-Murray and one would do well to consult his
landmark study _Baptism in the New Testament_ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962).
This is in line with the original NIV translation of Acts 2:38 ("so that your
sins may be forgiven"); compare also the TEV, NAB, the UBS Translators'
Translation, Barclay, and Phillips, which all have something similar.

2. I have extreme doubts about the validity of looking at various
constructions (e.g. baptized EIS Jordan [location], EIS Christ [person], EIS
the name of Christ [symbolization], EIS His death [event]) and generalizing a
time sequence for the expression baptized EIS the forgiveness of your sins
[activity]. I suspect that the preposition has a closer binding to the object
of the preposition than to the verb the phrase modifies. I do realize that in
English certain prepositions (really adverbs) bind as satellites to certain
verbs to change their meaning (e.g. "run down" means something different than
"run"). The same thing happens in Greek, but here the prepositions are also
bound as prefixes to the verb. In addition, I doubt that EIS has any time
significance in any of these examples.

3. On logic: it is true that "if A and B, then C" does not imply "if not (A
and B), then not C," for there may be an equally true "if D, then C" (e.g.,
"if you drive east on I-20 from Abilene, you will come to Dallas" does not
imply "if you do not drive east on I-20 from Abilene, you will not come to
Dallas" for there are other roads that can be taken, as well as flying).
However, in this discussion where C is "be saved," are we willing to say that
there are several ways to be saved--that God has several ways of responding to
His grace--that baptism is a part of one response method, but not of another?

4. The fact that PISTEUSAS and BAPTISQEIS in Mark 16:16 are aorist participles
does not imply that these actions take place before the action of the main
verb. They are adjectival, not adverbial here. And even if they were used
adverbially, that principle is only a rule of thumb, a grammatical tendency,
not an ironclad grammatical rule. On the other hand, the future tense of
SWQHSETAI makes me think that both believing and being baptized precede the
action of being saved in this verse.

5. I found Denny Diehl's story about the seminary professor who rejected the
authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 based on his understanding of the theological
implications of Mark 16:16 interesting because last summer, while we were
discussing the stylistic evidence for and against the originality of that
passage in Mark, I received a private post from someone who posts to this list
saying substantially the same thing. Personally I doubt that theological
implications should weigh heavy in the practice of textual criticism (unless,
of course, the reading in question was invented to shore up a doctrinal point
in question, as Bart Ehrman's book implies sometimes happened).

6. I do not have much sympathy with the position that the prepositional phrase
EIS AFESIN TWN hAMARTIWN hUMWN in Acts 2:38 modifies METANOHSATE rather than
BAPTISQHTW. Granted that it might possibly modify both (so F.F. Bruce takes
it); personally I doubt that it does grammatically. It is so far
syntactically removed from METANOHSATE that it is hard to see the connection.
I have argued (contra Louw) in my book that there are such things as compound
verbs in clauses; however, this looks like two clauses to me. The shift in
person would seem to indicate this. As for the hUMWN referring back to the
second person verb rather than the third person verb, the subject of
BAPTISQHTW is actually a distributed second person hEKASTOS hUMWN "each of
you"; it is only morphologically third person; conceptually it is a
distributed second. On the other hand, I would not argue that God would
forgive the sins of someone who failed to repent.

7. Since others have dealt with theology, I too will dabble in it a little.
But this is consistent with my position that one must take a discourse
position that frameworks are important in understanding any given text. To
leave a consideration of frames out of exegesis will often result in faulty
understanding. If these frames contain religious ideas, they can be labelled
theological. But they still have to do with a correct understanding of Greek
text, theological or not.

Salvation is fundamentally by God's grace from beginning to end. God takes a
person's faith and "credits" [so NIV] it as righteousness (Rom. 4:5). But
unless universalism is correct (and I doubt it is), this salvation by grace
through faith must be accepted by an individual to be valid in his or her
case. I Peter 3:21 can say that "baptism now saves you," not because there is
any merit in baptism (as if it were some good work), nor because it is some
automatic dispensary of grace (like a soda pop machine), but because it is an
EPERWTHMA ("a response") to God, either an "appeal" (so RSV, NEB, NASV, NRSV,
REB) or a "pledge" (so NIV, Jerusalem Bible) or perhaps both. It is one of
the tragedies of modern evangelicalism that much of the movement has
substituted a prayer for salvation (a mouth-only activity, which the actor
preforms and has often in many religions been viewed as a good work that gains
merit with God; cf. Matt. 6:7; Luke 18:9-12) for baptism (a whole-body
activity, which, like salvation, a person cannot do him or herself, but must
have done by someone else). A similar tragedy is that many modern preachers
cannot bring themselves to say with the apostle "baptism now saves you." We
still have a way to go in getting a biblical doctrine of baptism and its
relation to God forgiving our sins.

Bruce Terry E-MAIL:
Box 8426, ACU Station Phone: 915/674-3759
Abilene, Texas 79699 Fax: 915/674-3769

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