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....
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
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.