By Cecil Willis
After having discussed the subject and the act of baptism, it logically follows that we should now discuss the design or the purpose of baptism. Throughout the years, I would venture to guess, that there has been no sin0le subject that has been the object of more discussions than has the subject of the purpose of baptism. Today there are many private discussions as to why people are to be baptized. In days gone by there have been hundreds and perhaps even thousands of public discussions as to the design of baptism, but one seldom hears of public discussions on the purpose of baptism anymore, for denominational preachers have either lost confidence in their conviction, or have lost courage to defend it, for they Do longer will affirm publicly what they teach concerning the purpose of baptism.
All the controversy that has raged concerning why one is baptized has been needless. If the design of baptism can be settled, then there is no need for extended controversy. We believe that controversy could soon be ended if men would only affirm what they believe and let it be examined in the light of New Testament teaching. On the other hand, if the New Testament does not teach plainly enough on this subject that the differences could be settled, then there should be no controversy at all about it. Actually all agree that the Bible is the only solution to the problem, for every time their teaching and practice are called in question, they turn to the Scripture to prove that they are correct in their teaching.
Were you to ask several different people why they were baptized, more than likely they would give you several varying answers. Men are at disagreement as to the purpose, or design of baptism, and for the next two or three weeks, the Lord permitting, we wish to study certain passages in the Bible which teach us why we should be baptized.
If you were to ask the first person that you meet why you should be baptized, he probably would tell you that baptism is nothing more than a sign of salvation. It is significant, to me, to learn that practically every religious organization practices baptism of some sort, for some reason. Some of them sprinkle, some pour, and some immerse for the act of baptism, and they have different reasons for doing it, but practically all people practice baptism in some manner of their own choosing. As we said though, some tell us that baptism has absolutely nothing to do with receiving the remission of sins, but that it is only an outward sign of an inward grace. They tell us that it is only evidence to the world that you have been saved. To them baptism follows salvation, and is nothing more than a badge showing the world that you are no longer a part of it, but that vou now are saved. We will not argue the accuracy of this position just now, but will only state it and then refer to it just by showing what the Bible says baptism is for. But one idea as to why one should be baptized is to show the world that he has been saved.
Why Should I Be Baptized?
Should you confront others with the question, “Why should I be baptized?”, they would tell you that you should be baptized in order to get into the church. Of course, they would be quick to tell you that being baptized had nothing to do with being saved, but that it was merely the action that puts you into the church, Possibly some of you readers belong to churches which teach that one of the two reasons that we have already mentioned are the only reasons why one should be baptized. Only in passing, let me say concerning this position that if baptism has nothing to do with salvation, it is rather odd that one cannot get into the church without being baptized, yet it is very easy to go to heaven without it. Many denominational preachers would tell us that one could go to heaven without being baptized. In fact, so many have preached that doctrine all over this land, that men and women have come to accept is as axiomatic. They accept it without questioning it. Yet while they are quick to tell us that one can go to heaven without being baptized, they will not even consider an individual for membership into their church without baptism. Isn’t it strange, friend, that it is harder to get into some churches than it is to go to heaven? They tell us that one can go to heaven without baptism, but he cannot get into their church without it. Personally, I would not be too much concerned, in fact, not concerned at all, about getting in to a church that teaches this doctrine.
Further, were you to ask others why one should be baptized, they would answer, “for the remission of sins.” They say that baptism is to “wash away your sins.” Therefore, without it, there can be no remission of sin. These are the reasons for which various groups would tell us that one should be baptized.
Inasmuch, as we are interested in learning why we should be baptized, I beseech you to disregard what each or any group of men tell you about why one should be baptized, and study what the Bible says about the purpose, the design of baptism.
We are concentrating our remarks to one passage for I believe that no passage is more explicit concerning the purpose of baptism, than the one to which we are looking at this present moment. On the first day that the gospel was preached under the authority of Christ Jesus, the day of Pentecost, Peter, the Apostle delivered a great gospel sermon, in which he accused the Jews of having murdered Christ, the Son of God. After he had presented his testimony proving to them that they had killed God’s Son, they realized their plight. They were laden with sin, and consequently doomed, so they cried out, “Men and Brethren, what shall we do?’ “And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ into the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, A.S.V.). “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (K.J.V.).
In this one passage, there is plainly stated the purpose, or the design of baptism. Baptism is here said to be “for the remission of sins.” In this one passage lies the answer to the problem, if there can truly said to be a problem, as to the purpose of baptism.
