Barry Newman's Blog

November 28, 2012

The Sacraments (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Baptism,Holy Communion,Lord's Supper,The Sacraments — barrynewman @ 11:59 pm

Here is the full series.

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March 23, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Baptism,Ceremonies — barrynewman @ 11:54 pm

Here is the full series

March 22, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXVIII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 11:05 pm

Concluding Remarks

Perhaps when Jesus said, “baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” he really did have in mind that his disciples, in making new disciples should baptise them in a water ceremony in the name of the triune God.  I would still find it difficult to believe that he was indicating that such a baptism was compulsory. That such a ceremony is compulsory does not seem consistent with the general tenure of his teaching as conveyed in Matthew or in any of the Gospels and t does not seem consistent with the gospel itself.  Furthermore, an interpretation of the text which refers to a ceremony, mandatory or not, leaves hanging the awkward question as to why in the Acts of the Apostles, the only references to baptising “in the name of” refer to “in the name of Jesus the Lord” or “in the name of Jesus the Christ.”

But I could still be wrong.

From time to time, we believers need to faithfully reflect on our practices and beliefs.  We need to do so because we know how easy it is to get things wrong.  We know that from personal experience.  We know it from history.  We need to check out beliefs and practices against the Scriptures.  The New Testament itself teaches us that early believers often went astray. Paul and others had to rebuke, correct and inform.  The Reformation was a time when humble, courageous, thoughtful and honest people learnt from the Scriptures that they and others had gone badly astray.  It is true that they did not only refer to the Scriptures to support their positions.  Appeal was also made to some of the writings of the Early Fathers.  However if it ever comes to a contest between what the Early Fathers said (and they said some things that surely we would not agree with today) and what the Scriptures say, the Scriptures must win.  They must win, even if for only historical reasons.  They take precedence historically. But they must win because they are the inspired words of God. The views of the reformers are not.  It is thus a mistake to automatically assume that what the reformers claimed was true is indeed the truth. (How could it be?  They could not even agree with each other on a number of issues.  As a group they made contradictory claims as to what the truth is.)

It will take humble, courageous, thoughtful and honest people, to day, to reassess their understanding of Matthew 28: 19.

“Humble” because one has to consider the possibility that one has got it wrong, that one has had an incorrect understanding for some time or for a short time.

“Courageous” because it means that one has to acknowledge the possibility of having to renounce something treasured and something enmeshed into one’s doctrinal claims, something with which others, perhaps many others, also have allegiance – one’s friends, one’s colleagues, fellow members of the same denomination. It will be costly for some people to so renounce and that is why one would need to be courageous even to start on the journey. But the truth is always to be pursued above personal comfort.  To avoid the truth is to remain in ignorance.  To be ignorant and to teach others one’s own ignorance is to teach others what is false.

Ceremonies can be valuable and the ceremony of water baptism has immense value because potentially it has immense significance concerning the truth.  But whatever value we place upon ceremonies, it would be important for both ourselves and for those to whom we preach the gospel to realise, if it is true, that ceremonies, from God’s point of view, in themselves, ultimately, are not mandatory, as valuable as they might be.  Surely our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ not in ceremonies.  Surely, the righteousness which God declares and grants is on the basis of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ – his faithfulness, not on the basis of a participation in a ceremony.

“Thoughtfulness and “honesty” are required because truth is not obtained without “reflection” and “honesty” is need for that reflection to be fruitful.

May God grant to us all “humility”, “courage”, “thoughtfulness” and “honesty” for his name’s sake!

March 20, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXVII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 11:24 pm

“Baptising”, “immersing” them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – a possible understanding (continued)

With this understanding of this part of v. 19, vv, 18- 20a as a whole have the sense of: Jesus declares to his disciples that all authority has been given to him, so that what follows will not, in any way, be taken lightly by his disciples.  They are to make disciples from all nations.  This will mean they will have to go to “all nations”.  If people are to be made disciples, they will need to be thoroughly taught about who the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit is, and they will need to be instructed to observe, to keep all that Jesus had taught, nay commanded, his original disciples. In so doing, they will recognise the authority of Jesus and become his disciples. Making disciples of all nations will involve, going, teaching about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and instructing them to observe the commands of Jesus.

