Three Texts (and a Baby)

Posted by on June 14, 2010 in Baptism, Exegesis, Justification | 66 comments

In the vein of this previous post, I’d like to offer up a few more NT passages that may (or may not) be connected, and ask your thoughts on them. We’ll start with I Corinthians 6:11, which reads:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The second passage is Titus 3:5-7:

… he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The final text is found in Romans 6:3, 6-7, which says:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? … We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been justified from sin.

Now, there are obviously some similar threads that run through these three texts, particularly those of “washing” (in I Cor. and Titus), “baptism” (in Romans), and “justification” (in all three [the Greek term dedikaiotai in Rom. 6:7, usually translated “freed,” literally means “justified”]). The questions for us, then, are (1) does “wash” necessarily refer to baptism? (2) Does “baptism” in Rom. 6 mean water baptism, or Spirit baptism? (3) Should dedikaiotai in Rom. 6:7 be rendered justification? If so, (4) what is the connection between baptism and justification?

I have thoughts of my own on this (obviously), but I’ll hold onto them until the discussion gets going.

66 Comments

  1. 1)No. I believe it is speaking more of a supernatural washing, especially regeneration as the Titus passage says. I alson think of the conscience being cleansed as Hebrews says. This is the borna again experience of the believer and a spiritual reality of Ez. 16.

    2. I would say water, though the act itself is purely a proclamation of faith and simply symbolic of being buried with Christ.

    3. I think it should be. If it's freed, then I'm in trouble…

    4. I would say that they're related in together they are part of obeying the Great Commission to make disciples and baptize them. However, I attach no saving merit to the actual ordinance of a baptism. Salvation is wholly of grace through faith. I like to think of baptism as a wedding ring; it's an outward display of what has inwardly happened. It's great icing but not necessary to those who have truly become one flesh by the Spirit.

  2. Paul,

    1. Do you think that is how the initial readers would have understood “washing”? That it was speaking of something not watery but spiritual? Why?

    2. If “baptism” in Rom. 6 is referring to water baptism, then why wouldn't the washing of I Cor. and Titus refer to that as well?

    3. Why is “freed” less problematic than “justified”?

    4. What do you make of statements like “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” or “Rise, be baptized, and wash away your sins”?

  3. Great questions and something I'd love to hear your thoughts on. Here are my views at this point.

    (1) Yes, I think so.

    (2) Paul speaks about the sign and the thing signified as one. In passages that give doctrinal teaching, I don't think there's a need to say, “this passage is water baptism”, and “this passage refers to Spirit baptism”. In Acts, there are obviously events in which Spirit-baptism occurs and others in which water baptism occurs; the application of the sign and the event of the thing signified may occur at different points in time.

    (3) Yes. Paul uses it that way for the 5 previous chapters. Justification surely implies a consequent 'freedom', though. Being justified means we are freed from God's curse, part of which is being handed over to the dominion of the evil one.

    (4) Baptism is primarily about judgment and curse. When a person undergoes baptism in the name of Christ, s/he is being identified with Christ, who was subject to the judgment of God. The minister calls upon Christ's name as the judgment waters come upon that person. When the person comes out of those waters alive, it demonstrates that s/he has 'passed through' in Christ, i.e., the verdict is in their favor – s/he is justified.

  4. “1. Do you think that is how the initial readers would have understood “washing”?”

    Do you think that is how the [Early Church] would have understood “washing”?

  5. 1) Yes. Baptism signifies and seals the washing of regeneration, and the washing away of sin (Acts 22:16) to the elect.
    2) Yes, it refers to water baptism (and WCF 27.2, the “sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified” applies here). What else would it mean to baptized folks?
    3) Yes, I think it should be rendered “justification” to be consistent with the context where it is otherwise translated as such.
    4) Justification is one of (and the chief) benefits of the new covenant signified and sealed through baptism (washing away of sin [Acts 22:16] AND clothing ourselves with Christ [Gal 3:27] – which would include the imputation of His righteousness).

    Contra FV, these things are not automatically conveyed in the act of baptism, which can be later lost. But contra Reformed folk who overreact by turning baptism into little more than a wet baby dedication, this sacrament IS a means of (Gospel) grace to the elect, applied by the sovereign Spirit in His appointed time.

  6. Meant to write “by turning INFANT baptism” in the last sentence.

  7. In my study of the issue, the consensus among the vast majority of pre-19th century theologians (ECF, RC, EO, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist) is that Romans 6 primarily has the spiritual dimension of baptism in view, but that Paul was also making a pedagogical reference to the common practice of baptismal immersion. I have collected literally hundreds of historical quotations to this effect.

  8. Also: Tony, well said, and I totally agree with your analysis.

  9. Whoops, comment 8 is from Phil Derksen, not Wes White! (I was logged into his website, which I help maintain, and it must have automatically used his ID.) Sorry about that.

  10. OK, one last time here (sheesh)- comments 8 and 9 are from Phil Derksen, etc., etc. (I'm logged out from Wes' site now… :>) )

  11. (3) I was in a class recently where one of our interns (a freshly-minted WSCAL grad) strongly insisted that Acts 13:39 should be “justified”, not “freed”, so I'll go for justified here as well.

    (4) In the water ordeal (the Flood, the Red Sea, the cutting off) of Baptism, we affirm our liability to judgment, and our doom is sealed, until the Holy Spirit executes the positive promise of baptism by working faith in us, regenerating us, washing us — at which time (the Holy Spirit's own time), we are no longer covered by the waters of judgment, but rather we are covered by Christ, who submitted to the baptism of the cross (and lived a life of perfect, meritorious obedience) on our behalf. Read more here.

    (5) What is the relationship between dedikaiotai and “dedication” (i.e. dry baptism?)

