Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Show and tell

A commenter left some remarks on this post:

I will respond here. The commenter is Lutheran. Since I'm a Calvinist, I'll use Calvinism and Lutheranism as the frame of reference:

2. Does the N.T. assume the the sacraments are just symbols? If sacramentalists assume the reality why can you just assume they are merely symbols? 

i) What I said was NT language is consistent with a symbolic interpretation. So, you'd need something additional to tip the balance either way. 

ii) We have two sets of passages: those that index salvation to sacraments and those that index salvation to  faith and repentance apart from sacraments.  

How do we harmonize those passages? In theory, there are different ways:

a) Does that mean some people can be saved by baptism and/or communion apart from faith and repentance? Are there different paths to salvation? Presumably, you disagree. 

b) On the symbolic interpretation, the sacraments function as vivid theological interpretations of salvation. For instance, the eucharist depicts the death of Christ as a vicarious sacrifice. It teaches Christians that the death of Christ was a penal substitutionary atonement. 

The point is not that we are saved by taking communion, but that communion teaches us the meaning of the Crucifixion. Likewise, because water is a cleansing agent, baptism becomes an emblem of forgiveness. And possibility new birth. That's another way of teaching us another facet of salvation. Show and tell. 

c) On a sacramentalist interpretation, you might try to combine them. You might say the passages which index salvation to faith and repentance are incomplete. These must be supplemented by the sacraments. There are, however, problems with that. 

In depends in part on your overall theology. For instance, Lutheranism affirms universal grace and universal atonement. But if saving grace is channeled through Word and Sacrament, then that localizes saving grace. Saving grace is for all and only those who hear the Gospel and/or receive the sacraments.

Yet at many times and places, people never hear the Gospel and never have access to the sacraments. How can grace be universal if the opportunities to receive grace fall far short of universality? Universal atonement might suggest a universal provision of grace, but that's narrowed by the limited availability of Word and Sacrament. So there's an internal contradiction in that theological system.

Conversely, Calvinism rejects a one-to-one-correspondence between saving grace and sacramental grace. On the one hand, people can be saved apart from the sacraments. On the other hand, some people who received the sacraments are damned. 

So how you harmonize them depends on how that fits together with other things you think the Bible teaches. That can rule out certain harmonistic options. 

The N.T does not say the cross saves us, but Christ on the cross saves us. 

Actually, it says things like:

and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph 2:16). 
by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col 2:14).

So it sometimes uses the "cross" in absolute constructions. But more to the point, it's clearly employs the cross as a symbol for the redemptive work of Christ, where the cross is a stand-in for the atonement.  

The N.T. states that baptism now saves us. Those are clear texts. We can accept them as is or as the above post tries to do is to simply explain things away.

i) In terms of literary genre, narrative texts can be clearer than epistolary texts, because historical narratives contain local color and atmospheric details regarding the nature of the rite. That's why it's easy to establish water baptism from the Gospels and Acts. By contrast, the NT letter lack those contextual clues, so it's harder to determine if they are referring to literal "baptism" or using theological metaphors. 

ii) You assume that baptisma means "baptism." But I cited a range of definitions from the standard NT Greek lexicon. 

iii) Another problem with your simplistic appeal is that everyone adds qualifications to that passage. For instance, Lutherans think it's possible for someone who's been baptized to lose their salvation. But in that case, baptism didn't save apostates. Baptism didn't save them in the long-run. 

So you don't just "accept it as it." You yourself "explain it away" based on other requirements of Lutheran theology. 

3. Water gives life with the Word and the water in our baptism. It also means death to the old adam as he is drowned in the waters of baptism.

Now you're claiming that baptism signifies both life and death. Why should I accept your contention? Where did that come from? Perhaps you're alluding to Lutheran prooftexts for baptismal regeneration (e.g. Jn 3:5; Tit 3:5)? If so, I don't grant your interpretation. 

4.i) Does that mean baptism necessary for salvation? Can you be saved apart from baptism? No. The Word of God can convert a sinner. The Spirit can work apart from the waters of Baptism, but this is the normal scenario. (Infant baptism). 

Okay, but notice how that complicates your simplistic appeal to 1 Pet 3:21. You've now conditionalized 1 Pet 3:21. If I'm baptized, then baptism saves me. 

If, on the other hand, I believe the Gospel, but die in a traffic accident before receiving baptism, then is wasn't baptism that saved me, but something other than baptism. 

