38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of [your] sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
for [purpose, the basis or ground]
The word “for” raises the issue of the relationship between water baptism and the forgiveness of sins. To what does “for” refer, to “repent” or “be baptized?” Both terms are imperatives, but they are different in person and number.
The Greek word for “for,” when used with the accusative case (as it is here), can mean on account of or on the basis of. This interpretation translates the word “for” (eis) because of. This view is that the basis of our salvation is Jesus Christ’s death for our sins. However, the problem with this interpretation is that because of or is not the normal Greek usage of “for” (eis). The idea would be, “repent (trust, believe), then you will receive the gift of the Spirit, then be baptized because God forgave your sins.” Yet, some passages clearly use “for“ in the sense of because, such as Matthew 3:11; 12:41; Mark 1:4. Those who listened to Jonah repented because of his preaching. This translation is acceptable, but it is not the normal use of the Greek term for “for.”
Mt 12:41, The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
The best way to understand the “for” in “for the remission of your sins” is in Greek grammar. Greek requires correspondence between person and number (singular and plural) of the verbs and pronouns in different parts of the sentence.
“Repent” – second person plural
“baptized” – third person singular
“each” – singular
“your” – plural, the “your” in “for the forgiveness of your sins”
Since the Greek requires agreement in its verbs and nouns, the question in this verse is what does the “for” in “for the remission of sins” reference? Does it refer to the word “repent” or “baptized?” That is, does “for” grammatically agree with “repent” or “baptized?” The English reader tends to connect “for” to “baptized” because of word order proximity. Greek, however, is an inflectional language meaning that it does not rest on word order but the form or endings of words.
Since the Greek word “repent” is plural in number and the word “your” in the phrase “for the remission of your sins” is plural in number, they grammatically agree. The word “baptize” is singular in number, and “every one of you” is singular; they grammatically agree. Peter’s point is that he directed repentance toward the public listening to him, but he challenges individuals in the crowd to be baptized.
The idea is everyone needs to repent for the purpose of forgiveness, and all of you will receive the Spirit. In addition, “And each one of you” (singular) be baptized as a symbol of your faith. This understanding links forgiveness with repentance rather than baptism.
Greek syntax requires that the personal pronoun “your” agrees with its antecedent both in gender (in direct discourse) and number. Acts 2:38 is direct discourse, so there should be an agreement in person (second person).
Thus, there are two “your” in Acts 2:38: 1) “each of you” and 2) “for the remission of your sins.” It would be incongruous to associate a second person plural pronoun (“your” in “for the remission of your sins”) with a third person singular verb (“baptize”). Yet, there is an agreement between “repent” and “for the remission of your sins.” The command to “be baptized” is parenthetical to “repent” and “forgiveness of sins.” Peter directs the command to be baptized to each individual, whereas he directed the command to repent to the crowd listening to him.
Repentance (belief) is the reason God forgives our sins.
The upshot of the differences in number is that Peter said, “You [all] repent for [the purpose of] the forgiveness of your sin, and you [all] will receive the Spirit. And each of you [singular] be baptized [identified with] in the name of Jesus Christ [symbolically identify with the name of Jesus].