What about the argument that "for the remission of your sins" is plural and refers back to repentance in Acts 2:38?




Hello again. An argument that I have addressed with my friend, but I thought you might like, is about baptism. The argument is that if it says in Acts 2:38 "for the remission of your sins" instead of "for the remission of sins" then it is personal and it is referring back to repent and not baptism, and that baptism is just a by-product of it all.

Now I have argued with friends about this because any way you look at it, it still doesn't give any ground to ignore baptism, but I was wondering about your opinion on it. The majority text that says "for the remission of sins" agrees that it is for baptism where "for the remission of your sins" says its referring back to repent because it is not plural, or it is plural, I forget. Even though I know that "for the remission of your sins" is, I think you said, found only 11 times and that it is everywhere else it is "for remission of sins." But anyway, I thought I'd throw that your way. Peace and all that good jazz.

"Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

One thing that is of use when attempting to understand a passage is to see how people who heard Peter reacted to his statement. "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:41). Now isn't it strange that we don't find anyone quibbling over whether that baptism thing was really necessary or not?

But let's address the issue at hand. Cutting out all the fluff, your friend is arguing that the translators of every major translation into English made a mistake because they did not catch the essence of what the Greek actually stated. In particular he is arguing that the "your" is required in the passage and that it refers back to "repent" and that "be baptized" should be an optional phrase.

In the Greek, humon ("your") is a second person plural pronoun. It is part of preposition and in Greek you generally back up to the nearest object of the sentence that is in a similar case. In this verse, the nearest is hekastos humon ("each of you"), but that phrase is modifying baptistheto ("let be baptized"). Oops! So much for that argument. Actually "repent" is also second person plural and is joined with an "and" so it is also qualified by the preposition.

Actually, I think your friend confused an old argument that is based on the tense (second and third person). David Padfield wrote about this on his website:

Another smoke screen often used to get around Acts 2:38 is the argument that since the words "repent" and "be baptized" are different in both person and number in the original text, the phrase "for the remission of sins" cannot refer to both verbs.

A few years ago I wrote to several prominent Greek scholars to see if the above line of reasoning was valid. The question I sent to them was as follows: "Is it grammatically possible that the phrase 'eis aphesin hamartion,' 'for the remission of sins,' as used in Acts 2:38, expresses the force of both verbs, 'repent ye and be baptized each one of you,' even though these verbs differ in both person and number?" The following men responded to my inquiry. I will give their qualifications along with their response to my question.

Bruce Metzger was the editor of the Textual Commentary on The Greek New Testament, published by the United Bible Societies. He is currently teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. He wrote, "In reply to your recent inquiry may I say that, in my view, the phrase 'eis aphesin hamartion' in Acts 2:38 applies in sense to both of the preceding verbs."

F. W. Gingrich was a professor of New Testament Greek at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. Gingrich, along with William Arndt, published A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature in 1957. He wrote, "The difference in person and number of 'repent' and 'be baptized' is caused by the fact that 'repent' is a direct address in the second person plural, while 'be baptized' is governed by the subject 'every one of you' and so is third person singular. 'Every one of you' is, of course, a collective noun."

Arthur L. Farstad was the chairman of the New King James Executive Review Committee and general editor of the NKJV New Testament. The NKJV was translated by over 120 Greek scholars, many of whom teach in Baptist schools. He wrote, "Since the expression 'eis aphesin hamartion' is a prepositional phrase with no verbal endings or singular or plural endings. I certainly agree that grammatically it can go with both repentance and baptism. In fact, I would think that it does go with both of them."

John R. Werner is the International Consultant in Translation to the Wycliffe Bible Translators. He was also a consultant to Friberg and Friberg with the Analytical Greek New Testament. From 1962 to 1972 he was professor of Greek at Trinity Christian College. He said, "Whenever two verbs are connected by kai 'and' and then followed by a modifier (such as a prepositional phrase, as in Acts 2:38), it is grammatically possible that modifier modifies either both the verbs, or only the latter one. This is because there is no punctuation in the ancient manuscripts, so we don't know whether the author intended to pause between the first verb and the 'and.' It does not matter that, here in Acts 2:38, one of the verbs is second person plural ("y'all") and the other is third-person singular ("is to"). They are both imperative, and the fact that they are joined by kai 'and' is sufficient evidence that the author may have regarded them as a single unit to which his modifier applied."

Barclay Newman and Eugene Nida edited The Translator's Handbook On The Acts Of The Apostles. This book, published by the United Bible Societies, says on page 60: "So that your sins will be forgiven (literally 'into a forgiveness of your sins') in the Greek may express either purpose or result; but the large majority of translators understand it as indicating purpose. The phrase modifies both main verbs: turn away from your sins and be baptized."

Let me try expressing this in another way. We have two things being joined together with "and:" the first is "repent" (second person plural in Greek) and "each one of you" (second person plural in Greek). The second phrase is qualified by "be baptized" (third person singular). The change in case is because the "be baptized" is modifying a second person plural phrase. The preposition "for the remission of sins" has no case and thus applies to both "repent" and "each one of you be baptized" equally. If you argue that it should be "for the remission of your sins" then the case is second person plural, but this again applies to both "repent" and "each one of you be baptized" because they are second person plural word and phrase.

Thus we sliced this argument several ways and still came up with the same answer the translators have always shown in the English translations.

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Baptism
Questions and Answers regarding Terminology in the Bible