Monday, February 3, 2014

Dissecting an Evangelical's Criticism of Baptismal Regeneration, Part I

An evangelical Christian referred me to the following article to convince me of the falsehood of Baptismal Regeneration.  Let's take a close look at it.  I will review it in two parts.  Below is part I (I will make my comments in blue):

How would Nicodemus have understood Jesus words?

Is baptism necessary for salvation? Is it necessary to be water baptized after one's profession of faith before one can receive the gift of forgiveness and new life through regeneration? (No.  Neither Lutherans, Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox teach that regeneration can ONLY occur in Baptism.  Many a martyr is in heaven who did not have the opportunity to be baptized, but yet was regenerated by God when he believed, and therefore received the forgiveness of his sins.)  Or is baptism a proper act of obedience after one is saved? (There is not ONE passage in Scripture that states that  the purpose of Baptism is as OUR act of obedience.  None.)  In the first case, the order would be faith, then baptism, resulting in salvation. In the second case, the order would be faith, resulting in salvation, followed by baptism.  (Or how about a third order:  divine election, quickening of a spiritually dead soul by the Word, the gifting of faith and salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Word, creating saving belief...all occurring by either the preaching, reading, or pronouncement of the Word, including the Word spoken during Baptism.)

Let's take a moment to consider the texts. There are a number of different kinds of baptism in the New Testament (No, actually God says in Ephesians that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.)  One kind of baptism is water baptism. Some Christians use Jesus' comments in the Gospel of John as a proof text, teaching that water baptism is necessary for salvation as a Christian.  (No, the overwhelming majority of the world's Christians teach that God saves and forgives sins in water baptism, just as the plain, simple interpretation of multiple passages of Scripture state.)

Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:5 , "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Or, it might alternately be translated, "Unless you were born of water, even the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven." (The word "and" is the Greek word kai, and can be translated either "and" or "even." You can see right there that if it's translated "even," it casts a whole different light on the issue.)  (Evangelicals and Baptists are the premier experts in translating the Bible correctly.  (strong sarcasm!)  Not one translation of the Bible, into English, or for that matter, into ANY language, has EVER translated this passage as this evangelical author thinks it would of, could of, should of been translated.  The "light" that should be "cast" here is the shameful manner in which these Christians twist and contort God's Holy Word to force our 2,000 year old faith to comply with their sixteenth century false teachings.)

Note that the text doesn't say actually "water baptism" here. It says "born of water." If Jesus meant that water baptism is an absolute, indispensable element for salvation, then it strikes me as odd He wasn't more specific here.  (No, Baptists and evangelicals want us to believe that "born of water" refers to the water of the vaginal birth canal.  Now THAT is something that I think that Christ would have been more specific about because such a statement would be so absolutely foreign to a first century Jew, especially an educated Jew, such as Nicodemus, just as it is so absolutely foreign to any educated health care professional today!  The birth process is not a birth of water...unless the mother is birthing in a swimming pool!  I am a physician.  I have delivered babies.  It is a birth of mucous and some blood, not of water.  Such a statement is silly, uneducated, nonsense derived solely from the old wives' saying "she broke her water".)

There's another problem. One must always interpret any reference in the Scriptures ( in this case, a reference to baptism) in light of the context in which it was written and the audience being spoken to.  (Amen!  Also pay careful attention to what event occurs directly after Christ's conversation with Nicodemus, especially if it involves WATER!)

Let's presume for the sake of discussion that in this passage Jesus actually meant that water baptism is necessary for salvation. Who is Jesus speaking to in John 3? Nicodemus. Does Nicodemus have the foggiest idea what Christian water baptism is about?  (No.  But he very much knows what the purpose of Baptism is in his Jewish culture:  repentance!)  Not at all. The concept of Christian baptism is not introduced until the book of Acts.  (No, Christian baptism began when Christ, through his disciples, began baptizing shortly after Christ's own baptism.  If Christian baptism did not begin until after the Resurrection and Pentecost, why isn't there any mention of the Apostles all undergoing repeat Baptism to join the local church on Pentecost??  No person baptized by Jesus' disciples were required to be re-baptized after the Resurrection.  John's disciples and those that John baptized, yes, they needed rebaptism, but not those that Christ and his disciples had baptized PRIOR to the Resurrection.  The purpose of Christ's baptism PRIOR and AFTER the resurrection were the same:  repentance and the forgiveness of sins.)  The only baptism Nicodemus could have known about was either the ritual washings of the Jews or the baptism of John the Baptist (or the baptisms of Jesus himself, through his disciples). However, Jesus says in the next few lines (v10), "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?" Jesus chastises Nicodemus because he doesn't understand something fundamental that he ought to have understood. This couldn't be Christian water baptism. It must be something else.  (Wrong.  Here is what Nicodemus could not understand:  "“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?”  Nicodemus didn't understand the concept of being "born again", he most definitely understood the purpose of water baptism:  repentance.)

