Lately, when the topic of Baptism comes up on SE, there there seems to be a rush to disallow a view that would conclude that baptism conveys the forgiveness of sins.
My Researched Conclusion
God's word seems to be very clear on the topic. Consider the following passages:
“«25» Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας καθὼς καὶ ὁ χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς «26» ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι, «27» ἵνα παραστήσῃ αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ ἔνδοξον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν μὴ ἔχουσαν σπίλον ἢ ῥυτίδα ἤ τι τῶν τοιούτων, ἀλλ’ ἵνα ᾖ ἁγία καὶ ἄμωμος.” (Ἐφεσίους 5·25-27 THGNT-T)
In this passage, we note that water and word (Baptism) do something. They wash. And, in context, they wash from stains & blemishes, and present her (the church) as holy. Thus, they wash away sins.
Likewise in 1 Peter 3:21 we have the exceedingly clear words:
“ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σώζει βάπτισμα, οὐ σαρκὸς ἀπόθεσις ῥύπου, ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν, δι’ ἀναστάσεως Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ,” (Πέτρου α 3·21 THGNT-T)
Baptism saves. And notice the context: it doesn't rescue one from dirt and grime. Instead, it delivers a good conscience (salvation from sin). And even more so, its foundation is based on Christ's resurrection. That's what gives Baptism the power to actually save from sin.
So also, in Acts 2, we read:
“«38» Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε φησὶν καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος· «39» ὑμῖν γάρ ἐστιν ἡ ἐπαγγελία καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς εἰς μακράν, ὅσους ἂν προσκαλέσηται κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν.” (Πράξεις 2·38-39 THGNT-T)
The point that Peter makes here is that a person gets baptized for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins. (BDAG, s.v. “εἰς,” 290.) This is exceedingly clear.
Finally, we look at Romans 6:
“συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον, ἵνα ὥσπερ ἠγέρθη χριστὸς ἐκ νεκρῶν διὰ τῆς δόξης τοῦ πατρός, οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐν καινότητι ζωῆς περιπατήσωμεν.” (Ῥωμαίους 6·4 THGNT-T)
Paul lets us know that, through Baptism, we were buried into death. Then he gives us the intended purpose clause: So that through Baptism we would walk in newness of life. We note that the instrument used is not ones own will in this sentence. Instead, it is Baptism. Through Baptism we are enabled to walk in newness of life.
Notice then, in all these passages, Baptism isn't a good work that we perform for God. Baptism is a good work that he performs for/in us. In all of these passages we look at simple subject — verb — object constructions and see that, in Baptism, God is washing/forgiving/saving/giving newness of life through Baptism.
If the Bible here is so clear, then how/why do some Christian groups disallow the conclusion that Baptism conveys the forgiveness of sins?
The following are contexts for answers I will consider off-limits:
- Evidence not from the Greek NT. (e.g. based on English translations)
- Evidence from the Church Fathers (while the early church clearly and obviously concluded that Baptism saved, our faith rests on the Bible first)
- Evidence from the creeds (again, while the Nicene Creed, for example, clearly says that there's "one baptism for the forgiveness of sins" (the Telic use of ⲉⲓⲥ), creeds are the norma normata (the rule that is ruled), not the norma normans (the rule that rules: God's word))
- Evidence from extra biblical literature (e.g. not from Jewish commentaries, Apocryphal, and especially not Gnostic Gospel literature)
- Evidence from the book of Acts in the middle section where, seemingly no one can accurately conclude what was going on there. We look at the clear passages first and then let them shed light on the less clear ones.
- Evidence from Dogmatics, rather than Exegesis. (i.e. From the original text we find the meaning. Out of that meaning, we develop theology. Out of bounds is a view point that puts the conclusion first before the evidence. There is a place for Dogmatics. But Dogmatics flows from Exegesis)
With those healthy boundaries, I welcome answers.