  12. 1) Probably so. There's a strong consensus in church history that “washing of regeneration” refers to baptism, and this is not a consensus that ended at once after the Reformation–Martin Luther held to this interpretation, and significantly, the Heidelberg Catechism cites Titus 3:5 in its prooftexts on baptism. Even if we didn't have that consensus, the other and clearer statements in the New Testament on baptism definitely imply some sort of efficacy, and “washing” is connected with baptism.

    2) I'm inclined to say that the phrase “baptism into Christ” (used in Rom. 6 and Gal. 3:27) does refer to water baptism. It seems a little arbitrary to stipulate that whenever “baptism” is used in a way that implies efficacy, it must refer to something other than the water rite. Remember that in Acts the apostles referred to being “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus,” in contexts clearly referring to water baptism.

    3) Well, considering that Paul has used “dikaioo” to refer to justification throughout the last five chapters, it seems most reasonable to translate it here as “justified.”

    4) The exact relation between baptism and justification is difficult, for those who don't go as far as Rome but go farther than evangelicals. I'm still working through that issue, so I can't give a solid answer on it.

    Pax Christi,

    Spencer

  13. I like to think of baptism as a wedding ring; it's an outward display of what has inwardly happened. It's great icing but not necessary to those who have truly become one flesh by the Spirit.

    Paul,

    I don’t know. I think I get part of your meaning (that baptism doesn’t save the way a ring doesn’t marry), but when it comes to “necessary” it would seem the Belgic Confession Article 34 might raise the stakes a bit more (be on the lookout for words like “commanded” and “ought,” which seem to suggest something “necessary”):

    Therefore he has commanded that all those who belong to him be baptized with pure water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    In this way he signifies to us that just as water washes away the dirt of the body when it is poured on us and also is seen on the body of the baptized when it is sprinkled on him, so too the blood of Christ does the same thing internally, in the soul, by the Holy Spirit. It washes and cleanses it from its sins and transforms us from being the children of wrath into the children of God.

    This does not happen by the physical water but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God, who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharoah, who is the devil, and to enter the spiritual land of Canaan.

    So ministers, as far as their work is concerned, give us the sacrament and what is visible, but our Lord gives what the sacrament signifies– namely the invisible gifts and graces; washing, purifying, and cleansing our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving us true assurance of his fatherly goodness; clothing us with the “new man” and stripping off the “old,” with all its works.

    For this reason we believe that anyone who aspires to reach eternal life ought to be baptized only once without ever repeating it– for we cannot be born twice. Yet this baptism is profitable not only when the water is on us and when we receive it but throughout our entire lives.

    For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children.

    And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults.

    Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, just as the Lord commanded in the law that by offering a lamb for them the sacrament of the suffering and death of Christ would be granted them shortly after their birth. This was the sacrament of Jesus Christ.

    Maybe my wife is an exception, but whenever I have suggested wearing my ring is unnecessary she gets put out with me. I think she’s onto something. If you want to continue the analogy (which I like), what would we say to those moderns who say that they don’t need a piece of paper to be married because they are “married in their hearts”? So I think Tony is closer to it when he says, “Contra FV, these things are not automatically conveyed in the act of baptism, which can be later lost. But contra Reformed folk who overreact by turning baptism into little more than a wet baby dedication, this sacrament IS a means of (Gospel) grace to the elect, applied by the sovereign Spirit in His appointed time.” In other words, stuff matters.

  14. Thanks, Wes – er, I mean Phil! 🙂

  15. JJS,

    “1. Do you think that is how the initial readers would have understood “washing”? That it was speaking of something not watery but spiritual? Why?”

    I can't say for certain. I know there is a sense of progressive revelation throughout Christian history. Certianly not everyone in those days had access to what we would call the canon, so we do have an advantage in that sense because we can explore the full counsel of God and see His broadstrokes of truth to which we can, humbly, classify into doctrines and practice.

    “2. If “baptism” in Rom. 6 is referring to water baptism, then why wouldn't the washing of I Cor. and Titus refer to that as well?”

    The New Testament choice word for baptism is usually that very word. Baptizo baptizo baptizo. Immerse immerse immerse. It's a very tangible idea to convey. The Corinthians passageand Titus passage do not use that word, but washing, which usually carries a different meaning as the scriptures are surveyed. I find washing associated more with the spirit, mind, etc…a wholly internal cleansing, whereas baptism is consistently driven home as physical, outward act. Also, I am particularly fond of the Titus passage for the very reason it says “not of works done by us.” I believe he's saying salvation is wholly of the Lord. I did read another post from you on baptism and you pointed out that this new reality of life in Christ (not the phrasing you used) is not always present ast baptism but can occur later. I think that's because the act iteslf is not what transforms us, but is something we most assuredly should do if we have been transformed.

    “3. Why is “freed” less problematic than “justified”?”

    I tend to view the whole of Romans 6 as the 'free from sin' chapter. I see it's theme as sanctification. So in that paradigm, the word “freed” has always messed with me, because I've not been free from sin in different areas through different seasons of life. Whereas, if the term is rendered justified, I can leave my assurance squarely upon Christ and not my works, realizing sanctification is a process.

    “4. What do you make of statements like “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins,” or “Rise, be baptized, and wash away your sins”?”

    I see that as the universal gospel call being delivered through the common grace of God. The call goes out to all men, but they can only respond to that call should the Lord quicken them and bring them to life; thereby enabling that work to not merely be a dead work, but a new work in Christ Jesus; thus proving that Christ has worked in them not that He is now going to. For the Acts 22 verse you have cited, I would tend to read the emphasis as “wash away your sins, calling on His name.” The be baptized appears to be it's own clause. Obviously the Acts 2 passage would be more problematic for me with this hermeneutic, as it doesn't have the wiggle room. There I would just have to say it's the general call going out to all peoples: “Do this and you will be saved,” (please note quotation after the comma 😉 while understanding lest the Lord builds this house their labors are in vain.