No longer do we have a reference to a ceremony as though this was part of the immensely important matter that Jesus gave as a command to his disciples in his final words to them.  They are being commanded to make disciples of all nations and this will entail going to the nations and teaching the disciples to be about the Godhead and instructing them to abide by all that Jesus had commanded them.  People from the nations will need a great deal of teaching before they could ever become disciples. And they will also need to bow to the authority of Jesus and abide by all that he had said. Surely people cannot be made disciples by being baptised in a water ceremony. To become a disciple does require repentance however and that is what John the baptiser and Peter, for example, called people first of all to do.

Understanding vv. 18- 20a as outlined, has the phrase “immersing into the name of …” fitting tightly within its verbal context.  It makes an explicit reference to what the disciples of the future need to be taught, something which otherwise would only be implicit in the instructions Jesus gives. It allows for the fact that some early Christians did not think it necessary to carry out water baptisms in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, whatever they actually made of verse 19. It explains why the Acts of the Apostles only records water baptisms in the name of Jesus the Christ or Jesus the Lord.  It recognises the difficulty of making disciples from the Gentile world.  It recognises the difficulty that the disciples would have of seeing the necessity of engaging with the Gentile world.  It provides an explanation as to why there is no command of Jesus to actually be baptised in a water ceremony.  It provides a partial understanding of why the writers of the other Gospels did not consider it essential to refer to “baptising in the name of …” which otherwise one would expect them to do so, if it were indeed part of a command statement made by Jesus at the end of his earthly ministry.  It underlines the idea that the command that Matthew refers to is a command that is especially important to record for a Jewish audience.  It answers any objection that the mandatory requirement of such a ceremony seems to be inconsistent with the grace of God revealed in Christ and the freedom he gives his people – that grace conveyed through the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ himself and that freedom God grants to his people to serve him genuinely, from the heart, walking by the Spirit.

It may well be that by using the word, “baptizo” Jesus allows for the water ceremony to be part of the conceptual background.  After all it was a ceremony that had been regularly performed and was going to continue to be regularly performed.   Yet it is being contended here that reference to a water ceremony was not his main consideration.  His concern was the making of disciples and that task would entail going to the nations, thoroughly immersing the disciples to be in who the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is and instructing them to observe all that Jesus had commanded his earlier disciples.

March 17, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXVI)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 9:10 pm

“Baptising”, “immersing” them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – a possible understanding (continued)

Let us now consider an alternative, particular in light of both the situational and verbal contexts of the participle phrase.  Hints about such an alternative have been fairly obvious from time to time.  It is possible that “baptizo” in Matthew 28: 19 is to be understood metaphorically.  There is no reference to “‘baptising’ in the name of” in the Greek literature at least before about the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., outside of the New Testament.  However, of the 100 or so known instances of usage of “baptizo” in that literature, about 30 are used in some metaphorical or other abstract sense.  Furthermore it has been noted earlier that the reference to the ancient Israelites being “immersed” in (“eis”) Moses (1 Corinthians 10: 2) is clearly metaphorical in character.  It has also been argued that the references to believers being immersed in (“eis”) Christ (Romans 6: 3 and Galatians 3: 27) are quite likely metaphorical in character as well though in each of the three instances, “to onoma” does not appear, actual names do. (As a further indication of the value of considering the possibility of an abstract usage for “baptizo”, such a consideration contributes significantly to solving the age old problem phrase, in 1 Corinthians 15: 29, “baptised on behalf of the dead”.  See a previous blog series.)

Words that appear appropriate as translations for “baptizo” in either a literal or abstract sense include: immerse, whelm, overwhelm, enshroud, engulf, envelop. As mentioned earlier, in the case of persons immersed in the sea or rivers etc. the word, “drown” is appropriate and where ships are immersed in the sea, the word, “sink” is suitable.  Of the various possibilities I think that the word “immerse” is a reasonably appropriate one when translating, Matthew 28: 19.

I have indicated earlier that I think that the “to onoma”, in the phrase “eis to onoma”, when the phrase is used in association with “baptizo”, can be a reference to “who this person is”, and this is likely to be the case if the person is God or his son Jesus.  I have also referred to the suitability of “eis” (into) as a preposition to accompany “baptizo”, especially when both the immersing and into what the immersing is being made is the focus.  The relevant phrase of Matthew 28: 19 reads, “baptizontes … eis to onoma”.   And I have also pointed out that “baptizo” is intensive in form – the entity is well and truly, thoroughly immersed, noting also that the idea of withdrawal from the immersed state is not “written into” the word itself.

