Thursday, January 04, 2007

Of Necessity and Wetness: Part 2

After a little bit of pressure from another poster, "gonzoguy" made a detailed response to my critique of his remarks on baptism. Here is my response to that. It's long, so get ready....
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I'm sorry I'm just now getting around to responding to you. I try not to get on the computer much when I'm home from school (I'm workin on an MA in Theology). When I did get on the computer, there was other stuff I needed to do instead. But, I've got some time now, so I want to respond to your rebuttal.

Alright, I'll respond to Phatty directly (as opposed to my indirect response earlier).
I appreciate that.

Reference to birth as can be seen by the surrounding text and Nicodemus' confusion regarding re-birth. Born of water = birth into existence; Born of Spirit = birth into the Kingdom of God (salvation).
If you'll allow me to be frank for a moment, it blows my mind how people come up with that interpretation. Let's look at Jn 3 again:

Jn 3:3-7 (RSV) Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicode'mus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.'

Notice first that Jesus says you must be born anew (Gk. anothen: "from above" or "over again") to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus is confused by this because he thinks that Jesus is referring to a physical birth. That, of course, would be ludicrous. No one can be physically born again. That's why Nicodemus says, "How can I enter into my mother's womb a second time and be born?" But, Jesus isn't talking about a physical birth. In order to correct Nicodemus' misunderstanding, Jesus clarifies himself by saying that this new birth is "of water and the Spirit."

Now, there are many reasons why we know that Jesus is not referring to a physical birth. First of all, Nicodemus just said "How can I be physically born again?" Why would Jesus respond by saying you must be physically born? Nicodemus has already been physically born! It just doesn't make any sense. Secondly, Jesus isn't talking about a birth by water and a birth by Spirit, as if they were two different things. He didn't say, "You must first be born of water, and then be born by the Spirit." Instead, He said, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." It is one birth: by "water and the Spirit."

We know that this birth by water and the Spirit is a reference to baptism because of the context. Look at everything that leads up to this passage, and then what comes after it. In Jn 1 we see the mentioning of Jesus' baptism. And how was he baptized? water and the Spirit:

Jn 1:31-33 I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel." 32 And John bore witness, "I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'

Mt 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; 17 and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

We also see baptism (or at least, an allusion to baptism) in the next chapter, when Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding at Canaa. Note what the water was used for: "Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification" (Jn 2:6). According to the Septuagint (Greek) canon of the Old Testament, these ritual purification waters were called baptismoi. They were, in a sense, the "baptismal" waters of Old Testament times (cf. Num 19:9-19). The Old Testament rites and sacrifices were only "a shadow of the good things to come" (Heb. 10:1). They could never take away sins. Note also that there were six jars. Scripture scholars point out that the number six was often used to denote imperfection. Christ transformed the Old Testament water of "ritual washings" into wine, a symbol of New Covenant perfection. (cf. Joel 3:18, Mt 9:17).

It is with this context of baptism that we come to Jesus' words in Jn 3. And if that weren't enough, look at what we read at the end of the chapter, and again in chapter 4:

Jn 3:22-23; 4:1-3 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. 23 John also was baptizing at Ae'non near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized. 1 Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

Right after Jesus speaks with Nicodemus, what happens? He and his disciples go to Judea and they begin baptizing people! Jn 3:3-5 is surrounded by explicit and implicit references to baptism. If we apply the common hermeneutical principle of using context to interpret a passage, then we must conclude that when Jesus mentioned being born of water and the Spirit, He was referring to baptism.

The emphasis on in Romans 6:4 was not baptism, but righteous living. The reference to baptism was the means to the end and in no way says it is necessary for salvation.
How is Rom 6:4 about righteous living and not baptism? Baptism is explicitly mentioned, and the whole verse is talking about what happens when we are baptized, and what the effect of baptism is.

Rom 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Paul is saying that what takes place in baptism is a dying and rising with Christ, and the effect of baptism is newness of life. The whole verse is about baptism. Also, baptism is certainly the means to an end (I'm glad we agree on that point), but it does not follow from this that baptism is unnecessary. It is necessary for the very fact that it is the means to the newness of life that Paul mentions.

