The Biblical Teaching on Baptism, Part 5

Posted By on September 22, 2009

Here are some current, widely-read theologians on infant baptism.

Michael Horton (source: God’s Grandchildren: The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism)

In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name and institutes the sacrament of circumcision. “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you” (Gen 17:9-11). Someone might say, But Abraham was circumcised after he believed, a point that Paul is anxious to affirm in Romans 4, and that is correct. Paul underscores the fact that Abraham was justified by grace alone through faith alone, not by circumcision. And yet, what did Abraham do with his children? They were circumcised on the eighth day. Why? Because they were heirs of the promise, children of the covenant.

Here Horton clearly links (theologically) circumcision and baptism. He also clearly has children of believers as the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant (which is subsumed under the reformed Covenant of Grace idea). It *seems* that Horton is saying that children of believers are believers because they are elect (they’ll exercise faith later, but are certainly believers because of this covenant — and baptism marks that fact). If this comment of mine seems unwarranted, Horton says just this below.

Are there any further discontinuities between circumcision and baptism? It does not seem so.

You can’t get much more categorical than that — and that’s fine, since I’m going to ask Dr. Horton and others who’d agree with his position where one finds that physical circumcision marked believers or guaranteed that recipients would ultimately turn out to be believers. Again, he says this below. I think he’s blinded by his covenant theology here and is filtering the biblical text through his theology, as opposed to getting his theology FROM the text.

In fact, Paul states, “In him [Christ] you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature [NOTE: the Greek text does not have “sinful nature” here; it has “body of the flesh”; I mention this in the wake of our Romans 5:12 discussion; “sinful nature” is a gratuitously interpretive translation], not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:11 12). Throughout church history, “baptism” has always meant one and the same thing: The sign (water) and the thing signified (regeneration by the Holy Spirit).

Few would argue with this;†even Baptists say baptism = an outward sign of inward conversion. I think the language is fine with respect to adult baptism. I don’t like it with respect to infant baptism. When I get to laying out my view of this, you’ll see that.

But in our day, many who otherwise insist on taking the Scriptures literally and “at face value” will argue that passages such as this one and others, like Titus 3:5 (“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously . . .”), refer merely to a spiritual baptism and not to water baptism.

* uh, pardon me, but the words “water” and “baptism” aren’t present in Titus 3:5. Are we to think of baptism every time we see the word “wash” or “washing”?† I guess he thinks so – look at what he says next.

One must beware of a gnostic dualism that separates spirit from matter, as if it is somehow less than spiritual for God to bring people into his family through a common, everyday liquid.

Oh, so if we don’t see water baptism in Titus 3:5 we’re Gnostic dualists?† Good grief.

To be sure, there is a danger is attaching superstition to rituals and material signs, but God reveals himself and saves us through matter, not in spite of it. God “became flesh,” wrote a book with ink and paper, and confirms it with water, bread, and wine. He does communicate his heavenly grace through the earthly creations that he sets aside by Word and Spirit for sacred use.

He misses the point of the objection, or ignores it. It isn’t a love for Gnostic dualism; it’s about reading baptism into a verse that doesn’t have the word “baptism” in it, and thinking “baptism” when we see the word “washing.” How is this exegetical?

But still the most convincing evidence comes from the biblical text itself. The Old Testament warns, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked . . . but those who are righteous will go free” (Prov 3:33;11:21). The children of believers were not considered unregenerate pagans, “for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them” (Is 65:23).

This reminds me of the old Spurgeon tale, where Spurgeon was debating someone who believed in infant baptism (Spurgeon was a Baptist). After his opponent started with the verse “suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Spurgeon’s first verse was “There was a man in the land of Uz named Job”† When asked what his verse had to do with baptism, Spurgeon retorted: “Nothing – about the same as your verse.” Horton’s quotations have nothing to do with baptism. I just cringe when I see proof-texting like this. I think of all the times I’ve had professors (or have told my own classes) about the importance of interpreting Scripture in its original context. This violates that simple hermeneutical concept to the core. Would Israelites who read these verses really think of their circumcision. How many (millions?) Israelites who WERE circumcised think that their circumcision guaranteed them blessing? I doubt if the exiles sitting with Ezekiel by the River Chebar were thankful for their circumcision. I think instead of “I’m circumcised, guaranteed God’s blessing” being in their minds they would have had thoughts like “what are we doing HERE?” “Why did God abandon us?” – or like Psalm 89 tells us, “but now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed; you have renounced the covenant with your servant.” So much for election=circumcision with the many who apostasized and died at the hands of Babylon.† Or maybe they were all really believers anyway because of their circumcision (see Horton below).