So there are two immediate problems with reading a water baptism requirement into these verses. First, it's a possible interpretation, given the words, but it isn't explicitly taught here. There's an unavoidable step of interpretation leaving more room for error. Though this may be a correct interpretation, it ought to cause us to be less dogmatic. Second, this interpretation seems unjustified because, according to Jesus, Nicodemus ought to understand what He's talking about. (If someone walked up to you in the first century and told you that you needed to be born again...you wouldn't know what the heck he was talking about either!  Jesus expected Nicodemus to realize that HE, Jesus, was the Messiah, not that he should understand the meaning of "born again".) Yet Nicodemus couldn't understand about Christian baptism because it wasn't instituted for at least another three years.  (See above.)

For these two reasons John 3 is not a good proof text for the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. (Wrong.  It is an excellent text for baptismal regeneration.  Read the last few passages of John chapter 3 as proof.)  Acts 2:38 would be a better example, where Peter says, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  (Amen!  But let's see you dismantle that passage's plain, simple interpretation, that clearly teaches baptismal regeneration, further along in your article.)

One thing you might want to do in a case like this is to go to your Bible concordance and look up "baptize" or "baptism" or "baptized," passages that would speak to this issue. Then write the verses out on 3x5 cards and look at them. You'll be able to isolate all the verses which talk about this idea. Make one pile that has to do with the baptism of John. Make another pile with verses that have to do with the baptism of trial (e.g. Jesus says in Mark 10:38 "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?")--a different kind of baptism of pain and suffering that Jesus spoke about (Did God say that, or is that just your interpretation?). Then there would be another pile about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, etc. (I've included a list of all the verses on Christian water baptism at the end of this piece.)  (The Baptism of the Holy Spirit has NOTHING to do with salvation.  If it did, then some of the disciples of John did not receive salvation until after believing, after being baptized, and AFTER HAVING PAUL LAY HIS HANDS ON THEM!!  It is simply an expression of a special FILLING or gifting of the Holy Spirit, enabling believers to speak in (foreign) tongues and preach great sermons.)

This allows you to construct a balanced teaching on the issue, drawing instruction from the full counsel of God on the subject. You can see the full range of teaching in the New Testament on baptism, and you can watch how the teaching takes form.
This is the way to do systematic study on a doctrine or topic. You take all the teachings and verses pertaining to a particular issue and see what they say. You then begin drawing conclusions from that broad base of research, so you don't miss anything. When you study this way, it becomes clear that baptism--Christian baptism--is not exalted in the Scripture as a necessary element of salvation. In fact, it's rarely even mentioned.  (Excuse me!  Baptism or one of its variants is mentioned more than 100 times in the New Testament!  It is your evangelical "make a decision for Christ" that is NEVER mentioned.)

Notice that the author asks his readers to divide up passages of Scripture that discuss baptism into multiple "piles".  He does this because he believes that there are multiple types of Baptism in the New Testament:  water baptism, baptism of the Holy Spirit, and metaphorical baptisms such as ones involving suffering.  What is odd is, that Baptists and evangelicals will make their piles as he suggests, but then will do the following:

All passages in the Book of Acts that mention the stand alone word "baptism" will be placed in the "water baptism" pile and all passages that mention "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" will be put into the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" pile, but...once you cross from Acts into the Epistles, ALL passages using the stand alone word "baptism" are placed into the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" pile.  For some bizarre reason, the definition of the stand alone word "baptism" changes meaning once we pass from the Gospels and the Book of Acts and enter the Epistles.

What is up with that??

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.


