Thursday, May 27, 2021

Justification Apart From Baptism After The Time Of The Apostles

Gavin Ortlund recently posted a YouTube video about the common assertion that baptismal regeneration was universally accepted by the early church. Ortlund is a credobaptist, as I am. He discusses some of the relevant Biblical passages, whether infants should be baptized, and other issues, but not much is said about early views of the relation between baptism and justification. Some commenters beneath the video mentioned that they hadn't come across many discussions of such topics, presumably meaning that credobaptists rarely address the relevant patristic issues.

We've been discussing the issues here for many years, and I want to link some of those threads for anybody who's interested. See here for an overview of the history of belief in justification through faith alone between the time of the apostles and the Reformation. Read the comments section of the thread as well, since other relevant information is discussed there. Regarding how passages like John 3:5 supposedly were universally interpreted early on, see here. Timothy Kauffman has argued that the church fathers have often been misinterpreted on baptismal issues like these. I disagree with many of his conclusions, but you can go here for links to his material and my brief response to it. Ortlund often referred to 1 Peter 3:21 in his video. I don't think the salvation mentioned by Peter is justification, so the reference to salvation isn't even relevant, but what the passage goes on to say probably contradicts the concept of justification through baptism. See here for a discussion of that passage and other Biblical material. You can find many other posts about the relevant Biblical passages elsewhere in our archives. See here on Galatians 3:27, here on the idea that baptism isn't a work and the notion that it should be assumed to be present in passages that don't mention it, and so on.


  1. So why are both Jesus and Paul somewhat ambivalent on the subject of water baptism if it's so important? Can you comment on its significance as a sacrament or symbolic act of burial? If burial, then why water and not dirt? How is it that baptism precedes Christ's ministry? Comment on second temple Judaic ritual washing? Do anything difficult beside throw around words like "credo-Baptist" and "patristics?" Sorry, that came a cross snarky. You've obviously sweated buckets of Calvinistic non-works in your studies.

    1. That's an irrational and inconsistent response. I've done more than "throw words around", as the articles I linked demonstrate. No explanation should be needed for why I consider the doctrine of justification so important. If you need an explanation, then that's a problem with you, not me, and you can find an explanation by thinking about the subject more and by reading the articles I cited and the passages of scripture discussed there, for example. As I said above, if you want more information on other aspects of baptism, you can watch Ortlund's video or search the archives of this blog. Or you can consult whatever other source you want. But it's not my responsibility to address every issue related to baptism, or the particular ones you want me to address, in the process of a thread like this one. Ortlund's video was posted in a particular context, and this thread was posted in a particular context, and neither context requires addressing every issue associated with baptism or the ones you brought up. Given how upset you suggest you are that I haven't addressed those other issues, haven't done enough that's "difficult", and so on, your own lack of work should upset you even more. I've done far more than you have here. Even if I hadn't, so what?

    2. "So why are both Jesus and Paul somewhat ambivalent on the subject of water baptism if it's so important? Can you comment on its significance as a sacrament or symbolic act of burial?"

      For a defense of paedobaptism from a Protestant perspective, see a work like "On Baptism and Its Proper Subjects" by Paul Manata.

      For a critique of paedobaptism from a Protestant perspective, see a work like "A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism" by Greg Welty.

      Both are dated, but they're still decent starting points.

      "You've obviously sweated buckets of Calvinistic non-works in your studies."

      Jason isn't a Calvinist.

  2. Ok before I read your response. What are you doing up in the middle of the night? Sleep hygiene is important for mental health.

    1. What makes you think Jason is "up in the middle of the night"? What makes you think he isn't getting good sleep hygiene? Maybe he just wakes up early and goes to bed early.

      To take a popular example, Jocko wakes up quite early every day (around 4am, give or take). See Jocko's IG account where he posts what time he gets up each day. Maybe Jason has a similar practice.

      Besides, why do you care so much about when another person is awake or asleep?

  3. I lied. I just read it now. So yeah work. Work is hard. Hard work is even harder. But by difficult I mean requiring insight, not sweat. I asked you about the evident ambivalence of two New Testament people toward water dunking, not about justification, which is important no doubt about it. And I might be irrational but I listen.

    1. At the risk of stating the obvious, the context of Jason's post is not about baptism simpliciter, but about baptism and justification. Or baptismal regeneration in Gavin Ortlund's video.

      Are you Catholic?

  4. This same anonymous poster has been leaving comments like these in older threads, apparently not realizing that his posts were going directly into moderation:

    "Hi Calvinist knuckleheads, it's not faith vs works. It's faith vs works 'of the law.' It's the legalistic Judaic mindset that Paul's always opposing, and that mindset is your own. Faith vs works is sunk by James. Aw, battleship, what a fun game!"

    He has a frivolous mindset, he reasons poorly, he's inconsistent, he makes no attempt to interact with counterarguments we've already offered in many places that are easy to find, and he's disrespectful when nothing warrants it. He's wasting everybody's time, and he's now banned.

