Aug 17, 2009

Rebuttal on Acts 2: 38

The following are my notes on Acts 2: 38 and is the substance of my presentation on this passage. Even though I brought it up in the negative of the first night, John did not attempt to rebut it till his final (negative) speech of the second night. I did not have a chance to respond or show how his attempt to construct a sentence (in English, not in Greek!) that showed my assertions to be false.

Garrett's Position on Acts 2: 38

It has been said about Acts 2: 38, by those in my opponent's religious group, known historically as "Restorationists," and sometimes as "Campbellites," this little saying - "give me an ax and two 38's and I'll kill any Baptist," so strong is the conviction of this group that this passage teaches against the Baptist view that sinners are saved by faith alone and that it upholds the teaching that water baptism must be added to the salvation equation. In view of the historical controversy over the meaning of the Greek preposition "eis," sometimes pronounced as "ace," and other times as "ice," other Restorationist preachers have warned Baptist preachers "not to walk on the ice lest they fall through."

However, as confident as my opponent, and his brethren in the so-called Church of Christ, are that this passage teaches salvation in the act of water baptism, I am just as confident that it teaches, not the essentiality of water baptism for remission of sins but rather the essentiality of repentance and faith for it.

The Greek rule regarding agreement between verbs and pronouns requires that the remission of sins be connected with repentance, not with baptism.

The fundamental question is this - to which verb, the verb "repent," or the verb "be baptized," does the prepositional phrase "for the remission of your sins" refer to or connect? That is the $64, 000 question.

First, lets talk about the ANTECEDENT OF humon or the pronoun "your" in English. What is the antecedent of this pronoun? In order to answer this, we must first note that there are two main clauses preceding the prepositional phrase.

Though both leading clauses are imperatives, they are not identical, for the first clause, "repent ye" (including both verb and pronoun), is second person plural, while the second clause, "each one of you be baptized" (including both verb and pronoun), is third person singular. Thus, there is a change of both person and number between the verbs and pronouns in these two clauses.

In the prepositional phrase, "for the remission or YOUR sins," the pronoun “your” is second person plural. The effect of this change from second person plural to third person singular, and then back again to second person plural, shows that the phrase connects directly with the command to “repent.”

Essentially what you have is - “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”

Acts 2:38 has two occurrences of the pronoun "your" or "humon"; both are second person plural in the genitive case. The first occurs in the phrase "each of you," in which humon functions as a partitive genitive, indicating the group from which each person derives. The second occurrence is in the phrase "for the remission of your sins," in which humon is a subjective genitive indicating whose sins are involved in the remission.

The basic rule of concord, in Greek, stipulates that a personal pronoun (in this case humon) agrees with its antecedent in gender and number.

The concord between verb and pronoun requires that the remission of sins be connected with repentance, not with baptism.

If one associates forgiveness with baptism, the verse translated into English, with due accord to person and number, would read like this, "let him [third singular] be baptized for the remission of your [second plural] sins." But, such an interpretation or translation would be supporting an absurdity. It would be affirming that an individual's baptism remitted the sin of others, in this case, that of the Pentecostal penitents, or of the crowd, as a group.

The structure of Acts 2: 38 illustrates that the command to be baptized is parenthetical and is not syntactically connected to remission of sins. When Peter commanded the people to repent, he was speaking to the crowd. Then the command to be baptized was directed to each individual. In the "remission of your sins" phrase, Peter again directed his words to the crowd collectively.

The issue in Acts 2:38 is that of agreement between the personal pronoun humon and its antecedent.

One must not impose English word order rules on the Greek text. In English the phrase "for the forgiveness of your sins" may be connected to either "repent," "be baptized," or both. However, in the Greek it cannot be so.

1 comment:

Gary said...

I just read your article on Acts 2:38. Wow! It sure would have been nice if God had written the Bible in less confusing language! After reading your article, I now understand what God really meant to say. "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins" sure sounds like sins are forgiven in baptism, but you explained very well why of course that can't be true.

Thank the Lord we have educated churchmen like yourselves who can explain to us what God failed to clearly express. It is obvious to me, after reading your article, that the Christian layperson is incapable of reading the Bible and understanding it without the assistance and oversight of good educated churchmen.

I am still puzzled by this, however: why is there no historical evidence, anywhere, of anyone in the first approximately 800 years of Christianity who believed that baptism is simply and only our public profession of faith/act of obedience? I can't find a single historical document of any early Christian pastor or layperson stating the Baptist/evangelical position on this doctrine. Can you explain this?