On the basis of what has been said in the previous paragraphs and the situational and verbal contexts for Matthew 28: 19b as argued above, that phrase could be translated, “immersing into who the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is,” with the understanding that this would amount to teaching them, in depth, intensely, those of all nations that are to be made disciples, who the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is. And Jesus taught his original disciples much about the Father, himself and the Holy Spirit that they could pass onto the would-be disciples.

The answer to the question previously asked, “Where is the explicit reference in the instructions of Jesus to what these disciples of the future are to be taught?” is that it is in the phrase, “immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Note how understanding the phrase, “immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as a direct reference to “teaching them in depth who the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is”, allows one to better understand the role played by the next phrase, “instructing them to observe all that I have commanded you”.  The second phrase does not replace the other or act as some mere explanation of the other.  The first indicates those matters about which a person needs to be taught before becoming a disciple.  The second phrase, indicates how these would be disciples must conform to what has been taught with specific reference to what Jesus taught.  In so doing they will recognise the authority of Jesus and bow to that authority.  One phrase without the other would be incomplete. The second phrase compliments the first and makes clear that what Jesus taught must be obeyed.

March 16, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXV)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 1:32 am

“Baptising”, “immersing” them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – a possible understanding

Finally, we consider an understanding of Matthew 28: 19 that is contrary to the conventional view.  The argument draws on much material dealt with earlier, either directly or indirectly. However, a few preliminary remarks are made about the conventional view and its significance.

Some might claim that a vital part of being made a disciple is to undergo a specific water ceremony.  That is, what Jesus was saying in Matthew 28: 19 was, “Make disciples from all the nations and the first part of doing that will be to baptise them (in a water ceremony).” There is no doubt that a water baptism was practised both by John the baptiser, the disciples of Jesus during his ministry and some of his followers after his earthly ministry had ended.  However would it be the case that one could not be a disciple if one did not undergo a baptismal water ceremony?

Some might argue, that even if Jesus did not directly command people to be baptised, his command actually relating to his disciples baptising, Peter on the Day of Pentecost made it abundantly clear that it was mandatory to be baptised.  However I have earlier suggested that the imperative which came from Peter, “Repent and be baptised” could be understood in the sense of “Take the girl in marriage and give her a ring.” The strict commandment is to marry her.  The reference to the ring is a reference to abiding by a custom which is commonly followed. Not all imperatives are strict commands.  Some merely give directions for what could be done or for what might be expected to be done.  I suggested earlier that the practice of water baptism, with its extensive use, first, by John the baptiser, then the disciples of Jesus and then the Apostles during their era and others, became customary without there being necessarily a mandatory element to its practice. The idea that the practice became customary indeed casts doubt on the idea that it must have been regarded as mandatory unless its mandatory character can be established elsewhere, for example, by appeal to Matthew 28: 19.  The idea that the practice, though customary was not mandatory is consistent with Paul viewing the practice as one from which he could rightly endeavour to distant himself (1 Corinthians 1: 17).

An aside: if undergoing a water rite is considered an absolute necessity for people to become disciples, then those who practise such a water rite should endeavour to duplicate what Jesus is supposed to be referring to.  The ceremony as actually performed was not any old water rite.  It had particular characteristics – characteristics which symbolised and were associated with realities.  Immersion in water was what occurred and it seems that this was carried out upon the person to be baptised repenting, changing their mind, at about that time, about Jesus Christ the Lord and consequently about themselves, their behaviour and orientation. This type of situation still occurs here and there today and the symbolism that accompanies the practice, if rightly understood, is still as powerful as it ever was. However, where the person is not immersed or where the person being baptised, actually repented long ago or was brought up as a believer from early childhood, a childhood of many years ago, the realities to be symbolised are not so symbolised.  One is not being obedient to what one considers a command if one feels free to change the nature of the practice and when it is to be performed.  What has happened historically is that there have been, what I regard as, painful attempts to justify practices which are not in accord with New Testament practice, as though they were.

