39 The “promise” that Peter speaks about includes both the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Both are logically and indissolubly united in applying Christ’s redemptive work to the believer. They were only separated chronologically, it seems, for what could be called circumstantial reasons. This promise, Peter declares, is not only for his immediate hearers (“for you”) but also for succeeding generations (“for your children”) and for all in distant places (“for all who are far off”). It is a promise, Peter concludes, that is sure, for it has been given by God and is based on the prophetic word of Joel 2:32: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (cf. Ac 2:21)
Some interpreters see in the expression “for all who are far off” (pasin tois eis makran) a temporal reference to future Jewish generations, thereby paralleling the phrase “for your children” (tois teknois hymōn). But makran (“far off”) is not used temporally in the LXX or anywhere else in the NT, and so it is probably better to interpret it here more spatially than temporally. A spatial interpretation, however, raises the question of whether makran refers exclusively to Jews of the Diaspora or should be seen also to include Gentiles. That two OT remnant passages are alluded to here (Isa 57:19, “Peace, peace, to those far and near,” and Joel 2:32) has led some commentators to assume that makran refers to Jews of the Diaspora. On the other hand, the use of Luke’s report of Paul’s defense at Jerusalem (22:21; cf. Eph 2:13) has led other commentators to argue that makran refers also to Gentiles.
This is probably one of those situations where a narrator (e.g., Luke) has read into what a speaker said more than was originally there, and so implied that the speaker spoke better than he knew. It seems difficult to believe that Peter himself thought beyond the perspective of Jewish remnant theology. Just as he could hardly have visualized anything beyond the next generation, so he could hardly have conceived of anything spatially beyond God’s call to a scattered but repentant Jewish remnant. But Luke’s desire is to show how an originally Jewish gospel penetrated the Gentile world so extensively that it came to enter the capital of the Roman Empire “without hindrance” (cf. 28:31). Very likely, therefore, in recounting Peter’s words here in Acts, Luke meant them to be read as having Gentiles ultimately in mind—whatever Peter may have been thinking at the time. So we may conclude that Luke here used makran in the same sense as he did in 22:21.
2:39 / What a wonder of grace is evident here, in that the promise of the previous verse was made to the very people who not long before had invoked the blood of Jesus upon themselves and their children (Matt. 27:25). But it was also made to those whom Peter described as far off. It is unlikely, however, that the apostle intended to include the Gentiles in this statement. More likely it was a reference to the Jews of the Diaspora. Had he meant otherwise, we might have expected a specific mention of the Gentiles, as in 22:21. It is true there is an analogous phrase in Ephesians 2:13, 17 (cf. Isa. 57:19; also Isa. 2:2; 5:26; Zech. 6:15), where the reference is to the Gentiles, but we must not look in Peter’s first public address for the wider vision that Paul later had. For Peter it was still a matter of our God in the narrow sense of Jewish nationalism, and even the reference in 3:26 to Jesus being sent “first” to the Jews does not necessarily imply “then to the Gentiles also” in the Pauline sense, but only the long-cherished hope that in the new age the Gentiles would flock to Mount Zion to join in the worship of God (see, e.g., Ps. 22:27; Isa. 2:2f.; 56:6–8; Zeph. 3:9f.; Zech. 14:16; Psalms of Solomon 17:33–35; Sibylline Oracles 3.702–28, 772–76). That Peter had not yet grasped the full scope of the good news is evident from chapter 10 (see esp. the disc. on 10:9ff.; cf. 5:31). The last line of verse 39 is an allusion to Joel 2:32, thus completing and complementing the earlier quotation, for none can call on the name of the Lord (as v. 21) except the Lord calls first. The initiative in salvation is always with God. Even repentance and faith are his gifts (5:31; 11:18).
39. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”
We make these observations:
- Repentance. The people ask Peter and the rest of the apostles how they can receive remission of sin and find salvation. What does Peter tell them? He speaks no words of rebuke. Rather, he utters the same word spoken by John the Baptist at the Jordan and by Jesus during his ministry: “Repent” (see Matt. 3:2; 4:17). The imperative repent implies that the Jews turn from the evil they have perpetrated, have an intense abhorrence for the sins they committed, experience a complete turnabout of their lives, and adhere to Jesus’ teaching.
Repentance signifies that man’s mind is changed completely, so that he consciously turns away from sin (3:19). Repentance causes a person to think and act in harmony with Jesus’ teachings. The result is that he breaks with unbelief and in faith accepts God’s Word.
- Baptism. Peter continues and says, “Be baptized every one of you.” In Greek, the imperative verb repent is in the plural; Peter addresses all the people whose consciences drive them to repentance. But the verb be baptized is in the singular to stress the individual nature of baptism. A Christian should be baptized to be a follower of Jesus Christ, for baptism is the sign indicating that a person belongs to the company of God’s people.
Repentance, baptism, and faith are theologically related. When the believer who repents is baptized he makes a commitment of faith. He accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and knows that through Christ’s blood his sins are forgiven. Indeed Peter instructs the people that baptism must be “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Forgiveness of sins takes place only through Christ in consequence of his death and resurrection (see Rom. 6:1–4). As forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist preached repentance from sin and then baptized the people who turned from sin (Mark 1:4).
- Name. Peter asserts that the believer must be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The instruction appears to go contrary to the words of the Great Commission, in which Jesus tells the apostles to baptize believers in the name of the Triune God (Matt. 28:19–20). Notice, first, that the term name includes the full revelation concerning Jesus Christ (see also 8:12; 10:48; 19:5). That is, this term points to his person and work and the people he redeems. In other words, Peter is not contradicting Jesus’ baptism formula; rather, he stresses the unique function and place Jesus has in regard to baptism and the remission of sins. Next, Peter uses the double name Jesus Christ to indicate that Jesus of Nazareth indeed is the Messiah. As Jesus fulfills the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, so the baptism in his name is a fulfillment of the baptism of John (see 19:1–7). John’s baptism was with water only, but that of Jesus is with water and the Holy Spirit (compare Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5).
- Gift. “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Within the early church, this text proved to be no contradiction to the words of John the Baptist: “I baptize you with water, but [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8, NIV). In the first century, Christians saw John’s baptism as the shadow and that of Jesus as reality. Accordingly, the person who was baptized in the name of Jesus pledged his allegiance to Christ, particularly with the confession Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3).
What is this gift of the Spirit? Peter puts the noun gift in the singular, not in the plural. By contrast, Paul writes to the Corinthian church about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, among them wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues, and interpretation (1 Cor. 12:8–11, 28–31; 14:1–2). But to the people who were present at Pentecost Peter says that the baptized believer will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The expression gift appears in the passage about the outpouring of the Spirit on the Samaritans; Simon the sorcerer tried to buy this gift with money (8:20). The term also occurs in the account of Peter’s visit to Cornelius, who with his household received the gift of the Holy Spirit (10:45; see also 11:17). From these passages we are able to learn that this gift refers to the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Notice, however, that in 2:38–41 Luke makes no mention of the converts speaking in tongues (2:4) or of the apostles laying their hands on the converts so that they might receive the Spirit (8:17). We assume, therefore, that “speaking in tongues and laying on of hands were not considered prerequisites for receiving the Spirit.”
The context of the Pentecost account indicates that the gift of the Spirit is not dependent on baptism. The two clauses “be baptized” and “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” are separate statements. In a detailed study of this point Ned B. Stonehouse observes, “One may conclude with confidence that Acts 2:38 is not to be understood as teaching that the gift of the Spirit was conditional upon baptism.” A study in Acts on baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit reveals that these two are related but do not necessarily follow each other. Hence, in verse 38 Peter instructs the people to repent and to be baptized; then he adds the promise (in the future tense) that they “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
- Promise. In the next verse (v. 39) Peter relates to his audience that “the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.”