  16. Just some general responses (I'll get more specific later, but today's an unusually busy Monday):

    It does seem arbitrary to me to affirm that Rom. 6 is talking about water baptism while “washing” in Cor. and Tit. are not. Especially since Ananias says to Saul, “Rise, be baptized, and wash away your sins.”

    Taking “baptized” in Rom. 6 as water baptism and dedikaiotai as “justified” is potentially very problematic for the Reformed view that Rom. 6 is about sanctification, and that being “set free” from the power of sin is not even something that justification accomplishes in the first place.

    That said, it also seems a bit arbitrary NOT to translate it “justified.”

  17. Rev. Stellman,

    I guess I really don't see the problem in maintaining that there is at least an allusion to physical baptism whenever “baptizo” is used – which, I would argue, the context always tends to support – versus passages that use “louo” (and derivatives)- which, depending on the context, may or may not be alluding in a symbolical sense to what the water rite represents.

    In the case of Acts 22, we simply receive confirmation that water baptism indeed represents and seals to the believer, to use confessional Reformed language,the cleansing accomplished through the shed blood of Christ.
    However, it doesn't then follow that every time “louo” is used that water baptism is in view. Rather, as they often say in hermeneutics, “context is king.”

    Also, the fact that there is another contextually parallel “burial + baptism” passage, Colossians 2:12, which even more clearly seems to refer to water baptism (ESV “buried with him in baptism [baptismo – noun]”) strongly supports the idea that water baptism is at least being alluded to in some secondary sense in the sister text of Romans 6:4 as well.

  18. I should clarify the following statement of mine:

    “…there is at least an allusion to physical baptism (i.e. a religious water ritual, whether Jewish or Christian) whenever 'baptizo' is used (in the New Testament).”

  19. I guess 1 Cor. 10:2 is an odd NT use of “baptizo”:

    …and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…

    Certainly we could assume an allusion there to water baptism, but Paul's reference seems to be to something more general — an initiation into a name (or a leader). Could this also inform our understanding of other NT uses of “baptizo”?

  20. Zrim,
    Your comments are very well-received. To clarify my position, perhaps chanigng the analogy to this would better describe it. The baptism is like a full-blown wedding ceremony, with your firends, family, etc. While salvation, justification that is, is simply the piece of paper saying it's legal. So while the wedding is definitely more memorable, etc, it doesn't make one any more married than had they just got the piece of paper. As that goes, perhaps those folks do miss a certain awareness of that seal of baptism, but they certainly cannot lose the legality of their conversion.
    I posture some of this coming through a type of covenantal theology. It's been God's grace the whole time, and regardless of what man does, if your His, you'll be His because He's gotten you. In the OT He got His saints, however He got them. In the NT, He gets them however He gets them. I think especially of the thief on the Cross.
    In all that, I do like the closing quote: “'Contra FV, these things are not automatically conveyed in the act of baptism, which can be later lost. But contra Reformed folk who overreact by turning baptism into little more than a wet baby dedication, this sacrament IS a means of (Gospel) grace to the elect, applied by the sovereign Spirit in His appointed time.'” Also would heartily agree with “stuff matters.”

  21. All,

    Long day, I'll respond to comments tomorrow, which should be pretty light work-wise.

  22. Paige,

    Similar to what I have found pre-19th century theologians to say about Romans 6:4, many of them saw 1 Corinthians 10:2 as dealing primarily with a spiritual theme (in this case, submission to God's leadership through Moses), but that also incorporated a pedagogical reference to the rite of water baptism. For example, Francis Turretin wrote:

    “The passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea wonderfully agrees with our baptism, and represents the grace it was designed to express. For, as in baptism, when performed in the primitive manner [Latin: prout olim peragebatur], by immersion and emersion [immersionem et emersionem], descending into the water [in aquas descendendo] and then going out of it, of which descent and ascent we have an example in the eunuch (Acts 8:38, 39)…As by this rite, when persons are immersed in water [immergerentur aquis], they are overwhelmed, and, in a manner, buried ‘together with Christ’; and, again, when they emerge [emergerent], seem to be raised out of the grave, and are said to rise again with Christ…so in the Mosaic baptism we have an immersion, and an emersion [immersionem et emersionem]; that, when they descended into the depths of the sea [in maris profundum descendebant]; this, when they went out and came to the opposite shore.” (Decas Disputationum; De Baptismo Nubis et Maris, ex 1. Cor. x, 1, 2)

    I have quotations from a fair number of early Reformed theologians that say or imply the same thing.

  23. Jason,

    What do you take v. 5 to mean in terms of “likeness?”

  24. Phil –

    Thanks. The Turretin quote you gave there took the spiritual meaning of “baptizo” to be about death and resurrection. Did anybody ever comment on the “identification” theme, where being “baptized into Moses” had to do with belonging in some way to Moses, being identified with Moses?

    pb

  25. Paige,

    Yes, many said this, if in a variety of ways. For instance Calvin wrote:

    “They were, says he, ‘baptized in Moses,’ that is, under the ministry or guidance of Moses. For I take the particle eijv to be used here instead of ejn, agreeably to the common usage of Scripture, because we are assuredly baptized in the name of Christ, and not of any mere man, as he has stated in 1 Corinthians 1:13, and that for two reasons. These are, first, because we are by baptism initiated5 into the doctrine of Christ alone; and, secondly, because his name alone is invoked, inasmuch as baptism is founded on his influence alone. They were, therefore, baptized in Moses, that is, under his guidance or ministry, as has been already stated. How? In the cloud and in the sea.'” (Commentaries, 1 Cor. 10:1, 2)

  26. JJS: Here's one take on the questions you asked above:

    (1) does “wash” necessarily refer to baptism? (assuming that by “baptism” you intend water baptism) No, the term “wash” does not necessarily refer to baptism. There is warrant in the biblical canon, OT and NT, for readers to infer more than one referent for the terms “wash” and “baptism.” E.g. the OT prophets (Ezekiel and Joel) speak of the Spirit's outpouring to effect a washing-cleansing of the inner man. The apostles pick up on this in their preaching: see Acts 15.8-9.