But the New Testament has the same message. Paul assured the Corinthians that one believing parent sanctified the children: “Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Cor 7:14).

So now when we see the word “sanctified” it *must* mean salvation. Huh? Your parent(s)’ salvation guarantees yours via election/baptism? There’s a much easier answer to this, and many commentators would disagree with Horton here.

Like the covenant itself, baptism implies blessings and curses. For those covenant children who combine the hearing of the Gospel with faith (see Heb 4:2), baptism is a great comfort in times of doubt and fear. Calvin warns us against depriving ourselves of “the singular fruit of assurance and spiritual joy which is to be gathered from it [baptism] . . . For how sweet it is to godly minds to be assured, not only by word, but by sight, that they obtain so much favor with the Heavenly Father that their offspring are within his care?”

We have assurance because we’re baptized? Maybe this can work with people who think only of baptism as a reminder that they did grow up in the church, hear the gospel, and BELIEVE. I can grant that. For many who are theologically less astute, wordings like this sounds like baptismal regeneration.

Like the rainbow, this sacrament takes the general promise and particularizes it. Not only does God save sinners, he saves me, and baptism is God’s testimony to that fact, not mine.

I wonder how many people might think, “hey, I was baptized, and so God has saved me; I’m in an elect family, a family under the covenant; I guess I can do what I want. I’m in.”† Clear biblical theology should not create loopholes for worldliness; it should close them.

To be sure, many covenant children wander in the wilderness and often the seed does not send out its first blade for some time.

Ah – here he acknowledges that there are baptized people who go astray. Good.

It is possible, as Calvin argued, for God to regenerate infants as well as adults, but whatever the case, “God keeps his own timetable of regeneration.”

How comforting. Here Horton asserts that the apostate-but-baptized are still regenerate “in God’s timetable” – i.e., he is arguing that they will all come back since they are elect. I wonder why the writer of Hebrews was so concerned then about those who fall away to unbelief? I wonder how Paul could say anyone shipwrecked their faith when they were going to wind up in heaven anyway.† Folks, Horton says this because HE MUST to retain his system. He can find no other way to reconcile infant baptism and its sign of being elect (and thus regenerated) and a lack of perseverance of people that all of us see regularly in real life. “They’ll come back to God because they are the baptized elect” is his only answer. Simple questions now: (a) where does the Bible say this of the apostate? (b) how does Horton know? This is GUESSING with the goal of explicating a man-made system of theology. It isn’t exegesis.

R. C. Sproul (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1996, c1992)

80. Baptism

Baptism is the sacramental sign of the New Covenant. It is a sign by which God seals His pledge to the elect that they are included in the covenant of grace.

Pretty clear; if you are baptized, you are one of the elect. What a trap. How could Sproul come back to me and say, “no, some non-elect can get baptized”? Is it on purpose? No, Sproul would say it just happens by accident. How does someone who believes everything that happens is pre-ordained by God say that some non-elect are baptized by accident? There are no accidents in this view (and Horton would agree). So, if it isn’t by accident, then God ordained some non-elect to be baptized. Huh? Non-elect get the sign of the covenant? Did God just do that so Sproul, Horton, and others would have a way to get out of their baptism-perseverance problem? (And where did God tell us that anyway?). I hope readers can see why I said what I said in my first post on this topic. You’ll look very hard to find more muddled thinking on a doctrine than this one.