That, however, isn't what 1 Pet 3:21 says. According to you, it says "baptism saves you," yet you admit there are situations in which baptism doesn't save–because something else did the saving. Baptism didn't save the person now or later. Baptism didn't figure in his salvation at all. Not now, not ever. 

ii) Does that mean baptism sufficient for salvation? Is baptism alone all you need to be saved? Baptism saves. It gives us Christ and all his benefits and grants us faith to trust the promises of Christ. Faith is then nourished by the Word, the Lord's Supper, and the absolution we receive as members of the church.

i) That's ambiguous. Did Adolf Hitler go to heaven while Anne Frank went to hell? Did baptism save Hitler? 

ii) What exactly saves you in Lutheranism? Is it universal atonement? Baptism? Justification? Absolution? The Eucharist? Is it one thing? More than one thing? Looks like a shell game.  

iii) Moreover, if 1 Pet 3:21 means "baptism saves you," then that, by itself, doesn't distinguish between the necessity and the sufficiency of baptism. So you're adding lots of qualifications to your prooftext that not only go beyond what it says, but diminish what it says. 

iii) What baptism saves you?
a) Does the efficacy of baptism depend on the mode of baptism (e.g. immersion, sprinkling)? No. Though Sprinkling would be a prefered choice.

But 1 Pet 3:21 doesn't say that. So you've added a specification to the text beyond the actual wording.

b) Does the efficacy of baptism depend on the intent of the officiant? No.

But there are theological traditions that think it does matter (e.g. Roman Catholicism). 

c) In the case of adults, does the efficacy depend on the intent of the candidate? We approach adults as the N.T. church would have. They are expressing faith so we baptize and catechize them. We trust the Spirit has produced faith in them through the Word.

But 1 Pet 3:21 doesn't say that. So you've added a specification to the text beyond the actual wording.

d) Does the efficacy of baptism depend on the orthodoxy of the officiant? Is baptism performed by a heretic valid or invalid? No. 

"No" to valid or invalid?

e) Does the efficacy of baptism depend on words as well as the action (e.g. a Trinitarian formula)? We should confess a Trinitarian Baptism as we are placing the name of God of the candidate for baptism. Lutherans will accept other baptisms except from if from certain hereodox charismatic sects or cults like the Mormons or Jehovah's witness.

So you've added another qualification to 1 Pet 3:21, beyond the actual wording. 

f) Can a layman perform baptism, or must it be a church officer? Yes, but it would be prefered if the local pastor would be the one to baptize and they will be the pastor of the baptized.

Notice that you have to supply all these specifications from outside your prooftext. The text itself doesn't say the presence or absence of these qualifications is what makes the baptism in question salvific. So it's not nearly as "plain and clear" as you imagine. 

5. I don't get trying to nail a point with the word and how many times it is used. There should be clear enough evidence with 4 usages relating baptism and salvation to drive home a point. The most clear and plainest reading of the texts should be accepted.

i) Because you can't simply import the entire context back into the meaning of an individual word. You're getting that, not from the meaning of the word itself, but from the surrounding text in which it's used. A word doesn't mean everything the context means. 

ii) For a word to become a technical term (apart from stimulative definition), it must be employed often enough in a particular context to acquire a specialized connotation through repeated usage. Three or four occurrences, even if these were unambiguously about baptism, hardly establishes stereotypical usage. For the context of a word to rub off on the word, it must be used often enough to trigger that context even when the context is absent. In the nature of the case, idiomatic usage requires a certain frequency before it counts as idiomatic. 

Take the word "martyr," which derives from "witness"–in secular Greek. And that's how it's employed in NT Greek. But in patristic usage, it becomes a technical term for Christians who were executed for their faith. That's not what it originally meant. It eventually picked up that specialized connotation through frequent contextual usage. Once that association is cemented, it has that meaning independent of an explicit setting where the God's people are put to death for their faith. 

Consider Antipas (Rev 2:13). At that stage in the evolution of the language, martus means "witness." It is not, as of yet, a technical term for "martyr". Although Antipas is, indeed, a martyr, it's not the word itself, but the context, which supplies that identity. However, it is cumulative occurrences like that which will turn it into a technical term for "martyr". 

Another example is how Catholics bungle justification because they fail to distinguish between Paul's specialized, idiosyncratic use of the dikaioo word-group and the non-technical usage of James. Paul's repeated usage is jargonistic in a way that James is not. 

6. There is a literal death in baptism( the old adam, and a new life is given as we are united to Christ by baptism and given faith to trust the promises of God.

That's equivocal. You're comparing physical death to the mortification of sin.  

7. The context doesn't reach to the Lord's Supper. It is enough for Paul to stress our unity in that we have 1 Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father. The fact that baptism is placed in this context would highlight the importance placed on baptism and its connection to faith, and our unity with the Lord and the Father.

Why is baptism a hallmark of unity, but not communion? 

