Recently I posted an article responding to Damon Richardson’s mishandling of the Greek text of Acts 2:38. In return Damon has offered a response in one of the most scholarly ways possible: on Facebook. I have provided screenshots of his social media diatribe below. In this present article I will be addressing Damon’s “worded response.”
As we are getting started, I’d like respond to Damon’s claim that my article didn’t address the crux of his argument. I expressly stated in my initial article that I did not have space to address Damon’s entire argument and that I was going to be focusing on his argument from the Greek. I couldn’t possibly respond to a nearly two hour long video; and no matter how much I respond to now, Damon will always complain that I have left something unaddressed.
I suspect that Damon is trying to direct the conversation toward “the crux of the argument” and away from the Greek because my first article demonstrated just how poor his handling of the Greek was. But that is just suspicion. Since I stipulated in my initial article that my purpose to address the Greek, that is where the vast majority of this post will be directed (essentially, that is, at the first point of Damon’s rebuttal). While Damon’s other three points would make for interesting discussion, they are irrelevant to my stated purpose—examining the Greek text of Acts 2:38. Perhaps I will respond to them at another time.
Damon’s Use of E. Calvin Beisner
I find it interesting that Damon calls my response “weak.” If my argument is so “weak,” why does Damon deflect back to Beisner instead of just refuting me? If you read Damon’s diatribe, you will notice that he never addresses any of the grammatical/semantic counterclaims that I made in my article. Never once does he deal with the semantic connection between μετανοησατε, the subject-phrase ἑκαστος ὑμων, and the prepositional phrase εἰς ἀφεσιν των ἁμαρτιων ὑμων.
For someone who says that Greek is “waters that [Oneness Pentecostals] don’t waddle in,” Damon is surprisingly reluctant to waddle around in the Greek pond with me. It is telling that Damon won’t (or more likely, can’t) engage my counterarguments. Calling my arguments “weak” doesn’t make them so, and Damon’s lack of a real response here makes that point all too plainly. Instead Damon has elected to hide behind Beisner and then criticize me for not addressing a scholar whom Damon cited “by stumbling through” (more like, “by bumbling through”).
Moreover, it is perfectly legitimate (viz., not a straw man) for me to call Damon out for mis-citing Beisner’s argument (as Damon concedes that he did). This sort of thing happens in scholarly discourse all the time, as a PhD student like Damon surely knows. I’m certain that if I “stumbled through” another Greek scholar’s work, Damon would use it as fodder for his claim that “there really are no [OP] Greek scholars.” Nevertheless, since Damon has elected to criticize me for not responding directly to Beisner, I will do so below.
Beisner’s Arguments on Acts 2:38
In his response Damon provided a link to an article by Beisner on Acts 2:38. I’m certain that Beisner has made his argument elsewhere, but it is to this article in particular that I will now direct my attention.
The first argument that Beisner makes is “The Lexical Objection.” In this argument, Beisner grants that the phrases “every one of you be baptized/βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν” and “for the forgiveness of sins/εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν” go together. However, Beisner (citing BDAG) points out that εἰς is capable of meaning “with respect or reference to.” Therefore,
If this is the meaning of eis in Acts 2:38—and the option cannot be ruled out—then the verse would indicate that baptism is performed with reference to, that is, as a sign or symbol of the forgiveness of sins, not for the purpose of or in order to obtain forgiveness of sins.
A few things on this Lexical Objection. For one thing, Beisner is trying to draw a stark line between the “with reference to” and the “for the purpose of” meanings of the preposition εἰς. Such a sharp division is illegitimate. Proof of this is that three of the examples he gives for the “with reference to” definition (Matt 5:13, Acts 17:21, Col 1:12) could just as easily fall under the “for the purpose of” definition. In English “with reference to” and “for the purpose of” seem miles apart, but this is not necessarily the case in Greek. It is not for nothing that the Greek language groups both of these concepts under the single word εἰς.
This leads to our second critique of the “Lexical Objection,” namely, Beisner’s assumption as to what “with reference to” means. Beisner treats “with reference to” as an equivalent for “as a sign or symbol of.” But this is simply not the case. Try replacing the Greek preposition εἰς with the English gloss “as a sign or symbol of” in Luke 14:35 or Romans 8:28, and you will quickly see how ridiculous (and eisegetical) such a gloss of εἰς is. Even if εἰς does mean “with reference to” in Acts 2:38—why would Peter tell people to be baptized “with reference to” their sins, if baptism would do nothing for their sins? (Pun on for intended)
But thirdly, and most importantly, a term has no meaning apart from the other words used around it. Rather than focusing simply on the preposition εἰς as Beisner does, we would be better served to ask how the Bible uses the phrase “εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν/for remission of sins.” Jesus uses this phrase in Matthew 26:28 when he says “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” And Romans 3:25 tells us that Jesus was “set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins.” Surely Beisner doesn’t think that the blood of Jesus is merely “a symbol” of the forgiveness God gave us? Surely Beisner doesn’t think that the sinless life and sacrifice of Jesus was only “a symbol” of the forgiveness of God? Jesus lived a sinless life and shed his blood “for the remission of sins,” for the purpose of remitting sins. And we are baptized for the purpose of remitting sins, as Jesus told us to do in Luke 24:47 (comp. also Rom 3:25 and Rom 6). The fact that εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν is a common NT idiom meaning “in order to obtain remission of sins” means—contra Beisner—we can rule out the possibility of εἰς meaning “with reference to” in Acts 2:38.
