This exchange stemmed from a critique of Jack DisPennett (of the Churches of Christ or something similar) of my paper, Infant Baptism: A Fictional Dialogue. All Bible quotes, unless otherwise annotated, are from the New International Version. Jack’s words will be in blue. Quotes from my paper above will be in green.
Cathy the Catholic: But where in the Bible does it specifically prohibit the baptism of babies?
Zeke: Well . . . I guess it never says that. But . . .
Cathy: But don’t you only follow what’s plainly taught in the pages of Scripture?
Zeke: It’s a conclusion that follows from ideas that are clearly in Scripture. It’s still a biblical doctrine.
Cathy: Ah! That’s a big difference. Now we’re both in the same boat, since the Bible doesn’t explicitly teach about baptism of infants. We must make inferences. Catholics maintain that there are many strong indications of our view.
“Strong indications” is a relative term here, and we must be careful with how we proof text things. Relying on implicit proofs only is not necessarily wrong, but it is potentially dangerous.
I think that the problem for Catholicism is that so many of its key doctrines (baptismal regeneration being one) rely on implicit texts.
That is not unique to us. Protestants believe in the canon of the New Testament without one iota of biblical evidence for it (thus they rely on human ecclesiastical authority in the 4th century). They also accept sola Scriptura (as one of their bedrock principles of arriving at theological truths) when there is (I think) no biblical evidence at all for that notion, or if there is, it is implicit only, in my opinion. So that sword cuts both ways. Protestants build their very belief-structure (and determine how they will ascertain all other Christian doctrines) on two premises that are entirely unproven or unprovable from Holy Scripture itself. Catholics don’t labor under that profound sort of logical inconsistency.
I shall try to prove in what follows that the proofs for infant baptism/baptismal regeneration are very speculative and assumption-laden.
Fair enough. It’s good and helpful to delve into the Scriptures to learn more about what it teaches. I look forward to the opportunity, especially on this topic, which I haven’t researched all that deeply thus far.
Cathy: In Acts 16:15,33, 18:8 (cf. 11:14), and 1 Corinthians 1:16 it is stated that an individual and his whole household were baptized. It would be hard to say this involved no small children.
Acts 16:15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.Acts 16:33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.
Acts 18:8 Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.
1 Corinthians 1:16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)
Mr. Armstrong himself knows that when the Bible uses the word “all” it doesn’t necessarily mean, “every single one with no exceptions” but is often at least slightly hyperbolic in nature.
For example, in Romans 11 Paul says that “all Israel will be saved,” but this doesn’t necessarily mean “every single person.” In fact, Mr. Armstrong himself tried to use this same argument in our Mariology discussion to prove that “all have sinned” need not encompass Mary.
That’s right, but in that instance, Jack was trying to show that there are absolutely no persons whatever who are without sin. That is simply not true, because Jesus (a man, albeit a God-Man) and Adam and Eve before the Fall, and the unfallen angels were all without sin. So “all” in that context clearly had to be qualified, lest the Bible contradict itself. Here we are not dealing with such a broad scope (all men). Nor is my argument nearly that ambitious.
Hence, these passages that say “all the household” was baptized need not mean that every single member of the household, even infants, were baptized. This argument begs the question.
It doesn’t beg the question as long as we don’t say this “proves” infant baptism.” What we are saying is that a straightforward reading of it suggests that in all likelihood, children were involved, and that it is perfectly consistent with such a view. In Acts 16:15 it reads, When she and the members of her household were baptized. Now, who are the members of a household? In my own household, the “members” are my wife and I, three sons, and a daughter. People generally had more children in those days, before contraception and abortion and an anti-child mentality became prevalent.
So it is quite reasonable to assume that children were included in the baptism. The very fact that it mentions household rather than simply husband, is a clear indication of others being involved. In that time and culture, that probably would have included parents as well, maybe grandparents, or siblings or cousins. Almost always it would also include children (even if the individual referred to was elderly, because he or she would have been living with younger relatives).
In Acts 18:8 the phrase used is his entire household. Again, what would my own “entire household” be? Me, my wife, and four children. That is the straightforward reading. Jack may try to pick at the edges of this interpretation, because it isn’t airtight, looking for a loophole to avoid the difficulty for his position, but I think he is stretching it. There is such a things as a plausible explanation, whether or not something is proven beyond any doubt. Many biblical passages connect household and children (if indeed such a demonstration is necessary, so obvious is it):
Genesis 18:19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, . . .
Genesis 31:41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters . . .
Genesis 36:6 Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, . . . .
Genesis 47:12 Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.
Numbers 18:11 . . . I give this to you and your sons and daughters as your regular share. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.
1 Chronicles 10:6 So Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together.
Matthew 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
1 Timothy 3:12 deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.
Furthermore, the Greek word for house or household in four passages connecting it with baptism (Acts 16:15,33, 18:8, and 1 Cor 1:16) is oikos (from which the English economy derives). Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines it in its usage at Acts 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:16, and Acts 16:31 (in the immediate context of 16:33), as the inmates of a house, all the persons forming one family, a household (p. 441; Strong’s word #3624).
(Also, see John 4:53 where the man’s “whole household” believes in Christ; this obviously excludes little babies who are not old enough to understand things pertaining to salvation)
No, it doesn’t obviously exclude babies — not with regard to being saved/baptized — because elsewhere entire households are referred to as being saved. To be saved (or baptized), one doesn’t necessarily have to be aware of what is happening. For example, say a child was born a vegetable, with severe brain defects, and died at ten years of age, still incapable of rational thought or communication. Is that child damned simply because she couldn’t “believe”? I think not. I think that God’s mercy extends to those who do not yet know or understand the gospel, or else all aborted babies, children who die at a young age, or before the age of reason, etc. go to hell. I don’t believe that for a second. But here are some more relevant verses:
Luke 19:9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.
Acts 11:14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
Acts 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved; you and your household.”
III. THE COVENANTAL ANALOGY OF CIRCUMCISION
Cathy: Paul in Colossians 2:11-13 makes a connection between baptism and circumcision.
Colossians 2:11-13 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 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. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,
Israel was the church before Christ (Acts 7:38, Romans 9:4). Circumcision, given to 8-day old boys, was the seal of the covenant God made with Abraham, which applies to us also (Galatians 3:14,29). It was a sign of repentance and future faith (Romans 4:11). Infants were just as much a part of the covenant as adults (Genesis 17:7, Deuteronomy 29:10-12, cf. Matthew 19:14). Likewise, baptism is the seal of the New Covenant in Christ. It signifies cleansing from sin, just as circumcision did (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4, 9:25, Romans 2:28-9, Philippians 3:3).
Here the Catholic has unwittingly argued himself into a corner.
In this instance, also the Presbyterian, as I derived the above argument straight from Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge.
I will totally agree with the presupposition that baptism in the New Covenant is equivalent in some fashion to circumcision in the Old Covenant.
Good. But let the reader note that Jack goes on to make exactly one biblical argument (technically somewhat off the subject, as it deals with soteriology rather than sacramentology) derived from the context of Romans 4:11, which was mentioned in my original paper (and I thoroughly refute his argument, I think). He completely ignores 13 other passages in the paragraph in red above. Does he consider this “interaction” with an opponent’s argument?
This parallel of baptism and circumcision is absolutely central to the biblical argument made for infant baptism by Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, and Anglicans alike. It can’t be dismissed by the one-line ambiguous concession above. Jack needs to explain the other 13 passages variously, so that they apply more to adult baptism than infant baptism (since he already admits that there is some sort of connection with baptism).
However, when we look at Romans 4 (which by pure chance just happens to be one of the main texts on which Protestants base their understanding of imputed justification), what does Paul tell us?
We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before.”-vv. 9b-10
These verses are very clear; Abraham was justified before he was circumcised–in the same way, Christians are justified before baptism.
