Dallas Professor Rebuffs Common Quibble on “Eis”

By Wayne Jackson

On the day of Pentecost, at the conclusion of his presentation, the apostle Peter issued the following command.

“Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto [‘for’ KJV] the remission of your sins . . .” (Acts 2:38 ASV).

The Greek preposition eis (for/unto) has long been a point of controversy between those who believe that baptism is essential to salvation, and those who repudiate that idea. It has been common over the years for scholars to allege that eis has a causal force, i.e., its meaning actually conveys this thought: “. . . be baptized because of the remission of your sins.” “Forgiveness,” it is claimed, is received at the point of faith — and that alone.

A.T. Robertson, the premier Baptist grammarian, argued this case in his famous work, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1930, III, 35-36). In addition, J.R. Mantey contended for the “causal” sense of eis in Acts 2:38, though he classified that use of the preposition as a “remote meaning.” His discussion clearly indicated, however, that he yielded to that view because of his conviction that, if baptism was “for the purpose of the remission of sins,” then salvation would be of works, and not by faith (a false conclusion) (see: H.E. Dana & J.R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, New York: Macmillan, 1955, 103-04). Those of the Baptist persuasion constantly appeal to Robertson and Mantey as authorities on this matter.

It has been a matter of long-standing knowledge, however, that the standard Greek lexicons do not define eis as “because of” with reference to Acts 2:38. J.H. Thayer, for instance, translated the term as follows, citing Acts 2:38 — “eis aphesin hamartion, to obtain the forgiveness of sins” (Greek-English Lexicon, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, 94). Wm. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, in a section where eis is defined as expressing “purpose,” with the sense of “in order to,” rendered the same phrase: “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven . . . Acts 2:38:” (Greek-English Lexicon, Chicago: University of Chicago, 1967, 228).

Elliger states that eis, in Acts 2:38, is designed “to indicate purpose” (Horst Balz & Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990, Vol. 1, 399). In his discussion of Acts 2:38, Ceslas Spicq noted: “Water baptism is a means of realizing this conversion, and its goal — something altogether new — is a washing, ‘the remission of sins’” (Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994, Vol. 1, 242). It is hardly necessary to pile up additional testimony.

That brings me to this point. In 1996, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, an associate professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, published his new book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan). It is a scholarly volume of more than 800 pages. In his discussion of eis, Wallace lists five uses of the preposition, and among them “causal” is conspicuously missing!

Prof. Wallace explains the absence. He says that an “interesting discussion over the force of eis took place several years ago, especially in relation to Acts 2:38.” He references the position of J.R. Mantey, that “eis could be used causally” in this passage. Wallace mentions that Mantey was taken to task by another scholar, Ralph Marcus (Marcus, Journal of Biblical Literature, 70 1952 129-30; 71 1953 44). These two men engaged in what Dr. Wallace called a “blow-by-blow” encounter. When the smoke had cleared, the Dallas professor concedes, “Marcus ably demonstrated that the linguistic evidence for a causal eis fell short of proof” (370).

It is not that Prof. Wallace has come to the conviction that baptism is essential for salvation. No, he resorts to other manipulations to resist that conclusion.

He has, however, rebuffed a long-defended argument that eis means “because of.” We are happy for that progress, and we, with genuine sincerity, pray that many of our Protestant, “faith-only” friends will make even further advancements toward the truth of the first-century gospel.

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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.