EIS, "For the Forgiveness" or "Because of Forgiveness?"

Jack P. Lewis

Prior to Jesus' public ministry, John the Baptist had preached a baptism of repentance for remission of sins (eis aphesin hamartion; Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3). Those people who rejected John's baptism rejected for themselves the counsel of God (Luke 7:29, 30). Its purpose is identical with the purposes suggested for Jesus' death (Matthew 26:28) and for the baptism of Pentecost (Acts 2:38).

Jesus died (shed His blood) in order that people could have remission of sins (eis aphesin hamartion; Matthew 26:28). Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission (Hebrews 9:22). No one could argue that Jesus died because sins had already been forgiven. He purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). With His blood He purchased a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14). He died for our sins (huper ton hamartion; I Corinthians 15:3).

Jesus, after the resurrection, informed His disciples that it was written that the Christ should suffer and be raised on the third day and that repentance and the remission of sins (eis aphesis hamartion) be preached in His name unto all the nations (Luke 24:47). Would anyone want to argue that repentance is to be done because sins have already been forgiven?

In each of these verses, the phrase is the same as that in Acts 2:38--eis aphesin hamartion. If one case means "because of," then all should mean that.

Acts 2:38 was rendered into Latin by Jerome as in remissio peccatorium vestorum, and it came into English with John Wycliffe in 1380 reading "in to remission." With Tyndale (1525) it came to be "for the remission" and remained that way through all the English translations (Great Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishops' Bible, Rheims and King James). The RV/ASV (1881/1901) rendered the verse "unto remission": but the RSV then continued "for" in the phrase "for the forgiveness."

The New Testaments surveyed in twenty-six translations have some variety (Curtis Vaughn, The New Testament from 26 Translations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 444.): "that you may have your sins forgiven" (Williams), "into the remission" (Rotherham), "unto remission" (American Bible Union), "for the forgiveness" (Twentieth Century New Testament), "in order to have your sins forgiven" (Goodspeed), and "so that you can have" (Phillips). Other renderings include Knox: "to have your sins forgiven"; Centenary Translation: "for remission," and Schonfield: "for the forgiveness." Not a one of them has any suggestion of "because of"-- that is that eis is to be understood as starting what has already taken place.

The translations of the last half of the twentieth century are not different: NASV: "for the forgiveness." TEV: "so that your sins may be forgiven." Lamsa: "for the forgiveness." NKJV: "for the remission." NIV: "for the forgiveness." NAB: "for the forgiveness." Cassirer: "so that your sins may be forgiven you." REB: "then your sins will be forgiven," and NRSV: "so that your sins may be forgiven." These renderings represent the best understanding of the most capable contemporary scholarship -- Catholic, Evangelical, and Protestant. In fact it is doubtful that any English translation can be turned up which understood the verse in any other way.

A.T. Robertson said,

            But in Matthew 28:19, baptizontes eis to onoma, 
            and Romans 6:3f. eis Christon and eis ton thanaton, 
            the notion of sphere is the true one. The same thing 
            may be true of baptisthento eis aphesis ton hamartion
            Acts 2:38), where only the context and the tenor of 
            N.T. teaching can determine whether "into," "unto," or 
            merely "in" or "on" ("upon") is the right translation, 
            a task for the interpreter, not for the grammarian. 
            (A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament 
            in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: 
            Broadman Press, 1934), 592).

The Greek lexicon shows that among the multiple uses of eis with the accusative case is the expression of purpose. Nets are let down "for a catch" (Luke 5:4; eis agran), and there is "for this reason" (eis touto; Mark 1:38; John 18:37; Acts 9:21; etc.). Along with these are listed all the occurrences of eis aphesin hamartion considered earlier in this paper (Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, tr. and ed. W.F. Arndt, R.W. Gingrich, and F.W. Danker (2nd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 229). Moule lists Acts 2:38 in the cases where eis has the sense of "with a view to" or "resulting in."(C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: University Press, 1959), 70). Turner lists the verse as an example of "purposive eis"!!! (J.H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol., 3 Syntax by Nigel Turner (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963), 266).

Coming at the same question from another viewpoint, the promise of the commission in Mark is "He that believes and is baptized will be saved" (sosthesetai; Mark 16:16). The verb is future tense. Salvation is plainly placed after baptism. The structure is parallel to that of Acts 2:38 where the obedient are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again the tense is future (lempsesthe). Should one expect the Holy Spirit prior to doing the things specified as prerequisites? Every conversion narrated in the book of Acts ends with the baptism of the individual. They are not treated as though saved and then later baptized.

The death to sin is connected by Paul with baptism. One is buried with Christ in baptism into His death and then raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Newness of life here after baptism, not before it. One comes into contact with Christ's death at baptism.

Yet again in Peter's declaration that baptism, the like figure to the flood, "now saves you" (1Peter 3:21). Hearts are sprinkled from an evil conscience, but bodies are washed in pure water (Hebrews 10:22).