    (2) Does “baptism” in Rom. 6 mean water baptism or Spirit baptism? Neither the Spirit nor water is explicit in Rom 6, so I take it we are again drawing inferences based on considerations drawn from the immediate and broader contexts. E.g.: Christ’s death, which He described as a baptism, was physical and representative. The death of the baptized in Rom 6 is not physical or representative, as was Christ's: it is spiritual and judicial. Also, we know from elsewhere that the Spirit effects the death that water baptism signifies.

    (3) Should dedikaiotai in Rom. 6:7 be rendered justification? It's agreeable that the verb dedikaiotai has a forensic force, but that would not require that this text teach the same thing that Acts 13.38-39, for example, does: the context (“sin” as a tyrant-pharaoh in Rom 6 vs. “sins” as violations of divine law in Acts 13) and the object of the verb (singular in Rom 6; plural in Acts 13) makes a difference. Murray is helpful here.

    If so, (4) what is the connection between baptism and justification? Presuming we’re talking water baptism again, it signifies the justification of those whom the Spirit effectually unites with Christ through faith.

  27. Again with some general thoughts:

    I have a hard time disassociating washing and water baptism. While I do distinguish between them, it still seems a bit unnatural to say, “This text refers to spiritual washing, but it has nothing to do with the sacrament that signifies spiritual washing.”

    (Especially in the light of Ananias's words to Saul where he explicitly connects water baptism and washing away of sins.)

    That said, though, the one thing that does make me want to “dehydrate” all of these passages is their strong connection between baptism and justification. What I Cor. and Titus hint at implicitly, Romans seems to say explicitly: that justification is a direct result of baptism (which Reformed theology denies). So we can either chalk this up to a robust notion of the sacramental union, or we can bite the bullet and remove water baptism from Paul's mind.

    But unless we do one or the other, we just might get sucker-punched in a debate with Catholics or Orthodox on baptismal efficacy.

  28. I guess I'm not really troubled in simply seeing “baptism” and “washing” as often being used in a metonymic sense similar to the way that Jesus talked about the communion elements as being “My body…My blood.” In other words, talking about the sacraments in direct terms of the spiritual actualities that they indeed symbolize and seal is actually done quite often in Scripture.

    Of course what informs us that certain sacramental verbiage like that in question can't be taken in a strictly literal (excuse my inability to come up with a better word) sense is that so many other passages of Scripture make it unmistakably clear that justification indeed comes through faith alone – not by any outward act. Such an interpretive process is simply letting clearer passages of Scripture interpret those that may be less clear.

    Another subject to which these kinds of basic rules have historically and aptly been applied by Calvinists is the Scriptural use of the term “all” in various passages that have a salvific theme. There are simply too many explicit passages on the matter to somehow suppose that in this context the term “all” is meant in the most literal sense of “head for head.”

    As far as Catholics or Orthodox disagreeing with all this and playing the “strictly literal (while ignoring other biblical information)” hermeneutic card against the Reformed understanding – well, what's new? They've been doing that since the very beginning of the Reformation.

  29. (First, I hope this isn't a duplicate post, since when I tried to post it before it said it was published, but then didn't appear.)

    I guess I'm not really troubled in simply seeing “baptism” and “washing” as often being used in a metonymic sense similar to the way that Jesus talked about the communion elements as being “My body…My blood.” In other words, talking about the sacraments in direct terms of the spiritual actualities that they indeed symbolize and seal is actually common in Scripture.

    Of course what informs us that certain verbiage like that in question can't be taken in a strictly literal (excuse my inability to come up with a better word) sense is that so many other passages of Scripture make it unmistakably clear that justification indeed comes through faith alone – not by any outward act.

    Such an interpretive process is simply letting clearer passages of Scripture interpret those that may be less clear. In terms of metonymies, Berkhof specifically notes that often the Bible puts an effect for its cause, a subject for its attribute, a sign for the thing signified, or perhaps visa versa in such constructs. As an example he states: “Circumcision is called a 'covenant' in Acts 7:8, because it was a sign of the covenant.” (Hermeneutics, p.84)

    Of course another subject to which these basic kinds of rules have historically and aptly been applied by Calvinists is the Scriptural use of the term “all” in various passages that have a salvific theme. There are simply too many explicit passages on the matter to then suppose that in this context the term “all” is meant in a “head for head” sense.

    As for Catholics and Orthodox disagreeing with Protestants on these things, well, what's new? This has been the case since the beginning of the Reformation. Indeed, differences in hermeneutics like this is a leading reason why there are in fact Catholics and Protestants.

  30. Yup, my first offering evidently got stuck in the cue. If you want, Pastor Stellman, you can simply remove my first version.

  31. JJS: I’m having a hard time understanding what you intend to communicate about the texts you cite.

    You said, “While I do distinguish between them, it still seems a bit unnatural to say, “This text refers to spiritual washing, but it has nothing to do with the sacrament that signifies spiritual washing.” In saying this, did you have any particular one of the texts you cited in mind? Do you mean to deny that a particular text may have “nothing to do with the sacrament that signifies spiritual washing”?

    Also, when you refer to the “strong connection between baptism and justification” in the passages you cite, you indicate dissatisfaction with interpretations of these texts that deny the strong connection you have in mind and, in fact, beg the question of their interpretation.

    What am I missing?

  32. Fowler,

    I’m having a hard time understanding what you intend to communicate about the texts you cite.

    You said, “While I do distinguish between them, it still seems a bit unnatural to say, “This text refers to spiritual washing, but it has nothing to do with the sacrament that signifies spiritual washing.” In saying this, did you have any particular one of the texts you cited in mind? Do you mean to deny that a particular text may have “nothing to do with the sacrament that signifies spiritual washing”?

