How Are We to Interpret the Bible Literally or Figuratively?

How Are We to Interpret the Bible Literally or Figuratively?

The simple answer to this question is that you should read it the way the author intended it to be understood by the original readers.  This approach should be based on a number of things such as the immediate context, the overall context of the Bible, the historical context and the basic rules of language.  However, one big problem occurs when we read the Bible in a literal fashion, without realizing that we are reading a figure of speech or figurative language.  There are over 200 figures of speech in the Bible[1] and these forms of language should be interpreted accordingly to rules of language and common sense.  Failure to do this could lead to gross errors of interpretation.

In general, “A FIGURE is simply, a word or a sentence thrown into a peculiar form, different from its original or simplest meaning or use.  These forms are constantly used by every speaker and writer.  It is impossible to hold the simplest conversation or to write a few sentences without, it may be unconsciously, making use of figures.  We may say, ‘the ground needs rain’ that is a plain, cold, matter-of-fact statement; but if we say the “ground is thirsty” we immediately use a figure.  It is not true to fact, and therefore it must be a figure.  But how true to feeling it is!  How full of warmth and life!  Hence, we say, “the crops suffer”; we speak of “a hard heart,” “a rough man,” “an iron will.”  In all these cases we take a word which has a certain, definite meaning and applies the name, or the quality, or the act, to something other with which it is associated with, by time or place, cause or effect, relation or resemblance.” [2]

“It may be asked, how are we to know, then, when words are to be taken in their simple, original form ( i.e. literally), and when they are to be taken in some other and peculiar form ( i.e., as a Figure)? The answer is that, whenever and wherever it is possible, the words of Scripture are to be understood literally, but when a statement appears to be contrary to our experience, or to known fact, or revealed truth; or seems to be at variance with the general teaching of the Scriptures, then we may reasonably expect that some figure is employed. And as it is employed only to call our attention to some specially designed emphasis, we are at once bound to diligently examine the figure for the purpose of discovering and learning the truth that is thus emphasized. From non-attention to these Figures, translators have made blunders as serious as they are foolish. Sometimes they have translated the figure literally, totally ignoring its existence; sometimes they have taken it fully into account, and have translated, not according to the letter, but according to the spirit; sometimes they have taken literal words and translated them figuratively. Commentators and interpreters, from inattention to the figures, have been led astray from the real meaning of many important passages of God’s Word; while ignorance of them has been the fruitful parent of error and false doctrine. It may be truly said that most of the gigantic errors of Rome, as well as the erroneous and conflicting to call our attention to some specially designed emphasis, we are at once bound to diligently examine the figure for the purpose of discovering and learning the truth that is thus emphasized”.[3]

One of the most common forms of figurative speech is the metonymy and yet it is misunderstood or ignored by the majority of people.

A metonymy is a figure of speech in which an attribute of a thing or something closely related to it is substituted for the thing itself.  Thus, ‘sweat’ can mean ‘hard labor’, and ‘Capitol Hill’ can represent the U.S. Congress.  Another common use of metonymy is when substitution of the name of an attribute, or adjunct for that of the ‘thing’ meant is employed such as; Suit for a business executive or the Track for horse racing or Washington for the government.

One of the clearest biblical examples is found in the writings of Luke. Luke, both in his gospel and in the book of Acts, uses metonymy in regard to the spirit and the gifts of the spirit. When understood this clears up a number of difficult passages and concepts of Scripture.

In Luke 11:13 Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  If you were to take this passage literally you could gather that the Holy Spirit is given through the media of prayer.  However, there is no example of this in Scripture and it contradicts other passages of Scripture.  This should cause a person to look for a different explanation other than the literal one.  Of course, the interpretation that makes the passage fit the context of the overall Bible is the best and it is metonymy.  Therefore,  in the text, the word spirit is used to denote the good gifts of the spirit and not the Spirit itself.  This interpretation is confirmed by comparing the parallel passage in the Gospel of Matthew 7:11 which reads “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

This example of Luke’s use of metonymy is crucial in the understanding of Luke’s usage of metonymy in regard to the Holy Spirit and its gifts in the book of Acts.  It becomes extremely important in our understanding of Acts 2, 10, 11 and 19 which is a historical record of the birth of the church and the first conversion of the Gentiles into Christ and later on in Acts 19, to our understanding of the re-baptism of the disciples in Ephesus where the gifts of tongues are referred to as the spirit (metonymy).

The foundation of the new creation was created when Jesus gave his Apostles the Holy Spirit, laying the foundation, it was completed when the fellowship was immersed in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Acts 1-2.  The gifts of the Spirit were given as a witness and evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and confirmation of God’s will and word.  “ God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb 2:4). In this passage, the Holy Spirit is metonymy and is used for the gifts of the Spirit.  Note that the plural is used in regard to gifts indicating that the author is not talking about the Spirit but rather the gifts of the Spirit.[4]

All of this is especially important when it comes to the conversion of the Gentiles and the acceptance of the disciples that were rebaptized in Acts 19.  The tongues were a gift of the Spirit to confirm their conversion.  There were actually two confirmations of their conversion, the speaking in tongues and the laying on of the Apostle’s hands which demonstrated the acceptance of the Apostles.  So, we have the witness of the Apostles and the witness of the Spirit.  The Apostles bore witness by laying their hands on the disciples.  The Spirit bore witness by giving these men the gift of tongues.  All this is in keeping with the promise that Jesus made to his disciples that what they bind on earth will be bound in heaven.

What about the meaning of the expression, ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit?’  First of all, we must get rid of the liquid theology that images the Holy Spirit as fluid or liquid.  When the Spirit is imaged as a liquid it is done figuratively to emphasize the activity of the Spirit and it is not to be taken literally.  Similar figures of speech that can be used in regard to God such are metonymy’s or similes, like breath, wind or force, but He is literally not any of those things.  The same is true when we refer to light as a particle or as a wave.  Light is literally not a particle or a wave it simply behaves like them in some fashion.  We literally don’t know what light is.

Secondly, we must understand that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not the same as the indwelling of the Spirit.  We see the baptism of the Holy Spirit taking place in Acts 2; however, Christ gives the Spirit to dwell in his disciples in John 20:21-23  “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit[5].  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  In this, Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the Apostles[6].  Later he promises them that when the Spirit would come into the new creation, they would receive the power of the Spirit.  The Spirit coming on the New Creation in power is the baptism of the Spirit which is a historical event and not a personal experience.  Making it a corporate immersion into the Spirit of God such as in Matthew 3:11 “…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  The Baptism of the Spirit is the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh or people, that is Jews and Gentiles (Acts 2:17).  In this, the new creation is filled with the Holy Spirit and the power of the Spirit.  The word ‘fill’ is a figure and is used to denote the degree of power the Spirit has over the community.  It’s like Paul’s usage when he commands people to be filled with the Spirit[7] as a person is filled with new wine denoting the degree of control that it has over the community.

The expression baptism (immerse) is used as a metonymy to explain the degree of influence that the Holy Spirit would have in the new creation, in contrast to that of the old creation.  In the Old Testament, there were a few archetypal figures that possessed the Holy Spirit, like David and the prophets.  However, in contrast under the new covenant, or in the new creation, everyone would possess the Spirit and be empowered by it.  That is, they would be immersed or overwhelmed by the Spirit as a person is overwhelmed by the water when immersed in water[8].  A similar metonymy is used by the apostle Paul.  In the book of Ephesians when he talks about being filled with the Spirit and compares that experience with being intoxicated or controlled by wine, someone that is drunk with wine could be said to be metaphorically controlled by it, so it is with the person who is filled with God’s spirit  They are overwhelmed and controlled by the Spirit.

A general truth in regard to discerning whether the Scriptures are talking about the indwelling of the Spirit or a gift from the Spirit can be seen in the terminology of the Spirit ‘coming on a person’, or in contrast the Spirit entering or ‘dwelling in a person’.  When the Spirit comes upon someone it takes control of them and uses them.  The expression does not refer to the indwelling of the Spirit.  For example, in the book of Numbers 24:1-3, the Assyrian false prophet Balaam had the Spirit of God come on him.  It is obvious that the writer is not talking about the indwelling of the Spirit but the Spirit coming on him to give him power to fulfill the purpose of God at that particular time.[9]  The Spirit coming on a person has to do with the Spirit giving the gifts and power to fulfilling God’s purpose in one’s ministry.  On the other hand, the idea of the Spirit dwelling in a person is for the purpose of justification and sanctification.  “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13, Also note Rom 8:9-17)

[1]Bullinger, E. W. Figures of Speech Used In The Bible (Kindle Location 139). Kindle Edition

[2]Bullinger, E. W. Figures of Speech Used In The Bible (Kindle Locations 181-183). Kindle Edition

[3]Bullinger, E. W. Figures of Speech Used In The Bible (Kindle Locations 181-183). Kindle Edition

[4] Rom.1:11-13 “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong- that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

[5] This is going back to the creation story of the first man who God breathed his life into. In the disciples, God breaths the life of new creation.

[6] It is atonement and forgiveness of sin that opens the door of the kingdom.

[7] Eph 5:17-18. “Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit”.

[8] When we say that a person is immersed or baptized in his work or hobby, we understand that to figuratively mean that they are engrossed and overcome by it.

[9] Num 24:1-3 “When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him  and he uttered his oracle.”

Is God Personal? A Letter to a Deist

 

 

Is God Personal? A Letter to a Deist

It would seem it is quite hard to say anything about the deity seeing that the sizes of the universe demonstrate that God is far advanced over us mere mortals.  It would seem presumptuous of us to say anything about him, especially if those ideas lessoned his character in any way. Therefore, to say that he is personal or impersonal would be a presumptuous statement limiting him by imposing a human characteristic upon him. It seems it would be closer to the truth to refer to Him as trans-personal or beyond personality,  personality being a human characteristic. Jesus hints at this when he said that the deity knows every hair on our heads. This would indicate that His personal knowledge must be far greater than any human being. This might raise the question does not a personal knowledge of someone infer in itself a degree of a personal relationship?

The bigger question is, Why would one want to believe that the deity is impersonal? Would believing in a universe with an impersonal God be any different than a universe without a God? It surely is more convenient and comfortable to live in the universe with an impersonal God than a trans-personal one that might hold men responsible for their behavior. It does seem to me that belief in an impersonal God is not much different from atheism on a pragmatic level. The benefit of such a belief or non-belief would simply be to avoid any uncomfortable conclusion about God. It also would give one the convenience and comfort of avoiding some hard questions and decisions about life and death.

Of course, the truth is, if there is a divine trans-personal God like the Biblical God it really does not matter what we believe about Him. We still will be judged by His will and our decisions or even the lack of them. It will not matter whether or not we ignore or dodge the questions. The safe position is to believe in a trans-personal God. If there is no trans-personal god, it really doesn’t matter. Does it? However, if there is that would open the possibility that we share in some of his characteristics like anger and love. It comes back to whether or not you believe that man created God in his image or God created man in his.

Moreover, to say that God is impersonal is to say that billions of people that claim to have a relationship with Him are delusional or simply liars. Such a belief would have to be totally subjective unless you could get into the skin of every one of those people that claim they have a relationship with God. The most that any person could say is I personally do not have a relationship with God. Of course, because an individual does not have a relationship with God does not mean or prove that God is impersonal and has no personal relationship with any humans. It also seems that a lack of faith in a personal God would slam the door shut on having any experience with God. Why would a person want to do that? If a person has the choice of living in a universe where there is a personal God or a universe where there is no trans-personal God why would anyone choose the impersonal? We all have reasons for our beliefs and it seldom reason.

The Death of Psychology

 

 

The Death of Psychology

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. Rom 1:22-27

Psychology[1] in specifics has helped a lot of people. However, in general, it has corrupted and contributed to the downfall of civilization. One example of this is it has turned taboos into taboos. This is especially true in the area of sexuality. In this, it has led to the wreaking of marriage and family, which are the basic building blocks of civilization. It’s done this through its constant attacks on what is normal sexuality; claiming like so many things that our sexuality is socially created. It has failed to see that the original taboos were there for a reason though sometimes exaggerated. Its whole view of sexuality is based on a materialist view of man as a purely a biological animal.

This can also be seen in their attempt to do away with the feelings we call shame or guilt[2]. Psychology’s highest goal seems to be helping people to feel good about themselves, even if they ought not to feel good about themselves and their behavior. This is even the case when it’s obvious that a person can get relief from their guilt and shame by quitting a certain behavior that they or society labels as wrong. Their answer to everything is destroyed or weekend the standard seldom is it to bring people’s behavior up to the acceptable standard. The root of this teaching is their denial of any normal standards and wholesale acceptance of moral relativism.

I grant you a  lot of this psycho babbling has been corrected by some of the behaviorists. However, the damages had been done and the myths have been established. So the mad Hatters of blunder land continue their destruction of the culture and the destruction of all norms in the name of feeling good.

Of course, the outcome of such behavior is obvious to a rational person and that is the dumbing down of our culture and morality to the point of nonexistent. And the strangest thing is that they’re doing this in the name of science[3]. However, in actuality, they are simply demonstrating the folly of human knowledge that has been detached from the reality of  God, morality and natural law.

[1] Most of my remarks are directed at psychology on the academia level.

[2] Guilt is the peg which a civilization hangs its hat. The standards of any civilization can be no higher than its guilt level.

[3] I have some serious reservations about calling psychology science. When examined it more resembles a pseudo-religion than science. Note Thomas S.Szasz “The Myth of Mental Illness” and “The Manufacture of Madness”

What About the Doctrine of Eternal Security?

What About the Doctrine of Eternal Security?

The doctrine of eternal security was first taught by Augustine of Hippo 354-430 AD and was not readily accepted by the church at large; prior to him it is not found in any of the early writings of the church fathers[1].  The next prominent one to teach it was John Calvin[2] 1509-1564 AD.

In my thinking, the doctrine of eternal security is a “me” doctrine and human-centered. It is irrelative to the person who intends to continue with Christ and obey him.  One of its roots is the lack of faith in the forgiveness we received by Christ and reflects anxiety over one’s salvation.  It is a stumbling block for many because it destroys the tension between sanctification and justification, which is necessary for a balanced Christian walk.  By its very nature, it inhibits growth and a striving for maturity and holiness in Christ.  By this, I am not inferring that we can make ourselves mature nor earn our salvation by growing, but just like in the natural world where a child is expected to grow up, a believer is expected to grow up in their faith.  We must continue to do those things that contribute to our growth.  Things like fellowship, prayer, meditation and the reading of scripture.  To neglect these is like a man that refuses to eat and yet expects to live.

[1]  Here are some typical quotations from their writings: We ought, therefore, brethren, carefully to inquire concerning our salvation. Otherwise, the wicked one, having made his entrance by deceit, may hurl us forth from our life. Barnabas (c. 70-130).
Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons. Irenaeus (c. 180).
It is neither the faith, nor the love, nor the hope, nor the endurance of one day; rather, “he that endures to the end will be saved.” Clement of Alexandria (c. 195).  God gives forgiveness of past sins. However, as to future sins, each one procures this for himself. He does this by repenting, by condemning the past deeds, and by begging the Father to blot them out. For only the Father is the one who is able to undo what is done. …So even in the case of one who has done the greatest good deeds in his life, but at the end has run headlong into wickedness, all his former pains are profitless to him. For at the climax of the drama, he has given up his part. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195).

[2] http://eternalsecurity.us/a_historical_examination.htm

 

What is the Israel of God?

What is the Israel of God?

“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” Gal 6:16

There has been much debate as to the meaning of the apostle Paul’s expression “the Israel of God” in his letter to the Galatians. Much of the debate has been caused by people holding to various eschatology theories of the nation of Israel and its relationship to the church. However, the apostle gives us a clue as to the meaning in the expression itself. If there is an Israel of God, there must be an Israel that is not of God. Who or what is this false Israel? In the book of Galatians and throughout his writings, the apostle tells us who makes up this wrong Israel. The false Israel is made up of fleshly Israel, including those who believe in Christ yet want to bind the law of Moses on all Christians[1]. In other words, they believe that a person is saved by faith in Christ plus the law of Moses or by becoming a Jew. This group of people are called Judaizers and have been present within the church since its earliest beginning. In the book of Acts, you can read about how they actually followed the apostle Paul around undermining his message of salvation through Christ alone and attempted to convert Paul’s disciple back to Judaism (Christ plus Judaism) bring them back into the bondage of religion.

Let’s look at what Paul and the New Testament says about fleshly or the physical descendants of  Abraham who made up the physical nation of Israel in the days of Paul and today. Our first text will be a metaphor given to us by Paul in Galatians Chapter 4:21-30).

“(21) Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? (22) For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. (23) His son by the slave woman was born in an ordinary way, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.

(24) These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. (25) Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem because she is in slavery with her children. (26) But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (27) For it is written:

 

“Be glad, O barren woman,

who bears no children;

break forth and cry aloud,

you who have no labor pains;

because more are the children of the desolate woman

than of her who has a husband.”

 

(28) Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. (29) At that time the son born in an ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. (30) But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son” (31). Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman” (Gal 4:21-31).

We can gather from Paul’s words that there are two Israel’s one is spiritual and one is fleshly or physical. Physical Israel is born through natural processes (physical birth) and is based on biology. On the other hand, spiritual Israel is based on a birth brought from above by the spirit of God (John 3:1-5).  Paul’s conclusion is stated in verse 30,  which is that the slave woman physical Israel will not receive the inheritance of eternal life unless they become spiritual children through faith in Jesus Christ. “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  8, In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring (Rom 9:6-8).

Who are the children of the promise? It is clearly stated that they are believers in Jesus and those that have been baptized into Him. “26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal:26-29). We can gather from this that now a new humanity or nation made up of all men who are saved by faith in Jesus. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10). Who is Peter talking to? Is he not talking to the Israel of God?

The citizenship requirement in this new nation is a spiritual birth into it through water and spirit him (John 3:1-5).

For further study, I’d recommend  T Austin’s Sparks “The Israel of God.” You can get it free by coping into your browser the link below.[2]

 

[1] Phi 3:1-6, Gal 3:1-26

[2] http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/israel_of_god_the.html

 

 

Baptism, A Workbook

Basic Christian Doctrine

A Study In Holistic Theology

What The Bible Teaches about Baptism

 

Please pay close attention to the title of this article.  It does not say what the Roman Catholic Church teaches on baptism or what the Baptist church teaches on baptism or any other church.  It is an article on what the Bible says about it.

Moreover, it is not an article on what the Bible says on faith, repentance, or any other subject.  It is about what the Bible says about baptism.  I say this for the other day I was talking to a person about Christ, and the subject of baptism came up.  As we talked, I asked the individual I was speaking to what they thought the meaning and purpose of baptism where according to the Bible.

Their response was that they immediately went to passages of Scripture that talked about faith.  I interrupted and asked what does the Bible said about baptism and its’ relationship to salvation.  I pointed out it seems reasonable that if you’re studying a subject, you would look at the verses of Scripture, which spoke about that subject and not something else.  At that point, the discussion came to an end.

The best way to begin a study of the Bible is simply to read what the Bible has to say about a subject without reading into it any man’s opinion of what it says.  Our opinion of what it says and the opinion of the entire world will not change the facts of what the Bible says.  I may not be able to explain it or even understand it, but it still remains the eternal truth.  So with that in mind, what does the Bible say about water baptism.  I would also suggest that you get your own Bible out and read the passage in context.

Matt 28:18-20

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mark 1:4

4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins._____________________

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Mark 16:15-17

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe:

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Luke 24:45-49

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

I  have included this passage in Luke because of what it does not say about baptism.  What we see is typical of what you see everywhere in the Bible.  A subject is talked about in a holistic way, including all its parts though not all those parts are not stated  individually.  To know what the great commission was in its entirety you would have to read all the Gospels accounts and add up all the individual pieces. If you did, you would come up with something like this –  Jesus came to his disciples and said “all authority in heaven, and earth has been given to me. So I tell you go into all the world preach the gospel, of my death, burial, and resurrection and the forgiveness sin through believing in my name.  He that believes it and confesses it by being baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will be saved.”   Note they did it in Acts 2:14-41

Acts 2:38-41

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Acts 8:30-39

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 1 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Acts 18:25-26

25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Acts 19:1-5

19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 22:12-16

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Rom 6:1-7

6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Eph 4:4-6

5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Gal 3:26-29

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Col 2:9-12

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

1 Peter 3:18-4:1

18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand-with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Passage that seem to be pointing to Baptism

John 3:5-8

5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Titus 3:3-8

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Eph 5:25-27

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Now that you have studied the passages, read my comments on them.  Do not read my comments until you have studied the passages.

 

My thoughts on the passages

Matt 28:18-20

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In this passage Jesus tells his disciples to go into all the world.  This was an expansion of his earlier commission to go to the lost sheep of Israel.  He then tells them to make disciples of all nations (not just Jews) by baptizing them into the name of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The preposition in the Greek means in or into –  indicates they are to baptize people into the Godhead.  This ideal is reinforced by Rom. 6:3-4 and Gal. 3:26-27 which teaches that people are by faith baptized into Christ.

Mark 1:4

4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In this passage, we see the close connection that baptism has with faith.  Baptism and faith are looked on in the Bible as the inside and outside of the same thing.  Note Gal. 3:26-27.  Baptism is faith, and faith is baptism.  The early Christian looked at baptism as an identification with a person or even a nation. So baptism was into Christ or an identification with Christ.  Every Christian was baptized, and every baptized person was a Christian if they had been baptized into Christ.  In the first century, there was no such thing as a non-baptized Christian.  People that were seeking Christ and were not baptized were called “God fearers”.  Note Acts 19:1-5 where people’s relationship with Christ was questioned because they were not baptized correctly.

Mark 16:15-17

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe:

What Jesus says: ” Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Belief-baptism-saved

Roman Catholics say:  “Whoever is baptized and believes will be saved.” Baptism-faith-saved

Protestants say:  “Whoever believes and is saved should be baptized.” Belief-saved-baptism

Which one does the Bible Teach?

A childish quibble is often made that it does not say those not baptized will be lost.  Of course not, why would anyone be baptized if they did not believe?

Acts 2:38-41

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

In this passage, you see the same order of salvation “Repentance (belief), baptism then the forgiveness of sin.  Notice the similarities and the differences between John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus.  Both were for the forgiveness of sin.  However, John’s baptism was unto Christ and the baptism of Jesus was into Christ.

Many Protestants distort the meaning of the passage by saying that these people’s sins were already forgiven.  In other words, Peter should have said “Repent and be baptized because your sins are already forgiven.”  This would be in keeping with the Protestant theology, but it is not what the Bible says.   Of course in one since their sins were forgiven when Christ died for the sins of the world, but here Peter is telling them how they accept that gift, which is by confessing their faith in baptism.

 

Acts 8:30-39

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again but went on his way rejoicing.

The passage says that Philip told the eunuch the good news about Jesus and we see the eunuch responding by being baptized.  We gather that the good news that Philip shared with the eunuch included baptism for the man asked to be baptized.  Again keeping with the great commission we see a sense of immediacy. 

 

Acts 19:1-5

19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.

The above passage shows that the whole subject of baptism has been subverted by the Protestant movement.  This came out of an overreaction to the Catholic church’s teachings on baptism.  The passage above demonstrates the importance of baptism and places it squarely in the salvation question.  Note the questions of the apostles.  It is obvious that Paul acquainted faith and baptism with the coming of the holy spirit as Peter did in Acts 2:38.  Would most Protestants or evangelicals ask the question that Paul asked these disciples?

Acts 9:17-19

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord-Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here-has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Acts 22:12-16

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

In these passages, we see a disciple named Ananias coming to Saul, who became the apostle Paul and tells him to be baptized to wash away his sins.  Note he told him to be baptized to wash away his sins not because his sins were already forgiven on the road to Damascus.  Now remember Saul saw the resurrected Christ on the road three days before Ananias came to him in the city.  It looks like from the text that Saul believed in Christ and three days later had his sins washed away.  Some have tried to argue that Paul was already a Christian before Ananias came to him, and before he was baptized.  They base this on Ananias calling him brother Saul.  The more likely explanation is that both men were Jews and Jews often called each other brothers. Note Acts 3;17

 

Rom 6:1-7

6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

In this passage, Paul tells us that baptism put us into Christ.  Of course, his statement is based on a person having faith.  We could say that people were put into Christ by faith’s baptism.  Some have tried to skirt this passage by saying that it is not a reference to water baptism but rather Spirit baptism.  This interpretation has a number of problems.  First, it goes against the majority of scholars and the traditional interpretation of the Christian church for centuries.  It can easily be established that when the word baptism is used without a modifier it should be viewed as talking about water baptism, seeing that the word means to immerse in water.

Eph 4:4-6

5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This an interesting passage for it says there is just one baptism.  Now this is in direct contrast to what many preachers teach.  We have men who teach that there is Holy Spirit baptism, baptism of suffering, baptism of fire and water baptism, and we have some that claim we have different forms of water baptism. Why did Paul say in 63 A.D. that there was only one baptism?  The reason is that by the time of the writing of the Book of Ephesians,  the other baptisms either were fulfilled or no longer applied.  Of course to the astute person that understands language, the other forms of baptisms were metaphorical in nature in the first place.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled when Jesus poured out the Spirit on the new creation as recorded in Acts 2.  The baptism of the Spirit was a onetime immersion of the church or the corporate body of believers and received the Spirit.  Today when a man believes in Christ, they are added to the Spirit-filled body and share in the baptism of the Spirit.  The baptism of suffering was an immersion or baptism of the apostles in the suffering of Christ.  Today we share in that baptism when we identify with those men and the body of Christ.  The baptism of fire is a baptism of God’s judgment and was fulfilled when he destroyed Jerusalem.  It will also be experienced by the wicked on the last day.  It is a metaphor for God’s judgment.

Gal 3:26-29

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In this passage faith and baptism are linked together by the word for.  The word “for” is used to show the connection between the expression ” faith in Christ” and “being clothed with Christ”. 

Col 2:9-12

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

In this passage, Paul relates baptism and the circumcision of the flesh done by Christ.  We know that water cannot remove the sin’s desire nor any ritual.  The circumcision of flesh is done by the Spirit of Christ which a person receives by being in Christ.  Remember what the Bible says about how to get into Christ – Rom.6:1-5 and Gal 3:26,27.  In view of this, one can see how baptism can be referred to as the circumcision of Christ, for it is the work of God that puts one into Christ where the spirit renews their mind.

1 Peter 3:18-4:1

18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand-with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

In verse 21 it is clear that Peter says that baptism saves.  However, the question is – How does it save you?  Does it save apart from faith?  No, it saves by faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and by a pledge of a good conscience toward God.  What does that all mean?  It simply means that when a person believes in the resurrection of Christ, the Spirit through a disciple, baptizes the believer into Christ for the remission of their sin, which remission comes from the new relationship with Christ.  They, therefore, are separated by the resurrection and their baptism from the old world order of things.

Note the Bible says that somehow baptism saves you.  Many preachers say it does not.  Who will you believe?

John 3:5-8

5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Titus 3:3-8

3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

One point to ponder: prior to John Calvin 1508-1564 no major figure in Christianity believed that the passage in John 3 applied to anything but Christian baptism in water.  All other interpretations are of latter-day origin.  Can you trust any latter day origin of a doctrine? Note Jude 3

So what is Jesus saying?  In verse 5 of John 3 he seems to be saying that there is one birth into the kingdom of God, which is made up of two elements water and spirit.  In this, the spiritual birth into Christ is much like one’s fleshly birth, which is made up of God creating a physical body and then putting a spirit in the body he creates – two elements –  one person and one birth.  In a simpler way, the spiritual birth is a washing with water and giving of the Spirit.  Note the order is the same in both passages water then Spirit.

 

A Grave and Glaring Contrast

One way to judge a biblical interpretation is to compare it with the practices of those in the New Testament.

If people have the same beliefs, they should have the same actions or practices.  Here is the contrast. Today we see people teaching people about Jesus then those people being baptized months or even years after they believe in Jesus.  In the book of Acts, you see people be baptized immediately upon hearing and believing the message?  Why the difference?  Read the following examples of conversions from the Book of Acts.

Acts 2:36-39

Acts 8:9-13

Acts 8:26-40

Acts 9:1-19

Acts 16:29-34

Acts 16:13-15

Acts 19:1-8

The only way you can explain the difference in actions is that there is a difference in belief. In the examples in Acts, you see an emphasis on and an immediacy placed on being baptism.  Today, there is no sense of immediacy or emphasis placed on baptism.  Why is it different?  Could it be that the theology is different?  These examples may not prove anything, but they surely raise some questions.  Why the immediacy and why the emphasis on baptism in the Bible when it has nothing to do with salvation?  Why do preachers today tell people that ask what they need to do to be saved tell them to say the sinner’s prayer or to ask Jesus into their heart?  Is that what they told people in the Bible?  How about repent and be baptized?

The holistic theology Summer:  God sent his Son to die for our sin that we might believe in him and confess him in being baptized into Him for the remission of sin that we might become like him by receiving His Spirit in Him.

All the above ideas are in line with G. R. Beasley-Murray book on Baptism “Baptism In The New Testament” at the writing of the book, he was professor emeritus of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

Questions and Answers

What about the thief on the cross?  He was saved without baptism.  Baptism is a necessity, but not an absolute.  God is always higher than his law and does make exceptions.  However, exceptions do not do away with the rule or change the rule.  Preaching exceptions to the rule is nothing but a form of relativism and disobedience to the word.

What the American church has done is to make the exception the rule and then they call the exception the Bible.  It seems that they are putting their tradition before the word of God.  I think much of this has come about because of their mass evangelism meetings and media programs were they try to mass produce Christians in large numbers. Water baptism does not lean itself well to that end.  All of which looks more like American culture than the Bible.

Does the Bible ask people to accept Jesus as their personal savior?  No that is the language of Babel. The Bible commands people to believe and be baptized (Acts 2:38).  My challenge to you is to find one verse in the Bible that tells anyone seeking salvation to accept Jesus into their heart, say the sinner prayer, or for that matter say any prayer, to be saved.  What about the passage in Revelation that says “I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, “I will come in and eat with that person”.  This passage has nothing to do with salvation and the Lord is speaking to Christians not non-Christians seeking salvation.

Is baptism a work of rightness done by a person to be saved? Baptism is a work of faith because it was commanded by the Lord (Rom 1:5).  It is not a work of rightness that we do to be saved.  In baptism we submit to Jesus and the Father and we are actually baptized by them through the Holy Spirit at work in the disciple that they use to baptize us. The expression “works of righteousness” is found in Eph 2:9-10 and most likely is a reference to the works of religion found in the law of Moses.  Paul was trying to show Jewish Christians that their former religion had nothing to do with their salvation.

Whether a thing would fall into the category of a “work of righteousness” would wholly depend on one’s attitude.  If you think anything you do would obligate God to save you, you, in essence, have turned that thing into a work of righteousness.  This would include faith.  The thing that takes faith out of that category is that it is the work of God even as baptism is the work of God.  Both faith and baptism are acts of trusting in God’s grace and power for salvation.  The only difference is one is external and the other is internal.  One is done with the mind and the other is done with the body.  Of course, Gnostic  Christians (American religion) deny the value of anything done in the body or that which is physical.  In their thinking, the physical can have nothing to do with salvation. Yet, the apostle Paul says that God used the Physical body of Jesus to save us. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-” (Col 1:21-23).

The Witness of the Early Christian Fathers

The following are a few quotes of the early Christian fathers regarding the purpose of baptism. These are a small sample taken from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by David W. Bercot.

Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves. Barnabas (c. 70–130, E,1.144

Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water. . . . We indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement. However, we come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and the trust in Jesus in our spirit. Barnabas (c. 70–130, E), 1.144. He was born and baptized so that by His passion He could purify the water. Ignatius (c. 105, E), 1.57.

I heard, sir, some teachers maintain that there is no other repentance than that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins. Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.22.

Before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he lays aside his deadness and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water. They descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.49.

At our birth, we were born without our own knowledge or choice, but by our parents coming together. . . . In order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe. . . . And in the name of Jesus Christ . . . and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.183.

This washing of repentance and knowledge of God has been ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries. Accordingly, we have believed and testify that the very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented. And this is the water of life. . . . For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses only the flesh and body? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.201. We who have approached God through

we have believed and testify that the very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented. And this is the water of life. . . . For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses only the flesh and body? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.201. We who have

But there is no other [way] than this: to become acquainted with this Christ; to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins; and for the rest, to live sinless lives. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.217. Christ has redeemed us by being crucified on the tree and by purifying us with water. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.242.

The things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also could be a sign of men being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and bath of regeneration—as many as come to the truth and are born again. Theophilus (c. 180, E), 2.101.

When we come to refute them [the Gnostics], we will show in its proper place that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God. Thus, they have renounced the whole faith. . . . For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.346.

When [do we bear] the image of the heavenly? Doubtless when he says, “You have been washed,” believing in the name of the Lord, and receiving His Spirit. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.537.

Man, with respect to that formation which was after Adam, having fallen into transgression, needed the bath of regeneration. Therefore, the Lord said to [the blind man] after He had smeared his eyes with the clay, “Go to Siloam and wash.” By this means, He restored to him both confirmation and that regeneration that takes place by means of the bath. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.543.

[Scripture] says, “And he dipped himself seven times in the Jordan.” It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized. Rather, this was a symbol for us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean from our old transgressions by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord. We are spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, just as the Lord has declared: “Unless a man is born again through water and the Spirit, he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.574.

If He was perfect, why was He, the perfect one, baptized? It was necessary, they say, to fulfill the profession that pertained to humanity. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.215.

Our transgressions were taken away by one Poeonian medicine, the baptism of the Word. We are washed from all our sins, and are no longer entangled in evil. This is the one grace of illumination, that our characters are not the same as before our washing. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.216, 217.

In the same way, therefore, we also repent of our sins, renounce our iniquities, and are purified by baptism. Thereby, we speed back to the eternal light as children of the Father. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.217.

The union of the Logos with baptism is like the agreement of milk with water. For, of all liquids, milk alone receives water. It allows itself to be mixed with water for the purpose of cleansing—just as baptism does for the remission of sins. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.222.

We were drawn out from the calamities of this world in which we were tarrying, perishing with thirst. We were revived by “drinking” . . . of the baptismal water. Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.170.

Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life. . . . We, like little fishes, after the example of our ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in water. Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.669.

“Unless a man has been born again of water and Spirit, he will not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.” These words have tied faith to the necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers were baptized. So it was, too, that Paul, when he believed, was baptized. Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.676.

Let not the fact that Jesus Himself did not baptize trouble anyone. For into what would He have baptized? Into repentance? Of what use, then, was His forerunner? Into remission of sins? But He gave this by a word. Into Himself, whom by humility He was concealing? Into the Holy Spirit, who had not yet descended from the Father? Into the church, which His apostles had not yet founded? Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.674.

The flesh is the clothing of the soul. The uncleanness, indeed, is washed away by baptism. Tertullian (c. 213, W), 3.646.

Matthew alone adds the words, “to repentance,” teaching us that the benefit of baptism is connected with the intention of the baptized person. To him who repents, it is saving. However, to him who comes to it without repentance, it will produce greater condemnation. Origen (c. 228, E), 9.367.

“By the bath of regeneration,” they were born as new-born babes. Origen (c. 245, E), 9.491.

One is not born by the imposition of hands when he receives the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is in baptism. Thereafter, being already born, he may receive the Holy Spirit. Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.388.

When they wish to repent, we receive the pagans into the church to hear the Word. However, we do not admit them to communion until they have received the seal of baptism and are made complete Christians. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.414.

Bercot, David W., editor. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Hendrickson Pub. Kindle Edition.

The following are a few quotes of the early Christian fathers regarding the purpose of baptism. These are a small sample taken from “A dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by David W. Bercot.

Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves. Barnabas (c. 70–130, E,1.144

Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water. . . . We indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement. However, we come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear [of God] and the trust in Jesus in our spirit. Barnabas (c. 70–130, E), 1.144. He was born and baptized so that by His passion He could purify the water. Ignatius (c. 105, E), 1.57.

I heard, sir, some teachers maintain that there is no other repentance than that which takes place, when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins. Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.22.

Before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he lays aside his deadness and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water. They descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.49.

At our birth, we were born without our own knowledge or choice, but by our parents coming together. . . . In order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe. . . . And in the name of Jesus Christ . . . and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.183.

This washing of repentance and knowledge of God has been ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries. Accordingly, we have believed and testify that the very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented. And this is the water of life. . . . For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses only the flesh and body? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.201. We who have approached God through

we have believed and testify that the very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented. And this is the water of life. . . . For what is the use of that baptism which cleanses only the flesh and body? Baptize the soul from wrath and from covetousness, from envy, and from hatred. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.201. We who have

But there is no other [way] than this: to become acquainted with this Christ; to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins; and for the rest, to live sinless lives. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.217. Christ has redeemed us by being crucified on the tree and by purifying us with water. Justin Martyr (c. 160, E), 1.242.

The things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also could be a sign of men being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and bath of regeneration—as many as come to the truth and are born again. Theophilus (c. 180, E), 2.101.

 

When we come to refute them [the Gnostics], we will show in its proper place that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God. Thus, they have renounced the whole faith. . . . For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/ W), 1.346.

When [do we bear] the image of the heavenly? Doubtless when he says, “You have been washed,” believing in the name of the Lord, and receiving His Spirit. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.537.

Man, with respect to that formation which was after Adam, having fallen into transgression, needed the bath of regeneration. Therefore, the Lord said to [the blind man] after He had smeared his eyes with the clay, “Go to Siloam and wash.” By this means, He restored to him both confirmation and that regeneration that takes place by means of the bath. Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.543.

[Scripture] says, “And he dipped himself seven times in the Jordan.” It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized. Rather, this was a symbol for us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean from our old transgressions by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord. We are spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, just as the Lord has declared: “Unless a man is born again through water and the Spirit, he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.574.

If He was perfect, why was He, the perfect one, baptized? It was necessary, they say, to fulfill the profession that pertained to humanity. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.215.

Our transgressions were taken away by one Poeonian medicine, the baptism of the Word. We are washed from all our sins, and are no longer entangled in evil. This is the one grace of illumination, that our characters are not the same as before our washing. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.216, 217.

In the same way, therefore, we also repent of our sins, renounce our iniquities, and are purified by baptism. Thereby, we speed back to the eternal light as children of the Father. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.217.

The union of the Logos with baptism is like the agreement of milk with water. For, of all liquids, milk alone receives water. It allows itself to be mixed with water for the purpose of cleansing—just as baptism does for the remission of sins. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.222.

We were drawn out from the calamities of this world in which we were tarrying, perishing with thirst. We were revived by “drinking” . . . of the baptismal water. Tertullian (c. 197, W), 3.170.

Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life. . . . We, like little fishes, after the example of our ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in water. Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.669.

“Unless a man has been born again of water and Spirit, he will not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.” These words have tied faith to the necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers were baptized. So it was, too, that Paul, when he believed, was baptized. Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.676.

Let not the fact that Jesus Himself did not baptize trouble anyone. For into what would He have baptized? Into repentance? Of what use, then, was His forerunner? Into remission of sins? But He gave this by a word. Into Himself, whom by humility He was concealing? Into the Holy Spirit, who had not yet descended from the Father? Into the church, which His apostles had not yet founded? Tertullian (c. 198, W), 3.674.

The flesh is the clothing of the soul. The uncleanness, indeed, is washed away by baptism. Tertullian (c. 213, W), 3.646.

Matthew alone adds the words, “to repentance,” teaching us that the benefit of baptism is connected with the intention of the baptized person. To him who repents, it is saving. However, to him who comes to it without repentance, it will produce greater condemnation. Origen (c. 228, E), 9.367.

“By the bath of regeneration,” they were born as new-born babes. Origen (c. 245, E), 9.491.

One is not born by the imposition of hands when he receives the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is in baptism. Thereafter, being already born, he may receive the Holy Spirit. Cyprian (c. 250, W), 5.388.

When they wish to repent, we receive the pagans into the church to hear the Word. However, we do not admit them to communion until they have received the seal of baptism and are made complete Christians. Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390, E), 7.414.

Bercot, David W., editor. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs . Hendrickson Pub. Kindle Edition.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

     Included in Alexander Campbell’s view of baptism was that it was a pardon-assuring and pardon-certifying act rather than a pardon-procuring act. That is, we do not “gain” or “procure” salvation by being baptized. It is a passive act. God is doing something to us; it is God’s “washing of generation” upon us, an act of His grace. In baptism we have the assurance of pardon and the remission of sins. I can know I am a Christian and saved because “I have been to the river and I have been baptized.” Campbell used the illustration of a highway sign. One can know he has crossed into the state of Ohio because the sign says so. Baptism is the “sign” indicating we are pardoned. This is the force of 1 Peter 3:21 where baptism is described as “the answer of a good conscience toward God”.

It is sad and unfortunate the effect legalism has had upon our feelings and thought about salvation. If anybody should be confident of their salvation it is because we have been baptized into Christ who is our Savior. Not because of baptism per se as a work of meritorious righteousness which we have done, but according to God’s mercy as Paul wrote in Titus 3:5.