9 comments:

  1. Excellent reply, Gary. If you don't mind, I have a few thoughts of my own.

    "Is baptism necessary for salvation? Is it necessary to be water baptized after one's profession of faith before one can receive the gift of forgiveness and new life through regeneration?" Immediately, as you pointed out, he's begun with a false premise. He's assumed that Baptismal Regeneration necessitates that one is saved ONLY in Baptism. The question of the unbaptized is not addressed at all in the statement "God saves in Baptism." Logically, this statement would lead us to ask the question about the unbaptized, but the conclusion that Baptismal Regeneration equals "You're going to Hell if you aren't Baptized, no matter what you believe about Jesus as His atoning work on the Cross," is unwarranted.

    "Or is baptism a proper act of obedience after one is saved?" In any beginner-level collegiate class on rhetoric, you would be told that this is what's know as a "false dichotomy." A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy in which someone postulates two mutually exclusive theses as if they were the only options, when in fact other options exist. In this case, we're told that either a) Baptism is an absolute necessity without which you are damned, or b) Baptism is merely and external act of obedience done after conversion. However, we could also postulate c) Baptism is the chief Sacrament by which God saves people from sin and death, but He can also accomplish this by means of the spoken Word, the Lord's Supper, or His own direct intervention if He chooses to do so.

    "Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3:5 , "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Or, it might alternately be translated, "Unless you were born of water, even the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven." (The word "and" is the Greek word kai, and can be translated either "and" or "even." You can see right there that if it's translated "even," it casts a whole different light on the issue.) "

    In my life, I've studied four languages: Spanish, Japanese, Biblical Hebrew, and Koine Greek (though, admittedly, my study of the last two is still in it's infancy). Each of these languages belong to a different linguistic group (Romance, isolate, Semitic, and Hellenic respectively) and have different grammatical laws and structures. I'm not bringing this up to boast about my own talents, but to establish that I know a thing or two about working in different languages.

    One rule that every language student has drilled in their head is this: words in sentences are defined primarily, not by their dictionary definition, but by their context. Doubly so with particles, which include conjunctions.

    Let me give an example in Japanese: 母と姉はコンビニへ行ったと言われた。 (haha to ane wa konibi e itta to iwareta. "I was told that (my) mother and (my elder) sister went to a convenience store.") The particle "to" (と) appears twice in this sentence, taking on both the meaning "and" and acting to connect "I was told" with "mother and sister went to a convenience store." If I simply translated it by the primary meaning "and" my sentence would be totally different that what the intention was "My mother and sister went to a convenience store and I was told." See the problem?

    The point of this excursion? Just because "kai" could mean "even" doesn't mean you should translate it that way just because. Context is key, and given that there isn't any good reason to think that "kai" should be translated as "even" in this context, the argument is really ineffectual. (Incidentally, even with my rudimentary knowledge of Greek, I could tell you that even the most Baptistically-oriented Greek professor would dock him points for that translation.)

    (more later)

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    1. I love comments, Jacob, so leave as many comments as you wish. I think it is good to get the perspective of multiple Lutherans on this issue and even the perspectives of non-Lutheran Trinitarian Christians.

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  2. (continuing from last post, character limits ruin everything)

    "The only baptism Nicodemus could have known about was either the ritual washings of the Jews or the baptism of John the Baptist (or the baptisms of Jesus himself, through his disciples)." Your answer (in parenthesis, the blue won't transfer for me) is absolutely perfect, and worth repeating.

    "One thing you might want to do in a case like this is to go to your Bible concordance and look up "baptize" or "baptism" or "baptized," passages that would speak to this issue. Then write the verses out on 3x5 cards and look at them."

    This exercise proves nothing that anyone with a even an elementary knowledge of the Greek New Testament couldn't have already told you: the word "baptidzo" can describe things other than Holy Baptism. Baptidzo is a fairly common Greek word, used to mean "wash" most often, so we shouldn't be surprised that it is used to describe both John's Baptism and Christian Baptism since both are a washing. The real question to ask is, "Do these Baptisms both accomplish the same thing?" In this regard, there is clear distinguishing between the Baptism of John and that of Christ (Acts 18:25). Then we ask, "What does Christian Baptism do?" For that answer, see 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38, etc. The only way to avoid this is to do the semi-gnostic habit of Baptists and Evangelicals of bifurcating the water and the Holy Spirit from the action of Baptism.