Yes, “overemphasize” is the key word here (as we agree that each individual has to appropriate salvation and grace for himself — the Pauline “work out your salvation in fear and trembling”), because the denial of covenantal salvation causes the biblical difficulties I have been outlining. Of course, the phrase, “accepting Christ as your personal Savior,” doesn’t occur in the Bible. The Bible prefers to speak in terms of Jesus (often, through baptism) saving us, rather than us accepting Him, as if He is some sort of beggar at the door of our hearts.
I would say it is better to go to that extreme than to think that mere membership in any organization or earthly communion can grant you a ticket to heaven.
No Catholic who knows his faith believes this (quite the contrary: we agree with St. Paul that one must be ever-vigilant with regard to their salvation). If anything, it is the Calvinist and his “perseverance of the saints” and the Baptist with his “eternal security” whose beliefs are much more accurately caricatured (and it is a caricature in most instances) as a “ticket to heaven.” But we are still off the topic.
I believe that any Bible-minded Protestant will realize that the communal aspect of salvation is important, but that it cannot exist unless that personal, volitional aspect has been taken care of. No one can “accept Christ” for you.
The baby obviously doesn’t consciously “accept Christ,” but is made a member of God’s covenant by grace, just as the Old Testament circumcised child was part of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants (and the young girls were, too, as part of the family). People get grace all the time based on other people’s actions. That’s what intercessory prayer is about! When the child is old enough, he or she chooses to be a follower and disciple of Christ of their own accord. This is the function of confirmation in Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism.
It’s easy for Jack to simply repeat back to us the usual Baptist-type theological lingo (which I used to believe myself, as I held to adult baptism as a Protestant, and was “baptized” at 24, thus repudiating my Methodist infant baptism). What I am interested in is an extensive exegesis of the relevant biblical data. So far, the reader can readily see who is doing more of that.
Moreover, getting back to the point at hand, I challenge Mr. Armstrong to find just one verse that directly equates “baptism” and “justification.” (No, Bible Gateway’s search engine isn’t broken; there isn’t one.)
There are several which equate or closely connect baptism and salvation (which is quite enough), as we will see below.
Cathy: Infants are wholly saved by God’s grace just as adults are, only apart from their rational and willful consent. Their parents act in their behalf.
This is where the “leap” of Catholic theology takes one very much past where Biblical theology ends.
Then the Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Orthodox are all “unbiblical” too. I still await a biblical argument which establishes Jack’s viewpoint. When I gave mine for the basis of baptizing infants, following the parallel of circumcision, Jack ignored 13 out of 14 proof texts I offered for his consideration. So I’m supposed to be persuaded by bald statements without any biblical backing? That won’t cut it for this “biblically-minded Catholic.”
To say that children are “saved” by their parents’ decision before they are even old enough to choose insinuates that they can be “lost” by their parents’ decision.
No; we believe that they will not be punished without mercy, if they die before the age of reason. They are included in the covenant by “proxy,” so to speak, but they don’t lose their salvation if the parents go astray. They receive grace from the baptism itself, for those who accept baptismal regeneration, as we do. I gave three examples of “households” being saved in Scripture, but alas, Jack will simply say that they didn’t include children, contrary to other passages which stated outright that a “household” usually does include children.
As human beings, we often have a tendency to put outward appearances and rituals over and above the conditions of the heart.
Indeed we do. For that very reason, I uploaded my paper, Sacraments & the Moral Responsibility of Their Recipients And that is why Catholics believe that to receive the Holy Eucharist in a state of mortal sin is itself a further grave sin, and to “fake” repentance” in the confessional is an equally serious matter. That couldn’t be further from the usual caricature of sacraments as some sort of “magic” or “talisman” which is often put forth by those who don’t understand the reasoning behind sacramentalism. Readers can get a basic overview of the surprising amount of biblical data in this vein by reading my paper, Heartfelt Sacramentalism (Not Mere Charms).
I sincerely doubt that the same Jesus who said “Let the children come to me” is going to send babies to hell because of their parents’ indecision.
Me, too. We have no disagreement here.
However, even the Catechism expresses sort of a minimalist hope that unbaptized infants will be saved:
1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children, which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way
of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
Yes. That’s because we’re not legalistic like, say, supralapsarian Calvinists, who think that persons can be foreordained to hell from the foundation of the world, without their free will having any part of the process. Nor do we automatically exclude all those who haven’t heard the gospel from salvation, as many Protestants do (contrary to Romans 2:14-15). The Church doesn’t proclaim that anyone is damned, only that certain saints are in heaven.
Allow me to quote Charlie Brown: “Hoping to goodness is not theologically sound.” It staggers my imagination how Rome can (in a manner of speaking) open up the doors of Heaven wide to include deniers of Christ (such as Muslims–see 1 John 2:22-23)
They have to fully know and understand what they are denying, and then deny Christ to be damned. Many, many people are simply ignorant, and we believe God is merciful to such folks. Hopefully, ignorance of Catholicism (which is rampant) will let a lot of people off the hook too. In the meantime, I do my best to educate people about what the Church actually teaches.
and yet be somewhat reluctant to dogmatically proclaim that the very children whom we are to become like to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3) are not damned automatically by their parents’ not baptizing them!
Because that is a silly, foolish argument to begin with, which has not the slightest inkling of the covenantal aspect of baptism and the Christian community, or the biblical arguments lying behind infant baptism. Does Jack wish to merely preach and rail against Rome (clearly not even understanding its teachings in the first place)? I thought this was a dialogue.
I quote Ezekiel 18:1-4:
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ” ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD , you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son-both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.
Yes, of course. I don’t know what relevance this has to our discussion . . .
For posterity’s sake, I will briefly record three possible alternate views as to the salvation of infants:
1. All infants are saved automatically. This has the advantage of getting us out of the unbaptized infant problem the Catholics posit, but has the disadvantage of implying that the most merciful thing we can do to infants is to kill them at birth and guarantee them a spot in heaven. This is an unavoidable paradox of this view and therefore I think this view lacks plausibility.
2. God judges infants based on what they would have done had they lived. However, I think that upon further examination, this is a little incoherent. It seems to be unjust for God to judge us on what would have been. For example, if I had died on November 30, 1996, the day before I became a Christian, I would have gone to hell. Now, if God judges me based on what would have happened had I died on that day, I would be damned. In the same way, it seems incoherent that God would judge infants based on mere counterfactual statement, because it leads to paradoxes to which one can find no end. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying that it seems implausible, at least to my human intellect.
I’m inclined to accept #2, though I think #1 might be possible, too, and in line with God’s merciful nature. There is some biblical evidence of what is known as God’s Middle Knowledge, whereby His omniscience includes what people would have done, since He is both out of time and in possession of all knowledge.
3. Upon entry into the afterlife, infants are endowed with understanding and then given a choice whether to accept or to reject Christ. I think that this solution has the advantage of avoiding the dilemmas noted in 1 and 2, but the proposition itself is speculative and therefore undogmatic in nature since it goes beyond the scope of the Biblical evidence.
Catholics deny that one can have a second chance at salvation after death (souls in purgatory are already saved; they just have to be cleaned up a bit in order to enter heaven). I think that can be established from Scripture. The other two positions do go beyond what we can know from the Bible. We really don’t know. That’s why some Catholics have believed in Limbo, where the unbaptized saved live forever in a state of natural happiness, but no Catholic is required to believe in that. In any event, this discussion is supposed to be about baptism, not the fate of dead infants, which is another matter entirely.
Cathy: It doesn’t exactly say that. It says that one must be born of water and the Spirit. Catholics, along with the Church Fathers such as St. Augustine and many Protestants (for example, Lutherans and Anglicans), interpret this as a reference to baptism, and a proof of the necessity of infant baptism.