    I had in mind the two texts that speak of washing, and my point was that I find it more likely than not that when a text speaks of our having been washed, it refers at least in part to baptism.

    Also, when you refer to the “strong connection between baptism and justification” in the passages you cite, you indicate dissatisfaction with interpretations of these texts that deny the strong connection you have in mind and, in fact, beg the question of their interpretation.

    What am I missing?

    Sorry to be so confusing! I’m expressing a kind of schizophrenia, I realize. On the one hand, as I said above, it seems most natural to see references to baptism and washing as speaking of water baptism. However, the strong connection in these texts between (water) baptism and justification makes me want to second-guess whether water is involved at all, since if it is, we may find ourselves in exegetical hot water, so to speak.

    Of course, a robust notion of the sacramental union really helps, although I’m not convinced that this is how the early church fathers would have understood these texts.

  33. “Of course, a robust notion of the sacramental union really helps, although I’m not convinced that this is how the early church fathers would have understood these texts.”

    Lost me here. You're not convinced that the Fathers read the sacramentality of baptism into (or out of) these texts? Or was it something else you were unconvinced of? I ask sincerely because if you are not convinced that the Fathers believed in baptismal regeneration, I don't think you're reading the Fathers. As far as the texts are concerned, perhaps you're right… overall, though, it should take much convincing. But I'll try and find some Fathers on these specific verses (if I get time).

  34. JJS:

    You said, I find it more likely than not that when a text speaks of our having been washed, it refers at least in part to baptism. I understand that you find it more likely than not. I am not clear why it is more likely than not.

    You also said, it seems most natural to see … the strong connection in these texts between (water) baptism and justification. Again, you are begging the question. Why is it “most natural”? Why is it important to mimic the understanding of the early fathers?

  35. Joe,

    You're not convinced that the Fathers read the sacramentality of baptism into (or out of) these texts? Or was it something else you were unconvinced of? I ask sincerely because if you are not convinced that the Fathers believed in baptismal regeneration, I don't think you're reading the Fathers.

    I seem to have lost my ability to communicate lately. My point was actually the opposite of what you understood me to say.

    When the Reformed talk about “sacramental union,” what we mean is that there is such a connection between the sign and the thing signified that, though they must not be completely identified, one can still be spoken of as the other. So we can say things like, “Be baptized for the remission of sins” without actually meaning that baptism itself remits sins.

    I take the fathers to be saying something different, namely, that baptism actually effects regeneration and forgiveness.

    So my point was that the connection in these texts between baptism and justification can be understood by the Reformed (based on the sacramental union) to be saying that, though baptism doesn't immediately result in justification, it can eventually lead to it once the baptized person exercised saving faith.

    I hope that makes better sense.

  36. Fowler,

    You said, “I find it more likely than not that when a text speaks of our having been washed, it refers at least in part to baptism.” I understand that you find it more likely than not. I am not clear why it is more likely than not.

    Well, I am sure there are better and more technical exegetical reasons (which I cannot reproduce at the moment), but for me it is more like an instinct. Take “baptism,” for instance. Simple common sense dictates that it is more plausible than not that, when a NT writer uses the word in a context in which it could mean the water-sacrament, then it probably does (such as in Rom. 6). If I were a baptized Roman and Paul started talking to “as many as have been baptized,” I would just assume he meant water baptism. So I guess I think the burden of proof is on those who would deny it.

    You also said, “it seems most natural to see … the strong connection in these texts between (water) baptism and justification.” Again, you are begging the question. Why is it “most natural”? Why is it important to mimic the understanding of the early fathers?

    The texts themselves make the connection: “You were washed, you were justified…”; “By the washing of regeneration… so that, being justified…”; “You were baptized into Christ’s death… he who has died has been justified from sin.” I’m not begging the question by pointing out the connection, and I don’t think I’m begging the question by insisting that it is water baptism that Paul has in mind.

    And as far as our need to “mimic the fathers’ understanding,” I never said that. All I said was that I don’t think they used our notion of the sacramental union to explain these and other similar texts. As far as I know, that claim is pretty uncontroversial.

  37. Simple common sense dictates that it is more plausible than not that, when a NT writer uses the word in a context in which it could mean the water-sacrament, then it probably does (such as in Rom. 6).

    When I'm reading a passage written by a literate person like Paul, it actually seems more natural and common-sensical to recognize a certain literary flexibility in the use of terms like “baptism.” Since he is not producing a how-to manual for the church (a BCO!), I would expect him to have a rich range of meanings in mind, often metaphorical.

  38. JJS: We do need more than an appeal to “simple common sense,” don't we? What evidence would you produce to establish that this was the “simple common sense” of the author and his readers?

    When you state that there is “the strong connection between water baptism and justification” in those texts, you assume that, when Paul speaks of “washing” and “having been justified,” he is speaking of water baptism and justification. This begs the question of the interpretation of those two expressions, even if you are correct in your interpretation.

    I agree that you did not say, in so many words, that we should “mimic the fathers' understanding.” You said, “I'm not convinced that this” — a robust notion of sacramental union — “is how the early church fathers would have understood these texts.” Please help us out by telling us what you want us to take from this observation. In other words, so what? What's the payoff for us?

  39. Paige,

    When I'm reading a passage written by a literate person like Paul, it actually seems more natural and common-sensical to recognize a certain literary flexibility in the use of terms like “baptism.” Since he is not producing a how-to manual for the church (a BCO!), I would expect him to have a rich range of meanings in mind, often metaphorical.

    No one is arguing that Paul was literarily inflexible, or that his writings are meant to be seen as a “how-to manual” for doing church. That's a complete strawman you're arguing against!

