Barry Newman's Blog

November 25, 2012

The Sacraments (part XXVI)

Filed under: The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 7:23 pm

The Sacraments, the Gospel and freedom (part 2)

In the New Testament the gospel is referred to in many ways and it is obvious that it contains many facets.  One way of deciding how the gospel is to be understood or not to be understood is to examine how the Greek words, “euaggelion”, often translated “good news”, and “euaggelizomai”, often translated “proclaiming” or “proclaiming the good news” or similar, function in the New Testament. Almost all instances of each of these words relate to that great news concerning the Lord Jesus.

What part do the ceremonies, water baptism and something akin to the Lord’s Supper, play in the glorious and great gospel?  Actually, not at all with respect to “euaggelion.” The noun occurs 75 times in the New Testament but never once in any association with either ceremony.  The verb occurs 52 times in the New Testament and on only one occasion is there any connection being made with it to either of the ceremonies.  In 1 Corinthians 1: 17, Paul writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.”  The verb “euaggelizomai” is used in conjunction with baptism but in a negative sense!

In the New Testament the greatest concentration of “euaggelion” and “euaggelizomai” taken together occurs in Galatians. This is the letter that is fundamentally concerned with the believers being led into living under a false gospel – a gospel where the observance of the ceremony of circumcision was regarded as mandatory and where the observance of special days also seems to have become extremely important.  It would seem very odd for Paul to write in his letter to the Galatians, that with respect to the gospel, the obligatory observance of water baptism and something akin to the Lord’s Supper were exceptions to his general concern.  Of course, he makes no such statement.  To the contrary, this letter would seem to rule out of order any claims that such ceremonies were necessarily to be observed.

In that letter, Paul writes: “You observe days and months and seasons and years!  I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain” (4: 10, 11). And continues: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5: 1).  “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail but faith working through love” (5: 6).  “You were called to freedom brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be slaves of one another” (5: 13). “Walk by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (5:16).  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (5: 25). “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (6: 14, 15).  And in another place he writes, “Don’t let anyone judge you with regards to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day … or by what you eat and drink” (Colossians 2: 16)

Indeed, Paul, the learned Jew, once exceedingly zealous for the law and its observance including the observance of its ceremonial aspects proclaims a concept of freedom as an aspect of the gospel that we seem to find great difficulty in comprehending. For Paul it did not matter whether one was circumcised or not.  It did matter if one thought it necessary for acceptance by God. It did not matter whether one observed certain regulations concerning the type of food one ate.  What did matter was the concern one had for the spiritual welfare of a brother. It did not matter whether or not one treated one day differently to another.  But observing them as though such observance was fundamental did matter. The things that Paul considered as of importance were such as “turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come” and “admonishing the idle, encouraging the fainthearted, helping the weak, being patient with all the brethren and not repaying evil with evil but always seeking to do good to one another and to all” (1 Thessalonians 1: 9, 10; 5: 14, 15).

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