Barry Newman's Blog

September 5, 2009

Biblical Baptism (part IV)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 7:44 am

Misunderstood Passages in the New Testament? (cont.)

                    Galatians 3: 27
Galatians 3: 27: “For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  In this statement Paul literally writes, “have put on Christ”.  The translators recognise that “have put on” is metaphorical and so use the word, “clothed”.  Similarly, “baptised into Christ” seems to be a metaphor for being immersed in him, that is, being enveloped in him or being in him, in a similar sense to that conveyed by Paul in his letter to “all in Rome who are loved by God”.  Paul, perhaps being aware that many had undergone a literal water baptismal ceremony at or around the time when they had responded to Christ, may have been making a dual reference to both the water ceremony and being “enveloped in” Christ.  However, the water ceremony itself could never have brought about their being in Christ or their being “clothed” with him.

                    Ephesians 4: 4 – 6
Ephesians 4: 4 – 6: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  In the midst of all these spiritual realities, “the one body (of Christ)”, “the one Spirit”, “being called”, “the one hope”, “the one Lord”, “the one faith” and “the one God and Father of all”, it would be odd if “the one baptism” were not also a spiritual reality rather than a literal water ceremony, a ceremony of this world.  In this passage, “baptism” could have been translated, “immersion” understood as a spiritual immersion in Christ

                    Colossians 2: 12
Colossians 2: 12: “buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  In this passage the reality of the “burial” or entombment of Jesus and his resurrection is used metaphorically to refer to a reality described as the burial and raising of those who have had faith in the power of God. Paul may have been making a metaphorical reference via a baptismal water ceremony, where a person was immersed in water and then raised out of water, since the ceremony often accompanied a person’s becoming united to Christ.  Additionally or alternatively, he may have been making a metaphorical reference via the ordinary idea of being immersed in water and in danger of drowning and then being rescued.  However, the reality he focuses on is this: To be buried with Christ is to receive the benefits of his death. To be raised with him is to be caught up in his resurrection and given new life. “Faith in the power of God” is what is crucial not the participation in a water ceremony.  “With him in baptism” could have been translated, “being enveloped in him”.  There is however, another alternative, an elaboration on the foregoing, and indeed this understanding may be the more likely. Literally the reference is to “buried with him in the baptism”.  Paul could have been saying that the believer is caught up in the baptism of Jesus, that is his great suffering, that is the death of Jesus, and so being caught up in his death the believer is also caught up in his burial.

If literal water baptism is thought to be very important there will be a tendency to interpret the previous passages as referring to that type of baptism.  If it is not thought to have that importance there may be a tendency to interpret them metaphorically.  How important is literal water baptism?

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