    "When you study this way, it becomes clear that baptism--Christian baptism--is not exalted in the Scripture as a necessary element of salvation. In fact, it's rarely even mentioned."

    Romans 6:1-11 begs to differ. I would argue that if Baptism were "not exalted" as you say, Paul's use of it as a means to extol his audience to avoid sin is rather out of place. Verses 3-5 in particular seem to suggest that Paul believes our Baptism is what grants us the promise of the Resurrection.

    Ephesians 5:25-26, a classic text in favor of Baptismal Regeneration, would seem to end any and all discussion on the matter for me. Being cleansed with "water and the word," you say? Where have I heard that before? Hint: Luther's Small catechism, explanation of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

    I've read the whole article, and have plenty more to add. But I'll let you take the lead and post your part 2 before I get involved.

    +Pax Christi+

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    1. By all means, Jacob, post as many comments as you wish. I enjoy them and they are beneficial to both myself and other readers.

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    2. As I mention in Part II, Baptists and evangelicals treat the end of the Books of Acts and the beginning of the Epistles as if it were a Red Line, which once crossed, the stand alone word, "baptism", no longer means "water baptism" as they agree it means in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. Once you cross the Red Line into the Epistles, the stand alone word "baptism" solely refers to a spiritual, internal, invisible act of God in the heart.

      By what authority do they think that they have the right to re-define this word?

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    3. The answer is actually pretty simple:

      Acts is not written as a theological treatise. It is written as a cumulative biography of the Apostles in the time shortly following the Ascension of Our Lord. As such, it doesn't undertake the goal of explaining the theological or sacramental significance of the events that take place there, but rather records the events themselves.

      The Epistles are written with the intent of disseminating correct doctrine and correcting false doctrine/practice. In the Epistles, we see the writers specifically addressing the importance of the Sacraments and what they do.

      Unfortunately, while the Baptists and Evangelicals can comfortably insert their doctrine into passages that are descriptive and not formulated to explain the doctrine of the events, they cannot do so with the Epistles, where their teachings run headlong against the clear word of Scripture.

      So they have to bifurcate Baptism into two separate events in order to stick to their guns.

      The one word answer? Pride.

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  3. Gary: "The Baptism of the Holy Spirit has NOTHING to do with salvation."

    Sure it does.

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    1. In reviewing the Baptism passages in the NT sequentially up to Romans 6:1-5, one sees that ever since Christ exhorted his disciples to baptize all nations just prior to his ascension into heaven, every passage of Holy Scripture has been very clear in distinguishing a "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" and water baptism. Whenever the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" is discussed it is always referred to by its entire name. It is never referred to as just "baptism". In the book of Acts, if the word "baptism" or "baptized" is used, it is very clear that the passage is referring to water baptism.

      So why would God change his pattern now? Yes, it is true that God is speaking through a different writer (Paul) in Romans, rather than Luke in Acts, but it is still God speaking. Why would he suddenly start referring to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with just the word "baptism"?

      If this passage in Romans is referring to the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" isn't it odd that in some of the conversions mentioned by Luke in Acts, the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" doesn't occur until a period of time AFTER the person believes, and sometimes not until they have been baptized, AND sometimes not until an apostle or disciple has laid his hands on them!

      Do Baptists and evangelicals really believe that Christians can be "baptized into Christ's death" at any time other than when the sinner, by faith, believes in Christ? For Baptists and evangelicals to be consistent about reading this verse as a Baptism of the Holy Spirit, wouldn't they then also have to admit that not everyone receives the Holy Spirit when they believe? Wouldn't Baptists and evangelicals be forced to believe that some Christians receive the Holy Spirit at a later time??
      Or are Baptists and evangelicals saying there is now a THIRD baptism in the post-resurrection era? A spiritual baptism that is not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and is also not water baptism? Is there any Scriptural basis for this "third baptism"?

      It is very clear that if one reads all the Baptism passages in the NT sequentially, that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit has NOTHING to do with salvation! It is a reference to being "filled with the Spirit" which happened to Paul and to Peter on numerous occasions. Were they saved anew each time??

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