Sunday, 3 October 2010

Say it with water! pt. 2

A follow up post. Mostly because I had a look at the video that my friend mentioned in the comments. He asked me to let him know what I thought, and I asked him if I could blog about it, so here we are. I transcribed the bits I wanted to mention in the video, but I only took down references to the bible, so perhaps the translation used was a bit different.

There was also a comment from Scott which is worth putting up if I am blogging again:

Just to point out, since you began the discussion, that not every instance of "baptism" in the New Testament means a baptism of water. When it says "so many of you as were Baptised into Christ Jesus", it does not mean water baptism. (like when Jesus says "you cannot be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised in".

Most theologians consider there to be three baptisms:
1. Baptism of Salvation
2. Water Baptism
3. Baptism with the Holy Spirit
The video makes the same point more explicit: "baptism" means "immersion", and can be interpreted, according to context, in ways which have little to do with water. As I said at the time, I don't see anything in the bible which says that Romans 6:3-8 isn't related to water baptism. What's more, John 3:3-8 links spiritual and water baptism. I also think Romans should be read in the light of Matthew 28:18-20, but that is perhaps a bit abstract.

Leaving aside the factual accuracy of whether or not most theologians say that there are three baptisms, it is in any case possible that they occur simultaneously. The fact is that a wealth of interpretations are available. My starting point is the teaching of the Catholic Church rather than the bible, partially for that very reason. I won't say any more on that here, but I will give you a link to a previous post about the same thing.

Moving on to the video more explicitly ... well, I'm back where I started really: I'm not really sure where the idea of baptism as an expression of faith comes from. I can't think of a passage that suggests it. My friend said that biblically "it's a public statement of a decision to join/follow" and the video repeatedly stresses that public aspect.

My friend was kind enough to say that it'd be okay for me to blog on the video (I don't think it's his technically) so I'm very conscious that I shouldn't be gratuitously critical, but I just don't see it. I think I went into the biblical picture of baptism pretty thoroughly for some bloke with a keyboard and an internet connection, but the verses that indicate that baptism is an expression of a pre-existing spiritual reality - I just didn't see them. Where are they?

"...a person being baptised in the name of Jesus is saying publicly that they've been immersed in Jesus and that they're taking on his characteristics."

"The bible says that a person has a spiritual baptism as soon as they believe in Jesus."

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1 Cor 12:13
It doesn't say that baptism expresses immersion in Jesus, it says "we were all baptized by one spirit into one body".

As for "the bible says that a person has a spiritual baptism as soon as they believe in Jesus", I just think that's wrong, especially the "the bible says" part. The verse given from Ephesians - which in fairness probably isn't intended as a proof text - doesn't even mention baptism. You might perhaps read it together with other passages to make this argument, but to me it seems that this is simply a case of going beyond the text.

More technically, if you look at the points that I marked in italics, you'll see that the second is translated by the NIV as "having believed". The word is πιστευσαντες in Greek, and, from what I understand from John Dobson, that's a straightforward literal translation. Now, "having believed, you were marked" could be read as "at the moment that you believed, you were marked", but it isn't necessarily the case. The only certainty is that belief comes before being marked. If for example I say that Steve, having caught the 8:45 to Exeter, went to the 11:15 church service, there's nothing logically wrong with what I say, though you may wonder what Steve did to kill the time. Therefore, that "as soon as they believe in Jesus" also seems unwarranted to me.

I marked "when you heard" as well because I noticed that it actually has the same form as πιστευ-σαντες; it's ἀκου-σαντες. I'm sure that there's a good reason why the NIV translators went for "when you heard" but equally I think that "having heard" may perhaps be more literal. I won't labour the point because I'm still learning Greek after all.

"...but the bible also says that alongside this inside experience, the outside experience of water baptism should happen too."

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.
Acts 2:38

"They're saying Jesus has washed away their sin"
"They're saying that Jesus took the punishment for their sins at the cross, washing them clean in God's sight[.]"

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.
Acts 22:16
It doesn't say that baptism should happen in addition to a spiritual experience, it says "repent and be baptized [...] for the forgiveness of your sins". And it doesn't say that baptism expresses being washed clean of sin, it says that we should "be baptized and wash [our] sins away, calling on his name." Does baptism wash our sins away? Does calling on his name wash them away? This verse (or at least this translation) doesn't make it clear. Taken together with John 3:3-8 and Acts 2:38, I think the natural conclusion is that water baptism somehow washes our sins away. St. Peter even writes that "baptism [...] saves you". (1 Pt 3:21)

"They're saying that, in Christ, they've been born again to a new, eternal life with God."

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.
Romans 6:4

...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.
Colossians 2:12
The bible doesn't say that baptism expresses being born again, it says "we were [...] buried with him through baptism [...] in order that we too may live a new life" and that we were "buried with him in baptism and raised with him through [...] faith". Both verses say that baptism into death actually precedes new life. And Jesus says "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water" (and the Spirit) (Jn 3:5).

They're saying that they now carry Jesus with them at all times.

[A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Galatians 3:27
The bible doesn't say that baptism expresses carrying Jesus with you, it says that whoever is baptised has "clothed [them]selves with Christ."

Perhaps this has been a bit repetitive, but basically I don't just disagree with the emphasis that the video was placing on publicly expressing faith, I don't even understand what the biblical basis for it is.
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Michael Gormley said...

Born Again in Baptism

One key Scripture reference to being "born again" or "regenerated" is John 3:5, where Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

This verse is so important that those who say baptism is just a symbol must deny that Jesus here refers to baptism. "Born again" Christians claim the "water" is the preached word of God.

But the early Christians uniformly identified this verse with baptism. Water baptism is the way, they said, that we are born again and receive new life—a fact that is supported elsewhere in Scripture (Romans 6:3–4; Colossians. 2:12–13; Titus 3:5).

No Church Father referred to John 3:5 as anything other than water baptism.

Mark said...


Non-Catholics often seem to assume that our only point of reference for the belief of early Christians is the book of Acts.

Before I was introduced to the Catholic faith, I wasn't aware of the wealth of historical documents, including the Church Fathers, that attest in one way or another to the faith entrusted to us by Christ. But there they are, and even heretical writings give us important insights into orthodoxy.

Michael Gormley said...

So true, Mark!

God bless you
Michael Gormley

PS: You have a great BLOG!!

Mark said...

Thank you very much. I feel I should point out that I don't always, or even particularly often, do apologetics - just when it happens to come up.