Friday, January 01, 2010

Justification Through Foot Washing

The following are comments I recently posted in a Called To Communion thread. Some of what's below may be difficult to understand without the larger context, but I think even those who haven't been reading that thread should understand at least most of what I've written.

Andrew Preslar wrote:

"I thought, quite understandably, that this rather idiosyncratic manner of referring to baptism might have been part of an effort to exclude baptism from salvation/justification on a 'not by works' basis. It now looks like you do not want to pursue that line, so, progress made."

I do object to baptismal justification on the basis that baptism is an excluded work. I said earlier that my argument against baptismal justification isn't dependent on an appeal to the exclusion of works from the gospel. But the exclusion of works is one line of evidence I've cited among others. And I agreed with you that faith can be considered a work and can be considered obedience in some contexts. I linked you to the thread here, where I discuss the subject in more depth.

As I explain in that thread, work is sometimes defined so broadly by scripture as to include anything we do. That sort of definition would include both faith and baptism, so it wouldn't be reasonable to deny that baptism is a work at least in that sense. You would have to argue, instead, that it's not a work under some definitions, particularly the ones relevant to our discussion here. Elsewhere, scripture seems to define work as outward manifestations of faith. Baptism would be a work in that sense. In Romans 3-4, Paul contrasts faith with work (Romans 3:27), and he refers to those who believe without working (Romans 4:5-6), so he isn't defining faith as a work in that context. Do we have any comparable reason to exempt baptism? Not that I'm aware of. There are no passages comparable to Romans 3:27, 4:5-6, or James 2:14-26, where baptism is distinguished from working as faith is so distinguished....

You write:

"The thing is, 'repentance' is not part of the definition of 'faith,' but you would not on that basis exclude it from the believing reception of justification."

I responded to that argument in comment 23. You didn't address much of what I said there. Instead, you replied by saying that baptism could also be included in passages that only mention faith, since repentance is included, and you assumed your reading of the baptismal passages (John 3:5, etc.) to justify an inclusion of baptism. But assuming your reading of those passages doesn't interact with my contrary arguments. And it fails to address the distinctions between repentance and baptism that I discussed in comment 23. Saying that repentance and baptism are both different than faith doesn't address the differences between repentance and baptism that I mentioned.

The fact that a hand is different than a body, yet we assume the inclusion of a hand when a body is mentioned, doesn't justify the conclusion that references to a body are also referring to a table. A body implies the inclusion of a hand, but it doesn't imply the inclusion of a table. Merely saying that a hand and a table are both different than a body doesn't justify placing both in the same category. You would need an additional line of evidence in order to assume the inclusion of a table when a body is mentioned. You assert that you have such evidence in passages like John 3:5 and Acts 2:38, but without interacting with my contrary arguments.

You write:

"If we have independent reasons to think that foot-washing might be an essential aspect of receiving initial salvation, then we might consider the question of whether such an act could be implicitly included in a statement about believing unto salvation."

Which is why you need to address my arguments regarding the baptismal passages you've been appealing to. I could assume a justificatory interpretation of John 13:8 and apply the sort of argumentation you've applied to baptism. I could claim that the far larger number of passages that mention faith without mentioning foot washing aren't thereby excluding foot washing. After all, some passages don't mention repentance either. And I could argue that examples of people being justified before or without foot washing prior to Jesus' resurrection are irrelevant, since foot washing wasn't required during that era. I could dismiss later examples of justification apart from foot washing by claiming that people were justified in anticipation of a later foot washing. I could appeal to a foot washing of desire and foot washing by blood. I could claim that foot washing isn't a work, so that passages excluding works aren't relevant.

What would be wrong with such an approach? For one thing, there are reasonable alternatives to a justificatory interpretation of John 13:8, even though Jesus does use strong language there and a justificatory interpretation would make sense if we had no other evidence to go by. Secondly, maintaining such a reading of that passage requires accepting a less natural reading of a large number of other passages. We have to assume that multiple authors who had access to words that would explicitly convey foot washing chose not to use that language, but instead to only refer to faith in the vast majority of relevant passages. We have to assume a discontinuity between how people were justified in the past and how they're justified today, even though the Biblical authors tell us that we're justified by the same means by which Abraham and others of the past were justified. We have to assume that people justified prior to foot washing, including people who could easily have had their feet washed, were justified in anticipation of foot washing. We have to assume that foot washing isn't excluded as a work, even though it so much resembles other entities defined as work and even though scripture nowhere exempts it from being classified as a work. We have to assume that John 13:8 was referring to justification through foot washing, even though foot washing wasn't required yet when Jesus spoke with Peter. The Biblical passages about being justified through a means in the heart are inconsistent with justification through an outward means, like foot washing. Etc.

