Introduction to the "causal eis" Debate
"And Peter sat on to them "repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for ("eis" in Greek) the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Because Acts 2:38 may, in isolation, be interpreted as teaching that water baptism is necessary for salvation, those who believe in salvation by grace have tried to face this problem squarely. The Greek word "for" in this verse is "eis." It can certainly mean "in order to cause" or "for the purpose of." According to this interpretation, water baptism is undertaken for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins.
Those familiar with Greek, however, know that prepositions have a "field of meaning." "Eis," can, for example, also mean "into" in a geometric sense, and may take a wide variety of other meanings.
In a defense of the doctrine of grace, in 1923 in The Exositor, Greek grammarian Julius Mantey proposed that there is a "causal" use of this preposition. A good example cited in evidence of this alternative meaning of "eis" is found in Matthew 12:41
41. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at ("eis") the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
Clearly they did not preach "in order to cause" Jonah to preach (a future event), but because he had preached! (Looking backward at a past event.)
Mantey's proposal would seem to clearly suggest that there are usages of "eis" that are not limited to "forward looking" (purpose), but to backward looking (causal) nuances. By this, Mantey defended the freeness of the gift of eternal life by suggesting that Acts 2:38 properly means "be baptized because of the remission of sins" . . . looking backwards to the moment of saving faith, and that one is baptized to proclaim this wonderful truth, not to secure its as-of-yet un-appropriated benefit.
Causal "eis": The history
Ralph Marcus was a professor of Classical (Attic) Greek at the University of Chicago, and an editor for the Loeb Classic series that translated the classic Greek and Latin works into English. In 1950 and 1951, Marcus challenged Mantey for evidence of a "causal" nuance to "eis." Marcus was a Jew, so the entire matter of whether or not water baptism was necessary for salvation was of no consequence to him. In a series of four articles in the Journal of Biblical Literature, the two squared off. In 1950, Mantey wrote "The Causal Use of eis in the New Testament" (pages 45-48). Marcus answered "On Causal eis" in the next issue of JBL, pages 129-130. He demonstrated how the various papyrus and classical citations quoted by Mantey did not need to be causal. There were other ways of interpreting them without creating a "causal" construct, which was new to the field of meaning for "eis." Mantey responded in the next issue, pages 309-311 with more citations from various classical sources. In the next issue, in A.D. 1951, Marcus responded with "The Elusive Causal eis," pg. 43-44. New Testament ("koine") Greek is hundred of years after the Classical period, and in this time frame, Marcus was clearly the more able scholar. Although I was a Greek major in seminary, and graduated near the top of my class, I confess, found the Classical passages around which their article was framed to be tough going. Though my devotion to grace left me emotionally in Mantey's corner, after slogging through the four articles, I would have to confess that Marcus probably got the better of Mantey in both debates.