This verse was used from the very beginning by figures such as Tertullian to “prove” baptismal regeneration. As with most “proof-texts”, this verse is far from clear in meaning, and we should thus interpret it in the light of the rest of the Bible. Mr. Armstrong might well protest this as a smoke-and-mirror tactic, but consider this: Calvinists often use Romans chapter 9 as a proof-text for some of their bizarre doctrines. And they seem to have a good case, if you only look at the stuff that is in that chapter. But once you read other parts of the Bible, and learn such things as the fact that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) you are made better equipped to interpret Romans 9. In the same way, I will endeavor to point out some other Biblical points that will better equip us to interpret John 3:6.
That’s fine with me. Jack makes some good points here. But he needs to deal with that verse at some point.
My first point is that there are many other occasions in the Scriptures where our salvation is explained and baptism is not even mentioned.
That is a rather weak argument. Much more important are verses where they are connected. Jack has to explain those. If he tries to merely appeal to other places where this isn’t the case, that is not sufficient. Once is enough. The Virgin Birth is only mentioned once or twice in Scripture too. There is far less biblical evidence for that (if we simply count numbers of verses) than for baptismal regeneration. But all (non-liberal) Christians accept the Virgin Birth.
I will try to prove this at the end of my critique. For now, I will try to illustrate that the Catholic view of baptismal regeneration as it is held is actually inconsistent.
Okay; let’s see what Jack can come up with!
Acts 10:44-48: While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
These verses render implausible the Catholic teaching of baptismal regeneration.
Hardly. This is not a normative situation for later Church history, either. It was an absolutely unique, one-time historical situation: the first pouring-out of the Spirit to the Gentiles. That is no more proof that “regeneration” always precedes baptism, than Abraham’s circumcision at 99 and his son’s at 13 “renders implausible” the practice of routine circumcision on the 8th day. This is exceedingly weak exegesis.
I think that all Christians would agree that a person is regenerated when the Holy Spirit comes on him.
They certainly do not agree that this is the only way regeneration (in the technical theological sense) occurs. Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists agree with us that regeneration normally occurs at baptism. I did a word search on my computer (the “Bible Gateway”): I typed in “regeneration Holy Spirit.” That turned up no matches. :-)
Now, these verses indicate that the first Gentile believers received the Holy Spirit (and were thus, “regenerated”) prior to baptism.
No; that’s simply Jack’s as-yet unproven assumption. He needs to prove that regeneration is inherently and always connected with the Indwelling of the Spirit. He hasn’t done so; rather, he has merely assumed it and proceeded on with his “argument.” He may be able to establish a link, for all I know. But he hasn’t so far, because he has merely assumed his position without argument.
But Peter ordered them to be subsequently baptized. On a Catholic view that teaches baptismal regeneration, the subsequent water baptism of these already-regenerated believers would have been nothing more than a “symbolic” baptism.
That doesn’t follow, for two reasons: 1) Jack has assumed they were already regenerated, which is not itself stated in the text, and I don’t believe it is anywhere in Scripture. 2) Based on that groundless assumption, he proceeds to claim that therefore the baptism was merely symbolic (and that proposition is contradicted elsewhere in Scripture, where salvation is expressly associated to baptism). Since, therefore, Jack’s premise rests on no biblical evidence, his conclusion is suspect, being based, as it is, on nothing whatever. This is a circular argument of the worst kind.
But this is precisely what the Catholic is trying to refute, not to prove. Thus, if we have at least one case of non-regenerative, symbolic baptism, (and this seems undeniable) then why cannot baptism be symbolic in all cases?
Undeniable??!! Jack hasn’t proven anything at all in this “argument,” as shown! It cannot be symbolic in all cases because it is tied to salvation elsewhere in very clear, blunt teachings. It is a well-known principle of biblical hermeneutics that one ought not to base a doctrine solely or primarily on a biblical narrative or historical account. It should be based on expositional biblical teaching, such as found in Paul’s writings. And that is precisely what I do when I am trying to establish my belief about baptism.
“Because of the proof texts we have to prove baptismal regeneration,” Catholics say. We will deal with those later.
I can’t wait.
And although I admit that this one case falls short of disproving it in all the other cases, I think that it does cast a deep, dark shadow on the whole doctrine.
I think Jack needs to better understand hermeneutical principles. Wholly apart from the issue at hand, no one who has studied hermeneutics would make this grand claim of casting “a deep, dark shadow” on a doctrine based on one circular argument from a narrative text (and a one-time historical event at that). I don’t blame anyone for needing more education. Jack said he has only been a “Christian” for five years. That isn’t much time to learn all that there is to learn about the Bible, solid biblical theology, exegesis, and hermeneutics, and Christianity.
. . . Which doesn’t utilize a single Bible verse! Odd. Mine was filled with biblical passages. But Jack ignored 13 out of 14 in one single paragraph.
Carl the Catholic: You Baptists have a wrong view of baptism. Baptism is more than a symbol; it is actually the sacrament through which we are regenerated.
Bob the Baptist: Well, what about true believers who, for example, get hit by a car while walking to church the day they are going to get baptized? Are they going to hell just because of that, even though they trusted Christ?
Carl: No, because Catholics believe that anyone who wants to get baptized but is not able will still be saved.
Correct. Or at least they won’t be damned simply because they weren’t baptized.
Bob: What about the Muslims (whom the Catechism says are part of “God’s plan of salvation”) who neither believe in Christ nor baptism?
Carl: As long as someone has a sincere desire to serve the Creator and goes through with that desire and remains faithful to the end, God will pardon any ignorance that person had and will save them in spite of their ignorance.
Bob: What about the Quakers and the Salvation Army, who love the true Christ and serve Him from a pure heart, and yet do not baptize, believing that it is not important and that the important thing is inward regeneration and faith?
That is an extremely difficult case to make, because Scripture is so crystal-clear that the Christian is to be baptized.
Carl: Well, if these persons believe such things due to invincible ignorance and not because of obstinate rejection, God will still save them if they remain faithful to Christ until the end. This is because they would have desired baptism had they realized the truth about baptismal regeneration as we Catholics believe it.
Bob: What you are basically telling me is that, “Baptism saves us, except for when it doesn’t.” You admit that it is the desire for baptism (read “faith”) that actually saves a person. Hence, you really don’t believe in baptismal regeneration in the strictest sense.
Clever. The flaw here, however, is that the Bible indeed states flat-out that baptism saves or regenerates. So that is the raw (and, I think, undeniable) data we have to work with. These “hard cases” might be fun and interesting to ponder in a philosophical sense, but they don’t undermine the clear biblical statements any more than the fact that we have free will contradicts God’s sovereignty. When one gets deeply into spiritual matters, there are always things difficult to understand, and paradoxes.
I still say Jack is off-topic. This speculation and wondering about the “hard cases” is not a discussion of baptism per se and the biblical evidence for it one way or another (infant vs. adult; regeneration vs. symbolic). We both agree on the inspired authority of the Bible, so that is how we have to argue this.
Zeke: That doesn’t make sense. Water here refers to the amniotic sac when a baby is born. Babies can’t be born again. Jesus is contrasting natural with spiritual birth.
Cathy: Are you saying then that a baby can’t be saved, and will go to hell if it dies before the “age of reason”?
Zeke: No, no, I would never say that. God is too merciful to let that happen to an innocent little baby.
Cathy: But you believe in original sin (1 Corinthians 15:22), inherited by all people from the Fall of Adam and Eve, right?
Zeke: Well, yeah. What are you getting at?
Cathy: Once you say that a baby can be saved, then clearly there is a justification for baptizing infants, since there are factors other than their own consent which enter into the question of their salvation. Thus, you have arrived at a more communal, covenantal view of salvation (see, for
example, 1 Corinthians 7:14, 12:13), rather than the individualistic notion that many evangelicals have.