    All I'm saying is that it is more hermeneutically likely than not that, when Paul says something like “as many as are baptized” his point includes the sacrament of baptism. May he have more to say? Sure. Can he use “baptism” more broadly? Of course. But I cannot believe it is a controversial point that Paul's use of “as many as have been baptized” INCLUDES water baptism.

    Again, those who would deny anything watery in these texts have the burden of proof to demonstrate their point. Merely poointing out that Paul was a literate man with a big vocabulary doesn't refute the point at all, it just tosses dust in the air.

  40. Fowler,

    Yes, we do need more than just common sense, but it’s also true that we can’t get by with less. Again, I don’t see why I should have to adduce evidence that Paul’s use of “as many as are baptized” includes, in his mind, the sacrament called “baptism.” It is a completely uncontroversial point. If you deny that Paul’s use of baptism includes the element of water, then I would invite you to argue your case.

    Would Calvin be more convincing? He takes these usages of baptism to be watery.

    As far as my begging the question that, when Paul uses the word justification that he actually means justification, again I must scratch my head. By the time he gets to Romans 6 he has used the word dozens of times, so why would it be question-begging to say that he is still talking about that thing called justification when he uses the word again? Would it not need to be demonstrated that he has subtly shifted his meaning, rather than making me show that he hasn’t? Isn’t this the way communication works? I don’t ask you to demonstrate that you’re NOT playing communicative tricks on me, I just assume you’re playing by the same rules as the rest of us.

    And to my statement that I don’t think the early church fathers understood the texts in the way we do, well, it was just a throw-away line in a comment to someone else. Do you deny the point? I honestly don’t understand why you are asking me to explain my rationale for making a simple off-the-cuff statement that tons of Reformed people would agree with.

  41. Pastor Stellman

    BOQ(2) Does “baptism” in Rom. 6 mean water baptism, or Spirit baptism? (3) Should dedikaiotai in Rom. 6:7 be rendered justification? If so, (4) what is the connection between baptism and justification? EOQ

    I seriously doubt Paul's readers understood Paul to be making a case for sacramentalism rather Rom 6 is speaking of spirit baptism. In the context (vs 2) Paul is building an argument. All those who have “died to sin” (spiritual activity not a physical) have already been buried and raised with Christ in His resurrection (vs 4).

    Additionally, in verse five Paul guarantees those who have been “buried with him” will share in His resurrection. Even for Catholics this guarantee would not hold if Paul was merely referring to water baptism.

    With this understanding I believe verse 7 can be translated as follows: “For he who has died [to sin] has been justified from sin.”

    As far as the relationship between baptism and justification I suggest reading Gaffin's Resurrection and Redemption A Study in Paul's Soteriology especially pages 42-62.

    Dean B

  42. Dean,

    I'll stand with Calvin on this one, I think what Paul is referring to is water baptism as experienced by a faithful believer.

    Plus, even if I were to grant that baptism in Rom. 6 is dry, there are plenty of passages that speak undeniably of water baptism that use even more efficacious language than Rom. 6 does. So, given that fact, it makes no sense to me to deny the watery aspect of baptism in Rom. 6 on the grounds that the language sounds too effectual. That's just how the NT talks about water baptism.

  43. Rev. Stellman,

    RE: “I think what Paul is referring to is water baptism AS experienced by a faithful believer.”

    I totally agree, But why is it then so hard to further qualify Paul's expressive language here, based on other biblical info, as also meaning “baptism AS it functions as a sign and seal of justification (i.e as experienced by a faithful believer)”?

  44. Darn it! The last post is mine, not Wes' (same problem as before) Sorry about this.

  45. Hey Wes,

    Could you be a bit more specific? Are there certain texts you're having trouble speaking of in this way? I'm not sure I'm tracking with you.

    Here's my take on the NT's baptismal language:

    http://www.creedcodecult.com/2010/01/baptism-as-seal-of-saving-blessings.html

    For my part, I want to hold on to our Reformed sacramentology while still using the Bible's language (which I'm afraid lots of Reformed people don't do).

  46. Rev. Stellman,

    I'm still speaking of Romans 6. I gathered that you were wrestling with reckoning Paul's use of such “efficacious” language in his mention of water baptism here. Maybe I am misunderstanding what you are trying to deal with in this whole discussion though.

  47. Gotcha.

    I admit I've been a tad schizophrenic in this discussion, so if there's confusion on what I'm saying I am to blame.

    I've never had too much of a problem with the efficacious language used of baptism in the NT (because of the things I said in the link I posted above). But in the three texts we've been considering it's a bit more difficult because of Paul's use of “justification” in these baptismal contexts. Yes, I still will invoke the sacramental union between the sign and thing signified to explain them, but I can totally see a Catholic relentlessly hammering away at that argument and citing the early fathers who all (supposedly) believed in baptismal regeneration.

    So that's what I'm trying to get us to wrestle with.

  48. Pastor Stellman

    BOQ I'll stand with Calvin on this one, I think what Paul is referring to is water baptism as experienced by a faithful believer. EOQ

    I do not think I would disagree with this explanation.

    If Rom 6 is talking about the water baptism of the faithful believer then isn't spirit baptism presupposed if the believers are faithful?

    Am I missing your point?

    Dean B

  49. To All,

    Bryan's recent post on Baptismal Regeneration in the Fathers at Called to Communion demonstrates conclusively that the Fathers universally taught baptismal regeneration, and as Father Kimmel pointed out, Luther was able to maintain Justification by faith alone while affirming baptismal regeneration. The question is, why were the Reformed unable to do so?

  50. Dean,

    If Rom 6 is talking about the water baptism of the faithful believer then isn't spirit baptism presupposed if the believers are faithful?

    Am I missing your point?

    Yes, Spirit baptism is presupposed, that was never something I denied. What I'm arguing for is that water baptism is included. What some seem to be wanting to do is say that Rom. 6, since it uses such efficacious language, must be talking about Spirit baptism only, and not water baptism. I'm saying that it is illegitimate to exclude the sign and focus only on the thing signified.