Baptism signifies several things. In the first instance, it is a sign of cleansing and the remission of our sins. It also signifies being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, being buried and raised together with Christ, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, being adopted into the family of God, and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Same problems here as before; just note that Sproul doesn’t have anything different to say that helps.

Baptism was instituted by Christ and is to be administered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The outward sign does not automatically or magically convey the realities that are signified. For example, though baptism signifies regeneration, or rebirth, it does not automatically convey rebirth. The power of baptism is not in the water but in the power of God.

Good — but then why link it to election via the Abrahamic covenant? Sure, we can *say* that baptism just is a sign of God’s elective decision, but by virtue of saying that, we create the conundrum of why many baptized go astray. If the answer is “they weren’t really elect then,” why God would predestine some non-elect to be baptized? You can’t say “stuff happens” when you’re a high calvinistic pedobaptist that believes everything that happens comes to pass by fore-ordination. It makes no sense, but it is the only retreat. I’m going to argue that all this can be avoided and still retain infant baptism (if that is your position). It’s actually very simple. I just don’t happen to be entrapped by a theological system I have to defend.

The reality to which sacrament points may be present before or after the sign of baptism is given. In the Old Testament the sign of the covenant was circumcision. Circumcision was, among other things, a sign of faith.

Really? Where are we told that the servants in Abraham’s household had faith or believed in anything? Abraham even had foreigners in his household – see Gen 17:9-14). I hope R. C. clarifies.

In the case of adults, such as Abraham, faith came prior to the sign of circumcision. With the children of believers, however, the sign of circumcision was given prior to their possession of faith, as was the case with Isaac. Likewise, in the New Covenant, Reformed theology requires adult converts to be baptized after making a profession of faith, while their children receive baptism before they profess faith.

Actually, he didn’t answer my question, since he zeroed in on the children of Abraham. Note how he presumes their elect status. No word on the servants!

Baptism signifies a washing with water. The command to baptize may be fulfilled by immersion, dipping, or sprinkling. The Greek word to baptize includes all three possibilities.

I actually agree with his comment on mode here.

The validity of baptism does not rest upon the character of the minister who performs it or the character of the person who receives it. Baptism is a sign of the promise of God of salvation to all who believe in Christ.

Here one could say, “See, Mike – it’s just a visible reminder that God has promised to save people! Quit picking on these theologians!” If you’ve read the material at all you know that the creeds and these folks are claiming more than that. But let’s run with that thought anyway. Baptism is just to say to whomever is watching “hey, look, we’re baptizing this infant to remind all of you that Jesus came to save people.” Do you think a conversation like this might follow:

Parents: “Well, is my child in the covenant now or not — or is this just to remind everyone here that there’s an offer of salvation from God?”
Minister: “Yes, your child is part of God’s covenant now”
Parents: “Whew; I’m glad. For a minute there I thought it really didn’t matter if my infant was baptized. After all, if it’s just to remind us that God has offered salvation, we could wait until our baby grew up a bit and believed. We have some wacky Baptist neighbors who say that.”
Minister: “Well, I wouldn’t call them wacky. If their kids believe the gospel they’ll be with Jesus, too.”
Parents: “Really? But how did their kids get into the covenant if they weren’t baptized?”
Minister: “God decides who’s in the covenant.”
Parents: “So, why do we baptize our infants again? If they’re in the covenant by election, it seems infant baptism isn’t necessary.”
Minister: “It’s not necessary for entry into the covenant; it just marks those who are in the covenant.”
Parents: “So our neighbors kids are in if they believe, they’re just unmarked.”
Minister: “Right.”
Parents: “So why is this called a sacrament then? Where’s the grace? What does the grace do — just “mark” people in God’s eyes?”
Minister: “Yes.”
Parents: “But you just said God already knows who the elect are. It doesn’t seem he needs anyone marked then.”
Minister: “I see what you mean. Well, I guess it’s more accurate to say that it marks the infant so the people here know the infant is marked and now in the covenant.”
Parents: “So . . . then baptism isn’t just a reminder that salvation is offered . . . it marks the elect, at least the elect whose parents do this sort of thing.”
Minister: “Well . . . sure.”
Parents: “Just out of curiousity, what happens to my infant if he grows up and doesn’t believe?”
Minister: “He will believe’ he’s elect.”
Parents: “How do we know he’s elect?”
Minister: “I just baptized him.”
Parents: “Oh.”
Minister: “And if makes profession of faith and goes astray, don’t worry. Even though that would be heartbreaking, he’ll come back to God.”
Parents: “How can you be sure?”
Minister: “He’s elect.”
Parents: “How do we know he’s elect?”
Minister: “I just baptized him.”
Parents: “Oh . . . right . . . but I know people who who made profession of faith after their baptism and now they don’t follow Christ at all. Are they still elect?”
Minister: “Of course; they’ll come back to God.”
Parents: “How can you be sure?”
Minister: “They’re elect.”
….. and on it goes

