MEANING OF ‘EIS’ IN ACTS 2:38 AND MATTHEW 12:41: prospective or retrospective?

When debating the necessity of Baptism, some of our religious friends say that Baptism is done “because” (a retrospective meaning) one’s sins are already forgiven. The other side argues that Baptism is done “with a view to” (prospective) forgiveness of sins. The argument hinges on a little Greek preposition EIS (pronounced “ice”, or “ace”) and whether it has a prospective or retrospective meaning.

The Greek preposition EIS is always prospective (looking forward), never retrospective (looking back) which means that forgiveness follows Baptism. The diagram above shows numerous prepositions including EIS which is not a static preposition like HUPO or HUPER which describe locations above or below. Instead, EIS shows movement “into” and it always does. In Acts 2:38 repentance and baptism are INTO forgiveness of sins.

That the direction of the preposition EIS is always prospective is the opinion of Greek scholarship. Consider the following:

“In 1996, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, an associate professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, published his new book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan). It is a scholarly volume of more than 800 pages. In his discussion of eis, Wallace lists five uses of the preposition, and among them “causal” is conspicuously missing!

Prof. Wallace explains the absence. He says that an “interesting discussion over the force of eis took place several years ago, especially in relation to Acts 2:38.” He references the position of J.R. Mantey, that “eis could be used causally” in this passage. Wallace mentions that Mantey was taken to task by another scholar, Ralph Marcus (Marcus, Journal of Biblical Literature, 70 [1952] 129-30; 71 [1953] 44). These two men engaged in what Dr. Wallace called a “blow-by-blow” encounter. When the smoke had cleared, the Dallas professor concedes, “Marcus ably demonstrated that the linguistic evidence for a causal eis fell short of proof” (370).

Though Wallace did not come to believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, he clearly refutes the causal “because of” meaning in Acts 2:38.1

In Acts 2:38 EIS is not looking back at one’s forgiveness and in Matthew 12:41 it is not looking back at Jonah’s preaching. The reason I address the Mt. 12 usage is because it’s the one place that Baptist turn to as “proof” that EIS can have a causal, or retrospective meaning. More on this in a second. Since the preposition EIS is ALWAYS prospective, at baptism one is looking forward to being forgiven and Nineveh was looking forward so it wouldn’t be destroyed. Nineveh repented “with a view to” (prospective) avoiding being overthrown in forty days (Jonah 3:2,3). Jonah was preaching salvation, which he resisted doing at first, and Nineveh understood and turned to God with ashes and sackcloth.

So as to remove the necessity of Baptism, many of our Baptist friends have taken to explaining Acts 2:38 in ways never depicted in a single translation of the Bible. That’s significant! They say that the Greek preposition EIS, that says, “repent and let each of you be baptized FOR the remission of sins” may have a causal (read retrospective “because of”) meaning which would support their position that salvation precedes baptism (regretably for them, if this were true, salvation would also precede repentance since they argue that only ‘belief’ is necessary). In their view, one’s baptism looks back to one’s first point of salvation. However, the meaning of EIS, translated in the English as “for” never has a causal, retrospective meaning.
Repentance and Nineveh, Mt. 12:41

In Matthew 12:41, where it says the people of Nineveh repented EIS the preaching of Jonah, our Baptist friends say this is a passage that shows a causal meaning for EIS. They believe it is saying the following:

The people of Nineveh repented because Jonah preached to them.”

The NASB translation say “Nineveh repented ‘AT’ the preaching of Jonah.” The “because of” interpretation is a clear misunderstanding of Jesus’ words. Jonah’s “preaching” was about judgment that was coming in 40 days: Nineveh repented “with a view to” something in the future, not “because” Jonah preach in the previous days. That Nineveh repented upon hearing Jonah’s preaching is true, but it’s not the point of the text. It wasn’t the act of Jonah’s preaching that was in mind in Matthew 12:41. What was in mind was the consequence and promised threat that Jonah spelled out in his preaching that was in mind. We know that Jonah preached first and Nineveh repented second, but the preaching of Jonah related to future judgment and potential blessing if Nineveh repented.