You keep claiming that your reading of the baptismal passages is the most natural way to take those passages. But accepting your reading of those passages requires us to accept a long series of less natural readings of a far larger number of other passages. You seem to be so focused on the alleged advantages of your reading of a small handful of passages, that you're overlooking a series of far weightier disadvantages your view brings to a much larger number of other passages. And the small handful of passages you're focused on are problematic even when considered in their own context. You have Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be justified through baptism before baptism became a means of justification.

Early in this thread, I cited Ronald Fung's comments on how little baptism is even mentioned in Galatians. The relevance of his point seems to have been largely missed or underestimated in this thread. We shouldn't just ask what the most natural reading of Galatians 3:27 is. We should also ask what the most natural reading is of the fifteen prior references to faith without any mention of baptism, some of which imply the exclusion of baptism by more than just not mentioning it (for reasons I explained earlier). To focus on how unnatural my interpretation of Galatians 3:27 allegedly is, while assigning so little weight to the problems your reading of that passage creates for so many other passages, is drastically unbalanced.

You write:

"It seems like you are saying that Abraham was justified in the exact same way that (e.g.) Paul was justified, such that anything that was essential to receiving justification for Paul was essential for Abraham. But that seems obviously wrong. For one thing, the objective content of saving faith was not the same thing for each man."

No, I'm saying that Abraham and Paul have in common what Paul says they have in common: faith. The object of faith isn't the same as faith. Paul says that we're justified through faith, as Abraham was. Is it more natural to conclude that Paul means we're justified through faith, though with a different object to that faith? Or is it more natural to conclude that Paul means we're justified through faith, though with a different object to that faith and with baptism accompanying the faith? You're suggesting an additional kind of discontinuity. A discontinuity between the objects of faith still leaves faith as the means of justification. But adding baptism as a means of justification adds a further discontinuity that the passages in question don't imply.

You write:

"I think you mentioned some arguments from non-silence for the non-efficacy of baptism in initial salvation. Have I missed one that does not depend upon the notions that I have been addressing hitherto?"

Yes, you haven't addressed my appeal to the normalcy of justification apart from baptism. Cornelius, the Galatians, and others justified prior to baptism are described as if their means of justification was normative. And I've argued that Catholicism treats such a means of justification as exceptional, not normative, which is the opposite of how scripture approaches the issue. See my discussion of Thomas Aquinas and the Catechism Of The Catholic Church in comment 36 above. As I said earlier, justification through faith alone makes better sense of the normativity of justification prior to or without baptism.

Even if you were to argue that such cases are the minority rather than the majority, you'd still have to address the nature of those minority cases. Why were people justified prior to or without baptism when baptism was easily available to them? As I noted earlier, most of the Biblical examples of justification prior to or without baptism don't involve circumstances like those of the thief on the cross. You can speculate about how every one of those cases might involve exceptional circumstances that we're not aware of, but justification through faith alone explains all of those passages consistently, without the need to multiply speculative qualifications and make so many exemptions.

You're also not addressing what I said about how baptism is defined in a non-justificatory manner in 1 Peter 3:21.

You're not addressing what I said about the non-justificatory nature of Jesus' baptism during His earthly ministry (John 4:1-2). You could argue that the nature of His baptism changed later, but adding yet another discontinuity to your view would make it even more problematic.

And while you appeal to Bryan's posts on some of the issues we're discussing, an appeal to those posts doesn't explain how you would respond to what I said in response to Bryan. It's not as though I haven't provided a counterargument.


  1. Jesus never said that in order to enter the kingdom of God we must have our feet washed.

  2. Jesus never said that in order to enter the kingdom of God we must be "baptized."

  3. "Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me....For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you" (Jn 13:8,15).

  4. Matt. 28:19-20 - Jesus commands the apostles to baptize all people "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

    Acts 2:38 - Peter commands them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ in order to be actually forgiven of sin, not just to partake of a symbolic ritual.

    Mark 16:16 - Jesus said "He who believes AND is baptized will be saved." Jesus says believing is not enough. Baptism is also required. This is because baptism is salvific, not just symbolic. The Greek text also does not mandate any specific order for belief and baptism, so the verse proves nothing about a “believer’s baptism.”

