This study only introduces an argument, which needs more research in the Classical and Patristic periods. The argument concerns the description of the first baptizees in Acts 2:41. The book of Acts records the history of the earliest apostolic church. The question of what is normative in the book of Acts vs. what is only descriptive is a lingering question to ask of this book. There seems to be components of the book of Acts that may not be normative for Christians today but simply applied to the first century church. Perhaps, the description of the church community as sharing all of their possessions so that no one was in need may be an example of description, but does not constitute normative practice for the church in all ages and at all times; however, baptism is a normative aspect of the church (Matt. 28:18-20). Therefore, the book of Acts must shape our doctrine and practice of baptism. Most do not debate that the book of Acts reveals the subject or the recipient of baptism. Presbyterians usually look to household baptism texts and conclude that infants of believers ought to be baptized. Baptists appeal to texts in Acts where the subjects of baptism are reported as having believed and then were baptized. The book of Acts has many baptismal accounts to examine, but this post is devoted to one aspect of the first account in Acts 2.
Another assumption I have about the book of Acts is that earlier accounts are expanded, while later accounts are abbreviated. In other words, Luke describes in detail who was baptized in the first few baptismal accounts, while in the later accounts he simply reports that a baptism happened. He does not explain what happens to the baptized members in later accounts, while in the earlier account he explains that baptism leads to membership in the church for example.
Syntax of Acts 2:41
Acts 2:41 reads as follows: οι μεν ουν αποδεξαμενοι τον λογον αυτου εβαπτισθησαν και προσετεθησαν εν τη ημερα εκεινη ψυχαι ωσει τρισχιλιαι. The sentence type is of the category of S-V-Opass. The subject of the sentence is the transformed patient of the matrix sentence and is itself an imbedded sentence of the type S-V-O: οι αποδεξαμενοι τον λογον, “the ones who accepted the word.” The identity of this grammatical subject determines who was baptized at the church’s inception, and therefore this text should aid the church today in decisions of whom to admit to baptism. This study assumes the following translation: Therefore the ones who accepted/understood his message were baptized and about three thousand souls/lives were added in that day.
NT and Patristic Usage of αποδεχομαι + impersonal/inanimate object
The NT only employs the usage of the verb αποδεχομαι in Luke-Acts [Lk. 8:40; 9:11; Acts 2:41; 18:27; 21:17; 24:3; 28:30]. In all of these uses, except Acts 2:41, αποδεχομαι takes a person for its object, therefore usually it has the meaning “to welcome” or “to receive.” However, Acts 2:41 takes an impersonal/inanimate object, λογον “word.” What is the meaning of this construction? There are no examples of this construction found in the LXX or Apocrypha for one to examine. However, the Epistle to Diognetus [ED] provides us with an excellent example of Hellenistic Greek usage of this verb.
The beginning of ED 8.2 says, “Or do you αποδεχη the vain and ridiculous λογους of those most trustworthy philosophers, some of whom said that God was fire . . . (LCL The Apostolic Fathers vol. 2, 146). 8.1 says this, “For who of men was understanding [IMI3s επισταμαι lit. to understand] wholly, what God was formerly before he came.” The writer asks a rhetorical question in v. 1 to show that no one knew what God was before he came. Verse 2 says “or” are you accepting the vain and ridiculous arguments or claims or teachings etc. of the philosophers? The construction αποδεχομαι λογον means accepting the claims or arguments after weighing and understanding them. Literally, one accepts the philosophers’ words into the mind. This text is dealing with the intellect and understanding, and it sheds light on what the text means in Acts 2:41. The ones who understood and accepted Peter’s sermon or teaching were baptized. I will draw conclusions about this at the end.
Classical Examples of the usage of αποδεχομαι + impersonal/inanimate object
Further examples of this construction can be multiplied from classical Greek authors. LSJ offers the following glosses 1) to accept. 2) accept as a teacher. 3) admit into one’s presence. 4) mostly of admitting into the mind, a. receive favorably, approve απολογιον Antipho [v. B.C.] 3.2.2; κατηγοριας Th. [v. B.C.] 3.3 et al. There are many examples in Plato with this meaning (R. 531e, Prt. 329b, Smp. 194d, Ti. 29e, Phlb. 54a); b. generally approve, acknowledge; c. take or understand a thing. The construction relates to the mental capacities of the person. It does not indicate superior intellect, but it certainly indicates basic mental processes in the evaluation and acceptance of an argument or case or speech etc.
Acts 2:41 contains the only example of this construction in the NT, but there are manifold examples of it outside of the NT, which all show that this construction means “to accept a claim after understanding or weighing it.” Most English translations of this verse use the word “receive” as if the hearers of the word are mere passive recipients of the preached word. But this meaning is not what Luke intended. He communicates very clearly that the first baptizees were understanding and actively accepting Peter’s message and the call to repent and be baptized. So much for what the text says.
Does this reading of the text influence the baptism debate? Should this one text in the book of Acts influence the reading of the subsequent baptismal accounts in Acts? For example, when one comes to the household baptism texts, should one read the entire household or simply those in the house who accepted the message and the call to repent and be baptized? Or perhaps this earlier text constrains one’s reading of the household baptisms and indicates that there are no infants in the house at all, since infants are not able to understand an argument and accept or reject it?
Perhaps Acts 2:41 has no bearing on the argument since some views of infant baptism require that the infant believe or they require that a sponsor believe, assent, understand, and repent for the infant. However, when Acts 2:41 is read together with Acts 2:38, there can be no doubt that this text influences the debate. Acts 2:38 (cf. Acts 3:26) teaches the individuality of the first baptism in Acts. Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, εκαστος υμων [each one of you], upon the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The commands to repent and to be baptized are given to each one of the hearers. There is no mention of a proxy in this context or in Acts 3:26. Thus the first baptism in Acts included only understanding, repenting, and believing individuals.
This text may simply be descriptive and not normative for the rest of the church. What do you think?