  5. Hi, you state that you disagree with Kauffman's main thesis (that his explanation leaves out a lot and the quotes he does explain have weak explanations). does that mean:
    1. Catholics are right on the unanimity of support of Baptismal regeneration?
    2. However going off #2 they are only looking at it with one eye open and ignoring the evidence against BR that is also present?
    3. Are there articles/quotes/blogs/extensive material that show this inconsistency?
    4. Are there any fathers who deny BR fully?
    5. Is there a direct analysis of which quotes you think Kauffman left out and why the quotes he has are inconsistent/his explanations aren't complete?

    1. Hi Wilson,

      The first of my threads linked in my original post discusses baptism and justification in the patristic era. I explain there why I don't think baptismal regeneration was universally held. The thread doesn't discuss every patristic source, which would take a lot of time and effort, but it addresses some of the sources involved and provides some examples that illustrate my points. I don't know what you have in mind by "deny [baptismal regeneration] fully". If you're suggesting that something has to have a particular explicitness, length, or some other such characteristic in order to be "fully" there, then I reject the premise, much as I would reject the assumption that a source must use the term "Trinity", must provide a lengthy discussion of Trinitarianism with something like the language of later church councils, etc. in order to be cited in support of Trinitarianism. Regarding Kauffman's work, as I mentioned in the post I linked, it was several years ago when I read his material, and I was only providing a brief overview. Given how lengthy his articles are, it would take a lot of time and effort to go through all of the citations involved and address them in the manner you seem to be asking for. That's not something I did when I read his articles, and I have no plans to do it in the future.

    2. What I mean is a more direct statement of what baptism is without mentioning "for the forgiveness of sins" or something to the like. I understand Clement of Rome is cited, but to me he doesn't even cover baptism, so I do not find this convincing to argue for our side. I can assume baptism is non justificatory because he does not mention it but is it non regenerative? We can't really argue with that to a RC.

      At least with the Trinity it is not an argument from silence but positive made statements in the surviving literature.

    3. Wilson,

      This is a matter of what was believed by historical figures. And what we're after when we study history is what's probable or the best explanation of the evidence, not whether we have something like "a more direct statement of what baptism is". For example, the account of the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14, the thief on the cross, or Cornelius in Acts 10:44-48 doesn't have to provide us "a more direct statement of what baptism is" in order to give us evidence of how those individuals were justified, whether and how baptism was involved, and what the author of those documents believed about the subject. And when multiple authors give us multiple passages like the ones I just cited, we can reach further conclusions about how widespread the belief in question was, how unlikely it is that every person who seems to have been justified apart from baptism was some kind of exception to a rule, etc. None of this reasoning requires the sort of "more direct statement" you're asking for.

      And it isn't just Evangelicals who accept that sort of reasoning. It's commonplace throughout life, including in other religious contexts. We reach conclusions about the probable meaning of Hebrew and Greek terms based on the details of the contexts in which those terms are used, which are often complicated and controversial issues, we make adjustments according to what seems probable based on other documents and archeological artifacts we discover, and so on. People frequently complain about a lack of clarity, whether with regard to reconstructing the Biblical text, translational issues, Biblical prophecy, the canon, Trinitarianism, or whatever else. But we have to make judgments based on the evidence we have, even if it's not what we'd like to have. People often make the mistake of confusing preferences with necessities, as if their preference for a higher probability proves that a higher probability is needed before they can reach a conclusion about the truthfulness of a matter. But any probability will do. You can't reject the implications of a lower probability just because you'd prefer to have a higher one.

      You write, "I understand Clement of Rome is cited, but to me he doesn't even cover baptism". You say that without interacting with any of the arguments I cited to the contrary. You then comment, "I can assume baptism is non justificatory because he does not mention it". How do you reconcile that second comment about Clement with your first one? If his not mentioning baptism in a particular context provides evidence for how he viewed baptism, how can you say he "doesn't even cover baptism"? To reconcile your first comment with the second one, the first comment would have to have a meaning that's insignificant in this context, for reasons I've explained. People frequently reach conclusions about what Clement and other sources believed about justification, the canon, Trinitarian issues, textual transmission, the meaning of certain Greek words, and other subjects without the sort of more explicit evidence you seem to be asking for.

      You write, "At least with the Trinity it is not an argument from silence but positive made statements in the surviving literature." I've discussed the relevant implications of Clement's positive statements and the positive statements of other sources. You would have to accept the implications of an argument from silence if that sort of argument were all that was being offered, but I haven't just appealed to silence. I'm using the same reasoning I apply to the Biblical documents on baptismal issues and other issues, the same reasoning that both Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals accept throughout life, in both religious and non-religious contexts.

    4. Thanks Jason, I'm weary to argue between the lines or from silence because Catholics abuse this so much with the Papacy in tradition and from Scripture. It is seemingly always "implied" this or "must be interpreted through out tradition with that" with them. Have a good Memorial Day!

    5. Wilson,

      I hope you have a good Memorial Day as well.

