Summary: This is an examination of the meaning of the Greek preposition "eis" as we determine whether remission of sins precedes or follows repentance and baptism.
During the last Century, theologians who believe that salvation is attained only by belief in Christ have made the assertion that the Greek preposition eis translated in Acts 2:38 as “for” should be translated “because of”. They assert that the Greek would suggest that one must repent and be baptized “because” their sins are forgiven rather than they should repent and be baptized “in order to attain” the forgiveness of sins.
Those who are experts in the Greek language dispel the validity of these assertions.
First, it must be understood that the preposition eis is used to indicate that the motion of the verb(s) are toward the object following the preposition. As a preposition, it is always prospective - forward looking. There is not a reputable Greek expert in the world that will assert that the preposition eis is casual or retrospective - looks backward - in meaning. In other words, never does the motion of the verb(s) flow away from the object as if the motion is a result of the object having already been reached or attained.
Let us hear from the Greek experts -
Harvard University’s Professor of Greek Literature, William W. Goodwin, has said, “I must say that I cannot conceive of any expression in which eis would be properly translated ‘because of‘. I should say that I do not see how eis can ever be retrospective.” Professor Goodwin is the author of Goodwin’s Greek Grammer which is used to teach Greek in the leading colleges and universities in the Nation.
Thomas D. Seymour LL.D., Professor of Greek at Yale University says, “I do not remember any passage in which eis could properly be translated ‘because of’. Eis is never retrospective. It always implies that the person or thing or act concerned is turned toward the thing which follows eis.”
University of Edinburgh’s Professor of Greek, Samuel Henry Butcher (who is a Presbyterian) states that eis “expresses the end toward which the action tends.”
Doctor George Benedict Winer, author of the highly esteemed Winer’s New Testament Grammar, states that eis points to “the purpose and end in view.”
Charles B. Williams (Baptist), who has been Dean of Southwestern Seminary, President of Samford University, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Mercer University and Professor of Greek and Ethics at Union University unequivocally states that “eis is always prospective”.
Daniel Allen Penick, PhD (a Presbyterian), Professor of Classical Languages at the University of Texas, says “eis looks forward and I know of no case in the New Testament where it looks back.”
Albert Harkness, Professor of the Greek Language and Literature at Brown University, another eminent Baptist, says eis “denotes purpose, in order to, for the purpose of receiving”
George Ricker Berry, PhD., Professor of Semitic Languages at both the University of Chicago & Colgate University and author of A New Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, instructs that “eis [is a] preposition governing accusative, into, to (the interior). In composition, it implies motion into or towards.”
W.R. Harper, Ph.D, who served as Greek Professor at both Yale and Chicago Universities and authored An Introductory New Testament Greek Method, says that eis means “‘unto’, i.e., ‘in order to secure.’”
C.H. Morgan, Dean of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary “I do not know of any recognized Greek lexicon which gives to eis the meaning of ‘because of’.”
Professor of Greek Language and Literature, A. C. Axtell (Baptist), in speaking of eis gives the following: “unto, for, in order to, with a view to, denotes the object or end toward which the action expressed by the predicate verb(s) is to be directed.”
The Greek experts testify that there is not a single instance in all of the Greek ancient secular or sacred literature in which preposition eis is used where the context indicates that it means “because of.” Eis is always prospective (looking forward to that which is to be obtained, reached, etc) and never retrospective (looking backward to that which has already been obtained, reached, etc).
When Greek authorities analyze the Greek text and ignore theology, they are bound to admit that Acts 2:38 teaches repentance and baptism looks forward to attaining the remittance or forgiveness of sins. Greek grammar will not allow the text to mean that one repents and is baptized because of their having had their sins remitted or forgiven.
Again, let’s hear the Greek authorities on interpreting and translating Acts 2:38 -
William Seymour Tyler, DD, LL.D., Professor of Greek at Amherst College for sixty years: “I shall translate Acts 2:38 literally thus: ‘Repent and let every one of you be baptized in (or on) the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins.’ The preposition eis seems to denote the object and end of the two verbs which precede in the imperative. In other words, remission of sins is the object and end result of repentance and baptism. The meaning may perhaps be more definitely and unequivocally expressed thus: Repent and let every one of you be baptized to the end that your sins may be forgiven.”