Thursday, January 12, 2017

Baptism: The Odd Argument from Grammatical Voice

I keep hearing the argument that "be baptized" is in the passive voice, and this somehow means that it is not something we do. An imperative has an implied "you" in front of it. We just don't say the "you," but the idea is that "you" are the one being commanded to obey the imperative. Certainly, we are not baptizing ourselves, but the command is given to those to whom the gospel is preached in order to command them to allow the apostles to baptize them. So the command demands obedience on the part of the listener. Hence, the command is "(You) be baptized," implying that you are doing something, not because you are baptizing yourself but because you are letting others baptize you.

Notice that the same argument is not used of the imperative "believe." Does that mean these same people believe that we do the believing? Not usually, as this tends to be an argument that only God gives these without our doing them in response to what God does. Yet, if we are going to take this grammatical argument consistently, it must mean that we do the believing, since the voice is active.

But one cannot establish any of this from the voice of a verb. This line of argumentation is simply a misunderstanding. If one says, "Let your mind be changed," someone else may or may not be doing the changing, but the command to let it happen must be obeyed by you, as you are in control of your mind. If someone says, "Be filled with food," although this is passive, it is doubtful that someone else is spoon-feeding you. Instead, what is filling you is food, but you are likely the one putting it into your body. In other words, even though the commands are in the passive voice, indicating that someone or something is acting upon you, you are being commanded to do something. You are the one who allows one to baptize you, allows your mind to be changed, allows food to fill you, etc. You are actively letting someone or something do something to you.

My point is that no one ever argued that people baptize themselves. What they are being called to do is commit themselves to Christ by letting His ambassadors baptize you into His Church. It is equivalent to saying, "Let us make you a disciple of Christ." We know that the ones who are doing the active work of baptism are the apostles, since they are the ones in the context who actively baptize people with water. The command is simply to let them do it. The other commands in parallel to it, like "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," "turn to God," "repent," are all in the active voice. If a passive voice means one is passive in the activity described then one has to argue that an active voice means one is active in the activity being described. This isn't completely false, but it is in the way these proponents of passive baptism use it because they want to say that God is doing everything in baptism and we do nothing. The problem is that one must then say that we do everything in believing, turning to God, and repenting and God does nothing because these commands and descriptions of people doing them are in the active voice.

No one is accurately going to be able to glean a biblical theology of baptism from grammatical voice. Instead, one needs to find support for his argument elsewhere.

Luke's View of Baptism in the Book of Acts

Luke's view of baptism is that it is the initiation ritual whereby one obeys the gospel command to repent and follow Christ. It takes an element from the baptism of John, i.e., a baptism of repentance that Luke clarifies is different than the baptism in Jesus' name, and elements of other Jewish understandings of baptism as an initiation rite into a particular community under a set of beliefs. In this regard, baptism in Jesus' name means baptism into His person and work, which includes His believing community set under His instruction. In short, baptism is a public declaration that one is becoming a disciple of Christ.

The normative declaration of one's choosing to enter into discipleship is baptism, but the question remains as to whether Luke saw the water ceremony itself as salvific. Indeed, most who believe in baptismal regeneration will quote 2:38, "repent and be baptized for the forgiveness or sins." Some have attempted to argue that the preposition eis here means "in view of," but this is not really the normative use of the preposition that typically conveys the idea of leading to a goal. Hence, a more correct translation would be, "leading to the forgiveness of sins," or "with the goal of having one's sins forgiven."

The question, instead, is whether baptism, i.e., the initiation ritual, is being used in a literal way that refers to the act of the water ceremony as that which is leading to forgiveness, or whether the water ceremony, since it is the public declaration of one's faith, is being used in a representational manner, as putting on a ring in a wedding ceremony can represent the act of getting married and causing marriage, even though the ring, a mere symbol within itself, does not marry anyone or necessarily lead to marriage.

In order to answer this question in Luke, two trajectories of questioning can be pursued. The first is whether forgiveness of sins and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit is given before, during, or after one is baptized, displaying that it is not the water ceremony itself that does anything, but rather the repentance and faith allegiance to Christ through apostolic teaching that is the means for the forgiveness of sins in distinction from the water ceremony, even though the timing of the event can coincide with the giving of the gift.

The second line of questioning may come from the preaching of the gospel message itself. What is Luke's understanding of how one should respond to the gospel message, and does he use the term "baptism" interchangeably with other terminology that refers to the faith allegiance one makes, so as to show that when he uses the term "baptism," he is using it as a synecdoche, something associated with a larger whole that can represent the larger whole, like the wedding ring can represent one's wedding in the phrase, "He put a ring on it," meaning "he married her."

