Published: 27 September 2021

Baptism: Calling On His Name

calling on his name

Ananias said to Saul, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16 ESV). What does it mean to “call on His name,” and what does it have to do with baptism? Does this mean that during baptism we are to call out to God in prayer? Let’s see what Peter had to say about this.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21 ESV)

Peter specifically says that immersion is involved in our salvation. As the KJV puts it, “baptism doth also now save us.” We know this is an immersion in water because Peter makes it clear that this isn’t a bath to remove dirt from our body. Instead it is a request, or appeal, to God for a good conscience. It is “calling on His name.”

Baptism is the sinner’s prayer. Baptism is how we “call on His name” (Act 22:16).

The word English word “appeal” translates the Greek word eperotema (ἐπερώτημα). BDAG (one of the most respected Greek dictionaries) defines this word as “a formal request, appeal.”[1]Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000. Likewise, Thayer says eperotema means “a demand.”[2]Thayer, Joseph H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 1.8. Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2004. This word in 1 Pet 3:21 is most often translated as appeal, but also as “demand or request.” 

Translation challenges

Some popular Bible translations also use the words “pledge,” “answer,” “interrogation,” and “question.” Of these three words, “pledge” is most often selected by translators. The doctrinal implication is that baptism is a pledge we make to God to keep our conscience clear now that He has saved us. The assumption here is that salvation precedes baptism.

Is pledge the correct word to use in English translations? The word eperotema is only used one time in the New Testament. Therefore translators struggle with its definition because they cannot see it used in context anywhere else in the Scriptures. 

The scholarly debate about how best to translate eperotema is both complex and full of technical grammatical considerations which can be very nuanced. This has left the translation of this word somewhat open to interpretation. This can be problematic because each translator must wrestle with their own doctrinal convictions and biases when translating such a biblical text. 

“We must never forget that translation is the most basic act of interpretation. One cannot convey words meaningfully from a source language to a target language without first determining what they think the text means to say.”[3]Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (p. 49). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.  (emphasis added) 

Word choices matter!

How translators render eperotema in English affects our conclusions about the passage. Let’s see how the various translation committees chose to interpret this word. The table below shows how English language Bibles have translated eperotema. The shading in the table groups together similar English words. 

How eperotema (ἐπερώτημα) gets translated.

As you can see, the weight of scholarship is definitely not in favor of translating using pledge/promise. The translation committees of twenty-five Bible translations chose the words appeal/request specifically. More strikingly, thirty-six groups of translators chose to exclude pledge/promise as the meaning of the word!

Considering how the various translation teams rendered the word, and keeping in mind how BDAG and Thayer define the word, it seems that “appeal” is the better choice. The words request or appeal also dovetails with Ananias’s linking of baptism and “calling on His name.”

Peter furthers our understanding of the role of baptism

Paul in his writings compares immersion to death, burial and resurrection. Peter adds another dimension by saying that it is an appeal to God. Peter says that baptism is a request or appeal to God for a good conscience. Like Ananias in Acts 22:16, Peter is communicating that is during baptism that the Holy Spirit washes away our sins. Peter also emphasizes the effect of having our sins washed away; he says it results in a good conscience. Our conscience can only be clear if we know we’ve been forgiven. A similar thought is expressed by the author of Hebrews.

“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb. 10:22 NIV)

Peter and the Hebrew writer both say that being cleansed results in a clear conscience. They both connect immersion with the cleansing work that the Holy Spirit is doing upon our hearts. The visible washing (baptism) reflects what the Holy Spirit is doing within us at the same moment.

Baptism ties a bow on our conversion

Baptism is our formal request to God to do for us what He has promised. In the act of immersion, we are responding to the gospel call; we are calling upon God (calling on His name). Baptism is the sinner’s prayer. Baptism is how we “call on His name” (Act 22:16).

In the normal case, until we are immersed in water we have not:

  • appealed to (asked) God for a good conscience (forgiveness) – 1 Pet 3:21
  • called on His name – Act 22:16
  • been set free from sin – Rom 6:7
  • received the Holy Spirit – Act 2:38
  • put on Christ – Gal 3:27
  • been united with Christ – Rom 6:5
  • had our hearts circumcised by the Holy Spirit – Rom 2:29, Col 2:11-12
  • been born again – Jn 3:3-8
  • been added to the church – Act 2:41

I say in the normal case because God sometimes makes exceptions. We’ll talk about exceptions in the next post.

References

References
1 Danker, Frederick W., et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press, 2000.
2 Thayer, Joseph H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 1.8. Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2004.
3 Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (p. 49). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.