In my comments I asked what the best way to respond to responses to my question might be. I didn’t receive an answer. So, lacking any clear guidance, I’m just simply going to edit my original posts with appendices. The following are then responses to the responses I received.
Rationale for Boundaries
There have been some complaints about the the number and types of boundaries I have put in place. I worked hard to make sure that the boundaries were tangible and approachable. The first and last of the boundaries are the most important. There were many responses that didn’t engage in the Greek. And as a result, they had to resort to making their case on conclusions drawn from the English translation that cannot be supported by the Greek NT. Likewise, in the last bullet point, for the sake of clarifying, I did not say that there was no room for Dogmatics (and hermeneutics). As one commentator put it: “We examine the text to see what the text says.” I only mentioned that the Exegesis comes first. Feel free to answer away. But put the horse before the cart. Do a thorough exegesis on the text. Then apply it (please).
The following is a list of responses that are problematic (within the framework I provided earlier: Greek first, exegesis first). Dē 1 Peter 3
- “1 Peter 3:21 does not say that baptism conveys forgiveness. It does say that the water symbolizes the baptism, that saves you. No forgiveness is mentioned. It also says that salvation is secured "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ", not baptism”
There are a couple of problems with this assessment:
Peter does say that Baptism saves. Saying "Baptism doesn’t save" doesn’t explain the text. Rather, it explains away the text. How so? Notice the flow of thought thus far in 1 Peter 3:
- Right before this Peter said God used water to save people
- Here in this verse (21) he connects the dots: “ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον” (Πέτρου α 3·21 THGNT-T): God uses water to save people.. We note the language of type and antitype. Baptism is a symbol. But, according to Peter, it's more. It fulfills what was pre-shadowed earlier. Water saves eight. So also, water saves you.
- Then he clarifies, saying that Baptism is not just some empty, external ceremony dealing with dirt and hygiene. It cleanses the conscience because it does just what Peter promises: it delivers from sin.
Here, though, is where there is usually a response that is given. And it doesn’t surprise me that it’s given in some of these responses. If any person reads these words and concludes that what Peter says, he actually means, (Baptism saves: “νῦν σώζει βάπτισμα,” (Πέτρου α 3·21 THGNT-T)), then the quick response is, “Baptism doesn’t save. No, instead, Peter says that the Resurrection saves.” The difficulty with this is that, instead of grappling with the text as it is, it seeks to explain it away. It creates an either/or conclusion instead of a both/and conclusion. A better approach would be to understand that, yes, baptism saves (keeping Peter’s words). But how does Baptism save? Its power is not found in water. Its power is found in Christ’s resurrection.
Finally, there is the issue of the words, “ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν” (Πέτρου α 3·21 THGNT-T). The word, “ἐπερώτημα” is a ⲁⲡⲁⲝ ⲗⲉⲅⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ. It is a word that only occurs once in the entire New Testament. And this is why I made the clear, expressed, concrete point of setting the boundary of not seeking evidence from the English first. What does “ἐπερώτημα” mean? Here are some of the options given in lexicons:
- a formal request, appeal (BDAG, s.v. “ἐπερώτημα,” 362.)
- solemn promise, pledge (The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, s.v. “επερωτημα,” 751.)
There are two challenges in dealing with a ⲁⲡⲁⲝ ⲗⲉⲅⲟⲙⲉⲛⲟⲛ:
- First, what does the word mean?
- Second, what does it mean in context?
So, notice, as we look at the meaning of the word, contrary to what some have concluded, we can factor out the meaning of “response” for the word (contra NLT). There is no lexicon I could find that would give that as a definition.