Someone might say, “But there’s no promise of blessing in Jonah’s preaching, just destruction.” Wrong, don’t forget that Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh because he knew that God was forgiving and would relent if Nineveh repented. The preposition EIS in Matthew 12:41 is correctly prospective as Jesus meant that Nineveh repented and responded with a view to (prospective) the blessings or curses spelled out in Jonah’s preaching. They repented in order that they might not be destroyed.

Despite the evidence, many will continue to perpetuate the error – what else can they do or they would have to close shop on their denominations. The prospective meaning of EIS is strongly supported by Greek scholarship, even refuting J.R. Mantey who originally said it might have a causal meaning. Our “faith only” friends need to change their position on the purpose of Baptism.

Some of the misunderstanding might be rooted in the use of the English “for”, which has both a retrospective and prospective meaning. The English word “for” can be used when looking back at something or looking forward to something. But, and this is an important but, the Greek word in question, EIS, does not have that characteristic – as has already been pointed out. A better English word for EIS (which could be used in Matthew 12:41 or Acts 2:38) might be “to”, “so that”, “with a view to”, “unto”, as it found in some translations. No translation uses an English word like “because” that would demand only a retrospective understanding.

Let me make another point. If Jesus was saying in Matthew 12:41 that Nineveh repented “at” or “because” of Jonah’s preaching, He would not have used the Greek EIS, the preposition in question. He would have used another that would allow a retrospective meaning. And if that were the case and one wanted to draw a parallel between Matthew 12:41 and Acts 2:38, the correct parallel would be that the Jews in Acts 2 were pricked in their hearts “at” or “because of” the preaching of the Peter and the other Apostles. Such would be true, and it would be a completely new point: but not the one the inspired Apostle had in mind when he answered their question (Acts 2:38), saying, “repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ FOR (EIS, which is prospect always, meaning “with a view to”, DM) the remission or forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

When Saul was praying, fasting, and blind, Ananias said to Paul, “And now why do you delay, arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). It is obvious that since Saul was washed and saved in Damascus, he was not saved on the road to Damascus. This example and many others (see Galatians 3:26,27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21) shows that forgiveness by God’s saving grace is first appropriated in the water of Baptism. The meaning of the Greek preposition EIS supports the view held by conservatives in the churches of Christ. And those who teach otherwise are misleading many people.
________
1. Christian Courier, Ralph Marcus against Mantey position on EIS
2. “Greek Construction of Acts 2:38” This is a denominational article that gets baptism wrong, but accurately dismisses causal meaning of EIS.
3. Hugo McCord on EIS
4. Repentance is real change beyond believing only

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Categories: Acts 2:38; prospective, Eis, Matthew 12:41

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19 replies

  1. Hello, My name is Douglas Collins.

    I enjoyed your article. I agree with you that “eis” is always prospective.

    However, I emailed a friend of mine concerning “eis” and this was his response:

    Thank you for the email. Yes, I agree that the principle meaning of eis is forward-looking (to, into, toward, etc.), but take a look at the following verses where eis is used in ways that seem to broaden that idea somewhat.

    Matthew 26:13 – Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for(eis) a memorial of her.

    Mark 1:38 – And he said unto them, Let us go into(eis) the next towns, that I may preach there also: for-therefore(eis) came I forth. (see also Mark 14:9)

    Luke 22:19 – And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of(eis) me. (see also 1 Cor. 11:24)

    Luke 23:25 – And he released unto them him that for(eis) sedition and murder was cast into(eis) prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.

    John 9:39 – And Jesus said, For(eis) judgement I am come into(eis) this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. (see also John 18:37)

    1 Tim 4:10 – For-therefore(eis) we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.

    I believe that my response to you in 2010 was in reference specifically to Acts 2:38, but I disagree with those that contend eis there refers ‘backwards’ to a prior point in time, i.e., I disagree with the notion that it should be read as “be baptized because your sins have been remitted.”

    Nevertheless, in all the above example, it can be argued that these passages also imply a forward-looking mentality from the Greek mindset. Yet we English speakers don’t always think like that. For example, it would be very strange for us to say “Into we both labour and suffer reproach.” Rather, we would say something like “Because of this (or Therefore), we both labour and suffer reproach.”

    My question is two-fold. How would you explain these verses as looking forward and not backward and is there anything that I could read that would go in more detail concerning this Greek preposition.

    Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God Bless.

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    • Hi,
      Mt 26:13, the telling of what she did will be told WITH A VIEW TO memorial to her. I.E., the telling is unto memorializing what she did. She will be memorialized by the telling.

      Mk 1:38, not BECAUSE I came for this purpose, but unto, or with a view to fulfilling the purpose for which I came. The problem we have in English is that ‘because’ can be prospective and retrospective. EIS is not retrospective. It is a preposition shows movement. Prepositions are important for showing relationships. The Greek EIS indicates movement towards a result. All of the examples given above have to be read that way to understand the meaning.

      The Lk 22:19 is similar to the telling of what the woman did with a view to memorializing her. The partaking of the emblems are eaten to, unto, with a view to, for, ie. for the purpose of memorializing Jesus.

      Lk 23:25, the action of casting placed the person INTO prison. When we are baptized, as in Acts 2:38, it is into forgiveness. In Lk, there’s no common sense way to understand it retrospectively. He was cast BECAUSE prison? Makes no sense. No, the man was tossed, cast, thrown with the result INTO prison.

      John 9:39, Both the judgement and the world are direct objects. Read it like this: ‘with a view to judgment I come, with a view to the world..’ He came for judgement, for the world….to bless those who see and curse those who do not see.

      1 Tim 4:10, In this passage, the EIS (prospective) and HOTI (because, retrospective) are balancing the other. “With a view ‘to this’ (EIS TOUTO) to what? The “this” in the “unto this”, which is likely what Paul is emphasizing in the previous verse and the end of this verse: the blessings, eternal life, etc, for sinners. Because God is faithful, a steadfast hope, a savior, “unto this we labor and strive.” Read it another way and it makes sense: we labor and strive with a view to THIS, knowing who God is.

      I’m glad your friend is straight on Acts 2:38: forgiveness of sins follows repentance and baptism.

      When he explains the 1 Tim 4:10 passage, I believe he skipped over the “this” being a Demonstrative Accusative Pronoun. The “this” is the result that makes us gladly suffer for Christ.

      I hope this helps. Correct me if I have spoken in error.
      Sincerely yours,
      Dan

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      • Thank you for your quick reply. I don’t think you spoke in error. I have posted my question on other websites, but you are the only one that has answered so far.

        I did notice that my friend said, “Nevertheless, in all the above example, it can be argued that these passages also imply a forward-looking mentality from the Greek mindset.” At least he acknowledged that.

        I found an article titled, “The Casual use of Eis in the New Testament” by J. R. Mantey. I know that you disagree with him. So, I was wondering if you knew of a book or article that addresses the word Eis from the prospective viewpoint?

        Thank you. God Bless.

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      • I did not assemble this but was given it 30 or more years ago.
        Do what you like with it. God bless you. Dan

        https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9jy7rlmRPqMQUUwaGtJeXNrU0U/view?usp=sharing&resourcekey=0-NrCIBwmb2UDRcwQ8YU3htw

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      • Also in the original article you were commenting on, see the fourth paragraph where I refer to Daniel Wallace. In Wallace’s book Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, he mentions the five uses of EIS and none of them are causal. Wallace says the linguistic evidence being causal isn’t found. Wallace still sides with Mantey that baptism is not where salvation occurs or else he says salvation would be based on works. Wallace has his own problems, but linguistically stands with the truth that EIS doesn’t have a causal meaning.

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      • Thanks for the information. I appreciate it.

        Like

  2. I was looking for Wallace’s Greek beyond the Basics book online and came across this book. Are you familiar with it? If so, is it any good?

    The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament
    By Cleon L., III Rogers

    It provides the following information:

    The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament is ideal for students and for busy pastors whose knowledge of Greek grammar is limited or rusty but who want to read the Greek New Testament. It not only simplifies reading the text of the Greek New Testament but also gives the reader a wealth of tools that a lexicon and grammar alone cannot provide. For those with a basic knowledge of first-year Greek grammar and vocabulary, this completely revised and greatly expanded edition of the highly successful Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (1982) makes reading the Greek New Testament faster, easier, and more effective. Going through the New Testament verse by verse, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament provides help in three areas: Lexical – It identifies unusual and uncommon word forms that in the past had to be looked up in a lexicon, as well as their meaning, based on BAGD and other standard lexicons. Grammatical – It provides grammatical insights from the leading Greek grammars, including Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Exegetical – As the title of this revised and expanded edition indicates, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament also provides the reader with a wealth of exegetical insights and nuances, as well as references to a wide range of commentaries, monographs, journal articles, historical works, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and so forth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your link titled, “Hugo McCord on EIS” takes me to a page that says it is for sale. Cannot find article.

