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 motif of being washed spiritually was something known to the Qumran Community. Consider the following excerpt 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)

          David W. Pao, in the New International Version Zondervan Study Bible, says the following:

          "3:5 born of water and the Spirit. Parallel with "born again" (vv. 3,7) and "born of the Spirit" (v. 8), emphasizing a (single) Spirit-produced birth. This makes several interpretations unlikely: (1) that "born of water" refers to natural birth (no ancient sources picture natural birth as "from water," where "water" is the amniotic fluid that breaks before childbirth); (2) that "born of water” refers to Christian baptism (these words would have had no relevance to Nicodemus at the time): (3) that "born of water" refers to John's baptism (also, vv. 9-12 then do not logically follow); (4) that "the Spirit” refers to the Word of God (John's other metaphoric uses of "water" in this Gospel refer to Spirit-produced life [4:14; 7:3839], not to God's Word). The most plausible interpretation of "born of water and the Spirit" is the purifying and transforming new birth. Since Jesus expects Nicodemus to understand what he means (vv. 7, 10), the background to the concept is previous Scripture. Water in the OT often refers to renewal or cleansing, and the most significant OT connection bringing together water and spirit is Ezek 36:25-27, where water cleanses from impurity and the Spirit transforms hearts. So "born of water and the Spirit" signals a new birth that cleanses and transforms."

          "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 at the beginning of his letter (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). He clearly separated the events of baptism and justification and did not believe doing such diminished the importance of that ritual. 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 newfound union in Christ. "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:14)

6 comments:

  1. I had a few problems with the second article on Baptism, but not so many on the article on Ephesians, which I enjoyed. Firstly, I question whether early Christians would know about the reference to Ezekial and about the Qumran community. John does appear to be preaching to a community of Gentiles who would know the general precepts of Greek philosophy, but possibly not Jewish and Old Testament particulars. But certainly poor Christians of the wider world whom the Gospel would speak to would also not be aware of these ideas. This begs the next question, on how much research and close inspection of scripture is needed to form a valid and correct opinion? This includes an extremely close reading of Matthew 16:18 in order to come up with the not obvious interpretation of Peter not being the rock. This leads to the necessity of a magisterium that Protestants so despise. The common man neither has the time nor ability to devote himself to such an intense scrutiny of the Bible. And they may have more leisure now, but this was certainly not true during the first fourteen centuries when many couldn’t read, and if they could, they probably didn’t possess in their person a copy to study when they were toiling for hours a day.
    But the second problem I have is the fact that all the apostles push for Baptism. Now we could go over each individual statement and show how it doesn’t apply, just as we could go through each statement about the fact that the Law doesn’t save and scrutinize and explain why the seemingly obvious reason is incorrect, but the overall and clear sentiment is that Law isn’t necessary and Baptism appears to be, or at least for the Christian capable of it. Why do apostles assist on quick baptism after they find someone converted to Christianity like the Ethiopian Eunuch, or the men who received the baptism of John but not Christ, or King Herod if he would have converted? I do agree that God is not limited to the sacraments but they clearly are more important than just a symbolic ritual, just as laying on of the hands appeared to transfer the spirit in Acts. It is harped on so frequently in the New Testament, it would seem rather strange if this isn’t necessary, and that Christian could just forgo this with a clear conscience. If a Christian really loves Christ, he will do as he commands, and Christ has instituted Baptism. I could also go through each text that you interpreted and give my counter interpretation, but I don’t think it will matter. It will be one interpretation against another, each with equal authority in the subject. And this, as I have mentioned before, is a huge problem for me with Protestantism, the abandonment of the soul to the subjective self.

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  2. Catholics have been brainwashed to think they need a Magisterium" from a papist hierarchy to understand Scripture. But the pope is no-one special and the Magisterium is a fraud:
    https://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2010/06/papacy-infallibility-and-magisterium.html

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  3. Sean,

    "Firstly, I question whether early Christians would know about the reference to Ezekial and about the Qumran community."

    The Jews saturated their minds daily in the Scriptures that God had provided to them. These people so deeply revered their religious texts that they made painstaking efforts to preserve them. That was done to the best of their ability. Scribes would discard whatever manuscripts they worked with if copyist errors were made in the process. Given that Ezekiel was accepted as canonical in the days of Christ and that the earliest Christians were Jews, it would make no sense whatsoever to say that they could not see how the phrase "born again" is rooted in the Old Testament. Given the reliance on memory by the Jewish people and that the Qumran sects were not ancient history to them, they could not so easily be forgotten. Even if the Jews at Qumran were not consulted as an authority on this matter, that would have no bearing as the point is that water imagery is used to convey the necessity of spiritual cleansing. They would have gotten that idea from the Old Testament. That is the context by which we are to understand Christ's words to Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus Himself said in John 3:7 that he should not be surprised by His teaching, implying it should already have been known. Nicodemus was, after all, a teacher of the Law.

    "John does appear to be preaching to a community of Gentiles who would know the general precepts of Greek philosophy, but possibly not Jewish and Old Testament particulars."

    John was versed in both Greek philosophy and the Old Testament Scriptures. He introduces his gospel narrative with an allusion to creation in Genesis and God speaking everything into existence by the power of His own Word. The Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us carries with it the idea of God dwelling in the temple and tabernacle of His chosen people (Exodus 25:8-9; 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10-11, 27). Jesus Christ is called "the Lamb of God," a uniquely Jewish term that finds its basis in the Levitical sacrificial system (John 1:29). John communicated in a way that could be understood by both Jew and Gentile.