Galations 3:27 also does not say what you are trying to make it say. Indeed, verse 26 states that sonship is a result of faith in Jesus Christ. v. 27 is not a commandment to be baptized or else, it is a challenge to live the life we said we were going to live as a result of our faith in Jesus (salvation) and our subsequent profession of that faith to the rest of the world (baptism)
I'm really having a hard time seeing how you come to these interpretations. Look at those 2 verses again:

Gal 3:26-27 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

How can you say that baptism is merely a profession of faith, when Paul explicity says here that "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ"? When you are baptized into Christ, you put on Christ. Now, I know that this debate is about the necessity of baptism, not whether or not baptism is efficacious. But, it is what baptism does that makes it so necessary. That's why I included Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27; and Col 2:12.

Faith does require action, nobody is debating that. What we disagree on is whether or not this action looks exclusively like baptism.
Agreed. Note that what I was responding to was your second point, when you said, "Seems to me like Catholicism has placed a little bit too much emphasis on the doing rather than the being regarding this matter." People always seem to pit faith against baptism, or Christ's work on the Cross against baptism, as if they are mutually exclusive. I was simply trying to show that they are not. Baptism is "the sacrament of faith" (cf, CCC, no. 1236, 1253, 1992) and it is Christ's work on the cross that makes it efficacious. So, the argument that faith saves, not baptism, or that baptism denies the work of Christ simply does not work.

Can you rephrase this question? I am trying to understand what you mean by qualities...
I mean, what are the characteristics of a saving faith. How do you know a saving faith from a faith that does not save? With this question, I was working to further show that faith and baptism are not mutually exclusive.

Those very particular ways are life-change and the fruits of the Spirit, not baptism.
Well, I suppose you're entitled to your opinion, but I'm hardly going to take your word for it. The book of Acts is filled with examples of faith compelling men to be baptized (cf. 8:12-13,36; 10:47; 16:15,31-33; 18:8; 19:2,5).

A couple of things:
1. In this section, Jesus was not laying down a strict formula. Otherwise we could also conclude that anyone who does not speak in tongues, drive out demons, drink poison and live, and heal others by laying on hands is not a believer.
First of all, we have already seen from the examples in Acts that a person believes and then he is baptized. Secondly, the logic you're using does not work. Mk 16:17-18 (the passage you are referring to) simply says that certain signs will accompany those who believe. It does not follow from this that if you don't exhibit those signs then you're not a believer. In other words, those actions come from people who believe, but you don't have to be able to do those things before you can consider yourself a believer. This is especially so since Paul says that the Spirit gives the spiritual gifts as He sees fit (cf. 1 Cor 12:11) and that not all believers will speak in tongues (cf. 1 Cor 12:29-30).

2. Notice that Jesus did not say, "But he who does not get baptized will be condemned."

Reverse logic. It is a small, yet substantial leap.
I don't know what you mean by "reverse logic" here. I can assert the necessity of baptism and still assert, with Jesus, that he who does not believe is condemned. Like I've been saying, the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Is this true of the other Sacraments as well? If so, how do we refrain from turning Jesus' message into ritualistic legalism? If not, why not?
Jesus says that many things are necessary for salvation:If God says, "Do it" I'm going to do it. That's not "ritualistic legalism," it's obedience.

None of the verses you quoted here [Rom 11:22; Col 1:22-23; Gal 5:1; Heb 12:1; Phil 2:12; Heb 3:14] make any reference to baptism but rather to keeping the faith - which contextually may or may not include baptism.
My point in using those verses was to show that it takes more than one instance of professing that Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior to be saved. You have to live a life of faith. When the bible says that you will be saved if you have faith, it is a life of faith, not a moment of intellectual assent, that it has in mind. If you understand saving faith as that profession of belief in Christ that you made at a revival when you were 13, then there is certainly no room for baptism. But, once you understand that saving faith is a life-long "Yes" to Christ, then baptism is able to enter into the picture, since it is one of the many actions that make up that life of faith (as the book of Acts clearly shows).

The verses you provided were taken out of context
That remains to be seen....

What Sacraments are we bound by?
Well, Baptism is certainly one. I'd rather not get into the other sacraments for fear that it will take us off-topic.

Yes, but keeping those commandments comes after the fact. We are saved by faith alone. Faith is enough for salvation. The rest is extra, meant to develope a more abundant life.
It all depends on how you define "faith." If by "faith" you mean "intellectual assent" then James' letter alone shows that that type of faith does not save. However, if by "faith" you mean "a belief that compels people to live a certain life, do certain things, and that 'holds firm to the end' (Heb 3:14)" then I agree, faith does save, and baptism can be a part of that.