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  4. Have I offended you with my many questions or have you just been very busy? If my many questions have bothered you, I apologize.

    Like

    • Not at all! I love your questions and comments.

      Like

      • The reason I thought you might be offended was because you didn’t give your opinion about the book I mentioned in a previous post.

        Like

    • I got distracted. My forty hour a week job has become a sixty and 80 hour a week job. Daniel Wallace is mentioned in my post and he has a good book on bond the basic Greek. He points out how the preposition EIS is always prospective. So when trying to understand the meaning, it has to be something forward or ahead. It is the faith only people, who want to disassociate obedience from salvation who have to make the blessing to be first and the obedient act following. It’s the devil’s trick to turn God’s way inside out. Scripturally salvation follows faith. And the biblical faith goes beyond assent and includes obedience. Saving faith is visible. There are works of merit and there are works of faith. The entire controversy over EIS is due to faith only people trying to divorce faith from works. Can’t be done without grave consequences. See Romans 1:5 and 16:26. The phrase “obedience of faith” can’t be also “Faith’s obedience”. The faith only person struggles to understand and so they once again divorce one from the other, saying, “sure, sure, obedience WILL follow faith”. Again then deception is made.

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      • I now have Wallace’s book, “Greek Grammar beyond the basics”. I noticed that even though Wallace acknowledges that EIS is always prospective, he still thinks that you can explain the verse in such a way that baptism doesn’t wash away sins.

        I probably don’t have to quote from the book, but, to avoid any misunderstandings, here is the part I am referring to:

        Wallace states:

        “If the causal EIS is not in view, what are we to make of Acts 2:38? There are at least four other interpretations of Acts 2:38.”

        The last paragraph of his fourth interpretation (which he believes is the correct one) read like this:

        “Water baptism is not a cause of salvation, but a picture; and as such it serves both as a public acknowledgment (by those present) and a public confession (by the convert) that one has been Spirit-baptized.”

        The problem that I have with this view is that both the Samaritans and the 12 disciples at Ephesus were baptized BEFORE they were “Spirit-baptized”, as Wallace puts it. So, how can baptism be a public confession that they had received the Spirit?

        What do you think?

        Like

      • Hi, thanks for reminding me to get back to this.

        Let me answer what you said here: “I noticed that even though Wallace acknowledges that EIS is always prospective, he still thinks that you can explain the verse in such a way that baptism doesn’t wash away sins.”

        Wallace believes baptism doesn’t save. But he doesn’t believe so on the basis of EIS. To his credit he follows the scholarship on the grammar. But many who are right on one point can often be wrong on another. In the fourth paragraph of Wallace, he is being a sophist to defend his ” salvation without works” position and so he has to explain away Acts 2:38 and explain baptism as being something that has no Bible. Notice the switch at the end to speaking of ” spirit baptized”. Water baptism was in view in Acts 2:38, following the command in the great commission, Mark 16:16. In other words, he departs from the scholarship to fall back on the faith alone error.

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      • To say, “water baptism is not a cause of salvation, but a picture… ” Think about it. He went from saying something true to saying something that is nothing. Of course baptism is a picture! Everyone on both sides, prospective or retrospective, say it is a picture, see Rom. 6:3-5. But going back to EIS, Peter says baptism is UNTO salvation. So he contradicts the good scholarship he started with.

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      • Hello, I posted a reply back in November. I know that you said you were busy, and I wanted to wait until the holidays had passed to see if you had any response to my post. Hope everything is ok in your family and church. God Bless. Douglas.

        Like

  5. If I remember reading correctly, Robertson basically states that your beliefs will determine whether EIS is prospective or not.

    I was wondering if you know of any Greek Scholars who in the secular world who have also admitted that EIS always means “for the purpose of”. Thank you.

    Like

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