Lastly on the “Lexical Objection,” it is worth pointing out that Beisner cites the BDAG lexicon for the “with reference to” definition of εἰς, but then fails to tell the reader that BDAG does not list Acts 2:38 as a possibility for the “with reference to” definition. Instead, BDAG lists Acts 2:38 right along with Matthew 26:28 under the “to denote purpose in order to” definition! If the phrase εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν goes with βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν, then Acts 2:38 emphatically teaches that we are baptized for/in order to/for the purpose of remission of sins.
The second argument that Beisner makes is the “Grammatical Objection.” Since BDAG defines εἰς as “in order to,” Beisner must somehow disconnect the phrase “for the remission of your sins” from the concept of baptism. This he attempts to do from the grammar of the Greek text of Acts 2:38. In his discussion we need to keep in mind that Beisner is working from a NA/UBS textual base.
Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε, [φησίν,] καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος.
Beisner contends that since the verb “μετανοήσατε/repent” is in the second person plural, and since “εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν/for the remission of your sins” contains the second person plural pronoun, these two phrases ought to go together. Because the verb “βαπτισθήτω/be baptized” is in the third person singular, Beisner asserts, it is conceptually disconnected from “the remission of your sins.” Therefore, using Beisner’s logic, we repent for the remission of sins, but we are not baptized for the remission of sins.
Beisner’s exegesis here is faulty on semantic grounds. If the second person plural unites the concepts of “repentance” and “remission of sins,” then the second person plural also unites baptism to the remission of sins. The second person plural pronoun is also used after ἕκαστος, the subject of the the third person singular imperative βαπτισθήτω. It is illegitimate to say that “You repent” and “for the remission of your sins” are conceptually connected, and then argue that “Let each one of you be baptized” is somehow excluded.
The forms of the verbs do shift from second person plural to third person singular and back—but this is a syntactical change, not a semantic/conceptual change. A second person plural form is used in all of the major clauses of the verse and its context.
You repent (μετανοήσατε)
and let each one of you be baptized (ἕκαστος ὑμῶν)…
for the remission of your sin (εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν)
and you shall receive (λήμψεσθε) the gift of the Holy Ghost
The only way for Beisner’s argument to work would be if the subject of the third person singular verb βαπτισθήτω was conceptually different from the subject of μετανοήσατε. But the subjects are the same: when Peter said “let each one of you be baptized,” he is speaking to the same “you” that he has just told to repent, and the same “you” to whom he promises the gift of the Holy Ghost.
In short: if the second person plural conceptually links the concepts of “repentance” and “remission of sins,” then the second person plural also links the concepts of “baptism” and “remission of sins.” Anything else is inconsistent semantics. Therefore baptism is necessary for the remission of sins, in conjunction with repentance.
But Beisner anticipated the counterargument that I have made above, and tries to hedge against it. Toward the end of his article he says,
Some object to this reasoning by pointing out that be baptized is followed by every one of you (hekastos humōn), and that in that phrase you (humōn) is second-person plural. Wouldn’t it follow, then, that the connection is between this you and the forgiveness of your sins?
That ignores the grammar, too. In Greek, every one of you is comprised of the adjective for each (hekastos), which is used as a noun here, and the partitive genitive pronoun for you (humōn). (That is, every one is part [hence partitive] of you [plural].) You identifies the class of which every one is a part. The command [let him] be baptized, moreover, is third-person singular, and its subject is not you but every one. For you to have been the subject of the command to be baptized, it would have to have been in the nominative, or subject, case (humeis), not in the genitive, or possessive, case (humōn), and the command be baptized would have to have been in the second-person plural (baptisesthe), not in the third-person singular (baptistheitō).
In short, the most precise English translation of the relevant clauses, arranging them to reflect the switches in person and number of the verbs, would be, “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular)….” Or, to adopt our Southern dialect again, “Y’all repent for the forgiveness of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized….”
Beisner tries to cancel the objection I raised above by pointing out that “you” is not the subject of “be baptized,” but “each” is. Beisner correctly points out that the “you/ὑμῶν” in the phrase “each one of you/ἕκαστος ὑμῶν” is a partitive genitive, “identifying the class of which every one is a part.” But then Beisner gives zero explanation for why this data cancels the objection which he anticipates and which I have advanced above!
I am fully aware that “each/ἕκαστος” is the subject of “be baptized.” But it is eisegetical to ignore the ὑμῶν which directly follows it. As Beisner himself admits, “You identifies the class of which every one is a part.” Since “each” lexically refers to all the members of a group, the phrase ἕκαστος ὑμῶν works together to identify the ones being baptized as the same ones repenting and the same ones having their sins remitted. Therefore, far from defusing an anticipated objection, Beisner’s statements serve to unmask his own bias and refute his Grammatical Objection.
