The Greek Preposition ‘Eis’
Recent correspondence via the church webpage involved one contending that human salvation is bestowed prior to the act of baptism. In response, numerous passages that contradict this errant theory were cited. The list included Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Forthcoming was the accusation that the church of Christ has twisted the meaning of the phrase “for the remission of sins,” and “that there is nothing in the Greek that necessarily implies that remission of sins occurs at baptism.”
The argument presented in the correspondence alleged that the English word “for” has a variety of meanings, one of which is “because”; and since this particular definition suits the theological position espoused by the critic, he insisted that Acts 2:38 does not teach that one is baptized in order to receive forgiveness of sins, but that one is baptized “because of the remission of sins.” This, of course, has been the standard assertion of those seeking to disassociate baptism from the remission of sins, i.e., that baptism is not essential to God’s salvific plan of human redemption. The unwarranted assumption by our critic is that the Greek preposition eis exhibits the same extreme flexibility in meaning as the English word “for” exhibits. However, it must be remembered, English is not Greek.
Commenting on the Greek language of the New Testament, noted French theologian, Ceslas Spicq, writes, “This language has its own rules and its own vocabulary. One cannot understand it except in light of the usages of the Greek language as it was spoken and written in the oikoumene of the first century, which is called ‘Standard Koine’” (1994, pp. 7, 8). It has been noted by numerous scholars that the Koine Greek is the most precise language for expressing human thought in the history of mankind. Based upon the need for lucid and coherent revelation of the gospel, Koine Greek is understandably the logical choice in the providence of God for the New Testament.
Gleason L. Archer explained, “Greek was the most ideally adapted linguistic medium for the World-Wide communication of the Gospel in the entire region of the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and the Near East. Accurate in expression, beautiful in sound, and capable of great rhetorical force, it furnished an ideal vehicle for the proclamation of God’s message to man, transcending Semitic barriers and reaching out to all the Gentile races. It is highly significant that the ‘fulness of times,’ the first advent of Christ, was deferred until such time as Greek opened up channels of communication to all the Gentile nations east of Italy and Libya on a level not previously possible under the multilingual situation that previously prevailed” (1975, p. 870).
English Translations of Acts 2:38
If the Greek preposition eis can properly be defined by the word “because,” it would seem probable that some English versions would employ the term in the translation of Acts 2:38. However, a search of notable English translations yielded the following:
(a) “for the remission of sins” – King James Version
(b) ”for the remission of sins” – New King James Version
(c) “unto the remission of your sins” – American Standard Version
(d) “for the forgiveness of your sins” – New American Standard Bible
(e) “for the forgiveness of your sins” – English Standard Version
(f) “to remission of sins” – Young’s Literal Translation
(g) “for the forgiveness of your sins” – New International Version
(h) “unto the remission of your sins” – Revised Version
(i) “so that your sins may be forgiven” – New Revised Standard Version
(j) “for the remission of your sins” – Douay/Rheims Version
(k) “for the remission of your sins” – James Moffatt Translation
(l) “for the Forgiveness of your sins” – The Emphatic Diaglott
Each one of these twelve harmonizes with the others, accentuating the goal or purpose of repentance and baptism as “for,” “unto,” “to,” or “so that” sins could be forgiven. In Acts 2:38, the word “for” retains the same meaning as “unto.” In no reputable English version does the retrospective “because” ever translate the Greek eis; and this is based upon the fact that eis does not mean “because,” but is always forward looking as indicated by the terms “to,” “unto,” “for,” and “so that.” If eis could actually be defined as “because,” why have the English translators of the past five hundred years never employed the word “because” into any passage translating the Greek preposition eis?
The Preposition Eis Defined
Spanning the New Testament, there are approximately 1,774 occurrences of the Greek preposition eis. In light of the abundance of examples, the overall sense of the preposition becomes apparent from the context in which it is found. An examination of its usage indicates the preposition is always prospective in direction and never retrospective. It is a goal or aim oriented term. The preposition eis is used with the accusative case, indicating the object of verbal action. Typical English translations include terms such as in, into, to, unto, toward, for, in order to, etc.
Greek authorities, Louw and Nida, classify eis as “a marker of intent, often with the implication of expected result—‘for the purpose of, in order to’” (1996, LN 89.57, respecting Acts 2:38). James Swanson describes eis as “in order to, a marker of purpose” (1997, #1650, 6.). He references the previous Louw/Nida citation, “LN 89.57.”