    John 3:3,5 - unless we are "born again" of water and Spirit in baptism, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The Greek word for the phrase "born again" is "anothen" which literally means “begotten from above.” See, for example, John 3:31 where "anothen" is so used. Baptism brings about salvation, not just a symbolism of our salvation.

    Acts 8:12-13; 36; 10:47 - if belief is all one needs to be saved, why is everyone instantly baptized after learning of Jesus?

    Acts 16:15; 31-33; 18:8; 19:2,5 - these texts present more examples of people learning of Jesus, and then immediately being baptized. If accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior is all one needs to do to be saved, then why does everyone in the early Church immediately seek baptism?

    Acts 9:18 - Paul, even though he was directly chosen by Christ and immediately converted to Christianity, still had to be baptized to be forgiven his sin.

    Acts 22:16 - Ananias tells Paul, "arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins," even though Paul was converted directly by Jesus Christ. This proves that Paul's acceptance of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior was not enough to be forgiven of his sin and saved. The sacrament of baptism is required.

    Acts 22:16 - further, Ananias' phrase "wash away" comes from the Greek word "apolouo." "Apolouo" means an actual cleansing which removes sin. It is not a symbolic covering up of sin. Even though Jesus chose Paul directly in a heavenly revelation, Paul had to be baptized to have his sins washed away.

    Rom. 6:4 - in baptism, we actually die with Christ so that we, like Him, might be raised to newness of life. This means that, by virtue of our baptism, our sufferings are not in vain. They are joined to Christ and become efficacious for our salvation.

    1 Cor. 6:11 - Paul says they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, in reference to baptism. The “washing” of baptism gives birth to sanctification and justification, which proves baptism is not just symbolic.

    Gal. 3:27 - whoever is baptized in Christ puts on Christ. Putting on Christ is not just symbolic. Christ actually dwells within our soul.

    Col. 2:12 - in baptism, we literally die with Christ and are raised with Christ. It is a supernatural reality, not just a symbolic ritual. The Scriptures never refer to baptism as symbolic.

    Titus 3:5-7 – “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs of eternal life.” This is a powerful text which proves that baptism regenerates our souls and is thus salvific. The “washing of regeneration” “saves us.” Regeneration is never symbolic, and the phrase “saved us” refers to salvation. By baptism, we become justified by His grace (interior change) and heirs of eternal life (filial adoption). Because this refers to baptism, the verse is about the beginning of the life in Christ. No righteous deeds done before baptism could save us. Righteous deeds after baptism are necessary for our salvation.

  5. There is also a definite parallel between John 3:5 and Titus 3:5: (1) John 3:5 – enter the kingdom of God / Titus 3:5 – He saved us. (2) John 3:5 – born of water / Titus 3:5 – washing. (3) John 3:5 – born of the Spirit / Titus 3:5 – renewal in the Spirit.

    Heb. 10:22 - in baptism, our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience (again, dealing with the interior of the person) as our bodies are washed with pure water (the waters of baptism). Baptism regenerates us because it removes original sin, sanctifies our souls, and effects our adoption as sons and daughters in Jesus Christ.

    1 Peter 3:21 - Peter expressly writes that “baptism, corresponding to Noah's ark, now saves you; not as a removal of dirt from the body, but for a clear conscience. “ Hence, the verse demonstrates that baptism is salvific (it saves us), and deals with the interior life of the person (purifying the conscience, like Heb. 10:22), and not the external life (removing dirt from the body). Many scholars believe the phrase "not as a removal of dirt from the body" is in reference to the Jewish ceremony of circumcision (but, at a minimum, shows that baptism is not about the exterior, but interior life). Baptism is now the “circumcision” of the new Covenant (Col. 2:11-12), but it, unlike the old circumcision, actually saves us, as Noah and his family were saved by water.

    Again, notice the parallel between Heb. 10:22 and 1 Peter 3:21: (1) Heb. 10:22 – draw near to the sanctuary (heaven) / 1 Peter 3:21 – now saves us. (2) Heb. 10:22 – sprinkled clean, washed with pure water / 1 Peter 3:20-21 – saved through water, baptism. (3) Heb. 10:22 – from an evil conscience (interior) / 1 Peter 3:21 – for a clear conscience (interior). Titus 3:6 and 1 Peter 3:21 also specifically say the grace and power of baptism comes “through Jesus Christ” (who transforms our inner nature).