However please do not take offence.  What I think is justifiable is to develop customs, whatever their character, which are actually beneficial, which are not misleading, of which one do not claim historical precedence that is false and which are not mandatory.  In my mind it is not all that important what customs we human beings develop and practice in whatever cultural sphere, explicitly Christian or otherwise, happens to be the case, provide that something like those four criteria are met.  One should not forget however, the pointed and powerful symbolism of the practice as performed by John the baptiser, the disciples of Jesus, the apostles and others.

Arguments against considering “baptising”, “immersing” in Matthew 28: 19, as a reference to a “water baptism”, a water “immersion”, include: the Acts of the Apostles only records people being baptised (in a water ceremony) in the name of Jesus the Christ or Jesus the Lord; some elements of the early Christian communities also only baptised in the name of Jesus; the birth of Jesus, the teaching and the great acts of Jesus and the death and resurrection of Jesus as narrated to us by Matthew in the preceding textual material do not prepare us for the final utterances of Jesus to indicate that the making of a disciple will involve the undergoing of a mandatory water ceremony.

March 14, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXIV)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 2:58 am

The verbal context (continued)

Let us now turn to what has just been mentioned above and which forms the immediate verbal context following the phrase with which we are ultimately concerned. Again it is a participle phrase – “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”.  “Didasko” (teach) could quite legitimately be translated “instruct” and that seems to be its meaning here given that these disciples to be are to be instructed to “observe” or “keep” (“tereo”) all that Jesus had commanded his original disciples. Strictly speaking, the focus in this phrase is not on what the disciples to be are to be taught but on the matter of the necessity of their keeping those commands given by Jesus to the original disciples.  Of course this will require that they know what these commands are and to some extent the phrase implies that knowledge of what Jesus commanded has to be acquired.  However the thrust of the phrase is “observing” or “keeping”.

In this phrase we are also being given another reason why Jesus began the statements with “all authority has been given to me in heaven and upon earth”.  He has the authority to stipulate what these disciples of the future to be are to be instructed to do.  They are to be instructed to observe all that he had earlier commanded the disciples to whom the remarks are addressed.

What are these commands?  Do they only refer to things like, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart”. “Love your neighbour as yourself”, “Love your enemies.” “Forgive those who sin against you,” or for starters, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – that is, strict imperatives?  Almost certainly, what Jesus intends is a reference to all that he had taught the disciples whether by way of a direct command or by way of explanation etc.  Yet Jesus could have said, “Instructing them to observe all that I have taught you.”  He did not.  Just as “observe” or “keep” focuses on the necessity to “conform” so does “command”. Jesus intends for his disciples to see that all would be disciples must bow to that authority. That is, we are almost certainly meant not only to take “command” as being broader in application than the imperatives of Jesus but also to recognise that Jesus by implication is emphasising the reality that he has the authority to command and that any disciple to be will need to bow to that authority.  Jesus will need to be seen as “the Christ who is the Lord” by the Jew and as “the Lord who is the Christ” by the Gentile.

So now we have the preceding and following verbal contexts for, “baptising”, “immersing” them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  Like, “going”, and “instructing”, “baptizo” appears in participle form.  We must not forget that the substantial imperative was “make” – make disciples. “Going”, ‘baptising” or “immersing” and “instructing” gain their imperative force because they hang on the principal phrase, “make disciples of all nations”. It is what has to be done if disciples from all nations are to be made.

At this stage one might ask but where is the explicit reference in the instructions of Jesus to what these disciples of the future are to be taught?  A question well worth asking!

March 11, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXIII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:31 pm

The verbal and situational context of Matthew 28: 19b (continued)

The verbal context

I will assume that Matthew is recording the words that Jesus uttered, though they were probably not given in the Greek language and they are not necessarily exactly what Jesus said.  I will also assume that Matthew was not attempting to alter the understanding that Jesus intended to convey by using the words he, Jesus, did use.

Jesus begins his last words, according to Matthew, with the utterance, “All authority has been given to me, in heaven and upon earth”.  He had demonstrated his authority over the demonic world, the world of diseases and the world of deformities.  It was obvious that he taught with authority (7: 29) and he entered into discussions with the chief priests and elders of the people about this authority, without disclosing by what authority he taught as he did (21: 23-27).  He claimed he had authority to forgive sins (9: 2-6).  He acted with authority as he gave to his disciples, authority to cast out evil spirits, to heal diseases and infirmities (10: 1).  Now at the end of his time on earth he declares, “All authority has been given to me, in heaven and upon earth.”  What an extraordinary statement – “all authority”, “in heaven and upon earth”!  It is difficult to sidestep the “all authority”.  And he speaks of it as having been given – it was not his to begin with.