Since it is Godís promise, the validity of the promise rests on the trustworthiness of the character of God.
Because baptism is the sign of Godís promise, it is not to be administered to a person more than once. To be baptized more than once is to cast a shadow of doubt on the integrity and sincerity of Godís promise. Surely those who have been baptized two or more times do not intend to cast doubt on Godís integrity, but the action, if properly understood, would communicate such doubt. It is every Christianís duty, however, to be baptized. It is not an empty ritual, but a sacrament commanded by our Lord.

81. Infant Baptism

Though infant baptism has been the majority practice of historic Christianity, its propriety has been solemnly challenged by godly Christians of various denominations. The question surrounding infant baptism rests upon several concerns. The New Testament neither explicitly commands infants to be baptized nor explicitly prohibits them from being baptized. The debate centers on questions surrounding the meaning of baptism and the degree of continuity between the Old Covenant and New Covenant.
The most crucial objection from those who oppose infant baptism is that the sacrament of baptism belongs to members of the church and the church is a company of believers. Since infants are incapable of exercising faith, they ought not to be baptized.

This is a common Baptist objection; it’s FAR from being “the most crucial” objection.

It is also stressed that of the baptisms recorded in the New Testament there are no specific references to infants. A further objection is that the Old Covenant, though not conveying salvation via biological blood lines, nevertheless did involve an ethnic emphasis on the nation of Israel. The covenant was passed through family and national ties. In the New Testament the covenant is more inclusive, allowing Gentiles into the community of faith. This point of discontinuity makes a difference between circumcision and baptism.

On the other hand, those who favor infant baptism stress its parallels with circumcision. Though baptism and circumcision are not identical, they have crucial points in common. Both are signs of the covenant, and both are signs of faith. In the case of Abraham, he came to faith as an adult. He made a profession of faith before he was circumcised. He had faith before he received the sign of that faith. Abrahamís son Isaac, on the other hand, received the sign of his faith before he had the faith that the sign signified (as was the case with all future children of the covenant).

The crucial point is that in the Old Testament, God ordered that a sign of faith be given before faith was present. Since that was clearly the case, it is erroneous to argue in principle that it is wrong to administer a sign of faith before faith is present.

It is also important to notice that the narrative record of baptisms in the New Testament are of adults who were previously unbelievers. They were first generation Christians. Again, it has always been the rule that adult converts (who were not children of believers at the time of their infancy) must first make a profession of faith before receiving baptism, which is the sign of their faith.

About one fourth of the baptisms mentioned in the New Testament indicate that entire households were baptized. This strongly suggests, though it does not prove, that infants were included among those baptized. Since the New Testament does not explicitly exclude infants from the covenant sign (and they had been included for thousands of years while the covenant sign was circumcision), it would naturally be assumed in the early church that infants were to be given the sign of the covenant.

History bears witness to this assumption. The first direct mention of infant baptism is around the middle of the second century a.d. What is noteworthy about this reference is that it assumes infant baptism to be the universal practice of the church. If infant baptism were not the practice of the first-century church, how and why did this departure from orthodoxy happen so fast and so pervasively? Not only was the spread rapid and universal, the extant literature from that time does not reflect any controversy concerning the issue.

In general, the New Covenant is more inclusive than the Old Covenant. Yet those who dispute the validity of infant baptism make it less inclusive with respect to children, despite the absence of any biblical prohibition against infant baptism.

