Tuesday, May 14, 2024

What should we make of the discussion of confession in Romans 10?

Somebody wrote to me on Facebook:

I wanted to push back on your claim that Romans 10 precludes baptismal regeneration. Notice that Paul states:

"...for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved."

I like the way the KJV renders verse 10:

"For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

Notice that just as with the heart a man believes *unto* salvation, so the man with his mouth confesses *unto* salvation.

This entails that *public confession* is an essential prerequisite for salvation, but this public confession is not distinguished from faith. Obviously, the moment of public confession comes within the baptismal context. So, it stands to reason that baptismal regeneration (consisting in the public confession of one's inward faith) does not contradict Paul's view of faith. On the contrary, Paul's view of faith necessitates it.

My response:

You're making a series of problematic assumptions. Contrary to what you said, faith and confession are distinguished. That's why different terms are used for them, they're associated with different parts of the person (the heart and the mouth), etc. Furthermore, they're different conceptually. Faith and confession are distinct concepts, which is why different words are used to refer to them. Sometimes different words refer to the same concept, but different concepts accompany the differing words in this context. And the confession isn't referred to as "public". And there's no reason to think that a public confession would be equivalent to baptism. People can, and often do, publicly confess faith without the involvement of baptism. Equating public confession with baptism is gratuitous, involves a less simple (and, thus, less likely) interpretation, and is contrary to a lot of other evidence. I explained earlier why the exclusion of works at the opening of the chapter and the nearness of redemption referred to in verses 8-11 likely exclude baptism. The activities of the three parties involved (the senders, the person sent, and the person to whom he's sent) don't include baptism, and none of the Old Testament passages cited include it.

Why is confession included, then? Paul is making a point about the Jewish people and their Old Testament scriptures. So, he cites Deuteronomy 30:14 (in Romans 10:8). That passage mentions both the mouth and the heart. Paul wants to relate that passage to the Christian gospel (partly because it mentions the word, nearness, and the heart, three themes he often emphasizes when addressing justification), so he wants to have something to correspond to both the mouth and the heart mentioned in Deuteronomy. Romans 10:10 has righteousness being obtained through faith. Are we to believe that a person obtains righteousness through faith, but isn't justified yet, then obtains justification upon confessing Christ with his lips? That's a possible way to read the passage, but an unlikely one that would create more problems than it would solve. The best way to explain the reference to confession is to see the salvation associated with it as a reference to what's commonly called sanctification. The term "salvation" can be used to refer to a collection of categories that involve deliverance from sin, including both justification and sanctification. The term "saved" is used in a variety of ways, with the type of salvation involved depending on the context (Matthew 8:25, 1 Timothy 4:16, Hebrews 5:7, 9:28, 1 Peter 3:20, etc.). Paul had opened Romans 10 by framing the discussion in terms of obtaining righteousness. That happens through faith in verse 10. The reference to confession that comes afterward probably has to do with salvation in the sense of sanctification, and it's included only to complete the appeal to the Deuteronomy passage. There was no reference to confessing with the mouth prior to the citation of that passage, and he returns to referring only to faith just afterward. Since the Deuteronomy passage includes a few themes Paul wanted to include and often brought up elsewhere, he wanted to cite the passage, but doing so would involve bringing up the reference to the mouth found there. So, he addresses that reference to the mouth, even though it goes beyond his primary concern at the moment. In every passage describing the justification of individuals elsewhere, the individual is justified at the time of faith, typically with no confession involved (and no baptism). See Mark 2:5, 5:34, Luke 7:50, Acts 10:44-48, 19:2, Galatians 3:2, etc.

Even if Paul had been thinking that confession with the mouth is a means of obtaining justification (which is unlikely), it would have to be a form of confession consistent with the theme of the nearness of redemption (a theme he also refers to elsewhere). He opens his citation of the Deuteronomy passage in verse 8 with a reference to nearness. Confession with the mouth is something that can be done at any moment. That's not true of baptism. Rather, you have to make arrangements to have somebody else baptize you, travel to the place of baptism, etc. Whether that takes thirty seconds, thirty days, or whatever other amount of time, it's inconsistent with the theme of nearness Paul appeals to in Romans 10 and elsewhere. In our day, it's common for people to arrange a baptism to occur something like a few months or more after the time when they came to faith. To place justification at the time of baptism contradicts Romans 10 and other principles in scripture on so many levels.

So, the confession here isn't baptism, it's significantly different than baptism, it's salvific in a non-justificatory manner, and it probably was included by Paul only because a passage he cited in Deuteronomy for other reasons includes a reference to the mouth. Classifying the confession as a means of justification is problematic for multiple reasons mentioned above, conflicts with what Paul says elsewhere in Romans 10, and conflicts with what we see exemplified when the justification of individuals is described elsewhere (in the gospels, Acts, etc.).

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