“Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. . . .” (KJV).

The United Pentecostals Church International (UPCI) uses this passage (among others) to support its view that water baptism MUST be done “in the name of Jesus” only to be valid. Since the UPCI theology holds to the idea that Jesus IS the “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” The UPCI’s position is clear: Peter commands new converts to (a) repent be water baptized and (b) be baptized only by way of the exact formula: “in the name of Jesus.” Therefore, as the UPCI asserts, the remission or forgiveness of sins is accomplished only by water baptism “in the name of Jesus,” and repentance. However, only by disregarding the historical context and particular grammar, can the UPCI hold to such a heterodox view. Furthermore, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration controverts the theology of Luke (e.g., Acts 10:43). Even so, UPCI leader David Bernard remarks on the necessity of water baptism, as he understands Acts 2:38:

We should remember that water baptism is administered because of our past life of sin; it is for the ‘remission of sins’ (Acts 2:38). Since the name of Jesus is the only saving name (Acts 4:12), it is logical that the name be used in baptism (The Oneness of God, 139).

In proper biblical interpretation: Context governs word meanings. This is a vital point in exegesis. In other words, whatever Acts 2:38 is saying, it cannot oppose the NT as a whole in which the constant theme is justification (salvation) is through faith (as the sole instrument), apart from works—any works, such as the work of water baptism (cf. John 5:24; Rom. 4:4-8; 5:1; 1 Cor. 1:17, 30-31; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 John 5:1 et al).   

Note, that there at least four acceptable interpretations of the passage. However, of the interpretations offered by competent Christian theologians, none provide for baptismal regeneration. Thus, Paul says: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. . . .” (1 Cor. 1:17).  

For example, noted Greek grammarian J. R. Mantey offers one such acceptable interpretation. He argued that the preposition eis (“for”) could be causal, hence the passage could read: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized—each one of you—at the name of Jesus Christ because of/for/unto the forgiveness of your sins.’” In other words, the preposition eis should be translated “because of,” or “in view of” not “in order to” or “for the purpose of” forgiveness of sins. But keep in mind there is at least four different interpretations of Acts 2:38. Mantey believed that a salvation by grace would be violated if a causal eis were not evident in such passages as Acts 2:38. This way of handling the text is also concurred by one of the world’s premium and most quoted NT Greek grammarians A. T. Robertson:

My view is decidedly against the idea that Peter, Paul, or any one in the NT taught baptism as essential to the remission of sins or the means of securing such remission. So 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 (Word Pictures, 3:35-36).

There is also another grammatical aspect to be considered. There is a shift from second person plural to third person singular and back to second person plural. Notice below:

  1. The verb “repent” (metanoēsate) is second person plural and is in the active voice.
  2. And “be baptized” (baptisthētō) is third person singular and is in the passive voice.
  3. The Greek pronoun translated “your” (humōn) is in a second person plural.

 Therefore, the grammatical connection is: “repent” (active plural) with “your” (active plural) as in “for the remission of your [humōn] sins” and not “be baptized” (passive singular) with “for the remission of your sins.” Moreover, the same wording “for the remission of your sins” is used in reference to John’s baptism (cf. Luke 3:3; Mark 1:4) and that baptism did not save, it was a preparatory baptism and of the coming Messiah and a call to repentance, as we will deal with below. An additional view, however, is that baptism represents both the spiritual reality and the ritual which is an acceptable view that works well in the scope of the context.

Notwithstanding the different shades of interpretation, which in fact do not contradict, but only enhance—they are all in accord with good exegesis. Contrary to the UPCI position, which violates not only the theology in Acts (e.g., 10:43) but also the entire theology of the NT (e.g., John 6:47; Rom. 4:4ff.; Gal. 2:16).