    Hope that helps.

  51. Thanks for the clarification. I wish I was more capable of contributing to the resolution you seek.

    For my part, for better or worse, I guess I don't worry so much about what RC apologists say about their own or Protestant beliefs. Sure, I have and will continue to listen to what they have to say. But I am pretty much resigned to the fact that both parties may very well still be in existence, along with and indeed due to their core theological and hermeneutical differences, when the Lord returns. – Note: I'm not saying anything here about who is or isn't necessarily saved in such a scenario! 🙂

    Still, I certainly appreciate the fact that others, such as yourself, do (and rightly so) delve more into the various Catholic vs. Protestant controversies than I do.

  52. Merely pointing out that Paul was a literate man with a big vocabulary doesn't refute the point at all, it just tosses dust in the air.

    Oh, is that why I've been sneezing all day. Sorry to have stirred all that up — it was just a passing observation. 😉

  53. I haven't read all the comments, but just thought I would add my two cents. Assuming the unity of teaching in scripture, and thinking about the context from which Paul speaks; I don't think baptism always has to refer to water, although clearly in some cases it does — and might even be double entendre in some sense. But Jesus says in Mark 10:39:

    Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, . . . “

    If Paul is speaking out of the Dominical context already given by Jesus; then I don't see why we necessarily need to take the Pauline usage in a physical way wherein the grace of Christ is present in a special way (like RCC teaching on water baptism and regeneration). Of course the context set by Paul is important; I take his teaching to be in line with the usage mentioned by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

  54. Of course, just to follow up, the baptism Jesus is speaking of — in the Markan context — is His death, burial, and then resurrection (a metynomy of sorts).

  55. Your comments are very well-received. To clarify my position, perhaps chanigng the analogy to this would better describe it. The baptism is like a full-blown wedding ceremony, with your firends, family, etc. While salvation, justification that is, is simply the piece of paper saying it's legal. So while the wedding is definitely more memorable, etc, it doesn't make one any more married than had they just got the piece of paper. As that goes, perhaps those folks do miss a certain awareness of that seal of baptism, but they certainly cannot lose the legality of their conversion.

    Paul,

    I know it’s only an analogy, and analogies always break down at some point, but wedding ceremonies aren’t needed to be married. The piece of paper is though. So I wonder if it would be better to say that the baptism is the piece of paper. I suppose my concern here is the potential downplaying of the necessity of water baptism. If my daughter tells me she’s married but skipped the wedding ceremony, ok, but if she tells me she’s married but skipped the piece of paper, not ok. Similarly, if someone tells me she’s a Christian but has hitherto skipped the baptism, I would doubt that claim as much as I’d doubt my daughter’s claim to be married without the paper.

    Again, this isn’t to say that water baptism is necessary to be justified (by faith alone), but rather that it is necessary for those justified (by faith alone) to be baptized with water. If we compare baptism to something nice but negligible (wedding ceremony) then what keeps us from saying that baptism is nice but negligible?

  56. Pastor Stellman

    BOQ I'm saying that it is illegitimate to exclude the sign and focus only on the thing signified. EOQ

    Calvin on I Peter 3:21: This objection Peter anticipates, when he testifies that he speaks not of the naked sign, but that the effect must also be connected with it, as though he had said, that what happened in the age of Noah would always be the case, that mankind would rush on to their own destruction, but that the Lord would in a wonderful way deliver His very small flock.

    The same truth should also be applied to Rom 6:7. “For he who has died [to sin] has been (past tense) freed/justified from sin.” The death in verse 7 can not mean merely receiving the outward sign, but must refer to death to sin which is a spiritual activity.

    However, I agree that we we should not divorce the sign and seal of water baptism to the sign and seal of spirit baptism. Paul instructs those who are dead to sin to look back at their water baptism for encouragement and motivation to become more pleasing to God because that which was signed and sealed in their baptism is a present reality for them.

    BUT I believe it is improper to look forward (as some forms for baptism do) and lead the congregation to believe that because we are merely baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that the spiritual reality has or will certainly proceed without some distinction that this will happen only to the elect.

    In short, Rom 6 is having the elect look back to baptism, but it is improper to look forward and say for all those who have been baptized will be/or have already been justified.

    Dean B

  57. Bobby,

    I think you're partly right. No theologian or exegete I've ever come across disputes that in Mark 10:37-40 (Luke 12:50) the term “baptism/baptize” is being used metaphorically. Such usage is in complete accord with what one finds in classical Greek literature, and carries the sense of being “surrounded or overwhelmed by” or “immersed in” a given situation or entity – thus drawing and indeed being dependent on the concept and imagery of a literal baptism.

    On the other hand, the exact meaning of “washing” and “baptized” in the passages that Rev. Stellman is considering here have been pondered and disputed for centuries. However, a sizable majority of interpreters have seen at least an (intentional) pedagogical allusion to the physical practice and a metonymical relationship to the spiritual significance of water baptism.

  58. Romans 6 along with 1 Cor 12:13 and others deal with the Spirit's baptism which occurs when the sinner is justified by faith alone. It is not divorced from it's sign in the New Testament in the sense of it bearing testimony to what the Spirit has “already” wrought in the soul.

    Look at Acts 10-11 and the pericope of Peter and Cornelius. After preaching the gospel they believed and were baptized into Christ by the Spirit. “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”v47.

    Peter then recounts the event in the next chapter vv15
    15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?”

    Peter as a good theologian build his theology on the word, not what makes sense to him. He remembered John the Baptizer's words where John made a distinction between water and the Spirit. The water IS an important “sign” of the internal immersion of the believers soul's union with Christ by faith alone. It does not effect it. It is a sign. The sign has great value when it is close in proximity to its reality but it is still only a sign. When I am near my exit on the freeway it is preceeded by a sign letting me know it is coming up. My exit sign on the freeway is not 100's of miles away from it. It isnt as significant to the reality. SO in the NT as soon as there is indication the Spirit has baptized the sinner into Christ the sign of water baptism is implored as an outward testimony to the Spirits agency of joining the sinner to Christ.