Interestingly, you missed the point of that verse altogether. Peter is clearly saying that it is not the act of being dipped into the water that makes baptism effective, but the act of living a holy life through faith in Jesus Christ who was resurrected from the dead!
Really? I don't see how. Look at it again:

1 Pet 3:21-22 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

First of all, where does this passage say anything about "living a holy life through faith in Jesus Christ"? I don't see that anywhere. Secondly, if baptism were not efficacious then it would merely be a removal of dirt from the body. But, Peter specifically says, " saves you" (it doesn't get much clearer than that) and that it is NOT "a removal of dirt from the body." INSTEAD, it is "an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." In other words, when a person enters into baptism, he is not just getting wet. He is making an appeal to God for a clear conscious, and Jesus's victory over sin through His resurrection and His ascension into heaven insures that this appeal will be answered. That's why Paul says:

Rom 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Col 2:12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

I agree completely, but the Sacraments do not save us...Jesus does. And we can perform the Sacraments quite apart from Jesus; therefore, the act itself means nothing - Jesus means everything.
You really need to work on your logic bro. Just because some people can perform "sacraments" without giving a thought to Christ, that doesn't mean that the sacraments can't ever be performed with Him.

Also, like I've been saying, Jesus and the Sacraments are not mutually exclusive. There are two statements in question:

1. The Sacraments save.
2. Jesus saves.

As a Catholic, I can say them both without any contradiction. This is because baptism is the secondary cause, or the instrumental cause of salvation. The first cause, or primary cause is Jesus Christ. They both work together to save us. Christ uses baptism to save us. Baptism is his instrument. Thus, there is nothing wrong with saying that baptism saves.

We also see this instrumental causality in Paul's writings. After all, Paul attributes salvation to his very self, and to other people too. Look at what he says:

Rom 11:13-14 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

1 Cor 7:16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

1 Cor 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

1 Tim 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

What should we make of these statements? Is Paul denying that Jesus is our "one Lord and Savior"? Of course not! He simply realizes that God uses the things of this world (in this instance, people) to achieve his saving work. Instrumental causality is a very biblical and Pauline principle, and it is this same principle that underlies my affirmation that baptism "saves."

Again, newness of life is the point [of Rom 6:4], not baptism.
So what. That doesn't mean that Paul is not also talking about baptism. At any rate, I've already responded to this.

So, back to my question, how does the act of baptism to the 1st Century believer affect us now? If for them it was the primary way of making public their faith and, as a result, had potential to bring much persecution their way, does that affect its use by the writers of the New Testament?
Well, for one, you have yet to prove that this was how the first-century believer viewed baptism. Secondly, my research shows that first-century Christians believed that baptism was more than merely a public profession of faith: it effected the forgiveness of sins and their salvation.
  • The Letter of Barnabas
    "Regarding [baptism], we have the evidence of Scripture that Israel would refuse to accept the washing which confers the remission of sins and would set up a substitution of their own instead [Ps. 1:3–6]. Observe there how he describes both the water and the cross in the same figure. His meaning is, ‘Blessed are those who go down into the water with their hopes set on the cross.’ Here he is saying that after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement, we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls" (Letter of Barnabas 11:1–10 [A.D. 74]).
  • Hermas
    "‘I have heard, sir,’ said I, ‘from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.’ He said to me, ‘You have heard rightly, for so it is’" (The Shepherd 4:3:1–2 [A.D. 80]).
  • Ignatius of Antioch (who lived in the first century)
    "Let none of you turn deserter. Let your baptism be your armor; your faith, your helmet; your love, your spear; your patient endurance, your panoply" (Letter to Polycarp 6 [A.D. 110]).
  • Justin Martyr (born at the turn of the second century, 100 AD)
    "As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly . . . are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Except you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:3]" (First Apology 61 [A.D. 151]).
How does this effect us now? Well, this was the teaching of the early Church, and whoever did not believe it was considered a heretic. Is your church of the same belief as the early church, the "New Testament church"? I certainly hope so. By the way, I'm sorry this was so long. I like to be thorough

Pax Christi,


Laura H. said...

gee whiz.

jmjtina said...

there's the phatcatholic we all know and love! prayers for you dear friend, and that's pretty thorough if I do say so myself!

Amber said...


Isn't it amazing how so very "plain-as-day" it can be and some would rather stretch and twist the meaning of the words rather than accept the Catholic interpretation?

You did a great job. When I saw the whole "saved by faith alone" thing, I thought, "Please, explain James 2:24 and find ONE verse that states we are saved by faith ALONE."

Anyway, I really enjoyed this post. You and I think along very similar lines!

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