Lastly, in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, foremost Greek scholar Daniel Wallace provides insightful comments regarding the four main interpretations of Acts 2:38:

  1. Causal εἰς [eis, “for”] in Acts 2:38? An interesting discussion over the force of εἰς took place several years ago, especially in relation to Acts 2:38. The text reads as follows:

Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς Μετανοήσατε, φησίν καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν. . . . (“And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized—each one of you—at the name of Jesus Christ because of/for/unto the forgiveness of your sins…”).

On the one hand, J. R. Mantey argued that εἰς could be used causally in various passages in the NT, among them Matt 3:11 and Acts 2:38. It seems that Mantey believed that a salvation by grace would be violated if a causal εἰς was not evident in such passages as Acts 2:38.

On the other hand, Ralph Marcus questioned Mantey’s nonbiblical examples of a causal εἰς so that in his second of two rejoinders he concluded (after a blow-by-blow refutation): It is quite possible that εἷς is used causally in these NT passages but the examples of causal εἰς cited from non-biblical Greek contribute absolutely nothing to making this possibility a probability. If, therefore, Professor Mantey is right in his interpretation of various NT passages on baptism and repentance and the remission of sins, he is right for reasons that are non- linguistic. Marcus ably demonstrated that the linguistic evidence for a causal εἷς fell short of proof.  

If a causal εἷς is not in view, what are we to make of Acts 2:38? There are at least four other interpretations of Acts 2:38. 1) The baptism referred to here is physical only, and εἰς has the meaning of for or unto. Such a view, if this is all there is to it, suggests that salvation is based on works. The basic problem of this view is that it runs squarely in the face of the theology of Acts, namely: (a) repentance precedes baptism (cf. Acts 3:19; 26:20), and (b) salvation is entirely a gift of God, not procured via water baptism (Acts 10:43 [cf. v 47]; 13:38-39, 48; 15:11; 16:30-31; 20:21; 26:18).

2) The baptism referred to here is spiritual only. Although such a view fits well with the theology of Acts, it does not fit well with the obvious meaning of “baptism” in Acts—especially in this text (cf. 2:41).

3) The text should be repunctuated in light of the shift from second person plural to third person singular back to second person plural again. If so, it would read as follows: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized at the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. . . .” If this is the correct understanding, then εἰς is subordinate to Μετανοήσατε alone, rather than to βαπτισθήτω. The idea then would be, “Repent for/with reference to your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.…” Such a view is an acceptable way of handling εἰς, but its subtlety and awkwardness are against it.

4) Finally, it is possible that to a first-century Jewish audience (as well as to Peter), the idea of baptism might incorporate both the spiritual reality and the physical symbol. In other words, when one spoke of baptism, he usually meant both ideas—the reality and the ritual. Peter is shown to make the strong connection between these two in chapters 10 and 11. In 11:15-16 he recounts the conversion of Cornelius and friends, pointing out that at the point of their conversion they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. After he had seen this, he declared, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit…” (10:47). The point seems to be that if they have had the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit via spiritual baptism, there ought to be a public testimony/acknowledgment via water baptism as well. This may not only explain Acts 2:38 (viz., that Peter spoke of both reality and picture, though only the reality removes sins), but also why the NT speaks of only baptized believers (as far as we can tell): Water baptism is not a cause of salvation, but a picture; and as such it serves both as a public acknowledgment (by those present) and a public confession (by the convert) that one has been Spirit-baptized.

In sum, although Mantey’s instincts were surely correct that in Luke’s theology baptism was not the cause of salvation, his ingenious solution of a causal εἰς lacks conviction. There are other ways for us to satisfy the tension, but adjusting the grammar to answer a backward-looking “Why?” has no more basis than the notion that εἰς ever meant mere representation.”

Final thoughts: the fundamental problem with the groups who embrace baptismal regeneration is that their view challenges Paul’s main thesis that “God credits righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6) and justification is through faith (sole instrument) alone (not by works). Although the “work” of water baptism is a biblical commandment, it is a work that man does. It does not contribute in any way, shape, or form to the atoning work of God the Son (gospel), which is the very ground (cause) of justification. So Paul says to the Corinthian church: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. . . .” (1 Cor. 1:17).                         

