Barry Newman's Blog

November 9, 2012

The Sacraments (part XVIII)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 8:58 pm

Figurative Usage in the New Testament

The New Testament itself contains a number of examples where “baptizo” and sometimes “baptisma” are clearly used metaphorically. John the immerser points to the one to come who would immerse people in the Holy Spirit and fire.  Jesus refers to his being engulfed in death and suffering and that his disciples would similarly be immersed.  In both a literal and figurative way Paul refers to the Israelites being immersed in Moses in the cloud and in the Sea.  One difficulty in recognising figurative usage is the transliteration of the Greek word into the English word “baptise” or “baptism”.  The same thing happened in Latin. The Latin Vulgate uses the word, “baptizo” rather than ordinary Latin words, such as “immergo” and summergo”. Another difficulty is that neither in the Greek outside of the New Testament or in the New Testament itself is figurative usage signalled or announced.  It needs to be recognised by considering its context.

Being “Immersed” on Account of the Dead

The text 1 Corinthians 15: 29 is generally translated in a way that refers to “being baptised on behalf of the dead”.  It has been a problem text for exegetes for centuries. Seeing “baptizo” as a literal reference to a water ceremony forces the translator into translating other words in a particular way. The preposition “huper” is translated “on behalf of” rather than say, “for the sake of” and the adverb “holos” is translated oddly into something like, “at all” rather than “wholly” or “completely”.  The subject being discussed is of course death and suffering.  Prior to v. 29 Paul states that “In Adam all die”.  Death is a principle written into humanity. The context that follows the text clearly refers to the suffering by Paul in particular, as a consequence of his apostolic ministry.  Given the before and after context and understanding “baptizo” figuratively as a reference to “being immersed (in suffering)” leads to the following type of translation: “For what will they be doing, those who are overwhelmed for the sake of the death-ridden, if the completely dead are not raised?  Why are people then overwhelmed for their sake?”   Verses 30 – 32a then follow, “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! … If with merely human hopes, I fought with wild animals at Ephesus what would I have gained by it?”; “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?  I die every day … If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? ”


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