The rest of this was pretty standard.

End of Sproul’s material.

Next post (finally) – a better way to parse all this. I’ll be arguing FOR infant baptism in the next post, toward a view that is devoid of all these problems and their (frankly) unworkably convoluted answers. After that the discussion will move to other issues for baptism (like mode, the “household” baptism passages, etc.).

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19 Responses to “The Biblical Teaching on Baptism, Part 5”

  1. cwmyers007 says:

    That conversation that you made up is a despicable representation of what a reformed minister would say. Maybe you should talk to one and ask the same questions before putting words in their mouth. A reformed minister should know that the “elect” can only be known by God and is meant to always be a mystery. We are only know that God elects so that we ascribe 100% of salvation to Him and 0% to us–monergism. Baptism never marks the elect…it marks those in the covenant. “In the covenant” does NOT equal “elect.” The elect are not suppose to know they are elect. They are suppose to BELIEVE they are elect by trusting in God’s work within them. And baptism (for a believer brought up “in the church”) is the beginning of his work within them (at the very least you must see that God predestined them into a Christian family, by statistic alone that gives them an edge on the majority of the world–how much more must we ascribe this to God’s free grace!). Apostasy from a God-loving, committed Christian family is virtually unheard of in my denomination. I have not met one yet (although I met several when I was a baptist, but I think this is coincidence).

  2. cwmyers007 says:

    Also, your remarks to Horton where you brought in the circumstance with Spurgeon is surprising coming from you because you should recognize that Horton is arguing against the baptist theology of children as “vipers in diapers.” The paedobaptist theology of children is in sync with the Biblical text (that is what Horton is trying to show)…and since this theology of children is foundational to infant baptism–and truly it is really the larger issue of the baptism debates–it must be submitted to his readership and proved (in his limited space he is forced to proof-text, but the conclusions are easily reinforced with exegesis).

  3. cwmyers007 says:

    Mike, Your insistence to separate the gospel from the Abrahamic covenant is without warrant (you did this by denying the connection between the new covenant and Abrahamic covenant, which have one intention behind them, which covenant theologians call the covenant of grace, but you can call it what you will–the reality of the “covenant of grace” is true). For the Scripture saith that “God confirmed the Abrahamic covenant IN CHRIST” (Galatians 3:17). And Paul speaks of the gospel and that promise to Abraham as inseparable.

  4. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: uh, no it isn’t CHris. I’ve been in reformed churches since 1995 and I’ve HEARD it.

  5. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: pretty simple: produce your verses that have grace conferred at baptism and circumcision. Should be easy if they exist. I want SCRIPTURE to tell me that (i.e., the words need to be in the verse, not coaxed there by you).

  6. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: the connection between salvation and the Abrahamic covenant is made because of parties on both sides who BELIEVED. There is no connection based purely on membership in a covenant. If there was, no one in the covenant post-Abraham would have needed to believe . . . but from your other comments, that may actually be your position – ?

  7. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Could Christ had been speaking figuratively in Matt 28:18? Was He really asking them to go around immersing people in water or was He using the word baptism as a figure of immersing new disciples into the spirit/nature/character (i.e.”Name”) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? (and if you prefer dipping/sprinkling, even this conveys elements of purification and cleansing and such). It just seems to me that Christ wouldn’t be emphasizing a ritual during His last words on earth but, rather, may have been using words His disciples knew to signify something else? Of course, it would appear they took them literally as evidenced by Acts 10:47; nevertheless, I see this verse as proving that the baptism Christ referred to was indeed a spiritual one and not just a physical one. Doesn’t this verse imply that one is superior to the other thus eliminating the need of a “mandatory” water ritual at all (Cornelius received the Spirit first pre-baptism by Peter)? The fact that the apostles did carry out the ritual doesn’t mean we still have to, does it? They were prone to take Jesus’ parables and other sayings literally when He didn’t mean them to be taken that way (“beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, etc.).

