Rethinking Acts 22:16

Acts 22:16 is part of Paul’s first extended address following his famous arrest in the Jerusalem temple, because some Jews from the province of Asia thought that he was defiling the temple with Greeks (Acts 21:27-36).  Acts 22:16 has been used by some as a prooftext for baptismal regeneration or something of that nature:

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name. (TNIV)

The issue now has been one of punctuation among Bible translators: 1. How do we punctuate the verse so that it doesn’t support baptismal regeneration?  2. Do we actually need to re-punctuate the verse?  3. Is this approach legitimate?

Well, here are a few translations on the verse:

~ What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord. (NLT)

~ And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (KJV)

~ And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name. (HCSB)

~ And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (ESV)

~ And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name. (NET)

~ Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name. (NASB)

As you’ve noticed from the various translations, this verse wasn’t an easy one for the translators to handle. Here’s professor Bock’s take on the verse:

“The response of faith is described as calling on the name of the Lord… Such a faith invocation of God washes away sin with the cleansing symbolized in water baptism (Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 6:11; Gal 3:27). (Acts, pp. 662-63)

In a footnote FF Bruce adds:

His invocation [epikalesamenos to onoma autou] of the name of Jesus meant that he was baptized “in the name” (or “with the name”) of Jesus in the sense of 2:38; 10:48. (Acts, p. 418, fn. 23)

In his exceptional grammar, Richard A. Young treats the aorist participle epikalesamenos, “calling on,” as one of means, so we have “wash away your sins by calling on his name” (Intermediate New Testament Greek, p. 154).

So which punctuation do we go with?  The one that supports baptismal regeneration, where sins are only washed away in the waters of baptism, or the one that suggests Paul’s sins were washed away by calling on the name of the Lord but symbolized in baptism?

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Baptism, Bible Translations, Bibles, Biblical Greek, Biblical Studies, Salvation, Sin. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Rethinking Acts 22:16

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    The participle is aorist, as noticed, implying something preceding both baptism and washing. Clearly baptism and washing away of sins, while separate actions, both involve calling on the name of Jesus. I would suggest turning this round to put it in chronological order, so something like: “Get up, call on his name, be baptised and wash your sins away.”

  2. tc robinson says:

    Yes, I can live with that rearranging of the verse to get at the true meaning of the aorist particle, but here’s the grind: Was its Luke intention to convey that washing of sins only come after baptism?

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    No, I didn’t mean that. There is a temporal ordering between “call on his name” and the other parts of the sentence, but “be baptised” and “wash your sins away” are probably to be understood as simultaneous, although not actually the same action. That is to say, baptism is prototypically simultaneous with washing but is not the means of it. The situation is surely the same as in Acts 2:41, where undergoing baptism is the sign that one accepts the gospel and so is simultaneous with regeneration, but not actually the means of it.

  4. tc robinson says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Both “be baptized” and “wash your sins away” are aorist imperatives, so I agree with the simultaneous understanding.

    Baptism is prototypically simultaneous with washing but is not the means of it.

    Does one experience the washing away of sins prior to baptism or in baptism? I get the sense that you’re saying that though baptism is not the means of washing, this washing, however, takes place in baptism.

    But then you say it’s “the sign that one accepts the gospel and so is simultaneous with regeneration.”

    I’m not getting it!

  5. David says:

    The aorist participle “epikalesamenos” is best rendered “you will have been calling”. “Get yourself up, and get yourself baptized, washing away your sins, and you will have been calling on the name of the Lord.”

    We “call” on the Lord and the power of God in obedience to the gospel. That’s why Romans 6:3-5 refers to our baptism as the death of the old man and birth of the new. Just like Christ, by the power of God, was raised from death to life anew, so too are we raised from the waters of baptism into life anew in Christ.

    The water alone does not save, but we cannot be saved without the presence of the water. Unless our faith is in Christ to make us new creations, baptism is just getting wet. 1 John 5 refers to the three witnesses, “the Spirit, the water, and the blood.” All three were present at the death of Jesus, and all are present in the waters of baptism.

    • TC Robinson says:

      David,
      Thanks for stopping by. While your approach is a much more nuanced than others I’ve encountered on the matter of water-baptism and salvation, it tends to suffer from the same – the failure to engage at a truly biblically theological level, i.e., all of Scripture.

      • Tilley Duthie says:

        I’m confused as to why you suggest David’s response fails to engage at the theological level? When Naaman the Syrian responded in faith and washed himself, it was his obedience coupled with the cleansing power of God that made him clean. If Naaman chose to just “believe”, he would not have been healed. In light of all scripture, saving faith requires belief, confession, repentance, and baptism. Does not the totality of scripture make this case? It’s only when people craft doctrines around a cherry-picked few scriptures that false doctrines like “faith only – without water baptism” theologies emerge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s