Here the dialogue drifts off into ideological “worldview” assumptions that one can hardly get to the end of. What I mean is that I, as an Evangelical Christian, am “preprogrammed”, if you will, with a more “individualistic” view of salvation, whereas Mr. Armstrong as a Catholic is preprogrammed” with a more covenantal view of salvation. I dealt with this earlier in my critique, but I would like to go into a little more depth here to expose what I believe is the one crucial error in the Catholic view that leads to many other errors, including errors dealing with the topic at hand.
My first point is that entrance into Christ’s flock is always an individual decision. Although we non-Calvinists accept predestination in some form, we rightly admit that, in the end, each individual person is responsible for his own sin and his own personal response to the Gospel message. “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”-Romans 14:12. Although there are corporate aspects to reward and punishment (c.f. the parable of the sheep and the goats), these too are based primarily on the individual decisions of the people which determined whether they would be “sheep” or “goats.”
Second, the corporate aspect of salvation can never override the personal or decisional aspect, but rather is itself based on that aspect. That is, we as a Christian communion can “save” people by sharing the message of Christ with them, but we can never coerce them to accept that message. We are members of the body of Christ now, and is true that our salvation is almost always the result of the actions of this body (preaching, teaching, etc.) But we must remember that this body itself would not exist were it not for the individual decision of each person to follow Christ.
What is more, it is important to remember that the Church is not eternal. Only God is eternal. I think that if we look to the Cross, that all of this will come to focus. There was no church at the time when Jesus hanged on the Cross. But what do we have? We have a Savior, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who came to give Himself as a ransom for many, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. And what else do we have? We have a poor, wretched thief hanging on another cross beside Him. “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom,” he gasps. Jesus says to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I mention this not only to show the “personal decision” of the thief to accept Christ. I also have a larger, more important reason mentioning this. We must remember that the source of all our salvation, all of our righteousness, and even of the Church itself lies in the Person of Christ. Christ was the one who taught the Gospel of our Salvation to the Apostles. He was the one who sent the Advocate from the Father to be with us forever. In essence, He is the Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6) of the Church. He is the one over Whom we either stumble over and so are lost, or in Whom we believe and so are saved. In the end, each person stands before God either with Christ as his Savior, or with that person trying to be his own savior.
Lastly, no one can enjoy the benefits of being a member of the body of Christ until he decides to take that step. And it is a personal decision. The fact that I, Jack DisPennett, am a dirty rotten sinner in need of a Savior is a fact that is intimate knowledge to me, and a fact that I alone, in the end, am responsible for. I cannot balk and blame all of my sins on the fact that I am surrounded by a licentious culture, because I really do know better than to do wrong. We are not mindless robots or brainwashed zombies like in “Brave New World.” I am a member of the creaturely subset “sinner” by my own personal choice. I am also a member of the creaturely subset “Christian” by choice and by the predestination and grace of God.
This is simply preaching; old ground, and has virtually nothing to do with baptism. But I am happy to include it in the paper because it was a decent heart-stirring sermon, and the Catholic agrees with almost all of this (whether Jack is aware of that or not). He may think he is evangelizing or giving Catholics who read this some big revelation, but in fact, he is preaching to the choir (it might be good for Catholics reading this to write to him and let him know that you already knew this stuff :-).
He gives exactly two utterly uncontroversial verses, both of which we completely accept, all the while ignoring the three I provided from my last excerpt, in his “reply.” Also, if Jack were more familiar with my own Christian odyssey, he would know that I had a profound experience of conversion to Christ, just as he did, in 1977; one which I need not repudiate as a Catholic (only certain theological interpretations of it). That’s when I started following Christ seriously.
We agree. This is a non sequitur.
Now, we know from other texts that God will bring down the punishment for the sins of the parents on the heads of the children in cases where a child chooses to follow the evil ways of his parents. However, Ezekiel assured us that a child who had done no wrong would not suffer for the sins of his father. Being born in original sin, whatever that means, (and I really don’t want to get off into another point of theology) is not a sin. It might predispose someone to sin, but it is not a wrong in itself.
If Jack is unfamiliar with original sin, then surely he has more studying to do. There is a corporate dimension to the Fall of Man. We all fell. The quickest Bible proof is the one I provided above in my fictional dialogue: 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die . . . ”
Cathy (cont): The reality of original sin makes baptism desirable as soon as possible, since it removes the punishment and guilt due to sin and infuses sanctifying grace. This is why most Protestants through history, including Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Reformed, and Presbyterians, have baptized infants.
Original sin itself is not defined in detail in the Bible,
Sola Scriptura or the canon of the New Testament have no detail at all. Zero, zip, zilch. There is enough concerning original sin, for it to have been accepted by virtually all Christian groups.
but I tend to think that baptizing an infant is like giving someone a bath who isn’t dirty.
I think now we’re getting to the root of the problem. If Jack flat-out denies original sin, that is rank heresy — not just according to Catholicism, but all historic Christian groups that I am aware of (enough in and of itself, I think, to bring into question his self-title of “evangelical”). That’s why all men need salvation in the first place, for heaven’s sake: there is such a thing as the Fall of Man, which wreaked havoc on the earth and man alike. We all commit actual sin, too (except for Mary), but that itself is because of the original sin inside of us and the concupiscence (tendency or desire to sin) which makes sin seem desirable to us.
In fact, this would be the ancient heresy of Pelagianism (or a variant of it to some degree), which denied that man could do nothing to save himself, as he was basically good in the first place. This was condemned by the Catholic Church in the 6th century and the condemnation was re-affirmed at Trent. Both historic Calvinist and Arminian Protestantism condemn it too, in no uncertain terms, though the former continues to falsely accuse the latter camp (and Catholics and Orthodox) of Semi-Pelagianism to this day.
In the Bible, baptism is used to symbolize repentance and the forgiveness of sin. Infants cannot repent of anything since they have never actually sinned, and being born in “original sin” is not in and of itself a wrong that needs to be forgiven or “washed away.”
It certainly is. Jack is dead-wrong, and I am disappointed that he believes in such a thing. He is in conflict with Protestantism on this one as much as he is with me. The historic Baptist position would never deny original sin.
It seems unfathomable, yea, well nigh inconceivable that God would ever “punish” or count “guilt” to an infant’s account just because he/she inherited original sin. I think that the point, mentioned by Zeke earlier, that baptism is tied to faith and repentance in the scriptures has not yet been adequately answered by the Catholic.
Jack is probably confusing actual and original sin somewhat, but if he denies original sin outright and the fallenness of the human race, that is rank biblical (Pelagian) heresy.
1. It seems unfathomable how anyone could believe in salvation by faith alone (as any Protestant worthy of the name must) and yet teach that a certain work (namely, baptism) is necessary for salvation.
Then Martin Luther, John Wesley, and C. S. Lewis (and others in their denominations) are not Protestants (and perhaps not Christians, either, according to Jack). I find that ludicrous, of course (especially since Jack himself is truly outside the Protestant camp if indeed he is a Pelagian; thus in no position to judge true Protestants). Far more likely is that Jack doesn’t understand biblical sacramentalism and sin (particularly original sin), and their relation to justification, regeneration, and salvation.
2. I think that the teaching of baptismal regeneration in some Protestant circles is due in large part to the Catholic teaching that perpetuated such a doctrine for over 1000 years. That is, I think that the Rome is largely responsible for the existence of this doctrine. This is my suspicion, though I cannot prove it with any sort of certainty.
Jack is not alone in that. But he could try to utilize the Bible a bit more in his critique of an allegedly “unbiblical” doctrine. That would seem to me to be a given.
And of course, I cannot dismiss the doctrine on these grounds alone, else I would be committing the genetic fallacy, that is, rejecting something merely because of how it originated.
Yes, but it sure plays to the crowd: those who are hostile to (what they falsely think is the) the Catholic Church already for 101 reasons.