Why is it legitimate to connect a second person plural pronoun with a second person plural verb, but not to connect a second person plural pronoun with another occurrence of that identical second person plural pronoun? Why is “ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν” connected with “μετανοήσατε,” and not “ἕκαστος ὑμῶν”? If the second person plural can connect a pronoun to a verb, why can’t the second person plural connect a pronoun to another occurrence of the exact same pronoun, especially when ἕκαστος ὑμῶν is much closer to the prepositional phrase than μετανοήσατε?? In order for Beisner to successfully diffuse my objection, these are the questions that he must compellingly answer. And in this article at least, Beisner has not given any answer—much less a compelling one.
Further proof of Beisner’s bias is in his translation at the end of the above quote: “Y’all repent for the forgiveness of y’all’s sins, and let each one of you be baptized….” On the one hand Beisner rearranges the word order of the original Greek, subordinating “forgiveness/remission” to “repent” instead of placing it after “be baptized.” The noted Greek scholar Dan Wallace remarks Beisner’s translation, stating that “subtlety and awkwardness are against it” (GGBB 370). But on the other hand, notice the way he handles the pronouns: it is y’all repent for y’all’s sins—but when it comes to baptism, he says “let each one of you be baptized.” Why does Beisner switch from “y’all” to “you” here? In the Greek both phrases use the identical form of the identical pronoun, ὑμῶν!
If Beisner refrained from tampering with the word order, and didn’t let his eisegesis cloud his translating, his rendering would run “Y’all repent and each one of y’all be baptized for the forgiveness of y’all’s sins and y’all shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” But if he translated the passage this way, it would defeat his Grammatical Objection—for this rendering makes all too plain that there is a logical connection between repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and receiving God’s Holy Spirit.
Thus, Beisner’s Lexical Objection and Grammatical Objection stand refuted. There is nothing about the Greek text of Acts 2:38 which prohibits the doctrine that baptism is necessary for salvation.
A Textual Argument Against Beisner
As I stated earlier, Beisner bases his grammatical argument on the NA/UBS text form. But, as Daniel Segraves has already pointed out on his blog, there is a textual variant at this point of the text, and this textual variant is the undoing of Beisner’s argument. As you can see from the chart below, the KJV and the Greek Majority Text do NOT say “for the remission of your sins” like the NA/UBS text of the ESV does. The MT simply says “for the remission of sins.”
Beisner’s whole argument was built around connecting the second person plural verb μετανοήσατε with the second person plural pronoun ὑμῶν in the phrase εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν. If there is no second person pronoun in the prepositional phrase, if the text says εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, Beisner has no excuse for exclusively connecting remission with repentance.
As it turns out, the MT/KJV reading is the superior text here. I summarize the textual data in the chart below. My textual information is taken from the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, the 8th edition of Merk’s Novum Testamentum Graece Et Latine, and my own searches on the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae.
As you can see, the KJV reading (without ὑμῶν in the prepositional phrase) is earlier than the NA/UBS text by at least a century if not two. The KJV reading is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts, has the best versional attestation, and is the only reading cited by early church fathers! When I searched the NA/UBS version of Acts 2:38 in TLG, I got zero hits. Furthermore, there is a six-century gap in the textual transmission of the NA/UBS reading, as opposed to the KJV/MT reading which has consistency throughout time. This fact, in combination with all the other textual data, is sure proof that the NA/UBS reading is a textual anomaly and not the original reading. The KJV/MT has the original reading here.
As I said above, this completely destroys Beisner’s argument. If there is no second person plural pronoun in the prepositional phrase, Beisner has no grammatical grounds for connecting “remission” with the second person plural verb “repent.” In this case, “for the remission of sins” most logically follows the phrase it directly follows—“let each one of you be baptized.”
Thus Beisner—and as a result, Damon Richardson—has been refuted. I have shown that Beisner’s Lexical Objection and Grammatical Objection do not hold water, even when we follow the NA/UBS reading of Acts 2:38. But when we follow the correct reading of the original Greek (found in the KJV and the Majority Text), Beisner’s argument completely falls apart.
Let this very lengthy post be a lesson to those who try to use the Greek to discount the salvific nature of baptism. There is nothing about the original Greek of Acts 2:38 which makes the Oneness Pentecostal interpretation impossible—contra Damon’s claim.
In closing I want to reiterate what I said at the end of my last article: I’m not trying to attack Damon personally. He has been upstanding and respectful of me personally in all my dealings with him. If my tone in this article has been contensious, it is because I’m contending for the faith—not because I have a personal axe to grind with Damon.
I do want to address one other point about Damon’s full response above. Damon claims that the Greek professor at Urshan is Trinitarian (notice his use of the present tense). This is decidedly not the case. Jeff Brickle is very Oneness. If there ever was a time when Urshan employed a Trinitarian Greek professor, this is certainly not the case now.