The LDS system of salvation affirms that baptism is essential for true salvation. Mormons equate baptism, into their church with being “born again.” Bruce R. McConkie stresses the importance of baptism saying:

The second birth begins when men are baptized in water by a legal administrator. . . . (Mormon Doctrine, 101).

Strangely enough, Mormons tell us that at the moment of baptism their blood literally changes into Jewish blood.1 LDS Apostle and teacher, Bruce R. McConkie explains:

But if someone whose blood was wholly of Gentile lineage were converted, he would be adopted into the lineage of Abraham and Jacob and become the house of Israel. (Abraham 2:9-11.) That this action involves a literal change in the convert’s blood was plainly taught by the Prophet [Joseph Smith] . . . “while the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the seed of Abraham. . . .” (Teachings, 149-150) (Mormon Doctrine, 390; emphasis added)

Nevertheless, in LDS theology baptism is essential for salvation.

LDS Proof texts

All groups that teach baptismal regeneration use generally the same passages to try to prove that water baptism is necessary for salvation: Mark 16:16; John 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16; and 1 Peter 3:19ff. By asserting that water baptism, or any external deed, is necessary to receive justification, the LDS Church places its members in a state, as the Apostle Paul warns, of anathema (i.e., Divine condemnation; see Gal. 1:6ff.).

To respond to exegetically to the assertion of baptismal regeneration, please go here: International Church of Christ.

Salvation is by Grace Alone through Faith Alone

John 5:24; 6:47 Acts 10:43; 16:31 Romans 4:4; 5:1 Ephesians 2:8 Titus 3:5 Heb. 10:14.

At least 60 times in the New Testament is salvation explicitly tied with repentance or faith but never with baptism.

The LDS Teaching of Baptism for the Dead: 1 Corinthians 15:15:29.

Besides the fact that the LDS doctrine of baptism for the dead is non existent in church history, the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses first person plural (i.e., “our,” “us,” “we”) to refer to Christians but when he gets to verse 29, he then switches using second person (“they”). Hence, he does not include himself or the Corinthian church with this practice (v. 29: “what will they do” Not: “what will we do”). Most likely, that the pagans of the day were practicing baptism for the dead, but even so, it still was not with synonymous with the LDS way of thinking.

Judgment is at DEATH: Matthew 25:46; John 3:36; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10, 15.

Notes

1, Cf. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Dessert Book Company, 1973) 3: 380; Journal of Discourses, 2:268-69

2, Much evidence exist demonstrating that the ending of Mark (16:9-20) is spurious.

Concerning the canonical objections of the long ending of Mark 16:9-20:

External Evidence:

1. The reading (vv. 9-20) that appears in the majority of manuscripts is not found in the earliest manuscripts (e.g., codex Vaticanus, codex Sinaiticus, codex Bezae, codex Regius, codex Sangallensis, etc.; also Jerome was aware of manuscripts that did not contain it).

2. A number of manuscripts that do include it have critical marks (e.g., asterisks) indicating that the scribe knew of its spurious nature.

3. There are at least four different endings of Mark that exist (e.g., a longer ending than that of the majority rendering appears in codex W).

Internal Evidence:

1. In Scripture, water baptism is never so closely woven together with salvation.

2. There are several non-Markan words.

3. There is a numerical problem: “Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table. . . .” (v. 14). But was not Thomas absent?

4. Compared to the other post-resurrection events reported in Matthew, Luke, and John we find peculiarities in verses 9-20, e.g., Jesus as appearing in a different form (v. 12); Jesus rebukes His disciples for their unbelief, which was completely out of character (v. 14).

Therefore in light of the compelling evidence above it is highly unlikely that the ending of Mark that appears in the majority of manuscripts (but not he earliest) was contained in the original