Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A More Extensive Response to the Hyper-Sacramentalist (Part 3)

A Return to Acts 10

In the comments thread of one of the previous posts in this series, I mentioned that the main problem of the hyper-sacramentalist is that his exegesis is uninformed by theological boundaries. One point that illustrates this nicely is one I made in a prior entry regarding the purpose of baptism in Acts 10. In Acts 10, you’ll recall, Peter ordered the Gentiles to be baptized after they received the Holy Spirit. Here’s what it says:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. (Acts 10:44-48)

When I raised this issue, here is how the hyper-sacramentalist responded:

Nobody denies that forgiveness of sins can be given prior to baptism. I certainly do not deny that this can happen. But that is not the normal pattern, at least not according to Acts 2:38 and 22:16."
And here is how I responded:

No one denies the normative nature of Acts 2:38 and 22:16. What I have denied is that my critic has rightly understood those passages. How do I know this? Because he is unable to explain them in light of passages like Acts 10. Ignoring this point won’t make it go away. Peter baptized the Gentiles ON THE BASIS THAT they had already received forgiveness of sins. But how can that be, since the very purpose of baptism in my critic’s mind is to forgive sins? What, pray tell, did baptism accomplish in Acts 10?
Even though my critic has issued a subsequent response to my post, he completely ignored the Acts 10 passage. I have shown how the hyper-sacramentalist’s concern regarding Acts 2:38 is reasonably answered in other ways than the one proffered by the hyper-sacramentalist’s “baptismal justification.” One “acceptable way of handling eis” (Wallace’s words) is to focus on the number-agreement of the verbs and nouns, connecting the phrase “for the forgiveness of the sins of all of you” solely with the command “repent all of you” and not with the singular “let each of you be baptized.” The verse would then read, “Repent all of you for the forgiveness of your sins, and let each of you be baptized in the name of the Jesus Christ.” That would solve the issue of eis = “for.”

An alternative way of taking this verse is to translate eis as “with reference to,” ignoring the distinction in the number-agreement of verbs and nouns. On this view, the commands to “repent” and “be baptized” are taken together and are both modified by eis: “Repent and be baptized with reference to the forgiveness of your sins.” That, too, would resolve the issue over eis.

Still another way of taking this verse is to recognize the number-agreement distinction, but not in the same way as before. This time this distinction is viewed solely in terms of effectively separating the commands “repent” and “be baptized” as separate entities so that they cannot both govern eis, but retaining the Greek word order and viewing “for the forgiveness of your sins” as the modifier of “be baptized” only. On this view, eis is translated as at, or upon, or on the basis of: “Repent; and let each of you be baptized on the basis of the forgiveness of your sins.”

As we have shown in past entries, there is ample evidence to show that eis bears each of these meanings in various contexts, and that each one of these exegetical options is a viable way of handling the Greek. We have also shown that NT scholars who comment on this passage (or on Matt 3:11) have alternatively adopted these views to varying degrees. Hence, the inane objection by the hyper-sacramentalist that proposing such options constitutes the mark of an “amateur linguist” who is better off leaving the analysis of this passage to others is completely unwarranted.

On the other hand, the hyper-sacramentalist is completely unable to handle the Acts 10 text. I have given him ample opportunity to answer it, yet he has steadfastly avoided it. So, I will ask it again. Peter ordered the Gentiles be baptized on the basis that they had already received the Holy Spirit and hence forgiveness of sins. So, what was the purpose of baptism in Peter’s mind in Acts 10? If the hyper-sacramentalist is right in saying that the purpose of baptism in the NT is to act as the instrument for the forgiveness of sins and the means of justification, then he has a theological conundrum on his hands. Since the Gentiles had already been forgiven (they had received the Holy Spirit), what could Peter have hoped to accomplish by ordering them baptized?