The Argument from the Spirit's Indwelling

To answer the first question, we see Luke presenting believers as receiving the Holy Spirit

In 8:12-18, Luke presents converts who were baptized as not yet receiving the Holy Spirit, but only doing so after the apostles go to lay hands on them, a possible indication by Luke that submission to the apostolic teaching is required when one transfers his allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord (without which the Holy Spirit is not given). Philip had already given the word necessary to accompany baptism, yet this submission to the apostolic authority seemed an additional necessity.

Again, in 19:1-6, Luke presents Paul as stating that there are believers who have only been baptized by the baptism of John, a baptism of repentance that was only half complete. As Paul argued, it looked forward to Christ, so that it called people away from sins, but was a baptism waiting for the Messiah. After laying hands on them, they receive the Holy Spirit that they did not receive in either a belief in John's teaching or in the water ceremony (neither in John's baptism nor by being baptized in Jesus' name this time).

I suppose one could argue that the specific circumstances in 19 are different than those in 8, as the full gospel message is not communicated. The problem is that once it is communicated and they are baptized. they still do not receive the Spirit until Paul lays hands upon them, displaying that baptism was not the cause of their receiving the Holy Spirit, which they previously said they did not receive or even know about.

Conversely, in 10:42-48, the Holy Spirit comes upon them while Peter is still preaching the gospel message that "everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name." Peter, as a result, argues that they should be baptized (make the public declaration), since God has given the Holy Spirit to them. If they are given the Spirit already, what is the purpose of the baptism that is somehow meant to regenerate in the giving of the Spirit?

Luke, clearly, does not see the water as having any regenerative power, even when joined to the word. If he did, why would he present baptism as ineffectual in its ability to give the Holy Spirit to believers, as in Chapters 8 and 19? And why does he present baptism as something that those who have believed and received the Holy Spirit already do not need it to receive the Holy Spirit and faith, but somehow it is important to do it anyway?

Baptism, to Luke, seems to be what baptism is in Second Temple Judaism and the Bible in general. Luke isn't making up some special definition for it. It is a public declaration of one's faith allegiance to Christ, that one is becoming his disciple. The gift of faith and regeneration can precede, be concomitant with, or follow the initiation rite, and in fact, no regeneration can occur with all of these present (as is implied by the case of Simon in 8:13, 18-24).

In fact, Luke gives his view of true baptism as that which is the giving of the Holy Spirit, which is contrasted with water at the beginning of the book. In 1:5, Jesus repeats what John states in the Gospels:
"For John baptized with waterbut you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

In fact, the 11 apostles, along with the other 109 disciples, are actually never said to be baptized by water in the name of Christ. A couple of them were disciples of John and were baptized by him, but we see in Acts 19 that this baptism is invalid. Hence, Paul has to baptize those who only have the baptism of John again. Instead, the greater baptism seems to be that which the water reflects, i.e., a spiritual washing of an individual who is being placed into God's kingdom. Hence, the baptism of the Holy Spirit seems sufficient for the apostles, and they have no need to be baptized themselves. Only Paul, who did not receive the Spirit at Pentecost with them, is baptized with water. Even here, however, Paul seems to receive the Spirit and salvation into the body of Christ before he is baptized. Ananias calls him a "brother," which may be explained away as an expression for a fellow Jew, even though it could also refer to their newfound Christian relationship, but he also tells him that he has come so that he may be filled with the Holy Spirit, and when he lays hands on him, his blindness is taken away, a perfect image for regeneration. Only after this does he submit to the water ceremony.

The Argument from Synonyms

The second trajectory in seeking Luke's view of baptism is that of analyzing his recordings of the presentations of the gospel. If "baptism" is used in place of other words within the presentation, and other words are in place of one another, then we can see that he is using these terms interchangeably for one another, and not referring to something in addition to it.

Luke's most commonly presented gospel message calls upon people to "believe," and shows them responding to the gospel by believing. The reader is told that people are called to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," "believe in His Son," etc. Many times they are told to "repent." Sometimes the people are said to believe and are baptized, and sometimes baptism becomes a part of that message, as in 2:38. All of this seems to be mixed in together as referring to the same thing, which is a transfer of allegiance from one's sins, false religion, etc. to God by receiving His Messiah.

But there is only a single mention of the gospel being preached as "repent and be baptized" (2:38). The imperative command, "Be baptized" takes its place where normally the imperative "believe" (or one of its synonyms) would be.

In 22:16, Christ tells Paul to "be baptized and have your sins washed away, calling upon His name." Baptism here is the act where Paul is told to call upon His name. In other words, it is identified as the act of repentance and commitment to God.

