Friday, February 05, 2010

Baptismal heresies

One of the stock arguments for baptismal regeneration is the claim that all the church fathers who spoke to this issue taught baptismal regeneration, and there’s a standing presumption that if a church father teaches something, then he’s transmitting apostolic teaching.

Let’s take the case of Hymenaeus (1 Tim 1:19-20; 2 Tim 2:17-18). Now, he has at least as good a claim to have known the apostles as any of the apostolic fathers. Indeed, to have firsthand knowledge of their teaching. Yet he’s a NT heretic.

What is more, while his heresy has an eschatological character, a baptismal heresy was apparently the catalyst:

“Some scholars suggest that the unorthodox view of the resurrection was the result of a reconfiguration (or misunderstanding) of Pauline teaching, and this seems the more promising way to go, particularly in the context of a Pauline community. In this there are two important points of contact with the earlier Paul. First, there may be a connection of some sort between the misunderstanding of the resurrection alluded to in 1 Cor 15:12-58 and 2 Tim 2:18. The argument is that the Spirit-enthusiasm in Corinth led to the belief that the End had arrived in a much fuller sense than Paul ever meant to teach. Evidence of this ‘overrealized’ eschatology is spread throughout the letter (1 Cor 4:8) and includes the resurrection misunderstanding alluded to in 1 Cor 15–which is not a Greek denial of bodily resurrection but rather something more like the radicalization of Pauline baptismal teaching through which it could be said that in one sense the community had been ‘raised with Christ’…The second broad Pauline touchstone is the stream of teaching in which he linked baptism with a present (preliminary or anticipatory) participation in Christ’s resurrection (Rom 6:3-8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:12)…In the present passage [2 Tim 2:17-18], the likelihood that Paul’s own baptismal/resurrection teaching had been misunderstood or misused is strengthened by the focus on Jesus’ resurrection in Paul’s recitation of his gospel (2:8) and his strong affirmation of the futurity of the believer’s resurrection promise in the slightly adjusted language of Rom 6 (2:11),” P. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (Eerdmans 2006), 528-29.

So this would be a case of a baptismal heresy cropping up in the NT church. And it’s easy to see how that could arise. If you have an exaggerated view of the sacraments, and if resurrection language is attributed to baptism, then it’s logical, given the (faulty) premise, to infer that baptism actually glorifies the baptismal candidate.

It’s the same hermeneutical framework which is used to justify baptism regeneration and baptismal justification. Taking these ascriptions literally. The sign does what it signifies. If baptism signifies regeneration, then it regenerates. If baptism signifies glorification, then it glorifies. In which case, the resurrection of the body occurs at the time of baptism.

But, of course, Paul has to combat that fallacious inference.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, ok, you can say, "Paul was a fighter", to the bitter end and pleasantries to follow!

    Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
    Heb 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
    Heb 12:3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.