However, why does he see it as necessary to utter these words at this time?  We are probably right to assume that it is because he is about to make a commandment but it is no ordinary commandment.  It is a commandment to make disciples from “all nations”.  Is it the case that Jesus sees this commandment as so unpalatable for a Jew that he has to begin with a statement saying he has been given this “all authority”.  Of course stating that he been given such authority implies more than just “this commandment must be obeyed”, but it implies this at least. Indeed Matthew records that upon Jesus making his claim about all authority, he then says, “Therefore going, make disciples of all nations.”  Having all authority he has the authority to make the command.

What is the significance of “going”, the participle occurring first in the line of verbs that follow his reference to the authority given to him?  Perhaps it is also part of the recognition that for these Jewish disciples this commandment will not be readily appreciated.  They will have to leave their homeland and go where the nations are.  If we are on the right track see how significant the “all nations” reference is.

And to make disciples, that is, other disciples of Jesus, for they cannot be anybody else’s disciples, means that these disciples will have to be told much about Jesus – his birth, what he did, what he said, why he died, that he rose again and that he will come again in glory to judge the nations (Matthew 25: 31-46) and about repentance, forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.  But they will not readily understand Jesus unless they begin to understand the Father and his relationship to the Son and they will not readily understand their relationship to the Father and the Son unless they begin to understand the relationship of the Father and the Son to the Spirit.

The imperative to make disciples of all nations, with its implication that the original disciples will have “to go” is the immediate verbal context preceding the participle phrase with which we are ultimately concerned – “baptising”, “immersing” them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Given that disciples of Jesus from all nations have to be made, that they will need to know about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but that to begin with that they will know so little about Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it should not be too much of a surprise to find this reference to “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” following upon, “make disciples of all nations”.

Notice at the same time, that though there is this unique reference to the persons of the trinity there is a focus on Jesus himself underlying each of the last statements that he makes.  He has been given all authority, his disciples are being commanded to make other disciples of his, and as we are soon to note, these new disciples are to be taught to observe all that Jesus commanded his present disciples to observe and he is going to be with his disciples always to the end of the age.  It should therefore not overly surprise us then that when new believers were baptised in water as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, they were not baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit but in the name of Jesus the Lord or Jesus the Christ.

March 10, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 12:33 am

The verbal and situational context of Matthew 28: 19b

The meaning of any word, or better, the understanding that was intended to be conveyed by the person who uttered the word or by the person reporting on the utterance, cannot be determined by an examination of that word alone.  Nor can it be determined with absolute confidence by examining all other instances of how the word is used, even by the same person around the same time.

In the case of Matthew 28: 19, the verbal context in which the word was uttered and the verbal context created by the one reporting the word, if they are different, and the situational context existing for the one – in this case Jesus, of whom it is claimed, gave utterance to the word and the situational context created by the writer himself, need to be examined before deciding what was intended by the statement being reported.  Other matters that are thought relevant might also need to be considered.

We are finally ready to do that.  But to arrive at this point we have had to refer to a number of matters, hopefully with the result that we are able to consider possibilities fairly, particularly those that otherwise we might never have been willing to consider or even able to consider.

The situational and verbal contexts of Matthew 28: 19b are now examined.  This involves some detailed discussion of the verses 18 to 20 excluding detailed comment on the phrase, “immersing in the name of ” itself.

            The situational context

For Matthew the statements of Jesus beginning at 28: 18 and ending at 28: 20 come at the end of his Gospel.  From that we might guess that these words of Jesus have considerable significance.  Yet their appearance here is quite natural given that they are uttered at the end of his earthly ministry.  However that they are the last words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew surely adds to our suspicion that they are exceedingly important as far as both Jesus and Matthew are concerned.[1]

Of course the very last words are, “Lo, I am with you always to the close of the age”.  How encouraging for his disciples and even for us, we his later disciples.  For surely we are meant to assume that all his disciples including those yet to come, will enjoy his presence, for he is to be present with his disciples till this present age should end.  But at that time, he made it clear to his then disciples that he was just about to depart.

