Scholastic Subterfuge

By Wayne Jackson

Franklin Johnson was a professor at the University of Chicago. His book, The Quotations of the New Testament From The Old – Considered in the Light of General Literature, is a valuable resource in discerning the manner in which the New Testament writers employed texts from the Old Testament in the propagation and defense of the gospel.

While reading this volume recently, I ran across a rather unusual statement. Not unusual on its merit, but unusual from the vantage point of issuing from a distinguished professor in a prestigious institution such as the University of Chicago. More than a century ago, Professor Johnson wrote:

The New Testament was not written for a limited number of learned men; but for the great world, and for the churches gathered out of it, and thus for people of ordinary intelligence (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1895, 19).

I was struck by the dramatic contrast between this statement and the rarified stratum in which many “scholars” currently operate, speaking in “unknown tongues” of technical jargon that virtually none, outside the cult of sacred intelligentsia, can decipher.

Not infrequently this “code” lingo appears to have been designed as an embankment, thrown up to obscure the transparent meaning of sacred texts that are an impediment to certain rationalistic theories or denominational dogmas.

Acts 2:38 and Remission of Sins

For example, when the Jews on the day of Pentecost were convicted of their lost condition by clear gospel preaching, they cried out to their Jewish kinsmen, the apostles: “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied: “You must repent, and each of you be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).

There is absolutely nothing complicated about this injunction. That the people assembled clearly understood Peter’s instruction is apparent from the fact that those who “received” the apostle’s message were immersed; thus being pardoned, they constituted the first church of Christ in the history of mankind.

That these people clearly comprehended the apostolic message is evidenced further by Luke’s comment that they “received” the word. The Greek term is apodechomai, which denotes to “show approval by accepting” (Danker, et al_., 109). Or, as J.H. Thayer once expressed it, “to receive into the mind with assent; to believe” (_Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1901, 60).

Multiplied thousands of people from all walks of life, many unadorned with considerable formal education, have understood these sacred words. If words ever need to be simple and plain, where else would such be more necessary than in salvation contexts?

With that in mind, I call your attention to the “scholarly” notes appended to the term “for” (Greek, eis) in Acts 2:38, as found in the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins,” in a relatively new translation called the NET version (1995-2005, Biblical Studies Press).

There is debate over the meaning of eis in the prepositional phrase … (eis aphesin ton hamartion, “for/because of/with reference to the forgiveness of your sins”). Although a causal sense has been argued, it is difficult to maintain here. [Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 369-71 discusses at least four other ways of dealing with the passage: (1) The baptism referred to here is physical only, and eis has the meaning of “for” or “unto.” Such a view suggests that salvation is based on works—an idea that runs counter to the theology of Acts, namely: (a) repentance often 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. 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 eis, but its subtlety and awkwardness count 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. That Peter connects both closely in his thinking is clear from other passages such as Acts 10:47 and 11:15-16. If this interpretation is correct, then Acts 2:38 is saying very little about the specific theological relationship between the symbol and the reality, only that historically they were viewed together. One must look in other places for a theological analysis. For further discussion see R.N. Longenecker, “Acts,” EBC Expositor’s Bible Commentary 9:283-85; B. Witherington, Acts, 154-55; F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 129-30; BDAG 290 s.v. Eis 4.f.

It is not the purpose of this article to survey, and respond to, the many blunders of this cluttered paragraph. That would require much more space — a small book almost — than is justified at this point.

Rather, we merely emphasize the very obvious with this question. Are more than 300 words (the longest footnote in Acts 2) really required in order to “explain” a mere three-letter term in the Greek text of the New Testament?

All this, of course, is due to a sectarian predisposition — namely a denial that immersion in water is a condition of obedience in the divine plan of salvation (in conflict with: Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 3:21).

Conclusion

I cannot resist concluding with this point. After all of this tedious obfuscation, the paragraph ends with a reference to BDGA 4.f.

This is the Baur, Danker, Gingrich, Arndt, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2000, University of Chicago, 290). This highly acclaimed work renders the Greek phrase in Acts 2:38 as: “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven,” which completely undermines the basic case argued in the lengthy footnote.

The Bible is plain enough to understand — especially in matters pertaining to the salvation of one’s soul — until it falls into the hands of “scholars” who manipulate the text to satisfy their denominational agenda. There is an old saying: “The plan of salvation is so simple, a person needs help to misunderstand it.”

Unfortunately, there are all too many willing to supply that help.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.