Zeke: Now wait a minute. Surely you don’t believe that baptism actually does anything, do you? It’s only a symbol.
I think Zeke is wrong in saying that baptism is “only” a symbol. The American flag is not “only” a piece of cloth; a wedding ring is not “only” a piece of twisted metal. These things are symbols, but are not “only” symbols, as if by calling them “symbols” we are somehow demeaning them. A symbol possesses greatness in proportion to the greatness of the thing symbolized. In the case of baptism, we are symbolizing the death, burial, and Resurrection of our Lord, and outwardly “proclaiming” our own death to sin and our new life towards God. This “symbol” is greater than a wedding ring or a flag in the same proportion that our eternal Lord is greater than any nation or any temporal human relationship.
Likewise, in the Eucharist, we remember Christ and proclaim His death by our actions in eating the bread and drinking from the cup. I think that when evangelicals say that we are not infused with grace by these sacraments are just wrong. How could we “proclaim” the death of Christ by means of the Eucharist with a pure heart and not grow in grace? How could we outwardly show our allegiance to Jesus Christ through baptism and not receive some measure of grace? All that I deny is that these things transfer grace from the work that is worked (ex opere operato) alone without faith in our hearts.
Jack continues to argue with no recourse at all, or irrelevant recourse to the Bible. I will offer no more replies until he does that.
Cathy: You evangelicals always seem to deny that matter can be a conveyor of grace, and too often frown on the idea of sacraments, which are physical, visible means whereby grace is conferred.
I don’t deny that it is possible for matter to confer grace in the way that Catholics claim; I just deny that God has chosen to do things this way. I try my best to base my beliefs on what the scriptures say, so I am willing to be proven wrong on this.
I have no idea what this means.
Zeke: We don’t believe in those things because they’re unbiblical. The Bible talks about the Spirit giving grace (John 6:63, Romans 8:1-10), not matter. Catholics are always getting weird about things such as statues, relics, rosary beads, the wafer of communion, and holy water. This usually degenerates into idolatry.
Cathy: I disagree. God Himself took on flesh in Christ. Paul’s handkerchiefs healed the sick (Acts 19:12), as did even Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15)!
[deleted off-subject discussion of iconoclasm and idolatry]
Jack has managed to avoid my biblical arguments once again . . .
Titus 3:5 and 1 Corinthians 6:11 both mention a “washing” which need not be interpreted as meaning baptism, since it could just as well mean “washing in the blood of the Lamb.”
That’s not the most plausible reading of Titus 3:5:
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Compare this to John 3:5, which Jack wanted to pass on since it was so “unclear”:
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (cf. 3:3: “unless a man is born again …”)
The two passages are almost exactly parallel:
Titus: “saved” / John: “enter the kingdom of God”
Titus: “washing of rebirth” / John: “born of water”
Titus: “renewal by the Holy Spirit” / John: “born . . . of the Spirit”
This is how one interprets Scripture: by comparing it with itself when there are obvious parallels, to help determine what the less clear passages might mean. I think this one is undeniable. What is “washing” in one verse (with two other common elements) is shown to be “water” in the other. Thus, baptism is tied to salvation, in accord with the other verses above. The evidence is strong. Most people wash with water, as it is, not blood.
What Jack refers to is Revelation 7:14: . . . These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is an interesting verse as well, but it is far less parallel to Titus 3:5 than John 3:5 is, and seems to refer, in context, to martyrdom, not salvation per se. Taken together with the three proof texts which Jack has cited (and 1 Cor 6:11 below), I think the case is undeniable.
1 Corinthians 6:11, which Jack also tries to tie in with Revelation 7:14 (or a similar concept, at any rate), rather than the baptism passages, is also much more similar to Titus 3:5:
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
So the “justified” is the parallel of “kingdom of God” and “saved” in Titus 3:5 and John 3:5; “washed” goes along with “washing of rebirth” and “born of water,” and all this was done by the “Spirit.” Once again, it is a striking threefold parallelism (now for three passages). So I think Jack’s claim fails. Baptism is again being discussed. Furthermore, it is notable in that baptism, justification, and sanctification are all mentioned together.
The past tense justification fits in with the Catholic notion of initial justification (cf. the discussion of Abraham’s three justifications, above). But in Protestantism, justification (for any true, “saved,” elect Christian) is past, and sanctification is in the future, or (more accurately) ongoing. Paul — not seeming to understand the rules for Protestant theology, places sanctification with justification, not apart from it, and also in the past tense.
Mark 16:16 does not say that he who is not baptized will be lost, but he who does not believe. Thus, it too falls short of being the kind of proof that proponents of baptismal regeneration need to prove their case.
Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.[Note: Most Bible scholars think Mark 16:9-20 is not even supposed to be in the Bible, according to the most reliable and oldest biblical manuscripts; nevertheless, the thought it expresses is entirely consistent with the other passages we have been examining, and it would illustrate (as an historical proof) what the earliest Christians thought, even if it is not in the Bible itself]
The first part of the passage offers two conditions for salvation: belief and baptism. Catholics believe that even if one is baptized as an infant, that they must also believe of their own free will when they are able to do so (after the age of reason: usually thought to be 6 to 8 years of age) — and avoid later mortal sin and so forth — , so there is no inconsistency here with our views. Grammatically, it is possible to break down the first half of the sentence dealing with salvation, into the two following ones:
Whoever believes will be saved.Whoever is baptized will be saved.
Logically, however, it does not follow that the two derivative sentences are true like the first one is, since two conditions were stated as necessary prerequisites for salvation, and must therefore exist together. In other words, the two derivative sentences do not express the fuller truth (the “whole truth,” to use legalese for a second) of two conditions being necessary for salvation rather than one only. To be true, they would both have to substitute the word “may” for the word “will.” This is analogous to the following proposition:
Whoever finishes first in the men’s speed skating competition in the Winter Olympics and does not do drugs in order to get an unfair advantage, will get the Gold Medal.
This can be broken down into:
Whoever finishes first in the men’s speed skating competition in the Winter Olympics will get the Gold Medal.or:
Whoever does not do drugs in order to get an unfair advantage, will get the Gold Medal.
Neither derivative sentence is true (on the same basis, that two conditions are necessarily together). The truth of the first depends upon the athlete being drug-free, since even if a winner is found to have been using drugs, he will be stripped of his medal (as indeed happened in the recent Olympics). The second is obviously untrue as it is now far too vague, and would include every athlete at the Olympics who didn’t do drugs.
Thus, to return to the verse under consideration, since two conditions for salvation are being offered, (logically speaking) they must stand or fall together. One can only accept both or reject both. If Jack accepts them both, his case against baptismal regeneration collapses. If he rejects them both, then this includes belief as well as baptism, and he cannot accept that position either. Or he could reject them by saying they are not part of Scripture. That’s easy to do in this instance because it is likely true!
But even then, it provides a strong historical example of what the earliest Christians believed, just as, e.g., the earliest apostolic writings such as the Didache, or the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch do. And then we must immediately ask why the early Christians believed in this (as they did, en masse) when it is so supposedly “clearly” unbiblical.
My logical point still stands. Jack, I’m sure, would have no problem accepting other verses which assert belief in Jesus (and the Greek word for “belief” includes a true following of Him, and obedience, incidentally) as the criterion of salvation, such as Romans 10:9 or John 3:16. They are true, but they don’t exclude baptism as an additional criteria, because part of the obedience of the Christian is to follow the oft-repeated command to be baptized.
