In the King James Version of the scriptures, Acts 2:38 is translated, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” While the translation according to the New King James Version differs slightly from the old King James Version, it still retains the expression “baptized for the remission of sins.” Other translations have the phrase “baptized unto the remission of sins.”
Because in English the word “for” can mean “because,” there are those who explain that the “for” in Acts 2:38 also means “because.” According to this argument men are not to be baptized “in order to be saved;” rather, men are to be baptized “because they are saved.” Readily we agree that the English word “for” can mean “because.” But the English word “for” can also mean “in order to obtain or to secure.” So, the fact that the English word “for” can mean “because” does not mean that it means “because” in Acts 2:38 because the word also can mean “in order to obtain” which brings us to a stalemate. What does it mean here in Acts 2:38?
Consider the English word “for.” In the King James Version the word “for” is used to translate about 25 different Greek words! Those Greek words vary greatly in some instances and in some opposite in meaning from other Greek words also translated “for.” Thus, one must look at the Greek word translated “for” in Acts 2:38. There is a Greek word which means “because” (dia) but that is not the word in our text. The Greek word eis is the word in the text translated “for” and that word means “with a view to.” Of course not many can read Greek (including myself) so let’s consider some other reasons to understand whether “for” in Acts 2:38 means “because of” or “in order to.”
Consider the makeup of Acts 2:38. Two things are said to be “for remission of sins” — repentance and baptism. These two words are joined together by the coordinating conjunction “and.” A coordinating conjunction is like a coupling pin which ties two box cars together. When that coupling pin is in place, whichever direction one of the cars go, both box cars go. So it is with two words tied together by the word “and.” Whatever one is for (baptized), the other is, also (repent). So, if one is baptized because his sins are already remitted, he repents for the same reason. He repents because his sins are already remitted. Does one repent “because his sins are forgiven” or “in order to secure the remission of his sins?” You know the answer to that. Jesus said, “I tell ye nay, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3). Now, take a close look at another verse. In Luke 3:3 John came preaching “and he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” The phrase in Acts 2:38 “for the remission of sins” (and we might add, the phrase is identical in the Greek as well) is identical with that in Luke 3:3. If being baptized “for remission of sins” in Acts 2:38 means “because of remission of sins,” then the expression “repentance for remission of sins” in Luke 3:3 means “repentance because of the remission of sins” as well.
Consider one final illustration. When Jesus instituted His supper, according to Matthew 26:28 He said as He took the cup, “For this is my blood of the New Covenant which is shed for many for remission of sins.” The phrase “for remission of sins” in Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28 is identical both in English and Greek. If we are baptized for (because) of remission of sins, then Jesus shed His blood “because” our sins had been remitted. Who is willing to affirm that Jesus shed His blood because man’s sins had already been forgiven?
Peter did not command men to be baptized because their sins had been remitted; he commanded men to be baptized that their sins might be remitted. One will have to find some other argument to prove water baptism is not essential to salvation other than arguing that we are baptized because our sins have been remitted. That argument simply will not stand.