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  4. "But certainly poor Christians of the wider world whom the Gospel would speak to would also not be aware of these ideas. This begs the next question, on how much research and close inspection of scripture is needed to form a valid and correct opinion?"

    The Bible was intended to be understood by the man who has received an essential base of instruction. The foremost requirement is basic reading comprehension. It was never designed to impress puffed-up individuals who get caught up in the esoteric philosophies of this world. I would say that roughly seven tenths of Scripture can be readily understood, especially truths relating to salvation and a life of godliness. It uses such plain language. "How much" study is not even the right question to be asking. Why does one want to study the Bible in the first place? What is your mentality in approaching the text? A Psalmist answered those questions like this: "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long" (Psalm 119:97). If you take that same approach, then your original question becomes totally irrelevant because it is your way of life. You get as much from the text as your level of devotion and humility towards it are.

    "This includes an extremely close reading of Matthew 16:18 in order to come up with the not obvious interpretation of Peter not being the rock. This leads to the necessity of a magisterium that Protestants so despise."

    Some parts of Scripture are harder to understand than others. Even the church fathers disagreed as to the precise identity of the "rock" in Matthew 16:18. But does it really follow that there is or must be some organization to infallibly interpret biblical texts? That is not how things operate in the real world. There is no infallible human ruler to settle conflicts among nations or even amongst peoples of a nation. There is no infallible human arbitrator to resolve contradictory interpretations of data by scientists. No one demands infallible certainty in those affairs. People do not look to an infallible interpreter when they fail to properly understand what they listen to or read. Do I need an infallible interpreter to make sense of what you are telling me? Who infallibly interprets the words of the infallible interpreter? How can I know anything at all if I must have infallible certainty?

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  5. Jesus Christ repeatedly asked His opponents questions like, "Have you not read in your Law?" (Matthew 12:3-5; 19:5; 22:22-32; Luke 10:26) No one thought a Magisterium was necessary in all those instances. Paul's letters circulated amongst churches without reference to an infallible interpreter (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). Peter never spoke of an infallible interpreter in the context of people distorting the meaning of Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Where is the pope's infallible interpretation of those passages?

    "And they may have more leisure now, but this was certainly not true during the first fourteen centuries when many couldn’t read, and if they could, they probably didn’t possess in their person a copy to study when they were toiling for hours a day."

    Everyone has twenty-four hours in a day. Everyone has seven days in a week. There is no excuse to not read a small portion of Scripture daily or even work towards memorizing one verse a day. Those who were illiterate were oftentimes not stupid and could be taught by those were literate. We have thousands upon thousands of pages of biblical exposition and polemics against heretics from the early church. The entire New Testament is contained in those writings easily. The surviving material that made it into our hands is but a fraction of all that has been lost in the sands of time. Those people dedicated themselves to the Word of God no matter how intense matters became.

    "But the second problem I have is the fact that all the apostles push for Baptism."

    Why is that a problem?

    "Why do apostles assist on quick baptism after they find someone converted to Christianity like the Ethiopian Eunuch, or the men who received the baptism of John but not Christ, or King Herod if he would have converted?"

    For the same reason that Abraham and all the men of his household underwent circumcision: reverence toward God. Circumcision was a sign indicating being a part of God's people (Genesis 17:10-14). That ritual was commanded by God just as baptism, even though it did not in any way contribute to salvation (Romans 4:9-12).

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  6. "I do agree that God is not limited to the sacraments but they clearly are more important than just a symbolic ritual, just as laying on of the hands appeared to transfer the spirit in Acts."

    How did you come to the conclusion that a higher degree of symbolism entails a lesser degree of importance?

    Circumcision was a symbolic act that identified one with the people of God yet refusal to go through with that medical procedure was punishable by death.

    "It is harped on so frequently in the New Testament, it would seem rather strange if this isn’t necessary, and that Christian could just forgo this with a clear conscience."

    Baptism is said to be highly important because it is a public demonstration of one's conversion to Christianity. In so doing, one renounces all the false gods of his or her culture and faces the risk of persecution. That is why baptism is so closely associated with salvation in the New Testament.

    Romans 3-5 is the key place of Scripture explaining how one is justified before God. The constant object of emphasis of this context is faith to the exclusion of works of the Law. Thus, justification is said to be by the grace of God alone through faith alone. If such a proposition were false, then the Apostle Paul must also be an incompetent minister, since he never mentions the various requirements for justification in this crucial context.

    "If a Christian really loves Christ, he will do as he commands, and Christ has instituted Baptism."

    No one said that baptism was optional or unnecessary.

    "It will be one interpretation against another, each with equal authority in the subject."

    Try to see things from a different point of view rather than always thinking in terms of one's personal authority. You are being myopic. You cannot learn new things if your mind is closed off to them. It would be wise for you to accept the fact that infallible certainty is not something God has given us in this life, but there is such a thing as having sufficient certainty.

    "And this, as I have mentioned before, is a huge problem for me with Protestantism, the abandonment of the soul to the subjective self."

    It is such a huge problem for me that I never lose sleep at night over it. Your granddaddy of all arguments is so ridiculous that it collapses under the weight of its own absurdity. It cuts even your own position into pieces. You have fallen on your own sword. The "subjective self" has to subjectively make the decision to interpret the dogmas of Roman Catholicism.

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