But my immediate point is that Jack accepts them because (on the surface, and in his mind) they fit into his point of view. Baptism as part of salvation does not, so Jack must avoid equally clear verses which make baptism necessary for salvation, even though there are no grounds to do so other than his predetermined bias that “this isn’t possible, so it can’t possibly be!” Mark 16:16 is one such verse, but it is textually dubious. Nevertheless, other verses are equally clear:
Acts 22:16: And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
1 Peter 3:21: and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the
removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It
saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Acts 2:38: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It couldn’t be more clear than it is. If these passages were concerned with a doctrine that all Protestants accepted, we can be sure they would be trumpeted from the rooftops as “clear and indisputable proof texts.” But because they clash with a preconceived theology of many Protestants which is — it turns out — contrary to many biblical teachings, it somehow becomes strangely “unclear,” when in fact it is clear as a bell that all these passages, taken in conjunction, form a compelling proof of the doctrine. There is a good reason why most Christians through history have believed this.
Jack’s argument about the second clause was that it spoke only of disbelief as the cause of condemnation, not baptism: whoever does not believe will be condemned. It certainly does not mention baptism, but logically, it doesn’t have to, since (as we shall see below) belief in Scripture includes the concept of obedience (which would include baptism in this instance).
Even if the clause is interpreted in a more “absolute” sense, it would not follow that baptismal regeneration is either disproven or not supported in the overall verse, because disbelief alone (whether or not baptism has occurred) is enough to render salvation unattainable. Following the analogy to the Olympics above, the second clause of Mark 16:16 would read:
Whoever does not finish first in the men’s speed skating competition in the Winter Olympics will not get the Gold Medal.or:
Whoever does drugs in order to get an unfair advantage, will not get the Gold Medal.
[depending on which analogy one chooses to be parallel to “belief”]
Note that both sentences are true as they read, because negative assertions are different from positive assertions. The simple fact that only one thing is mentioned in Mark 16:16 with regard to condemnation, does not mean that there are no other things which also condemn. There clearly are: any number of other sins (besides unbelief) unrepented of would also exclude one from heaven (see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Furthermore, there are “loopholes” (discussed above) in situations where a person cannot possibly be baptized, whereas he may desire to before death (e.g., the thief on the cross next to Jesus). Thus, Catholics believe in a “baptism of desire.” The normative situation in Christianity is that baptism (if no insuperable hindrance is present) is necessary for salvation.
The sentence is very clear. The easiest way to illustrate what ought to be obvious is to utilize an analogy whose doctrines Jack will agree to:
Get up, say the sinner’s prayer and repent and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
Now, I think Jack will agree to the truth of this sentence. I have replaced baptism with repentance and saying the sinner’s prayer. In evangelical theology, the repentance and confession of Christ and heartfelt desire to henceforth be a disciple of Christ “wash away sins” because they allow Jesus to do His cleansing work of justification or salvation. Yes, it’s all grace (as in Catholicism), but the sinner decides to take this step in order to appropriate the saving grace that God wishes to give to him.
However, if we apply Jack’s logic with regard to English grammar to this sentence, we must conclude that the repentance and saying the sinner’s prayer “ultimately fails as a support for non-baptismal regeneration or justification.” Why? Well, because it is separated from the clause “wash your sins away” by the conjunction and ! That being the case, we must re-write the sentence so as not to unduly confuse people, who might see in it something which isn’t there:
Get up, say the sinner’s prayer and repent . . ., calling on his name.’
This takes the heart out of the sentence, and of the meaning. My point is that Jack would never make such a silly argument if the verse in question supported something he was already willing to believe. Let’s try another example:
Get up [two-year-old], be bathed and wash your dirt away, calling on mommy’s name.
This is a good analogy, because obviously the water of baptism is a metaphor for washing away the “dirt” of sin (another reason why “washing” in several of the verses we have considered is reasonably equated with baptism), and we are like small children compared to God. The bathing washes the dirt away. Likewise, calling on mommy washes the dirt away.
Both things cause the same result (though in different measure and in different ways — the water is the “intermediate” between mommy’s washcloth and soap and the child’s body), just as calling on God and repenting washes away sin, and baptism also does, being a God-ordained way to accomplish the same end, by His grace. But of course, the word and is an insuperable obstacle to this understanding of the above verse, so it must read:
Get up [three-year-old], be bathed . . ., calling on mommy’s name.
What sense does that make? The entire point of the sentence is now altered. This sort of desperate argument is simply not made unless there is no other recourse to avoid the clear implication of a biblical verse. It is rather Clintonesque. Instead of arguing about the meaning of is, we have to wrangle about and. In both cases, the one using the obscurantist argument is pleading for a lost cause. The only other “argument” Jack made about Acts 22:16 was that he interpreted it in light of Romans 10:13:
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
This is fine; it doesn’t exclude baptism. It cannot, because baptism is too tied-in with salvation in other passsages, and our task is to synthesize all of Scripture in a harmonious, non-contradictory fashion. Jack says: “Baptism is merely mentioned because it is closely connected with becoming a believer.”
In other words, baptism is in there because it merely accompanies justification or salvation (as a symbolic rite), which itself is obtained by means other than baptism. This at least is a logical possibility for some of these verses, but it can’t really be sustained when all of them are considered together.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:11, God does three things: justifies, sanctifies, and indwells the believer with His Spirit. The only thing the believer does is to get baptized (“you were washed”). It says nothing about belief or repentance or saying the sinner’s prayer, etc. Nor does the context. The same applies to John 3:5 and Titus 3:5. In both passages God saves us or lets us enter the kingdom by His Holy Spirit.
The only thing these passages mention that we do is get baptized. This doesn’t disprove that other things are indeed required also (indeed they are), or that one can never lose the salvation thus gained (which is another discussion), but it does show that baptism is not so easily separated from salvation and justification as Jack thinks it is, and that it has a saving power and grace, by God’s will..
For the same principle applies: if one wants to state that belief alone is sufficient to be saved (as one interpretation of Romans 10:9,13 and John 3:16 might hold), because those verses associate it and it alone with salvation, then verses which mention baptism alone in connection with salvation would prove baptismal regeneration. You can’t say one thing and refuse the other.
The only reasonable interpretation is to hold that baptism is part of salvation, as are repentance, God’s grace, the believer’s obedience and avoidance of grave sins, etc. How all these elements are related or their relative importance is a separate discussion. But this approach incorporates all the relevant biblical data and doesn’t try to exclude any of it, as Jack does with baptism, when it fails to fit into the mold he has already arbitrarily created.
No; this shows that there is more than one type of baptism referred to in Holy Scripture. They are all “true baptisms.” The baptism of the Holy Spirit is referred to here (Acts 1:5 teaches us that this refers to the Day of Pentecost, which was described in the next chapter). That doesn’t disprove that there is such a thing as water baptism (and a non-symbolic one which actually carries power). John the Baptist mentions both types of baptism in one verse (John 1:33), and both those types and a third type — the baptism of “fire” — in another (Luke 3:16).
Our physical water baptism is only a symbol of this greater baptism, done by Christ through the Spirit.
I say that you can’t prove this from Scripture. It is an outside opinion read into the Scripture (eisegesis). It does violence to the passages we have been examining.
For there is, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,”-Ephesians 4:5. There is one baptism, not two baptisms, just as there is one Lord and not three Lords.
There is one water baptism by which we are incorporated into the Body of Christ (in other words, one trinitarian, sacramental baptism). I think the verse has that specific application. Otherwise, Paul contradicts John the Baptist, who mentions two other baptisms. Paul writes similarly in Galatians 3:26-27:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (cf. Romans 6:1-11, 1 Cor 6:11, Titus 3:5)
Thus, it seems to be the case that our physical water baptism is a symbol of our baptism in the Spirit.
Mere symbols don’t save, as water baptism is said to do. A mere symbol does not possess the power of grace that a sacrament possesses.
Otherwise, one would have to believe that in passages such as Acts 10:44-48 that there were two baptisms.
There is only one baptism mentioned there: “Baptized with water” (10:47).