The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Aland, et. al., 2006) also connects eis in Acts 2:38 with the cited explanation “LN 89.57” indicating “for the purpose of, in order to.” The subsequent definition by Strong is referenced as well.
James Strong defines the preposition eis: “to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time, or (fig.) purpose, (result, etc.)” (2009, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and the Hebrew Bible).
The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament states that eis is “an indicator of direction toward a goal, not as an indicator of location without direction.” Regarding Acts 2:38, eis is used “to indicate purpose” (Balz, 1990, Vol. 1, pp. 398-99).
E. W. Bullinger provided the definition: “eis, into, to, unto, with a view to; hence with respect to a certain event, in order to, for” (1999, p. 295; italics in orig.).
Arndt and Gingrich define eis: “in order to”; declaring the meaning of the phrase as: “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven . . . Acts 2:38:” (1967, p. 228).
Likewise, celebrated scholar, J. H. Thayer, citing Acts 2:38, translates the phrase as follows: “eis aphesin hamartion, to obtain the forgiveness of sins” (1958, p. 94).
Ceslas Spicq conveyed: “Water baptism is a means of realizing this conversion, and its goal – something altogether new – is a washing, ‘the remission of sins’” (1994, p. 242). We find here the concept of being “born again” (John 3:7), through “the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26) and “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Paul indicted some of the Corinthians as formerly rank sinners, but assured them, saying, “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). As noted by Spicq, baptism “is a washing, ‘the remission of sins.’”
Robinson also connected forgiveness of sins with baptism, commenting that eis in Acts 2:38, marked “the object and effect of the rite of baptism; chiefly with eis c. acc. to baptize or be baptized into anything” (1855, p. 118).
These quotations have been taken from the most prestigious Greek scholars of the past two centuries, and none have any known association with the church of Christ. The list of those defining eis in Acts 2:38 as “in order to obtain the remission of sins” would grow exponentially if citations from scholarly men associated with the church of Christ were included, but these are not needed as the world’s greatest Greek Lexicographers are unanimous in defining eis as purpose or goal oriented in Acts 2:38.
Only in rare instances has one attempted to define the preposition eis with a meaning contrary to those presented here, but in those rare cases, either the presenter acknowledged the forward looking nature of the word before attempting to circumvent the usual meaning in Acts 2:38, or, upon distribution of the volume, other able scholars took the dissident behind the “theological woodshed” for misrepresenting certain and known rules concerning the preposition eis.
An example of the first issues from renowned Southern Baptist theologian, A. T. Robertson, who, although keenly aware of the proper direction of eis, offered a solution to the Acts 2:38 difficulty: “After all is done, instances remain where syntax cannot say the last word, where theological bias will inevitably determine how one interprets the Greek idiom…So in Ac. 2:38 eis does not of itself express design (see Mt. 10:41), but it may be so used. When the grammarian has finished, the theologian steps in, and sometimes before the grammarian is through” (1919, p. 389). Robertson’s position is clearly stated – he believes theological bias trumps the inspired grammar of the New Testament witness. God forbid!
The case of J. R. Mantey represents the latter “rare instance” of scholarly impropriety. Mantey was taken behind the “theological woodshed” for actions detrimental to the integrity of the linguistic profession. Mantey argued strongly for a “causal” sense of eis in Acts 2:38, though he classified that use as a “remote meaning” (Dana & Mantey, 1955, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, pp. 103-04). He admitted the intent was to disassociate baptism as an act essential to salvation based upon his own theological position that salvation by grace would be violated if baptism was indeed “unto” or “in order to obtain” forgiveness of sins.
Another scholar, Ralph Marcus, objected to Mantey’s hypothesis of a “casual eis,” and took him to task on the subject (see: “On Casual Eis,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 70, 1952, pp. 129-30). Following a Mantey rebuttal, Marcus responded a second time, demonstrating conclusively that a supposed “casual” use of eis has no voice in New Testament linguistics, asserting, “If, therefore, Professor Mantey is right in his interpretation of various NT passages on baptism and repentance and the remission of sins, he is right for reasons that are non-linguistic” (Marcus, 1953, “The Elusive Casual Eis,” JBL 71, p. 44).
