Barry Newman's Blog

November 23, 2012

The Sacraments (part XXV)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 8:19 pm

The Sacraments, the Gospel and Freedom (part 1.)

If being baptised and partaking in something like the Lord’s Supper are obligatory, what part do they play in the gospel? One could argue that under the old covenant there was the compulsory sign of circumcision.  Under the new covenant, the corresponding compulsory sign is baptism.  Similarly it might be claimed that under the old covenant there was a compulsory festive meal.  Under the new covenant, the corresponding compulsory meal is the Lord’s Supper.

In the Old Testament the matter of partaking in the Passover celebration is clearly declared necessary by an express command of God.  In the New Testament, if what Jesus said at the Last Passover meal was indeed a command then it would seemingly apply to future Passover meals, if such were to be celebrated in the future.  Besides, as argued above, what Jesus said could be in the indicative mood.  However, even if it is understood as being in the imperative mood then what was said could be understood as Jesus informing the disciples that in future they are to see the Passover meal in a new light rather than his issuing some “commandment” to so view it.  Whatever the case, there is certainly no injunction in Scripture that there is to be some meal that is somewhat reflective of a Passover meal and that it is to be partaken of a number of times throughout the year.  Anything like the Lord’s Supper does not appear to be of the same status as the Passover meal of the Old Testament.

The matter of (males) being circumcised is also clearly declared necessary in the Old Testament by an express command of God.  While being baptised obviously has symbolic character as did circumcision they are entirely different ceremonies. There is however a text of the New Testament where circumcision and baptism appear to be linked.  Colossians 2: 11, 12 reads: “In him (Christ) also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ and you were buried with him in baptism ‘en to(i) baptismo(i)’, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Whatever Paul is referring to by his references to “circumcised” and “circumcision”, the concept of circumcision is being used metaphorically, none the less to describe very significant realities.  “Buried with him (Christ)” and “raised with him” are phrases also having a metaphorical character, again, none the less descriptive of very significant realities.  Is the reference to “baptism” here meant to be a reference to a literal water ceremony?  If so, it is a piece of literalism without metaphorical character in the midst of metaphorical allusions.  If so, it also bespeaks of an extraordinary importance to be attached to the water baptism ceremony for it would appear that in that very physical act, the burying with Christ and the raising with Christ take place.  Given this understanding one can see the extraordinary importance attached to water baptism by certain believers and the concern they have for anyone who not having been baptised still claims to be in Christ.

Translating the phrase ‘en to(i) baptismo(i)’ as “in baptism” automatically steers us towards understanding the words to refer to a literal water ceremony.  However it could be translated in such a way as to convey the metaphorical sense of “immersion” or “envelopment”.  Such a translation would simply be as one with the metaphorical elements which precede it and follow it. Besides, this is not Paul indicating that the rite of circumcision is to be replaced by a ceremony of water baptism.  He has referred to circumcision metaphorically whatever one thinks he is referring to by ‘baptismo(i)’.

 Circumcision and baptism are indeed different ceremonies though both do operate as signs indicative of entering into a distinctive relationship with God on the one hand and Jesus the Son of the Father on the other.  Again, it should be noted even if Matthew 28: 19 is thought to constitute a commandment regarding a water ceremony, a position which has been argued against, it is not a command to be baptised but a command for his disciples to baptise.  It does not have the status that the instruction by God for the males of his people to be circumcised had.

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