Likewise, in 3:19, the phrase, "turn to God" replaces both the imperatives "be baptized" and "believe."

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." 

In the book of Acts, we see various phrases used in parallel to one another, indicating that Luke is attempting to say something about the nature of faith. Again, in 26:20, Paul states, “but I declared to those in Damascus first, and then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds consistent with repentance.”

Here we have the phrase, “repent and turn to God.” This describes the transference of allegiance that we are being commanded to make.

In 11:21, those who come to believe are also said to "turn to God."

Paul summarizes the message of the gospel, his mission to talk about it, and all of these various ways of describing it, giving us the biblical definition of faith in Acts 20:21, “testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.”

In Acts 17:30, Paul just says the word “repent” because the word itself can encapsulate the idea of transferring one’s allegiance. Hence, both the message of John the Baptist and Jesus are summarized as, “Repent for the kingdom of God is here,” even though one can just mean repentance from something and the other repentance both from and to something (i.e., a turning away versus a turning away and toward something).

At other times, the term “believe,” since in the NT this refers to giving one’s allegiance to someone (e.g., the soldiers in Caesar’s army were told to believe on/have their faith in him, meaning to give their allegiance to him) can replace the additional need to mention repentance, as giving one's primary allegiance to another implies the taking of it away from a previous allegiance to which one was committed.

13:39 states that “everyone who believes is justified.”

“About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:43).

Then he brought them outside  and asked, “Sirs, what must  I do to be saved?  They replied, Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him, along with all those who were in his house.  At that hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds;  then he and all his family were baptized right away” (16:30-33).

Here we see the tie into baptism. It was usually done right away as someone publicly declared their new allegiance to a person or group and their teachings. Since baptism is the ceremony where one declares this transference of allegiance publicly, the word and concept of washing is often used as a synecdoche, referring to the person’s transfer of allegiance, not necessarily the literal water ceremony. This is also why the imagery is often used when referring to the Holy Spirit washing someone in a spiritual regeneration, rather than referring to literal water (Mark 1:8; Matt 3:11; Titus 3:5—the washing here is described as the washing of regeneration/rebirth done by the Holy Spirit, not a washing of literal water).

This is why we see people believing and receiving the Holy Spirit before they are baptized, because baptism is the water ceremony, not the event through which one receives the Holy Spirit and is regenerated, which is the faith in the apostolic message that occurs many times before the water ceremony, and a couple times, after it. 

 Hence, it is faith that saves, not the baptism ceremony. These simply are common practices that accompany one’s faith allegiance, and so they often represent that transfer of allegiance itself.

So this transference of allegiance is described as "turning to God," “being baptized,” just “repenting,” or just “believing,” or a combination of them in the book of Acts. These are all synonymous for the same event where one transfers his allegiance to Christ as Lord. One hears and does what is commanded, which is to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, to have faith, to transfer one’s allegiance to Christ, to turn to God away from one's self allegiance or allegiance to another god or religion.

What this means is that Luke's view of baptism is that the water ceremony is symbolic of one's faith commitment to submit to the Person of Christ, His work, and His teachings and that come to us via the apostles. One normally enters the Christian life declaring his commitment by being baptized by an authorized individual of the community. But one cannot call himself a Christian without this faith commitment, even if he has believed the gospel message is true and was baptized (as in the case of Simon the magician), or went through a water ceremony where the individual does not dedicate himself to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles in order to become a convert (as in the case of those baptized with John's baptism). The gift of the Holy Spirit can be received without it completely (as is the case with the 11 apostles), before one receives it, or after one receives it, thus showing that the ceremony is not the cause of the receiving of the Spirit, but the faith commitment to Christ and His teaching.

When Luke, therefore, uses the imperative command "be baptized" in place of the imperatival commands like "believe," or "turn to God," he is merely using it in a representational way that refers to the same thing that those other terms do.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Problem of Saying, "Baptism Saves," in Lutheran Theology

I recently listened to a Lutheran youtube video that a friend posted, where the Lutheran proponent argued that Lutherans just read texts, like "baptism now saves you" (1 Pet 3:21), and let them speak plainly for themselves. Hence, Lutherans take this text at face value in their theology of baptism, and others (including many a Reformed folk) do not.

If you're not familiar with the Lutheran view on baptism is goes something like this: Baptism is a normative means through which faith is given, as God enjoins the Word to the sacrament. Hence, grace is received through the sacrament, always enjoined to the Word, of course, by which faith is given; and in this way, baptism saves.