In his book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (1996, p. 389), Daniel B. Wallace details the following uses of eis under a section titled:
Basic Uses (with Accusative only)
1. Spatial : into, toward, in
2. Temporal: for, throughout
3. Purpose: for, in order to, to
4. Result: so that, with the result that
5. Reference/Respect: with respect to, with reference to
6. Advantage: for
7. Disadvantage: against
8. In the place of ev (with its various nuances)
The host of Greek lexicographers cited previously were unanimous in the assessment that number 3 – “Purpose: for, in order to, to” – is the proper application of eis in Acts 2:38. Furthermore, notice should be given that in no respects is eis ever defined by the word “because.” Peter commanded his audience to repent and be baptized “to obtain the forgiveness of sins” (Thayer, op. cit.); not “because of the forgiveness of sins” as alleged by our correspondent who simply parrots the explanation of those leading his respective denomination. The Greek preposition eis is clearly and coherently defined; it is only those who reject the apostle’s teaching that baptism is necessary “for the forgiveness of sins” that protest the unmistakable meaning of eis in Acts 2:38.
New Testament Commentators
The following outline was borrowed from the Gospel Advocate Commentaries pertaining to the definition assigned eis by various denominational commentators. It is interesting to observe that although a variety of expressions are utilized to define eis in Acts 2:38, each one represents the aim, goal, or purpose orientation of the Greek preposition. Despite the personal theological positions espoused by these commentators that baptism is not necessary for salvation, their integrity for conveying accurate information overrides their bias, resulting in truthful exegesis of the phrase eis aphesin hamartion.
Meaning of "Eis" in Acts 2:38
"for the putting away"
"for, to or toward"
"unto, for, in order to"
"end toward which"
"in reference to"
"is always prospective"
"in order to"
"the object to be obtained"
"unto, in order to receive"
"unto, to this end"
"with a view to"
"in order to"
"unto, to the end"
"into, to, toward"
"in order to"
Church of England
Church of England
"Commentary on Acts"
"Commentary on Acts"
"Commentary on Bible"
"Commentary on Acts"
"Commentary on Bible"
"Commentary on John"
"Commentary on Acts"
"Commentary on Acts"
McLintock & Strong En.
"Commentary on Acts"
"Commentary on Acts"
Baptist Quarterly, 1878
—Gospel Advocate Commentaries, H. Leo Boles, 1989
On what ground could any dispute the meaning of eis in Acts 2:38? Literally across all theological boundaries appears the consensus that the preposition eis is aim, goal, or purpose oriented in this disputed passage. Of course, the dispute involves not the unimpeachable definition of the Greek eis, but an unwillingness to simply believe the doctrinal import of the inspired text.
Demonstrating integrity of linguistic accuracy above the sway of theological bias, renowned Baptist scholar, H. B. Hackett, rendered the Greek phrase in Acts 2:38, “eis aphesin hamartion, in order to the forgiveness of sins…we connect, naturally, with both the preceding verbs. This clause states the motive or object which should induce them to repent and be baptized. It enforces the entire exhortation, not one part of it to the exclusion of the other" (1879, p. 54; bold emp. in orig.).
In McGarvey’s Original Commentary on Acts, he writes, “Dr. Alexander (Presbyterian) says, "The whole phrase, to (or toward) remission of sins, describes this as the end to which the multitude had reference, and which, therefore, must be contemplated in the answer." Again: "The beneficial end to which all this led was the remission of sins" McGarvey additionally noted, “it would seem undeniable that remission of sins is the blessing in order to the enjoyment of which they were commanded to repent and be immersed” (1872, 2:38; ital. in orig.).
Due to the theological abandonment of baptism as a prerequisite of salvation, the clearly stated, uncomplicated meaning of Peter’s command to repent and be baptized “unto the remission of sins” is disbelieved and argued against by most claiming Christianity in modern times. However, regardless of the hand wringing and blatant denials by those similar to our correspondent, the inspired text of Acts 2:38 remains unchanged in meaning across the centuries. The testimony of a diverse host of commentators harmonizes with the definition of lexicographers and translators previously examined.