    Also, could you explain the difference between the Abrahamic Covenant and “the reformed Covenant of Grace idea”? I’m kind of lost on this one (never been in a Reformed-type church or one given to catechisms). Maybe you could start a thread on the covenants of the bible and what ‘text only’ meanings they hold. Thanks!

  8. MSH says:

    @Jonnathan Molina: On the first issue, it’s an interesting thought. Even though the early church (and, as you point out, passages in Acts) appeared to have taken it as water baptism, it’s worth thinking about. One thing mars it for me, at least at this point: that the baptism was in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. If it was just “spirit baptism” why the other two? Now, since I think you know the importance of the Name theology in the OT, and the three persons share the same essence (the “Name” in OT parlance), you *could* argue around the triune formula. Hard to know.

    On the second, the basic difference between the Abrahamic covenant and the covenant of grace is that the former is actually explicitly described in Scripture, while the latter isn’t. The covenant of grace idea is inferred. Basically, it’s the idea that God committed himself covenantally to save humankind. His efforts at undoing the effects of the fall included various biblical covenants, which were, more or less, installments in, or manifestations of, an earlier decision (“covenant”) he had made to insure the salvation of humankind. The covenant of grace is really a guiding hermeneutical IDEA under which the biblical covenants fall (and they express the idea). Now, the idea seems fine, but it’s a human construct, and so my view (and I’m far from alone here) is that a human construct shouldn’t be used to filter Scripture through. We should get our theology from what’s in the text, not how we arrange the text or systematize it. This question is a good one, since it illustrates a major difference between biblical theology (rooted in the text) and systematic theology (arranging the text – and usually from a translation at that).

  9. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Thank you Dr. Heiser. In my first point, I was just thinking that it just sounded kind of silly to think that Jesus was charging His disciples as a matter of utter importance (last words) that they make sure that people are baptized in water in the Name of Father, Son, and Spirit in the same way an explorer might say “I claim this new land “in the name of the Queen of England”. Maybe that’s exactly what I’m supposed to conclude from it, but I hardly think that it was Jesus’ intent to single out this Physical Act as a matter of life or death if justification is by faith alone. That is why I thought maybe He meant it as a metaphor for something else (which still leaves the disciples, early church, and even ourselves with room to continue using this ritual at our discretion if we wish).

    I’m not sure if I am, indeed, familiar with the importance of the Name theology in OT other than ideas surrounding the Tetragramaton (like how scribes weren’t supposed to say it or something).

    I just wanted to say that it seems scripture itself points to the importance of it being a spiritual event springing from teaching the gospel to people (what else could be meant by “Go make disciples”?). Cornelius, I think, is dramatic proof of this. He hears Peter’s message of the gospel; he then is baptized by the Spirit of God. See the parallel: Go Make Disciples; Baptizing Them In The Name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So it could be the ‘making disciples part’ (teaching them Jesus words and way of life) triggers the “spiritual” baptizing part like it did Cornelius (maybe not in the exact same way for every person but I acknowledge that there are things to work through). Or baptizing could be an event separate from the “make-disciples-trigger-spiritual baptism” process and just an outward, formal mark of conversion. But I just think it’s not coincidence that we are told elsewhere in Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, that one of Jesus focal points was that He would baptize with the Spirit and not water. As far as getting around the triune formula I don’t see that Acts ever had a problem getting around it; see Acts 2:38, Acts 19:5, Acts 10:48…in fact, not once is the triune formula invoked in any illustration of baptism in the scriptures (water or otherwise) to my knowledge…(not advocating here for “in the name of Jesus only” baptism; I, myself, was baptized “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost).

    Other things that make me think are the fact that it is specifically stated in John 4:1 that “Jesus was baptizing and gaining more disciples than John although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized but his disciples”. Now here we see that before He ever issued His last commands (per Matt 28:19) the disciples were already following a routine of “making disciples and baptizing”. Why would Jesus remind them of something they were bound to do anyway? Was He just being a dutiful teacher, rehashing the lesson so they wouldn’t forget or was He emphasizing a new truth (spiritual baptism) using familiar terminology?