Lutherans also affirm sola Fide, i.e., that one is justified by faith alone. Hence, faith, and only faith, is the means by which the grace that justifies an individual is given.

So what they do is say that baptism is a normative means to receive the means of the grace that justifies.

Now, here is the dilemma, as I see it, for this view. The texts do not say that baptism is a means by which faith is given and faith saves. So Lutherans actually are not just taking the texts according to their plain meaning. The texts actually indicate that baptism saves us, baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, baptism washes away our sins, etc.

The problem can be simplified by this syllogism. X = faith, Z = justification, and Y = baptism.

X is the only means by which someone can receive Z.
Someone can receive Z through Y.
Y, even if partially related, is something different than X.
Therefore, X is not the only means through which one can receive Z.


Faith is the only means by which someone can receive justification.
Someone can receive justification through baptism.
Baptism, even if partially related, is something different than faith.
Therefore, faith is not the only means through which one can receive justification.

In other words, the texts state that baptism saves us, not faith given in baptism, but baptism itself. To say otherwise is to do the very thing Lutherans are accusing others of doing.

So to take the texts as they read plainly is to admit that the texts plainly state that baptism saves.

Now, if the use of "baptism" in these texts is synonymous with faith, rather than something other than faith, then the claim that one believes in sola Fide is justified. This is what I argued. Baptism in the early church was often used as a synecdoche (a part for the whole, i.e., something associated with the act representing the act itself) for the faith commitment one made to follow Christ.

Hence, the blood and cross of Christ are said to do the same. They atone for sin. They provide reconciliation to God and a basis for forgiveness, but it's not the literal wood of the cross that does this. It's not Jesus' bodily fluids. The blood always represented death of the sacrifice, so these sit in as synonymous terms that refer to Christ's death. It's Christ's death that can be described as the cross that is atoning. It is Christ's death that can be referenced with the word "blood" that provides a propitiation. These are uses of synecdoche, and the figure of speech is used often in Scripture.

Hence, when I read texts that indicate baptism saves, and that baptism washes away sin, and that baptism is for the forgiveness of sin, I see that baptism refers to the decision to follow Christ, to be His disciple, i.e., faith.

Therefore, I can say, faith alone justifies and baptism justifies, as long as baptism is understood as the same thing as faith.

But in Lutheran theology the term is understood as the baptismal water ceremony. This is different than faith. Faith is given through it, but that means that faith and baptism are not the same thing, as one is given through the other, and cannot be, therefore, identical activities.

If this is the case, I would submit that, as long as they are seen as two different things, Lutherans simply would have to believe a flat contradiction that one is saved by faith alone and by baptism if they take these texts at face value, as they claim.

Now. if they understand it, as they often explain it, that baptism is the means through which one can be given faith, that's fine. I disagree and it has echoes of Roman soteriology to me a bit, but my main contention is that none of the prooftexts used actually say this. There is no text that says that baptism is the means of receiving the thing that saves you. It says baptism itself saves you. That's a big difference and something those claiming to believe in sola Fide need to reconcile if they are going to use these texts as their evidence for their theology.

Again, to reiterate, the texts in question do not say one is saved "in baptism," but that baptism is actually the thing that saves, forgives, washes sins away, etc. If the term "baptism" is not synonymous with the term "faith," by way of being used as a synecdoche, then Houston, we have a problem. The claim to believe in faith alone means that nothing else besides faith unites one to Christ so that he or she may be saved by Him. That means that baptism, if something different than faith, cannot save, and the biblical text that teaches both sola Fide and salvific baptism is wrong.

Or we can just go with the simpler view of understanding the way they often used something associated with an act, event, etc. in place of the act, event, etc., and there really is no problem with saying things like baptism saves you because baptism merely refers to one's faith commitment, transfer of allegiance to Christ, baptism merely representing that since one often made his public declaration of the transference of his allegiance to Christ by being baptized.

But I do think Lutherans should stop saying they take these texts literally for what they say because they don't. They're talking about baptism as a means by which faith is given, and the text is talking about baptism as that which actually justifies, not the thing that the thing that justifies comes through.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Is James' Soteriology contra Paul's?

James and Paul are often pitted against one another in liberal scholarship. Paul says that one is justified by faith apart from works and James says that one is justified by a faith with works. All of the grammatical nuances are very important, but there are a few important points to understand when analyzing whether the common claim is accurate.

First, both Paul and James argue that a faith without works is not a saving faith. When Paul argues that one is justified by faith choris "apart from," "distinguished from" works, he is also careful to argue that such a faith produces a freedom from sin and a bondage to righteousness, so much so that those who live by faith are the same who walk by the Spirit and produce good works. In fact, Paul calls this faith working through love. This is in contrast to circumcision being the sign that one is saved and will receive the promises of Abraham. Nowhere in Paul do we see the idea that one is saved by a faith that does not produce good works.