In addition to English translations which consistently use words such as “to, unto, for, so that” to express the Greek eis in Acts 2:38, and the reliable definition assigned by the most renowned Greek lexicographers of the past two centuries, and the admission of denominational commentators that eis is goal oriented, the use of the identical phrase – eis aphesin hamartion – in other New Testament passages presents an additional insurmountable hurdle to anyone desiring to argue against the purpose orientation of the preposition eis in Acts 2:38. One of the best methods for interpreting biblical language is simply to allow the Bible to explain itself.
In his famous work, Biblical Hermeneutics, M. S. Terry defined the concept of “analogy of faith.” This principle “assumes that the Bible is a self-interpreting book, and what is obscure in one passage may be illuminated by another. No single statement or obscure passage of one book can be allowed to set aside a doctrine which is clearly established by many passages” (1890, p. 449). This form of reasoning is extremely sound, especially when comparing precise language in identical context. The meaning of the word or phrase as it appears in an unambiguous text will define how the same word or phrase is used in a controverted text.
Concerning the phrase eis aphesin hamartion (“for the forgiveness of sins”), the Bible uses this exact phraseology multiple times, providing an inspired commentary of the intended meaning of the phrase. Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3 characterize the baptism of John in the region of the Jordan as a baptism of repentance “for the forgiveness of sins.” Here is the identical Greek phrase as found in Acts 2:38, but regarding the ministry of John, not one voice is raised against this being a reference to the acquisition of forgiveness of sins through compliance with the baptism of repentance. Those coming to John were “confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5), being baptized “for the forgiveness of sins.” It is untenable to suggest that these were being baptized “because of” sins already forgiven, and thus no one attempts such silliness with these passages.
Preceding His ascension into heaven, Jesus commissioned the apostles, saying to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:46-7; NASB). Although the Textus Receptus follows late manuscripts which read “that repentance and remission of sins would be proclaimed” (see KJV; emp. added), the Greek preposition eis (“for”) rather than the conjunction kai (“and”) is preferred by the United Bible Societies’ Editorial Committee of distinguished Greek Scholars as the authentic reading of Luke 24:47 based upon the presence of eis in the earliest extant manuscripts (see Metzger, 1994, p. 161).
The apostles were charged with proclaiming the terms whereby fallen humanity could receive pardon from sins. Luke records “that repentance for forgiveness of sins” should be preached. Unless one is inclined to argue that salvation belongs to one apart from and without “repentance,” concession must be made that the phrase eis aphesin hamartion points to the goal, aim, or purpose of repentance as instructed by Jesus.
Furthermore, it is a mistake to quibble over the absence of baptism in the Lukan passage, because in the Apostolic Commission related by Matthew and Mark, baptism is clearly commanded by Jesus as essential to salvation and association with the name of God. Mark records Jesus saying, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16; cf. Matthew 28:19-20). Putting the three accounts together correlates belief, repentance, and baptism as necessary elements “for the forgiveness of sins.” The preaching of repentance and baptism in Acts 2:38 “for the forgiveness of sins” is the fulfillment of Jesus’ instructions in the Apostolic Commission. If repentance is “for the forgiveness of sins” in Luke 24:47, both repentance and baptism are “for the forgiveness of sins” in Acts 2:38.
Perhaps the most significant witness to the meaning of eis aphesin hamartion comes from the explanation given by Jesus concerning the cup of the Lord’s Supper. Having distributed the cup, Jesus declared, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28; emp. added). Here is the exact phrase as found in Acts 2:38, but, again, not one theologian can be located who argues Jesus died “because of” sins already forgiven. Jesus died to make forgiveness of sins obtainable, i.e., “that sins might be forgiven” (Arndt, op. cit.).
Even renowned Baptist scholar, A. T. Robertson, who attempted to twist Acts 2:38 into conformity with his own theological bias, was forced to relinquish his position that eis aphesin hamartion means “because of” when explaining Matthew 26:28. Of the phrase in this text, he stated: “The purpose of the shedding of his blood of the New Covenant was precisely to remove (forgive) sins” (1930, p. 210). If it means “to remove (forgive) sins” in Matthew 26:28, why does the identical phrase not mean the same in Acts 2:38?
We have five instances of the phrase eis aphesin hamartion in the New Testament; however, it is only Acts 2:38 which is reassigned a meaning that is incongruous with the well attested definition of the Greek preposition eis and its biblically established pattern of grammatical usage in conjunction with “the forgiveness of sins.” The phrase eis aphesin hamartion (“for the forgiveness of sins”) always indicates the purpose or goal of the prior verb(s). John preached a baptism of repentance “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Jesus poured out His blood of the covenant “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The apostles were ordered to preach repentance “for the forgiveness of sin” (Luke 24:47). And during the inaugural address of the gospel, Peter commanded both repentance and baptism “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).