      It would be irrational and impossible to avoid all reasoning that involves implications. As I said earlier, we all rely on such reasoning in our everyday lives. Reconstructing the text of the patristic documents, how we interpret the words, and other aspects of what's involved in discussions like this one involve many conclusions based on what's implicit rather than explicit, what we've concluded in an indirect rather than a direct manner, and so on. That's not equivalent to "arguing between the lines" or saying something "must be interpreted through our tradition". I gave you Biblical examples of what I'm referring to. We don't conclude that a passage like Luke 18:10-14 or 23:39-43 must be irrelevant to baptismal justification because it doesn't mention baptism. Rather, we can reach some conclusions about the likely absence of baptism in those passages by means of what's implied by the text and context. When somebody argues for such implications, as I have with those Biblical passages and with Clement of Rome's material and other sources, anybody who disagrees with my argument can offer a counterargument. I'm not saying that these sources "must be interpreted through my tradition", nor am I "arguing between the lines". Similarly, you acknowledged earlier that "I can assume baptism is non justificatory because he does not mention it". It doesn't follow that you're "arguing between the lines" or saying that Clement "must be interpreted through your tradition".

  6. Sorry I called you knuckleheads. Are you so easily offended? Why is Paul so ambivalent on water baptism? Let's start there. It's a valid question. None of your refs are adequate and I want you to answer it anyway. You posted at 4:30 and 5:00 am. Maybe you're a baker. And if you're not a Calvinist, aren't you at least Calvinistic, the rough Protestant equivalent of Jesuistic, which is to say intellectually nimble but spiritually of questionable intention. And can't things be consistent and wrong at the same time? And can't a foolish sinner like me get an answer from godly men like you? I think these are all good questions.

  7. "Sorry I called you knuckleheads. Are you so easily offended?"

    So this is a "sorry, not sorry"? Sorry I insulted you, but you guys have thin skin? You have such a winsome demeanor. It's hard to imagine why more people don't engage you when you come in with such a pleasant attitude. /s

    "Why is Paul so ambivalent on water baptism? Let's start there. It's a valid question."

    It's just your naked assertion that Paul is "ambivalent". What makes you think Paul is "ambivalent"? You never say so. You just assume so.

    Besides, even if it's true (arguendo) that Paul is "ambivalent" about water baptism, so what? What follows from this regarding baptismal regeneration or baptism and justification? What's your point?

    "None of your refs are adequate and I want you to answer it anyway."

    I see. You're just hand-waving away what Paul Manata and Greg Welty wrote. However, if you were arguing in good faith, you'd try to explain why you think what they wrote is not "adequate" rather than dismiss what they wrote.

    "You posted at 4:30 and 5:00 am. Maybe you're a baker."

    You continue to have a strange interest in Jason being awake at 4:30 and 5:00 am. Maybe you're a stalker.

    "And if you're not a Calvinist, aren't you at least Calvinistic, the rough Protestant equivalent of Jesuistic"

    "Calvinistic" is "the rough Protestant equivalent of Jesuistic"? Really? How so? On the face of it, Calvinists and Jesuits have radically different beliefs about a great many theological and related matters.

    "which is to say intellectually nimble but spiritually of questionable intention."

    Lol. So this is main reason why you think Calvinism is "the rough equivalents" of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)?

    You might be interested to know that anyone could simply assert the same thing about you, that you may be "intellectually nimble but spiritually of questionable intention", and presumably you are neither a Calvinist nor a Jesuit!

    "And can't things be consistent and wrong at the same time?"

    For example, a Buddhist might have an internally consistent worldview, but still have the wrong worldview.

    "And can't a foolish sinner like me get an answer from godly men like you?"

    No one here claimed to be "godly" nor said that you're "foolish", though you're not exactly helping your case regarding the latter.

    "I think these are all good questions."

    And I think the answers we gave you are good answers.

  8. Jason - good discussion.
    Sorry I am late commenting.

    I thought Gavin Ortlund's point about "baptism" or "baptism now saves you" is a metonymy (like "the blood of Christ" is a metonymy for the whole theology of the cross, the atonement, sin, Propitiation, forgiveness, justification, substitution, satisfaction of the wrath of God, the resurrection, etc.) The baptism metonymy is both in some NT texts (Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21) and early church texts, especially Justin Martyr.

    That was very helpful.
    Thanks for your consistently good articles and the links to past articles.
    Ken Temple

    1. Thanks, Ken! I appreciate the encouragement.

      I should say, though, that I don't think metonymy is the best explanation for Acts 2:38 or 1 Peter 3:21. I agree that metonymy is one of the explanatory options to consider, that it is a form of communication people sometimes use, but I don't think it's the best explanation of the material under consideration here. Anybody who's interested can read my material on Acts 2 and 1 Peter 3 linked above for a discussion of what I consider better explanatory options.

    2. Mainly I thought the metonymy explanation explains the passages in Justin Martyr on baptism. (and other Early church fathers explanations of baptism)

      not so much 1 Peter 3:21.

      Acts 2:38 seems to be the issue of "causal eis" and that repentance is the cause of forgiveness, but metonymy helps a little because the word "faith" and "trust" is not there.