In this article I am replying to a memo emailed to me...

I recently read an article on baptism and its purpose. I fully believe baptism is necessary, but some of what I read makes me wonder if why one is baptized (for the forgiveness of sins) is the true purpose indicated by the Bible. The writer of the article said the Greek word for "for" was eis. Apparently, there are multiple meanings -- and which one is correct? The writer said, "With so many meanings for eis, it is clear that Acts 2:38 does not necessarily mean that baptism is 'for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins." Let's consider one parallel use of eis: "I baptize you with water for eis repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry..." (Matthew 3:11) Using this verse for comparison to Acts 2:38, Leiter writes: "Baptism in the name of Christ 'for' the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) no more means that baptism effects forgiveness than that John's baptism in water 'for' repentance (Mt 3:11) caused those who were baptized to repent --  John's baptism was rather a baptism that signified repentance on the part of those baptized." Using Leiter's argument, one could speculate that baptism in Acts 2:38 is actually a result of forgiveness rather than a precondition for it. For example, if someone says, "I was dunked for stealing Bill's towel," it does not mean he or she was dunked for the purpose of stealing Bill's towel, but rather as a result of it. So, I was a bit confused as to whether baptism is a result of forgiveness or just a prerequisite for it. I don't believe God is confusing, nor would he give us a confusing Word. -- Sandy

The phrase in Acts 2:38 is universally rendered "for the forgiveness of sins," or "so that your sins may be forgiven." This is the translation even in Bibles produced by teams of evangelical scholars (such as the NIV), a number of whom do not agree that baptism today is for the purpose of forgiveness. This fact alone should make us extremely cautious about tampering with the translation, or playing games with prepositions in order to justify our theological biases.

It is true that some prepositions can have more than one meaning. Consider the sentence, "For lack of organization, the project failed." Here for does not mean "for the purpose of," but "owing to," or "on account of." Yet even in English this is a somewhat rare use of for. (Perhaps it's even rare in Greek.)

Let me make a few further comments about "eis":

* John's baptism is not only for repentance, but also for forgiveness (Mark 1:4). Someone who was baptized by John repented and received forgiveness. Beware of artificially separating the two.
* Prepositions in Greek have just as many senses or possible meanings as prepositions in English. Think back to your English grammar. In a single passage, a single word cannot mean everything it could possibly mean in other contexts! You are right, the confusion lies not with God, but with those who are playing fast and loose with his word.
* Paraphrases (such as the Living Bible), which are not true translations, may suggest other understandings of the passages on baptism. But since they are only paraphrases, they have no authority, nor any bearing on the discussion.
* In Greek, if one were being "dunked" for theft, the word would be dia (on account of), not eis (into, for, etc).
* While God is the final judge, the Bible makes it very clear that he will hold us accountable for the revelation we have. Since Bibles render Acts 2:38 so as to suggest baptism is required for forgiveness, surely this will be the standard -- not uninspired articles written by uninspired persons. I would not want to stake my salvation on a possibility -- the possibility that Bible translators worldwide have missed the mark.

Accordingly, Acts 2:38 has indeed been properly translated "for the forgiveness of sins." You can take that to the bank.

For more on this topic, click here.