What does this have to do with 1 Peter 3:21? Just about everything! For this passage speaks of baptism; it also denies that this baptism’s power is not through the washing away of physical dirt, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. Thus, this passage seems to insinuate that the important thing about baptism is not the outward aspect but the inward aspect, that is, our soul’s standing with God. Therefore, it is equally valid to conclude that Peter is here speaking of Baptism in the Spirit, which is symbolized by the water of our physical baptism.
Once again, Jack tries to explain away the water baptism by overly-emphasizing the “good conscience” which Peter also mentions. This unfortunate tendency of ignoring, minimizing, or re-explaining baptism when associated elements are present (plain bad exegesis) has been dealt with above. Apart from that, I think context is decisive in upholding the Catholic interpretation of 1 Peter 3:21. We see that by adding verse 20 and part of verse 19:
1 Peter 3:19-21: . . . he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were being saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
The meaning is much more clear in context. This is a typical Hebraic parallelism or what is called “types and shadows”; very common in Scripture. In the Old Testament, when “salvation” was mentioned, it usually referred to winning a battle, being saved from an enemy, having one’s life or town saved, etc. In other words, “physical salvation.”
This became a metaphor for spiritual salvation later on, in New Testament thought (or the parallel between physical death and spiritual death; losing one’s life and losing one’s soul). So here, Peter makes the same sort of analogy. The eight persons in Noah’s ark were saved through water (i.e., primarily saved from drowning). The water of the flood symbolized baptism that now saves you also.
Baptism saves us spiritually, not physically. In no way can water baptism be thought to save us physically, so in order to maintain the symbolism Peter is referring to, we must conclude that it saves us spiritually (baptismal regeneration). The “symbolism” referred to is the parallel between the Flood and water baptism. It is not referring to a symbolic baptism.
This is proven by the clause “this water,” which refers back to the preceding clause, “saved through water” (referring to the Flood and Noah’s ark). As Noah and his family were saved through water, so Christians are saved by baptism, not merely “symbolically saved,” or “doing a symbolic ritual after being saved,” which makes no sense of the passage and twists the parallelism itself.
Likewise, we see a similar analogy when Jesus talks about the “sign of Jonah” (Matthew 12:38-41). He compares Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish with His Resurrection, after being “in the heart of the earth” (i.e., as Jonah appeared when it would be thought that he was dead, so would Jesus). This is another comparison of a physical “salvation” or near-miracle, with an event of great spiritual import. Jesus wasn’t saved like we are but He conquered death, just like we can, in Him.
We can conquer spiritual death, by means of Jesus’ redemption on the cross. So it is another instance of comparing an Old Testament physical event with a New Testament occurrence of spiritual significance. Peter ties in the Resurrection of Jesus with water baptism, by showing that the former provides the power for the latter. St. Paul does the same thing:
Romans 6:3-4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (cf. 8:11, 1 Cor 15:20-23, Col 2:11-13)
Not at all. Once again, context (a crucial part of good biblical exegesis) is decisive. The context is the Day of Pentecost. A miracle had just occurred. The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and began speaking in tongues. A crowd gathered to see what was happening, and those from many nations each heard tongues in their own language (2:6).
Peter, the leader of the apostles, then stood up to “explain” to them what all the commotion was about (2:14). He interprets Pentecost and presents the gospel (nowhere mentioning either faith alone or Scripture alone, of course). At the end of his talk, the people were “cut to the heart” and asked Peter and the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (2:37). And Peter replied (2:38):
. . . “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Obviously, these were adults who could talk (and think, in most cases), who asked the question that Peter answered. This is a narrative, so it simply recorded actual words. Claiming that such a reply applies also to infants is nonsensical, as it was a response to people who understood what Peter had said in the first place, and his answer was specifically meant to address their question and them. Now, when an adult or someone past the age of reason becomes a Christian, obviously they have to repent before baptism (presuming they have ever sinned). Repentance is a necessary part of the “mature” following of Christ. So is baptism.
For example, when one is received into the Catholic Church (as I was) one verbally renounces error and sin, confesses, and is conditionally baptized (meaning that if an earlier “baptism” was not valid, the current one would be). I imagine that conversion to most Protestant groups would involve a similar process. You don’t simply baptize a person who shows no sign of repentance. This is what adult converts do; how they are accepted into the fold. It does not rule out infant baptism at all, because the application of what Peter said in that particular circumstance is not universal.
Moreover, when Peter was at the Gentile Cornelius’ house (Acts 10), he was preaching the gospel, when “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (Acts 10:44) Who was in the house?: Cornelius’ “relatives and close friends” (10:24) and “a large gathering of people” (10:27) I think the presumption should be — from common sense — that some young people, even babies, were present. Arguably, they were included in the description, “all who heard the message.”
After the Holy Spirit came on them, Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So Peter “ordered that they be baptized . . . . ” (10:47-48). In recounting the incident to other believers in Jerusalem, he told of Cornelius’ story of what an angel had said to him (cf. 10:30-33), and how the angel told him that Peter would “bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved” (11:14).
We have dealt with the meaning of “household” above. It is admittedly speculative to connect all the dots here and not a solid conclusion by any means, but I would submit (just as something to consider) that:
1) The “large gathering” (including relatives) would likely include children.
2) The Holy Spirit falling on “all who heard the message” might possibly include such children.
3) Since Peter tied together the receiving of the Holy Spirit to baptism, then the ensuing baptism might include children, if indeed #1 and #2 are true.
4) The reference to “household” likely includes children.
5) The reference to the “household” being “saved” implies the inclusion of children as well (if #1 and #4 are true).
6) The “household” being “saved” might be thought to include baptism as part of the salvation taking place (thus illustrating baptismal regeneration), as Peter ties baptism and salvation together elsewhere.
7) If children received the Holy Spirit (#2) and were “saved” along with the others (#5), then this salvation might be as a result of baptism (infant baptism and baptismal regeneration).
This is probably my weakest argument in this entire dialogue, but it was fun to work through, and someone might find it to be slightly helpful. If it succeeds, it would be another argument against Jack’s and Norman Geisler’s contention that Peter would deny baptismal regeneration (cited by Jack below).
Second, baptism at that time was done during the same day, the day of one’s initial faith and the day of one’s baptism being the same. Thus, when Peter says to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, it is not necessarily true that he is teaching baptismal regeneration. This is because baptism was such a vivid symbol (the washing away of our sins) and because baptism was done immediately and was thus connected with initial faith within such a close time frame.
This is really no biblical argument; I think it is simply another case of Jack assuming his view and forcing the text to fit in with it.
Not only this, but one can use a linguistic argument here also, namely, that the Greek preposition used in Acts 2:38 can mean “because of” as well as “for.” Thus, the text would read, “Be baptized…because of the forgiveness of sins.” (See Norman Geisler, Roman Catholics And Evangelicals, page 482).
So this is where Jack is getting his arguments. :-) I don’t buy it, but I’m not going to get bogged down dealing with a Greek preposition (which can mean a million different things, and so is not very helpful for either position). Geisler would still have to explain 1 Peter 3:19-21. Furthermore, Paul seems to see forgiveness as one of the results of baptism in Colossians 2:11-13 (cited above). According to Paul’s frequent analogy of baptism to the Resurrection of Christ (see also Romans 6:3-4, 8:11, 1 Cor 15:20-23) in Colossians 2:11-13 he appears to teach that we are spiritually dead (as Jesus was physically dead).
Then we were “buried with him in baptism” (Col 2:12). Then after baptism (parallel to the Resurrection itself), we have new life. The grace and new life and forgiveness are all given to us by God. Baptism removes the debt of original sin from us; it is, in effect granting “forgiveness” of original sin (see Col 2:13). Furthermore, what about this verse?:
Titus 3:5: he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Here, “mercy” could easily be interpreted as synonymous with forgiveness. So He saved us because He was willing to forgive us (to exercise mercy). And how did He save us, according to Paul in his letter to Titus?: He saved us through “the washing of rebirth” (which has been shown above to be almost certainly a reference to baptism, by seeing how Paul expresses similar things elsewhere). So forgiveness is tied to salvation, which in turn is tied to baptism, through which it is applied to us.