    Lastly, Paul claimed in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…”. Before that he states that he was glad he didn’t baptize anyone except Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas lest people boast of being baptized into his name. This seems to imply Paul was okay with people getting baptized but didn’t deem it necessary to salvation (i.e. Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach…) Maybe it was just the Jerusalem church and elders who took it so seriously, since it had been their custom to do so when Christ was around and it just kind of stuck. Also I don’t think Paul’s concern was of people boasting they were being baptized into his essence (if we take “name” as a metaphor of God’s essence-as you said “Name” meant in OT parlance–did I understand that right?). that wouldn’t make sense, but it would make sense to be baptized into God’s Spirit as Cornelius was. Sorry for rambling, I just think Jesus ‘style’ wasn’t about leaving behind more rituals but He did (while on earth) love to use things as metaphors for spiritual truths (only caveat perhaps the direct command to break bread and drink wine in remembrance…again, I’m not against the ritual of water baptism continuing just a better understanding of what Jesus really meant in light of justification by faith and the Importance of any ritual in light of that. Great topic Dr. Heiser!

    (Thanks for explaining about the covenants, also).

  10. cwmyers007 says:

    Really? What “reformed” church have you been in? I cannot imagine you hearing that…unless it was from someone who had no idea what they were talking about. Those pastors are around.

  11. cwmyers007 says:

    No the connection is deeper than merely faith because CHRIST was promised in both covenants, both covenants were given signs and seals, both covenants were unconditional on man’s part, both covenants provided salvation through the imputation of God’s righteousness through Christ alone by faith alone, both covenants are covenants of promise, etc. etc.

    If you are missing this then we have a long way to go….It is wrong to separate the gospel from the Abrahamic covenant.

    I have shown how circumcision is connected in scripture with regeneration, cleansing, and the forgiveness of sins…are these not graces!? You wrongly separate the spiritual from the physical….yes they should be distinct, but there is a unity so that they MUST NOT be separated

  12. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: no one is separating the gospel from the Abrahamic covenant. It’s just that you seem to think what made the covenant work was circumcision of the flesh. It wasn’t. It was belief — THAT is what Abraham is the example of (Paul is quite clear on it). Circumcision of the flesh availed nothing without it, which tells you THAT is the basis of the covenant. Look at what Galatians 3 says – those who BELIEVE are children of Abraham and heirs of the covenant. It doesn’t say “those who are baptized” (or those who were circumcised). You have away of looking at the text and filtering it through a theological system. On the back end it looks like the system and the text are the same or working on the same level (or the system merely explicates the text without exerting any influence over it). That last point is the problem I see in your so many of your posts. Systems aren’t neutral; they DO act as filters, and the filter is not the same as the text.

  13. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: I was in a conservative CRC church in Madison (we opposed women’s ordination as a church, but we had a good number of people in it that worked for Intervarsity, which favored it – but everyone got along). Your background seems quite insulated. If I’ve learned one thing in reformed circles, it’s that the circles are a LOT wider than other places I’ve been (too wide in some regards for me).

  14. MSH says:

    @Jonnathan Molina: I agree with you that justification is by grace through faith (alone). I can’t imagine how Paul could have been any clearer on this.

    My note on the Name theology: I assumed you had read my Myth book on this (the two powers in heaven stuff — part of that subject concerns the Name theology).
    I take Jesus’s statements to refer to Pentecost and the subsequent coming of the Spirit. I would think that if THAT was (or nullified the need of) water baptism, we’d see that in Acts (no water baptism). But we don’t. You may be on to something but it may need some sort of other articulation.

    I don’t think Paul saw baptism as necessary to salvation (he knew his OT for one thing); that doesn’t mean in return that he saw it as unnecessary for believers (necessary for identification and aligning with the messiah – but not for eternal life).