Pauline theology itself is concerned about God fulfilling his predetermined plan of making his people holy (see Ephesians), which includes both the work of God by grace through faith placing us in Christ, and a result of our being unified and becoming holy in our daily conduct as imitators of God.

Hence, when James uses terminology from Paul to counter the idea that one can have a faith that does not produce good works, he is likely quoting the antinomians who have twisted Paul's view of justification by faith alone into being justified by a faith that is alone.

But on the question as to whether one must have a faith that produces works, and that alone is saving faith, both James and Paul agree. The Pauline teaching in the pastorals even clarify the kind of grace that is saving.

 For the grace of God that saves all sorts of men has appeared, training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlledupright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing  of our great God and SaviorJesus Christ. He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. (Titus 2:11-14)

The Pauline teaching is not opposed to the teaching in James, but many antinomians who were misreading Paul are the likely targets of James' critique (see 2 Pet 3:15-17, as well as Paul's own anticipation that he would be misread in this way in Rom 6:1-4). 

Second to this, it must be said that Paul is not arguing against the idea that saving faith is a faith that displays works. He is arguing against the idea that one must become Jewish in order to receive the promises of Abraham. Hence, the issue is whether Gentiles should become Jewish via circumcision. Paul's answer to this is an absolute negative. But we are also told in Acts that James agrees with Paul on that point as well (Acts 15:1-29). 

So we are told that Paul, Peter, and James all agree on the subject that Paul is actually teaching in Romans and Galatians. 

And, in fact, James isn't talking about circumcision and whether one must become Jewish in order to be saved in his work. There seems to be some assumption that he is addressing the same thing that Paul is addressing when, in fact, he is addressing the antinomian twisters of Paul's theology who are now quoting Paul as though he was teaching that one is saved by a faith without works, rather than one being justified by a faith in distinction from the works that it produces.

Third, there is confusion over the word dikaiō "to be made righteous." In Paul, the term is often in the context of Christ making one righteous via his union with Him by faith. But James is concerned in his context about Christians actually doing what is right and being made right in terms of their daily living. One is a being made right via Christ's historic work and the other via Christ's practical work. This changes the way each of these men speak of "justification." We anachronistically use the word across the board to refer to one's being made right before God vicariously through Jesus Christ, but the term is used in a variety of ways and nuanced by various contexts. James sees faith and works making one righteous, making one like Christ, saving/sanctifying him in the day to day. Paul is talking about one's being positionally made right before God. These are not the same thing.

Four, let's say that this confusion is not just with the reader, but that Paul and James actually misunderstood one another. Let's say that James thought Paul was teaching what the antinomians who took him out of context were teaching. Let's say Paul actually meant to accuse James, and not just certain men from James, that were arguing that the Gentiles must be circumcised (a strange perspective though if Luke's account of the Jerusalem Council is to be taken seriously). As mere men, it is very possible that they could have. I don't think so, but let's just grant the argument for a moment. 

Does this somehow negate the orthodox understanding of inspiration and inerrancy? Hardly. The human reasons why a biblical text is written makes little difference to the end product. James' work is good teaching. Paul's works are good teaching. They each emphasize different things, provide clarification for one another, etc. The divine purpose in using human misunderstanding or even just a feeling that one needs to clarify what is said, even the idea that one may need to contradict it, simply provides the motivation for writing a work. In the end, as I've argued above, James doesn't contradict Paul, nor Paul James. In fact, they both say the same thing with different points of emphasis.

Indeed, this fabricated conflict between the works, regardless of what the men thought, is perpetuated by the fact that Western culture tends to read Paul more like the antinomians and James more like the Judaizers. In fact, neither one of them fit into either one of those camps. In fact, James argues in his work that one ought to show mercy since the law demands absolute perfection and no one accomplishes it, thus becoming guilty of the whole law. Hence, if we are to be judged by the law of freedom (2:12), we should seek to be merciful as those who will seek mercy on the day of judgment. In other words, we are saved by mercy, not by the works of the law. Sounds very Pauline to me. 

In any case, I think that it is reasonable to see that both the fragmentation of liberal scholarship's reading of the Scripture and an honest misreading of the issues each text is addressing has led to what has now become an unquestioned assumption in mainline scholarship these days. I just think good linguistics and a close reading of the texts in their respective literary contexts will evidence what each is actually arguing and prevent us from making up contradictions in the text that don't actually exist.