    Water baptism was done so close in proximity to the Spirit's work that Ananias could say “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. That was also part of the promise Peter alluded to in Acts 2:21 during his gospel announcement. The sinners said what should we do? Repent, which encompasses faith in CHrist, even though not specifically mentioned-although it was in 2:21. But we must grant it. Why would one want to repent if they did not believe the just preached gospel and its promise of salvation upon calling upon the name of the Lord? Then after the faith and repentance water baptism is applied as the sign of that promise 2:21. Anyhow Paul also uses similar language in Gal 3. He says we are sons of God by “faith” in Christ Jesus. Then indicates baptism is a sign of that, and are union with Him which occurred at our adoption when we were justified by faith(and baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ 1 cor 12:13). In Romans 6 the context of baptism is “As many of 'US' as were baptized” Who are the “US”? Those who were justified by faith Rom 5:1. Those who were already placed by the Spirit into union with Christ's death and rez. Yes “we” believers were buried with Him “by” baptism into death…The water doesnt effect it, it is Spirit which already did it yet the sign was seen as such a reflection of the reality that though a passage may be speaking of water baptism it is only doing so as it is implied to be understood of the Spirits regeneration. Just like in 1 Peter 3:21ff. It is a grave error to stop at the sign and place the reality in the sign. Yes there is one Lord one faith one baptism. That is the water baptism which, to NT believers, directly attests to the reality of the SPirits immersing the sinner into CHrist.

  59. Bobby,

    I haven't read all the comments, but just thought I would add my two cents. Assuming the unity of teaching in scripture, and thinking about the context from which Paul speaks; I don't think baptism always has to refer to water, although clearly in some cases it does — and might even be double entendre in some sense.

    Yes, Jesus is using “baptism” metaphorically there to refer to the judgment ordeal he was to endure. In the same way that in the ancient Near East judgment ordeals were enacted to adjudicate disputes (like with Elijah and the false prophets on Mount Carmel), so Jesus underwent a baptism, a judicial ordeal, on our behalf.

    Also, the two OT judgment ordeals that the NT refers to–the Red Sea and the Flood–are both watery ordeals that Paul and Peter refer to as “baptisms.”

    So you're right, there's more to the word than the sacramental meaning (which I've been affirming all along).

  60. Dean,

    This objection Peter anticipates, when he testifies that he speaks not of the naked sign….

    I agree with Calvin here, and I never said that Paul is speaking in any of the texts I cited of the naked sign. But with Calvin, I would say that just as Paul isn't excluding the spiritual realities, he's not excluding the outward rite, either. In other words, he is speaking about water baptism as it is administered in the life of a believer.

  61. Zrim,

    I understand your posotion, and with your view of baptism, say it is necessary to approach and safeguard it as you do. My question would be what makes someone a Christian and does it require different criteria than salvation? If one is saved through faith alone, are they not a Christian? Or are they in a different category of redeemed? Or are you implying that baptism is a necessary evidence that one has been justified by faith alone, in the vein of good trees producing good fruit?

  62. Or are you implying that baptism is a necessary evidence that one has been justified by faith alone, in the vein of good trees producing good fruit?

    Paul, yes, this is what I am driving at. In the same way we don’t seem to consider worship being the principle good work of the individual believer and the corporate church, I wonder if often don’t conceive of baptism in the same way.

    Coming back to the marriage analogy, professed inward love for someone seems to require a particular outward expression before it can be wholly believed. If a man tells me he loves my daughter, and does all sorts of wonderful things for her, things nobody could argue with as being manifestations of love, but he stops short of marrying her, then his profession becomes dubious in light of that. In the same way, a man may claim to be a Christian, may show fruit that nobody could argue with, but he stops short of being baptized (maybe because someone told him baptism is as necessary to salvation as a wedding cake and a beer tent reception are to marriage). In both cases, both men have stopped short of that crowning “work” which would seem to seal their profession in particular ways their other works simply cannot do.

    To be sure, both men could hypocritically perform the necessary work, submitting to an outward expression that is inconsistent with the inward reality. But that still doesn’t diminish the necessity of a man who professes something that is inwardly true to perform a particular outward expression.

  63. JJS,

    “I take the fathers to be saying something different, namely, that baptism actually effects regeneration and forgiveness.”

    “I can totally see a Catholic relentlessly hammering away at that argument and citing the early fathers who all (supposedly) believed in baptismal regeneration.”

  64. Zrim,

    I agree. Well said sir.

  65. JJS:

    I regret that I have been unable to communicate effectively with you in this thread. As examples of our ineffective communication, allow me to say that, upon review, I hope you will see that I did not ask you to adduce evidence that Paul’s use of “as many as are baptized” includes, in his mind, the sacrament called “baptism.” Also, I did not state that you begged the question in your observation about justification in Rom 6. And I did not contest the truth of your claim about the early fathers’ understanding. I apologize for any contribution that I myself have made to our inability to communicate effectively.

  66. JJS,

    “For my part, I want to hold on to our Reformed sacramentology while still using the Bible's language.”

    You've made it clear that you are wrestling with these verses (as well as other parts of Scripture that tend to favor the Catholic understanding via Tradition [the Early Fathers of which are part of the deposit of faith] and Magisterial teachings). That taken with the statement quoted above sounds like you are doing what Protestants claim that they don't do, that is, try and fit the square peg into the round hole (e.g. not allow Scripture to speak but force an interpretation of Scripture that matches your particular worldview)? If the Bible's language is clearly Reformed, then your job should already be complete. What you are trying to do should already have been done, no?

    I could be wrong though. That's just how it appears.

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