    This is why every church father who has ever written about baptism confirms the Catholic Church's teaching about baptism.

    Diversions about foot washing are just diversions. Incidentally, Steve, I never saw foot washing in Presbyterian churches but every year feet are washed in the Catholic Church.

    When was the last time you washed the feet of the less fortunate?

  6. Blogahon,

    1. You're quoting many passages that Jason and I have already dealt with. Absent a counterargument from you, you're stuck in the land that time forgot.

    2. Some of the passages you quote contradict your own position. Why quote Mk 16:16 on the salvific necessity of baptism when your own denomination denies the necessity of baptism for salvation? So you're appeal is self-refuting. You disprove Catholicism by trying to prove it. Thanks for the assist.

    3. I've read your interpretation of 1 Pet 3:21 as well as Karen Jobes'. You're no match for the competition.

    I've read your interpretation of Jn 3:5 as well as Carson's. You're no match for the competition.

    I've read your interpretation of Gal 2:27 as well as Gordon Fee's. You're no match for the competition.

    I've read your interpretation of Tit 3:5 as well as Marshall's, Mounce's, and Towner's. You're no match for the competition.

    I've read your interpretation of Acts 2:38 as well as Bock's, Stein's, and Peterson's. You're no match for the competition. And so on and so forth.

    If and when you interact with the best of the opposing exegesis, and show where it goes wrong, then we've have something to discuss. As it stands, your preschool prooftexting leaves me underwhelmed.

    4. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Jn 3:5 and Titus 3:5 are parallel, then the nonbaptismal meaning of Jn 3:5 would corroborate the nonbaptismal meaning of Tit 3:5, and vice versa. Thanks for making our case.

    5. As many scholars have pointed out, the author of Hebrews employs cultic categories involving ritual purity and impurity. That concerns a person's status, not his interior state.

    6.Your interpretation of Jn 3:5 is inept. You can't even grasp the question at issue. The point at issue is not whether what Jesus refers to is salvific. Rather, the point at issue is whether what is salvific (in Jn 3:5) refers to baptism.

    Likewise, the point at issue in Tit 3:5 is not whether what Paul refers to is salvific. Rather, the point at issue is whether what is salvific (in Tit 3:5) refers to baptism.

    Try to acquire the mental discipline to at least perceive the issue in dispute. As it stands, you're tilting at windmills.

    "This is why every church father who has ever written about baptism confirms the Catholic Church's teaching about baptism."

    i) Since the Bible wasn't written by or to the church father's, they don't have the inside track on the meaning of Scripture.

    ii) And since your church adjudicates who is or isn't a church father, you've loaded the dice.

    "Incidentally, Steve, I never saw foot washing in Presbyterian churches."

    i) How often do you attend a Presbyterian church on Maundy-Thursday?

    ii) Why assume I only attend Presbyterian churches?

    iii) Why assume that foot-washing only applies to the "less fortunate"?

    I also note you're use of the passive voice: "feet are washed." So is this a rite which all Catholics practice? Or is this delegated to the clergy?

  7. BTW, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that your interpretations are correct. I notice that you didn't quote any Magisterial commentaries to arrive at your interpretations. Instead, you had to resort to private judgment in doing what passes for exegesis on your part.

    So if you happen to be right, you pay for that pyrrhic victory at the cost of thereby endorsing the Protestant right of private judgment. Thanks for disproving Catholicism by trying to prove it.

  8. Incidentally, Catholic Bible scholars like Raymond Brown, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Daniel Harrington all admit that the Long Ending of Mark is a scribal interpolation. So who should we believe: a Catholic insurance salesman, or Catholic Bible scholars?

    I'm afraid Catholicism is a blueprint for anarchy.

  9. As Steve noted, Blogahon has ignored what we've already written about the baptismal passages in scripture. Similarly, Blogahon ignored my refutation of a series of false claims he made about justification last month. See here. In a more recent thread, he ignored much of what I wrote in response to him and distorted what he did respond to. And his latest posts come after he said he was going to stop posting here. Just afterward, he changed his screen name to Blogahon, without telling us who he was, and kept posting. In this thread, he just lifted a series of comments about baptismal passages from a Catholic web site (see here) without indicating that he was using somebody else's material. Blogahon is now banned.

    For somebody who claims to be justified through works, he doesn't show much concern about his behavior.