8. I do not think this passage demonstrators anything different that Luke records in Acts, John in his Gospel, or Peter. Baptism kills the old adam and grant us life and faith in Christ. 

i) You're not exegeting Col 2:12 on its own terms. Rather, you're glossing it in reference to random material outside the text and context. 

ii) In addition, scholars (e.g. F. F. Bruce, M. J. Harris, B. Metzger, D. Moo, P. T. O'Brien, R. McL. Wilson) generally don't think it uses the same word as 1 Pet 3:21–much less Acts and the Gospel of John, which don't use that word, either. 

You're overlooking the fact that I'm referencing passages which use the same Greek noun: baptisma

9. Noah's family passed through the waters of death in the Arc and were brought to new life. We to pass through the waters of death in baptism and are raised to new life in Christ. The water does not save us, but the Word of God (the promises) united to the Word save us as we are united to Christ. 

But you're not getting all that from 1 Pet 3:21. 

Again, Lutherans do believe that people can be saved apart from the waters of Baptism because we do believe in that the Word of God can bring new life to men. We trust God at His Word. He saves through Baptism and He can save through His Word.

You're interjecting distinctions into your prooftext that aren't contained in your prooftext. So appealing to the "clearest, plainest" text is deceptive. What you've really done is to begin with Lutheran systematic theology, then modify 1 Pet 3:21 to shoehorn into that preexisting framework. 


  1. Makes one wonder about Lutheran soteriology for OT saints.

  2. There is much to respond to here. CR they were Christians if they trusted the promises of God and the Messiah.

    Do you have proof texts for saying that baptism is an emblem or that communion simply teaches us about the Crucifixion? There may not be as many passages as you would like, but still passages representing baptism as bring salvation and the Lord's Supper being the body and blood of our Lord.

    Lutherans believe in universal objective justification. Christ died for ever sin for everyone. This atonement is received through faith by the waters of Baptism and/or the regenerating work of the Word of God. This is why Christ tell us to go out into all the world proclaiming & baptizing. Some may not hear or may reject the faith, but I think we can agree from Romans that they are responsible for their sins.

    Lutherans believe that someone can go from being regenerate to fall back into sin. I could quote the verses, but you probably know them and we would go back the proof text agrument. (I think a lot of this boils down to how much you need from Scripture to set up a doctrine of the church) The water and the Word in baptism did save, but a person can reject the faith, curse God, and face eternal punishment. This doesn't negate what we believe. It is why Luther taught that all of the Christian life is one of repentance and daily returning to our baptism. When someone stops doing this and chooses to reject the faith for sin they have denied the Spirit, denied Christ, and have become an apostate. Hebrews warns of this quite clearly and Romans 10 as well.

    Baptism saves, but hearing of the Word of God can save as well. A person can be saved apart from the waters of baptism, but this is not the normal means by which God works. Peter's sermon claims to repent and be baptized in Acts 2 and you will be saved for the promise is for them and the children. The standard life of a Christian should be found in that they were baptized by their Christian parents and raised in the faith. For our mission work it is simple we preach the Gospel and to those who wish to be saved they may confess the faith and receive baptism. The Word is what makes baptism regenerating as is the Word as it is preached can regenerate. Same Spirit using both as means.

    Again on Hitler. Baptism is not some once saved always saved calvanistic doctrine. Hitler, unless he repented of his sins and turned in faith would be just as damned as Anne Frank unless she repented and turned in faith to Christ.

    More later

    1. Your comment misses the point. For instance, you initially said: "The N.T. states that baptism now saves us. Those are clear texts. We can accept them as is or as the above post tries to do is to simply explain things away."

      But in practice you don't accept 1 Pet 3:21 "as is". For instance, you claim it says "baptism saves," but when I cite Hitler as a counterexample, you admit that baptism didn't save Hitler. So you end up on the opposite side of where you began.

      Baptism saves, Hitler was baptized, yet Hitler was damned.

      That's hardly taking your prooftext "as is," or at "face value."

      So your actual position is a far more complicated and qualified than your deceptively straightforward appeal to the "clear and plainest reading of the texts."

  3. "Lutherans believe in universal objective justification. Christ died for ever sin for everyone."

    Despite everything else you claim, if the statement above is true, then on what basis are men judged and condemned to everlasting punishment?

    Why is God so unjust as to exact punishment upon those for whom Christ suffered and died for all their sins? Why cosmic double-jeopardy?

    Christ either suffered and died for all the sins of all people, and therefore universalism is true.

    Or else Christ suffered and died for some of the sins of all people, and therefore all are condemned for eternity.

    Or else Christ died for all of the sins of some people, and those people will be redeemed in time and eternity.

    One of these is not like the others.