Occupying a significant place in his final statements are those words concerning his authority and the making of disciples, “baptising” them, and teaching them.  Yet, why the reference to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”?  We emphasise the “make disciples” component of the command of Jesus and rightly so. However it is important to note that these disciples, yet to be, are to come from “all the nations”.  That phrase is part of the imperative statement.  The words “all the nations” would be particularly important for Matthew to mention, if the assumption that his Gospel was largely written for a Jewish audience, is correct.  It was understandably barely conceivable that Jesus would have disciples from peoples other than the Jews.  Yet that is to be the case. Jesus sees it as important to make this abundantly clear and Matthew sees it as important to include what Jesus said in his account.  Given how poor a Gentile understanding of the revelation of God to the descendants of Abraham before the time of Jesus but also his revelation through Jesus would be, the reference to, “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” could have special significance.  In the course of time these would be disciples would need to understand a great deal about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The questions concerning each of the persons of the trinity, asked of those wishing to be baptised, recorded in the Apostolic Tradition bears witness to this need.  Of course Luke also refers to the nations towards the end of his Gospel (24: 47) and again at the beginning of Acts where Jesus specifies, “Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth” (1: 8).  Given the assumption that Luke has a largely Gentile audience in mind it also makes good sense for him to give these utterances a place of prominence – the place that Jesus gives them – words uttered at the end of his earthly ministry.

But to return to Matthew.  The situation is one where Jesus is giving his final words to his disciples.  They must be quite important.  “And Jesus came and said to them ….” And Matthew wrote his Gospel so that these final words concerning something for the nations should not go unnoticed. They appear at the end of his Gospel.

And we need to return, at some point to the question, “Is it likely, given all that is taught about the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Son in Matthew’s Gospel and that he now focuses on the last words of Jesus, that Jesus in these words, refers to the importance of a ceremonial washing?”


[1] I have earlier stated that I assume that the reference to baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is original. I also assume that Matthew was the author.

March 7, 2012

Baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (part XXI)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 11:11 pm

Baptizo” – meaning in Matthew 28: 19?

Approaching nearer to our goal, this section refers to three nouns related to the verb, “baptizo” and the verb itself as they are found outside of the New Testament and as they are found in Matthew’s Gospel in particular.

The word “baptises” is found only once outside of the New Testament before approximately the beginning of the 2nd century A.D.  It is the term that Josephus uses of John the “Baptist”.  He describes him as the “immerser”! The New Testament uses the same term.  In Matthew’s Gospel it is found seven times (3: 1; 11: 11, 12; 14: 2, 8; 16: 14; 17: 13) and in the New Testament as a whole, 12 times, on each occasion it also refers to this same John.  He is the “baptises”, the “baptiser” – the “immerser” in water.  “Baptistes” is of course derived from “baptizo”.

The noun “baptisma” is found only twice outside of the New Testament before about the beginning of the 2nd century A.D.  In one instance it is used by Plutarch as one item in a list of what he refers to as “superstitions”. In the other it is used by Josephus to relate to the baptisms carried out by John the baptiser. It is also derived from “baptizo”. In Matthew’s Gospel it is found twice (3: 7; 21: 25).  Both instances refer to John’s baptism – the immersion that he carried out.  It is found a total of 20 times in the New Testament. Of these 20 instances, 13 are clearly references to the baptisms carried out by John the baptiser. Three refer to the sufferings of Jesus at his death. The other four are to be found in Romans 6: 4, Ephesians 4: 5, Colossians 2: 12 and 1 Peter 3: 21.

The third noun derived from “baptizo” is “baptismos”.  It occurs three times in the New Testament (Mark 7: 4, Hebrews 6: 2, 9: 10), and it is not found outside of the New Testament at least up to about the beginning of the 2ndcentury.  All three references relate to “immersions” which are associated with ritual washings. Mark 7: 3, 4 amounts to an editorial comment on such procedures carried out by “the Pharisees and all Jews” on themselves and for certain utensils.

