Sunday, July 10, 2016

Exegeting Acts 2: 38

(From my debate with John Gentry in 2008)

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.

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