So, since this word only occurs once in the entire NT, we depend on context to begin to sort it out. Exegetically, it could be that Baptism is either a pledge or appeal from a person to God (▲). But, in context, it could also be a pledge or appeal from God to me (▼). What is the context in this portion of 1 Peter? Is the focus on what I am doing for God? Or is the context what God is doing for/to me? Previously he has just mentioned that Jesus died/suffered for the sins of the whole world (Jesus is doing this for me). He has just mentioned that he used water to save 8 people (not 8 people using water to show their faithfulness to God). While it is exegetically possible to take ἐπερώτημα as a pledge/appeal that one take before God. It would be just as good, if not better, to keep the same context as the preceding verses: Baptism is a pledge that God makes to me that my sins are forgiven in those waters connected to Christ’s resurrection.
Dē “Other Considerations”
I’m going to respond to these bullet points. But, as a preface, I have to admit, these are really weird, strange considerations. I have spoken to Roman Catholics, to Eastern Orthodox, to Lutherans, to Anglicans (who all hold to the conviction and conclusion that baptism saves from sin) and none of them arrive at the weird conclusions that are posited in these responses. These are the sort of responses that tend to be shared when people in one church body thoroughly speak with people in the same church body about people in other church bodies and assume they know what these church bodies teach, but never actually cross the bridge and speak to a pastor/priest face to face. For the sake of dispelling myths, I’ll take up these Considerations in the order they are presented:
- “If forgiveness is secured by baptism, does this mean that the thief on the cross was not forgiven?”
First, Jesus says “you will be with me in paradise.” That should speak to the man’s salvation. Second, we know nothing about his history. So asking whether he received some kind of baptism is a question the bible doesn’t answer. Third, Jesus did not institute Baptism when he was dying on the cross. He instituted Baptism later. It wasn’t even possible for the Thief to have the same Baptism as we have now, since it hadn’t been instituted yet.
- “If forgiveness is conveyed by baptism, does that mean we must be baptized regularly for the sins we commit after baptism?”
Paul writes: “<4> There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; <5> one Lord, one faith, one baptism; <6> one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6 NIV11-GKE) All the church bodies that conclude that baptism delivers forgiveness only baptize once, in keeping with these clear words of God.
- “If forgiveness is conveyed by baptism, does that mean that the OT faithful were not forgiven?”
There is no church body I am familiar that teaches this (!!). Believers in the OT were saved the same way those in the NT are: Through faith in Christ. Consider Paul’s word to the Corinthians: “<3> They all ate the same spiritual food <4> and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:3–4 NIV11-GKE) Notice the point: the rock that accompanied them was Christ. Consider Jude’s words: “Υπομνῆσαι δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, εἰδότας ἅπαξ πάντα, ὅτι Ἰησοῦς λαὸν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου σώσας τὸ δεύτερον τοὺς μὴ πιστεύσαντας ἀπώλεσεν.” (Ἰούδα 1·5 THGNT-T) Jesus was the one who delivered them out of Egypt. Nobody that I know of teaches what you seemingly think other church bodies teach.
- “If forgiveness is conveyed by baptism, does that mean that we can force God to forgive merely by being baptized?”
With this ‘consideration’ we’ve gotten off the hermeneutical and exegetical road and have started to camp out in the side-show carnival. There is no church body I know of anywhere that teaches this ‘consideration.’ Think this consideration through from the perspective of someone who concludes that Baptism actually conveys the forgiveness of sins. What reason or incentive would there be in trying to force forgiveness? In all of these church bodies I listed, on a weekly basis, they confess that they are sinners in deep need of being saved from sin. And the sheer fact that they conclude that Baptism delivers this forgiveness should lead you away from this sort of bizarre, unfounded sort of ‘consideration.’
For those who took an attempt at answering the question based on God’s word, I appreciate your openness and sincerity.
Likewise, I dearly and deeply appreciate hermeneutics (and dogmatics). Please feel free to share exactly that. But please go to the Greek first so that we’re on the same page and don’t have to compare various English wordings so as to find the wording we might like the best.
Finally, if you’re going to include “other considerations,” please make sure (and provide evidence) that other church bodies teach what you posit that they might. So very many of these sorts of questions will quickly evaporate when you actually just sit down with a pastor/priest (etc.) who is well-trained and ask him questions.