Studying a Study Bible

I recently received an email from HarperCollins Christian Publishing promoting the MacArthur Study Bible. John MacArthur is a well-known preacher in Los Angeles. His battles against California’s restraints on church assemblies have been in the news a good bit lately. The email linked an excerpt from MacArthur Study Bible’s comments on Acts 2:38.

The context is Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. He preached Jesus. He convicted the audience of crucifying Jesus despite the abundant signs the Lord had worked which showed God’s approval of Him. Peter went on to affirm that God had raised Him from the dead, seated Him at His right hand, and made Him both Lord and Christ.

Many in the audience were convicted of their wrong and asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37).

“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38).

MacArthur’s comments on repentance are excellent. “Repent refers to a change of mind and purpose that turns an individual from sin to God (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Such change involves more than fearing the consequences of God’s judgment. Genuine repentance knows that the evil of sin must be forsaken, and the person and work of Christ totally and singularly embraced. Peter exhorted his hearers to repent, otherwise they would not experience true conversion.”

His comments on baptism, however, are erroneous. They include this paragraph. “For the forgiveness of your sins might better be translated ‘because of the forgiveness of sins.’ Baptism does not produce forgiveness and cleansing from sin. The reality of forgiveness precedes the rite of baptism (v. 41). Genuine repentance brings from God the forgiveness of sins (compare Ephesians 1:7: ‘In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace …’), and because of that the new believer was to be baptized.

Consider a few observations about MacArthur’s comments.

•  There is no reason to change the translation as he suggests. Matthew 26:28 uses the same expression, and there it surely points to forgiveness being the effect, not the cause. See also Luke 24:47.

•  MacArthur says baptism does not produce forgiveness and cleansing. The Bible says it does (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5).

•  V. 41 says “those who received his word were baptized.” It says absolutely nothing about forgiveness preceding baptism!

•  Yes, Ephesians 1:7 says that in Christ we have redemption through His blood and forgiveness of our trespasses, according to God’s grace. Yet Romans 6:3 says that baptism is into Christ and into His death. How can one enjoy benefits available in Christ before he has done that which puts him into Christ and into those benefits?

The point of this article is not merely to respond to some erroneous comments about baptism. It is to caution our readers about study Bibles; in fact, about any comments added by Bible publishers. The text is inspired, these comments are not! In some cases they may be helpful, but in others they may be harmful. Do not just assume that they are accurate.

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