What is the meaning of the word promise? Luke, who reports Peter’s words, refrains from providing details. The definite article preceding the noun promise seems to indicate that Peter has the specific promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit in mind. The promise refers to the prophecy of Joel 2:28–32, which was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Before his ascension Jesus tells the apostles, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the promise my Father made, of which you heard me speak” (1:4; see also Luke 24:49). And the exalted Christ pours out the promised Holy Spirit he received from God the Father (Acts 2:33).
The phrase for you and your children is an echo of God’s promise to Abraham to be a God to him and his descendants for generations to come (Gen. 17:7). Likewise, the promise of the Holy Spirit goes far beyond the Jews and their children who were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost. From the moment of arrival, the Holy Spirit remains among God’s people until the end of time. The Spirit leads believers to Jesus Christ and lives within their hearts, for their physical bodies are his temple (1 Cor. 6:19).
“And for all who are far off—as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” Peter and his fellow Jews consider themselves God’s covenant people, who are the first to receive the blessing of salvation. But through the work of Christ the Gentiles also are included in God’s covenant. Peter himself eventually realizes the import of the words he utters at Pentecost when he reports to the Jews in Jerusalem about his visit to Cornelius in Caesarea. Concludes Peter, “If then God gave them the same gift as he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (11:17). Years later, Paul writes to Gentile members of the church about their exclusion from the covenant and says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13, and see v. 17).
Two concluding remarks are in order. First, the term far off includes both time and place. God’s promise extends throughout the generations until the end of the world. It also reaches people from every nation, tribe, race, and language, wherever they dwell on the face of this earth. Peter’s words are in complete harmony with those of Jesus: “Make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). And second, God is sovereign in calling his own people to himself. Salvation originates with him and he grants it to all those whom he, in his sovereign grace, effectively will call. These words of Peter correspond to and have their counterpart in Joel’s prophecy: “And it will be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 21; Joel 2:32).
39. For the promise appertaineth unto you. It was requisite that this should be expressly added, that the Jews might certainly think and persuade themselves that the grace of Christ did belong as well to them as to the apostles. And Peter proveth it thus, because the promise of God was made unto them. For we must always look unto this, because [that] we cannot otherwise know the will of God save only by his word. But it is not sufficient to have the general word, unless we know that the same is appointed for us. Therefore Peter saith, that those benefits which they see in him and his fellows in office were in times past promised to the Jews; because this is required necessarily for the certainty of faith, that every one be fully persuaded of this, that he is comprehended in the number of those unto whom God speaketh. Finally, this is the rule of a true faith, when I am thus persuaded that salvation is mine, because that promise appertaineth unto me which offereth the same. And hereby we have also a greater confirmation, when as the promise is extended unto those who were before afar off. For God had made the covenant with the Jews, (Exod. 4:22.) If the force and fruit thereof come also unto the Gentiles, there is no cause why the Jews should doubt of themselves, but that they shall find the promise of God firm and stable.
And we must note these three degrees, that the promise was first made to the Jews, and then to their children, and last of all, that it is also to be imparted to the Gentiles. We know the reason why the Jews are preferred before other people; for they are, as it were, the first begotten in God’s family, yea, they were then separated from other people by a singular privilege. Therefore Peter observeth a good order, when he giveth the Jews the pre-eminence. Whereas he adjoineth their children unto them, it dependeth upon the words of the promise: I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed after thee, (Gen. 17:7,) where God doth reckon the children with the fathers in the grace of adoption.
This place, therefore, doth abundantly refute the manifest error of the Anabaptists, which will not have infants, which are the children of the faithful, to be baptized, as if they were not members of the Church. They espy a starting hole in the allegorical sense, and they expound it thus, that by children are meant those which are spiritually begotten. But this gross impudency doth nothing help them. It is plain and evident that Peter spake thus because God did adopt one nation peculiarly. And circumcision did declare that the right of adoption was common even unto infants. Therefore, even as God made his covenant with Isaac, being as yet unborn, because he was the seed of Abraham, so Peter teacheth, that all the children of the Jews are contained in the same covenant, because this promise is always in force, I will be the God of your seed.
And to those which are afar off. The Gentiles are named in the last place, which were before strangers. For those which refer it unto those Jews which were exiled afar off, (and driven) into far countries, they are greatly deceived. For he speaketh not in this place of the distance of place; but he noteth a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, that they were first joined to God by reason of the covenant, and so, consequently, became of his family or household; but the Gentiles were banished from his kingdom. Paul useth the same speech in the second chapter to Ephesians, (Eph. 2:11,) that the Gentiles, which were strangers from the promises, are now drawn near, through Jesus Christ, unto God. Because that Christ (the wall of separation being taken away) hath reconciled both (the Jews and Gentiles) unto the Father, and coming, he hath preached peace unto those which were nigh at hand, and which were afar off. Now we understand Peter’s meaning. For to the end he may amplify the grace of Christ, he doth so offer the same unto the Jews, that he saith the Gentiles are also partakers thereof. And therefore he useth this word call, as if he should say: Like as God hath gathered you together into one peculiar people heretofore by his voice, so the same voice shall sound everywhere, that those which are afar off may come and join themselves unto you, when as they shall be called by a new proclamation.
40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Be ye saved from this froward generation.
41 Those, therefore, which willingly embraced his words were baptized: and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
42 And they continued in the apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship, and breaking of bread, and prayers.
There has been considerable debate about v. 39. Who are “those who are far off”? Are they: (1) future generations of Jews; (2) Jews in distant lands; (3) Gentiles? On the one hand, Acts 13:32–33 would seem to suggest that the meaning is Jewish offspring, in this case those not yet born. On the other hand, it is possible that Isa. 57:19 (LXX) is in view where proximity in space is the issue, and in that text Jews seem surely in view (cf. 57:14, “my people”; Sir. 24:32). Yet in Eph. 2:13, 17 the reference is clearly to Gentiles when the phrase “those who are far off” is used. I would suggest that in view of Luke’s geographical approach to history writing and the telling of the story of the early church, probably (2) is what is meant, with (1) as the second most likely possibility. The connection with the Ephesians passage is more remote, as is any connection with later rabbinic use of Isa. 5:19. In any case, it is said that the promise is for everyone, which by implication could include Gentiles—anyone who calls on the name of the Lord, and at the same time anyone whom the Lord calls (v. 39b).
2:39. The expression for all who are far off could refer to either Jews of the Diaspora or Gentiles. The former seems more likely in view of Peter’s restricted understanding of God’s redemptive program prior to the vision leading him to Cornelius. But, at the time of writing, Luke may have understood it as a prediction of the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles without limitation to any ethnic group.
The statement, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself, refers to God’s electing purposes, whereby people are drawn to Christ for salvation. In his prophecy, Joel promised salvation to “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (Ac 2:21); Peter was indicating that God is sovereign over the call to salvation.
2:39 Peter next reminds them that the promise of the Holy Spirit is to them and to their children (the Jewish people) and to all who are afar off (the Gentiles), even as many as … God would call.
The very people who had said, “His blood be on us and on our children,” are now assured of grace for themselves and their children if they will trust the Lord.
This verse has often been used mistakenly to teach that children of believing parents are thereby assured of covenant privileges, or that they are saved. Spurgeon answers this effectively:
Will not the Church of God know that “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit?” “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” The natural birth communicates nature’s filthiness, but it cannot convey peace. Under the new covenant, we are expressly told that the sons of God are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The important thing to notice is that the promise is not only to you and to your children but to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call. It is as inclusive as the “whosoever” of the gospel invitation.
 Witherington, B., III. (1998). The Acts of the Apostles: a socio-rhetorical commentary (pp. 155–156). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1587–1588). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.