When these Jews asked what they must do, Peter said, repent and be baptized “for the remission of sins.” The expression “for the remission of sins,” has been interpreted two ways by men. Some have said that “for the remission of sins” means “because of the remission of sins,” while others say that “for the remission of sins” means “in order to receive the remission of sins.” According to the first of these two theories, Peter was telling the people to repent and be baptized because they had had their sins forgiven. It seems rather useless to have to discuss this further, but we must.
As the most of us realize, the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language, and therefore for us to know of a certainty what the apostles or Christ meant when they used certain words, we must go back to the original language itself. We may study the usage of the same word in other passages of the New Testament, or we may look in a Greek lexicon for the meaning. We intend to do both in determining what the expression “for the remission of sins” means.
The whole of the discussion centers around the proposition, “for.” Does “for” mean “because of” or does it mean “in order to?” If “for” means “because of,” then it means that we are to be baptized because we have been saved. If “for” means, “in order to,” then it means that we are to be baptized in order to be saved. There is no other alternative.
The English word “for” in this passage comes from a Greek preposition, eis. “The authorities, all of them, bear witness to the fact that eis never looks backward but always forward; that is, it is never rendered “because of” or on “account of” in all the New Testament, and it never had that meaning in any New Testament passage-not one” (Wallace, Bullwarks of the Faith, Vol. 2; pg. 50). In fact, I have quotations of this passage, Acts 2:38, from twenty-eight separate translations, and not one of them renders the expression “for the remission of sins” as “because of the remission of sins,” or “on account of the remission of sins. There is no reputable Greek scholar that renders eis “because of” or “on account of.” Actually, I have never seen any translation of the Bible that renders Acts 2:38 in such a way that it reads that we are to be baptized because our sins have been remitted. ‘There definitely are words in the Greek language that mean “because of,” or “on account,” but the one used in Acts 2:38, eis, always means “in order to, or unto.” So then, Peter was telling these Jews to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order to receive the remission of sins.
We have briefly studied the expression “for the remission of sins” from the Greek language, and now we want to notice the usage of the same Greek preposition “for,” in other passages in the New Testament and see it used there.
First, in Matt. 26:28, Jesus said, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins” (A.S.V.). The K.J.V. reads, “this is my blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.” If you will notice, Jesus said that He shed His blood that many might have the remission of sins, but he expressed it like this. He said his blood was shed “for the remission of sins.” This is exactly the same expression that occurs in Acts 2:38 when Peter said repentance and baptism are “for the remission of sins.” The wording is precisely the same, both in the English and the Greek. Whatever the Lord meant in Matt. 26:28 when He said His blood was shed “for the remission of sins,” Peter meant in Acts 2 when he told the Jews to repent and be baptized “for the remission of sins.” Now then, did Jesus die because man already had the remission of sins, or did He die in order that man rnight have the remission of sins? Certainly all of us know that Jesus died that we might receive the forgiveiruss of our sins. It would have been foolishness, mockory, and superfulous action, for Christ to have died because man had received the remission of sin. The absurdity of denominational teaching is that they interpret the statement of Christ when He says that His blood was shed “for the remission of sins” to mean that He died in order that man might receive the forgiveness of sins, which is correct. But then, they come to the exact statement in Acts 2 as to the purpose of baptism, and here they say it means because we have already received the remission of sins. Had Peter meant to say that baptism is because of the remission of sins, rather than use the preposition which means “in order to, or unto,” he would have used the preposition dia, which means “because of,” or “on account of.” But he did not. Peter said what he meant, and meant what he said, and, he said baptism is in order to receive the remission of sins.
The same Greek preposition is used in Rom. 10:10, when Paul said, “for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” Paul states that man “believes unto righteousness,” and “confesses unto salvation.” The same preposition translated “for” in Acts 2:38 is here used. Now does it mean “because of” or “in order to” here? Everv denorninationalist would tell you that you believe in order to righteousness, and not because of righteousness, and that you confess in order to be saved, and not because you are saved. There are other instances in which this word is used, and in every single instance of its use, it means that repentance, confession or baptism is unto the remission of sins, or in order to receive the remission of sins.
We might further notice that Peter said that we are to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” Whatever repentance is for, baptism is for. You never heard anyone say that you were to repent because you have been saved. You repent in order to be saved, Baptism and repentance are for the same purpose, and both are in order to be saved. Can one be saved without repenting? CerLahily not! And neither can one be saved without the other requisite that Peter here mentions. One cannot be saved without baptism, for both repentance and baptism are “for the remission of sins.”
Truth Magazine XX: 39, pp. 611-613
September 30, 1976