Passage comparison offers compelling evidence to the explanation of many controversial statements in the Bible. Allowing the clear, unambiguous text to explain the less certain or controverted text is an honest appeal to the Bible as a “self-interpreting” book. While members of the church of Christ often employ this method of interpretation when explaining the meaning of “for the forgiveness of sins” in Acts 2:38, the failure to consistently apply the same technique has resulted in unwarranted assumptions being espoused to explain other nearby phrases, although no clear precedence can be cited to demonstrate the reality of the assumption. The “goose/gander” proverb would seem to have applicable relevance in these particular situations.
Based upon all the evidence, it is not the church of Christ which has twisted the meaning of eis aphesin hamartion as our email correspondent protested, stating, “that there is nothing in the Greek that necessarily implies that remission of sins occurs at baptism.” In actuality, linguistic scholars are unanimously opposed to his baseless allegation. The world’s foremost Greek authorities qualify Acts 2:38 as commanding repentance and baptism for the purpose of obtaining the remission of sins – notwithstanding their own personal bias that salvation results either from “grace alone” or “faith alone.”
If the inerrant, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures is accepted, it is the unquestionable meaning of the original Greek that holds theological significance – not the personal bias of the lexicographer. The grammar of Peter was inspired by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4); the personal theology of the modern-day grammarian is not inspired. One must never confuse the theological opinion of the commentator with the incontrovertible linguistic categorization. Greek scholars delineate eis as signifying repentance and baptism “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven…Acts 2:38” (Arndt, op. cit.).
A prominent church historian avows, “Very early, baptism was so far identified with regeneration as to be designated by this term. This rite was considered essential to salvation” (Fisher, 1890, p. 83; cf. Titus 3:5). Another church historian cited more than eighty instances from the writings of the Patristic Fathers highlighting their conviction that immersion in water is essential to obtaining the forgiveness of sins (Bercot, 1998, pp. 50-56). The universal testimony spanning the early centuries of Christianity cannot be silenced by the most recent half-millennium protest against baptism for the remission of sins. Peter’s inspired words remain true today: “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).
Contrary to the opinion of our recent correspondent, the overwhelming evidence is conclusive that the Greek not only implies that remission of sins occurs at baptism, such is the intentional design of the inspired language. There are more passages connecting baptism with forgiveness of sins in the New Testament than there are explicit declarations that Jesus Christ is God! It is pure unbelief that causes one to reject the clearly defined meaning of the apostle’s command in Acts 2:38: “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins.”
Aland, Kurt, et. al (2006), The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear With
Morphology) (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft).
Arndt, Wm and Gingrich, F. W. (1967), Greek-English Lexicon (Chicago: University of Chicago).
Archer, Gleason L. (1975), Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3,
Merrill C. Tenney, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Balz, Horst and Schneider, Gerhard (1990), Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand
Bercot, David W. (1998), A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Boles, H. Leo (1989), Gospel Advocate Commentaries: Acts (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).
Bullinger, E. W. (1999), A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications).
Dana, H. E. & Mantey, J. R. (1955), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York:
Fisher, George Park (1890), History of the Christian Church (London, England: Hodder & Stoughton).
Hackett, H. B. (1879), A Commentary on the Original Text of the Acts of the Apostles (Andover, MA:
Warren F. Draper).
Louw, Johannes P. and Nida, Eugene Albert (1996), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament:
Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible
McGarvey, J. W. (1872), McGarvey’s Original Commentary on Acts (Lexington, KY: Transylvania
Printing and Publishing Company).
Metzger, Bruce M. (1994), A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition
(Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft).
Robertson, A. T. (1919), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research,
Third Edition (New York: George H. Doran Company).
Robertson, A. T. (1930), Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 1 (Nashville, TN: Broadman).
Robinson, Edward (1855), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York, NY: Harper &
Spicq, Ceslas (1994), Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Strong, James (2009) A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew
Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software).
Swanson, James (1997), Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New
Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.).
Thayer, J. H. (1958), Greek-English Lexicon (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark).