Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Answering Proof Texts Cited In Defense Of Baptismal Regeneration

  • Discussion:
          -The purpose of this article is to rebut a number of proof texts cited for baptismal regeneration, which is the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation. Following are a handful of excerpts from a source alongside a critique:

          "Mark 16:16 – Jesus said “He who believes AND is baptized will be saved.” Jesus says believing is not enough. Baptism is also required. This is because baptism is salvific, not just symbolic. The Greek text also does not mandate any specific order for belief and baptism, so the verse proves nothing about a “believer’s baptism.”

          The act of baptism is associated with justification before God, but does not constitute that instance itself. Consider this reasoning from analogy: people can have experience driving a vehicle, but it does not follow that they acquire knowledge regarding its assembly. In the same vein, Mark 16:16 nowhere indicates that unbaptized Christians will be condemned by God. Baptism cannot be a condition for salvation because it is a work (Ephesians 2:8-9). As to the order of faith and baptism in Scripture, the latter always follows the former. For example, Matthew 28:19 says, "teach...and baptize..." Acts 2:38 says, "repent...and be baptized..."

          "John 3:3,5 – unless we are “born again” of water and Spirit in baptism, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The Greek word for the phrase “born again” is “anothen” which literally means “begotten from above.” See, for example, John 3:31 where “anothen” is so used. Baptism brings about salvation, not just a symbolism of our salvation."

          Andreas J. Kostenberger, in the book titled Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, page 435, notes that the phrase "born again" is rooted in Old Testament symbolism:

          "...Most likely this passage constitutes an allusion to Ezek. 36:25-27, which presages God's cleansing of human hearts with water and their inner transformation by his Spirit (cf. also Isa. 44:3-5; Jub. 1:23-25; see Schlatter 1948: 89; Carson 1991: 191-96, esp. 194-95; McCabe 1999; Cotterell 1985: 241; Kynes 1992, esp. 575). The notion of a new beginning and a decisive inner transformation of a person's life is found in other OT prophetic passages (e.g., Jer. 31:33-34; Ezek. 11:19-20). It is this spiritual reality of which Nicodemus, Israel's teacher, ought to have been aware but which he and, one may assume, his fellow Sanhedrin members-the personal pronouns in Jesus' statements "You must be born again" (3:7] and "You (people) do not accept our testimony" (3:11] are plural in the Greek) personally lacked."

          The idea of being washed spiritually was something known to the Qumran Community. Consider the following excerpt which was originally cited by Alex Deasley, The Shape of Qumran Theology, p. 232:

          "By the spirit of holiness which links him with his truth he is cleansed of all his sins. And by the spirit of uprightness and humility his sin is atoned. And by the compliance of his soul with all the laws of God his flesh is cleansed by being sprinkled with cleansing waters and being made holy with the waters of repentance. May he, then, steady his steps in order to walk with perfection on all the paths of God." (IQS III 7b-10a)

          This excerpt from Josephus seems to indicate that he believed (in a Jewish context) faith and remission of sins to happen before baptism:

          "...and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness." (Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119)

          Craig S. Keener, in the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, notes in regard to John 3:3-5:

          "3:3-4. Jesus speaks literally of being born “from above,” which means “from God” (“above,” like “heaven,” was a Jewish circumlocution, or roundabout expression, for God). One could also construe the phrase as meaning “reborn,” which Nicodemus takes literally. (Ancient writers, including those of the *Old Testament—as in the Hebrew text of Jer 1:11-12; Mic 1:10-15—often used plays on words, and John includes quite a few other puns; they also sometimes used other characters as less intelligent foils for a narrative’s main spokesperson.) Most evidence for Greek traditions about individual rebirth come from a later period, possibly formulated in light of Christianity, but some Jewish analogies probably lack direct Christian influence. Because Jewish teachers spoke of *Gentile converts to Judaism as starting life anew like “newborn children” (just as adopted sons under Roman law relinquished all legal status in their former family when they became part of a new one), Nicodemus should have understood that Jesus meant conversion; but it never occurs to him that someone Jewish would need to convert to the true faith of Israel. The idea of a transforming conversion reflects texts such as Ezekiel 36:26 (evoked in this passage of John), although such ideas may appear elsewhere (e.g., 1 Sam 10:6; Wisdom of Solomon 7:27; 8:17). 3:5. Converts to Judaism were said to become “as newborn children”; their conversion included immersion in water to remove Gentile impurity. “Born of water” thus could clarify for Nicodemus that “born from above” means conversion, not a second physical birth. The Greek wording of 3:5 can mean either “water and the Spirit” or “water, that is, the Spirit.” Ezekiel 36:24-27 used water symbolically for the cleansing of the Spirit (cf. especially the *Dead Sea Scrolls), so here Jesus could mean “converted by the Spirit” (cf. 7:37-39)—a spiritual *proselyte *baptism. Whereas Jewish teachers generally spoke of converts to Judaism as “newborn” only in the sense that they were legally severed from old relationships, an actual rebirth by the Spirit would produce a new heart (Ezek 36:26)."

          "Acts 2:38 – Peter commands them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order to be actually forgiven of sin, not just to partake of a symbolic ritual."

          In Acts 2:38, the Apostle Peter was calling upon his audience to identify themselves with Jesus Christ. In getting baptized, they identified themselves as being recipients of the grace and mercy of God. They aligned themselves with the cause of Christ. Baptism signifies His death and resurrection. It is a picture of an inner transformation of our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Another passage that has the same kind of imagery regarding baptism is 1 Corinthians 10:2. The Apostle Paul stated that the Israelites were baptized into Moses, meaning that they identified themselves with his mission and purpose. Baptism is not a condition for salvation, but an expression that one has been forgiven by God and granted citizenship into His kingdom. 

          "1 Cor. 6:11 – Paul says they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, in reference to baptism. The “washing” of baptism gives birth to sanctification and justification, which proves baptism is not just symbolic."

          The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 does not refer to the ritual act of baptism, but to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:26 is another text that uses visually descriptive and figurative language regarding washing. Following is an excerpt from the Wycliffe Bible Commentary that provides further insight as to the meaning of being washed, sanctified, and justified:

          "The positive appeal is here. And such were some of you points to the depths from which the grace of God in Christ had rescued them. Ye are washed. Literally, ye allowed yourselves to be washed (a permissive middle voice), or, ye washed yourselves (a direct middle, stressing the active side of faith; cf. Acts 22:16; Gal 5:24). Washed, sanctified, and justified reflect the new position of the Corinthians. The mention of sanctification before justification is no problem, since Paul has in mind positional truth (see I Cor 1:2, 30). The verbs refer to the same thing with differing emphases, the one stressing the believer’s cleansing, the next the believer’s new calling, and the final one the believer’s new standing. Justified stands last, as a fitting climax to the argument about seeking justice before the unjust (vv. 1-8)."

          If Paul believed in baptismal regeneration, then it would have been illogical for him to have spoken the way he had in the beginning of his letter (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). He clearly separated the events of baptism and justification. One author expounds on this text as follows:

          "...Granted, in this passage Paul is arguing against the divisions that plagued the Corinthian church. However, how could Paul possibly say, “I am thankful that I did not baptize…” or “For Christ did not send me to baptize…” if baptism were necessary for salvation? If baptism is necessary for salvation, Paul would literally be saying, “I am thankful that you were not saved…” and “For Christ did not send me to save…” That would be an unbelievably ridiculous statement for Paul to make. Further, when Paul gives a detailed outline of what he considers the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), why does he neglect to mention baptism? If baptism is a requirement for salvation, how could any presentation of the gospel lack a mention of baptism?"

          "1 Peter 3:21 – Peter expressly writes that “baptism, corresponding to Noah’s ark, now saves you; not as a removal of dirt from the body, but for a clear conscience. “ Hence, the verse demonstrates that baptism is salvific (it saves us), and deals with the interior life of the person (purifying the conscience, like Heb. 10:22), and not the external life (removing dirt from the body)."

          The key to answering this argument lies in the phrase "...which corresponds to this" (or "The like figure...," Authorized Version). Just as Noah and his family had entered the ark to escape judgement from God on this world through floodwater, those who place their trust in Jesus Christ will be saved from eternal condemnation at the Final Judgement. He is the ark of our salvation. Baptism is a picture of the newness of life that we experience in Him. 1 Peter 3:21 says that it is not the ritual which purifies our consciences ("not as a removal of dirt from the body..."), but that which baptism represents, namely, our changed identity and union with Christ.

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