The word “baptizo”, the verb, is found about 100 times outside of the New Testament before approximately the beginning of the 2nd century A.D.  Except for one or two occasions it is simply used without any reference to a regular rite with the sense of “immersing”, “engulfing” or something similar. About one third of the time its usage is metaphorical or abstract in some sense rather than literal. See later. The word occurs 7 times in Matthew’s Gospel (3: 6, 7, 11, 13, 14 and 16; 28: 29) and 76 times in the New Testament as a whole.  Twice the reference is to ritual washings (Mark 7: 4 [see above], Luke 11: 38) presumably involving “immersions” –  see below. One could note that verses 2 and 3 prior to Mark 7: 4 employ the verb, “nipto” – a word used when a part of the body is washed.  In this case the reference is to “hands” being unwashed in v. 2 and washed in v. 3.

A few more comments about “baptizo” as it is found in the Greek literature external to the New Testament: I have maintained that basically “baptizo” carries with it the sense of “immersion”.  Even where the entity immersed later emerges from the medium into which it was immersed, the focus of “baptizo” is not even partly on that emergence but on the immersion itslef.

This does not mean however that “immerse” or even something similar is always a suitable translation.  Up until at least the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. when a person dies by immersion in water, that is, drowns, the verb “baptizo” is sufficient in itself to indicate this.  No other verb is appealed to.  Hence the translation “drown” would seem to be appropriate.  The same situation occurs when a ship is sunk.  The verb “baptizo” is sufficient to indicate that the ship has “gone down” and the translation, “sink” would seem to be appropriate.  The words “drown” and sink” carry with them the notion of immersion.

On the other hand, sometimes the “immersion” is carried out with a view to washing, but, simply to refer to “wash” in a translation would be to neglect that “immersion” was involved, rather than, for example, a simple dipping or superficial washing.  “Wash” may imply “immerse” but it may not. There are only about four examples from the 100 or so available up until about the beginning of the 2nd century where “baptizo” is associated with washing.  In each case however, it seems plausible to assume that “baptizo” is used to indicate that the “washing” involved a (thorough) immersion.  The example of  IV Kings 5: 14 in the LXX is interesting.  Here Naaman immerses himself seven times in the river Jordan.  However in the preceding verses 10, 12 and 13, the word, “louo” (wash) is referred to.  He washes by immersing himself.

Where “baptizo” is used metaphorically, “immerse” may be a suitable translation, understood metaphorically, but other words also come to kind.  A person who is understood to be “immersed” in many words, may be almost overcome by them being confused by them.  Being “immersed” in iniquity is somehow being overwhelmed by it. Someone who is considered to be “immersed” in debt is engulfed in debt being thoroughly surrounded by debt.  One who is intoxicated by the drinking of too much wine, being now “immersed” as a result, is typically “drowning” in drink.  A person who is “immersed” in sorrow is hardly able to survive the sorrow, being almost overwhelmed by it.

Focussing on Matthew’s Gospel alone and putting aside 28: 19 for the moment, all usages of “baptizo” except where it occurs in 3: 11 refer to the activity of John.  He “baptized”, he “immersed” in water.  And all of these instances are found together in the one chapter – chapter 3.  The exception for this chapter is the reference by John to the one who would come after him, “baptising”, “immersing” in (en) the Holy Spirit and fire (3: 11).   “Baptizo”, in this instance, is used metaphorically.  A metaphorical usage is to be found in the other Gospels, not only with respect to the same matter (Mark 1: 8; Luke 3: 16; John 1: 33) but also in the way that Jesus speaks about his suffering (Mark 10: 38, 39; Luke 12: 50)[1].

What then of Matthew 28: 19?  Considering Matthew’s Gospel alone, we are presented with three situations in which “baptizo” is used: John’s activity, “immersing” in a literal sense; the activity of Jesus, “immersing” in the Holy Spirit and fire, – a metaphorical usage; the activity to be carried out by the disciples of Jesus as referred to in Matthew 28: 19.  How is this last usage to be understood?  Given that Matthew has one situation where a literal usage is evident and another where a metaphorical usage is evident, one cannot rule out on the basis of internal reference alone, that the usage is metaphorical or that it is literal.


[1] Schnabel, ibid.,  as well as arguing for “baptizo having the general sense of “immersion” recognises that it may have a metaphorical sense in the New Testament more commonly than normally thought.  Additionally he comments on the use of “baptizo” for Jewish immersion rites and refers to the nouns, “baptismos” and “baptisma” in so doing. On the basis of the paucity of evidence available, it is very difficult to say very much at all about “baptizo” and its association with Jewish immersion rites during the New Testament period.

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