  15. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Dr. Heiser had asked in his 1st response to my original comment: If it was just “spirit baptism” why the other two? (i.e. why include Father, and Son in Matthew 28:19?). I finally see what you mean and I can actually see why Jesus would include the “other two” even though He was referring to a purely spiritual event (clearly) when He commanded the disciples (and us) to Go…and baptize. If the water baptism serves as a message (symbol) then it retains significance through every age while maintaining distance from the justification process (by grace through faith alone). Now a message may be a ritual, but a ritual may not be a message! It may just be a spiritually murderous piece of dead religion; however, a message straight from God (approved by Him) may indeed through time become a ritual. So you have Jesus’ message being via water baptism that The True God (Father) who parted the Red Sea and made you cross that water (OT link, no?) sent me, the True Messiah (Son) to rescue you again as you pass through these waters (John’s ministry becoming His ministry=Baptism of Repentance) so that I can give you the true Promised Land, eternal life (through The Spirit…the True Baptism). And there you have all Three. The water was necessary to that audience (1st century Jews) to comprehend that they were going from one covenant to the next…a transition in identity that met both psychological and societal needs. But the most important thing was the event it signified, the Pentecost and/or indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers. And I think this might even explain why Paul would encourage it for the Jews and gentiles of his time as a message of unity between the ‘estranged halves’ of the true church. So. In my view, the message of water baptism can still be honored…but it’s not Necessary in our day and age (at least in America) as we don’t have this racial/religious dichotomy at work in our society. If i’m right, the original message of baptism doesn’t really apply to us, but the significant reality behind it surely does. So honor it, teach it…but demand it? Make it necessary? No. (And some would say, “but Christ commanded” but I say, “WHY did He command it?” If you can’t provide a purely scriptural reason as to the continuance of it that would extend to us today, then I say in its context Christ commanded the disciples to do it but in hopes that the spirit of the letter here would become increasingly clearer with time…am I wrong in assuming this? Perhaps…but seeing the whole of Christ’s teaching I don’t think I am…He always wanted us to grasp the truth behind His commands–e.g.”If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” never became tradition; the message got through pretty quickly I’d say). Now I argue all this because of my resistance in seeing Christ as setting up any kind of ritual as His last order of business (even though thinking about the Last Supper gives me pause). If His purpose was to inaugurate a religion of the heart without the outward trappings that could snare man’s pride as Judaism did, I don’t see the sense in a compromising stance that says; “Well, He just whittled it down to 2 rituals…I mean, He is still God, He’s gotta have His Rituals!”. Again, this may be so. I acknowledge the importance of communion and water baptism in my own life. Maybe Jesus really meant to leave only 1 ritual: communion, as its the only one the text ever says to keep doing in remembrance and until the Lord comes…pretty plain there. However with baptism…not so clear (no “keep baptizing until I come back” verse).

    As to the Myth book; I do apologize Dr. Heiser! As you know, I have the opportunity to read it but I’m honestly transfixed by the Divine Council part and keep rereading that (it is just so…wow) so I haven’t gotten quite that far, but now I surely will have no choice but to find out more! Thanks again.

  16. cwmyers007 says:

    I may have been insulated: this is my background: I grew up fundamental, KJV-only, Neo-Arminian, Independent Baptist. When I started reading the Bible I became a Reformed Baptist, said tongue in cheek :) That is when I became the children’s minister at a Southern Baptist, but not admitting it, non-denominational church. Then when I truly became 100% reformed (I came to see infant baptism as scriptural), I became part of a PCA Presbyterian church. And I am now seeking ordainment through the PCA. Bryan Chapell is my man…LOL Actually, John Piper is who I have a special affinity towards. I look at him as my spiritual grandfather and he has never even met me.

  17. MSH says:

    @Jonnathan Molina: This angle is really interesting, especially given how the passage through the Red Sea was analogous to passing through the waters of chaos (this is why the event at the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s defeat is conceived as a victory over Rahab (the sea monster analogous to Leviathan in other passages) and bringing order out of chaos in Isaiah 51:9-11). This and some of the other comments have alerted me to other possible biblical-theological connections (there’s a lot of cross-fertilization going on between the testaments as we keep discovering).

  18. MSH says:

    @cwmyers007: understood, and I know several with a very similar story.

  19. WoundedEgo says:

    I see you are not defending this silly view. Good! My fears were misplaced.

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