Also, the clause “be baptized and wash your sins away” from Acts 22:16 (where Paul is reporting what Ananias said to him, thus implying agreement) makes it difficult to separate forgiveness from baptism by recourse to a preposition. Solid cross-referencing and comparative exegesis will trump a speculative argument from Greek propositions every time.
I don’t have to “downplay” anything in Scripture; I am content to let it speak for itself. I’ve never been disappointed by delving more deeply into the Bible, and this dialogue is no exception. I have been tremendously blessed by how clearly the Scripture upholds the Catholic position once again. I already explained above how these verses easily fit into an overall Catholic interpretation. They pose no problem whatever for us. And I am answering as I read, so I didn’t know Jack would bring up these verses.
It is interesting that there are literally dozens of verses in the New Testament that deal with how we are saved. Many of them tell us to believe in Christ, to obey Christ, to be “born again,” to obey the truth, to repent, etc. Yet there are only a handful of verses that can even be construed as saying that baptism saves us. If baptismal regeneration were true, why are faith, repentance, and what not mentioned as the condition for salvation in dozens of texts, without any mention of “baptism” alongside them?
There simply doesn’t have to be many mentions of baptism for it to be important and necessary. Repentance and belief in Jesus and the gospel are the initial (outward, human, evangelistic) factors in someone converting to Christianity. Once they are in, then they are told that they have to be baptized. One could explain it that way. Secondly, the Virgin Birth has very few supporting texts.
Thirdly, if repetition is required for something to be true, why do Protestants believe in the 27 books of the New Testament canon (which is absolutely absent from Scripture), and why is there not a verse in the Bible such as the following?:
You must believe only in those doctrines which are found and clearly taught in Scripture alone and refuse to listen to any church or tradition which goes beyond the letter of Scripture (even if it is doesn’t contradict Scripture), as God’s written Word is more authoritative than the church and the apostolic tradition, passed down from our Lord Jesus.
Nothing remotely approaching this can be found in Holy Scripture, but we do find much about the authority of the Church and the presence of an authoritative apostolic tradition, even an authoritative oral tradition. Why is that, if sola Scriptura is true? And — this being the case — what makes Protestants so completely “sure” about sola Scriptura, so much so that they base their entire system on it? If Jack rejects baptismal regeneration on this basis (and the doctrine has a surprising amount of support, as shown), then (if he is consistent) his “certain” beliefs in sola Scriptura and the New Testament canon should be ditched as well.
The situation is the same with the other Protestant pillar and false belief of faith alone. Protestants can work up a biblical “case” with a bunch of verses which appear on the surface to support this notion (they don’t when examined in the proper depth), but alas, once again, no explicit “clear” text can be found. In fact, the only time in Scripture that “faith” and “alone” appear in relationship to one another is in James 2:24:
You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
Why is this if faith alone is such a super-important maxim that no Christian could ever deny without threatening their very salvation (i.e., it is regarded as essential to salvation, just as baptism is in the Catholic view)? So this argument of Jack’s collapses too.
This is inexplicable unless the Protestant symbolic view is correct.
Not in the least, as just shown. And it is inaccurate to speak of a “Protestant symbolic view,” since even Martin Luther disagrees with that, as do Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ.
[Readers can look up the verses Jack cites at this point (I have already given an adequate answer to this line of thought): John 1:12, 5:24, 11:25, Romans 4:5, 10:9-10, Gal 2:16]
My whole point is not to prove Sola Fide or anything like that; that is beyond the scope of this critique. My point is that FAITH, not baptism, is what is credited as being instrumental in our salvation, in the above passages and throughout the scriptures.
And baptism is said to be instrumental as well. The point is to harmonize the two strains of biblical thought, not to arbitrarily choose one and pretend that the other does not exist. I’ve done the former; Jack has done the latter. The reader can decide which view shows more respect to Holy Scripture and follows it wherever it goes.
The Catholic practically admits this when he says that it is the mere desire for baptism (faith?) that saves us.
No, the Catholic honestly faces the reality that “hard cases” (from our limited human perspective) exist, and this is how we explain those. “Hard cases” don’t prove a rule; they are exceptions to the rule, by definition.
Finally, I think that this argument, in addition to my earlier fictional dialogue and Biblical exposition of Acts 10:44-48, presents a good case against baptismal regeneration. Allow me to summarize my case, which I have to admit has been presented piecemeal thus far due to the very nature of the rebuttal.
1. Acts 10:44-48 teaches that people can be regenerated (receive the Holy Spirit) prior to baptism.
That’s based on the same biblically unsubstantiated assumption I critiqued earlier: that the Indwelling of the Spirit is the equivalent of regeneration.
2. Catholic doctrine itself tacitly admits that it is the desire for baptism (valid faith) that saves us, rather than the act of baptism itself.
Only as an exception to the rule, so this is no disproof. It comes from honesty with human reality (and God’s mercy and love and just judgment), not dishonesty with Scripture. Peter said, in the same chapter: “God . . . accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). But he immediately baptized the Gentiles when they converted to Christianity.
3. There is one baptism, not two baptisms. (Ephesians 4:5) Yet the baptism of the Spirit and water baptism are differentiated from each other in the book of Acts. Thus, it seems valid to conclude that our water baptism is a symbol or outward proclamation of our baptism in the Spirit, whereby we are saved (1 Corinthians 12:13).
This has been thoroughly dealt with already.
4. Faith, and not baptism, is mentioned throughout the scriptures as the instrumental means whereby we procure salvation. Thus, it seems valid to relegate to a symbolic view of baptism.
These four points, taken together, construct a valid prima facie case against baptismal regeneration. And if baptismal regeneration is untrue, then the Catholic view of infant baptism is also untrue by default.
I obviously disagree and have explained why with painstaking biblical detail.
History being the handmaiden of theology, and not her taskmaster, I conclude with two brief points from early church history that serve to undermine infant baptism. The Catholic may complain (with some justification) that I am playing “pick and choose” with history. I plead 100% guilty to this charge. My own personal view is the supremacy of the Bible over and above church history, to be the “plumb line”, so to speak, of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. However, even if it can be shown that infant baptism was practiced early on in church history, say, as early as the third century, these two points still carry some weight. This is because they show that it had to have been necessary for those who baptized infants in the early church to reduce their cognitive dissonance enough to ignore the inseparable bond between saving faith and baptism.
1. Hippolytus, writing in the early third century, records the liturgies of baptism. In Hippolytus’ account, the person is asked questions of a creedal nature not unlike the Apostle’s Creed in format, and after each section (there are three, one for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, respectively) the person being baptized responds that he does indeed believe what had just been declared, and is subsequently baptized. In the course of this, he is baptized three times. This indicates the importance of personal belief that was tied to baptism in the early Church years.
No; rather it indicates that adults who can understand creeds in the first place are expected to exhibit repentance and acceptance of orthodox Christianity before being baptized, as explained above with regard to Peter’s answer to inquirers on the Day of Pentecost. This proves absolutely nothing with regard to a “disproof” of infant baptism (no one denies that an adult catechumen needs to understand doctrine), but it is not inconsistent with infant baptism at all. Indeed, St. Hippolytus himself affirms this in perhaps the same work (as Jack doesn’t tell us where his citation came from):
And they shall baptise the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family. (Apostolic Tradition, 21 [c. A.D. 215] )
I think it is safe to say that this decisively eliminates St. Hippolytus as a “witness” for Jack’s case. Origen wrote in 244:
The Church received from the apostles the tradition of baptizing infants too. (Homily on Romans, V:9)
St. Cyprian wrote in 251:
But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day…And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to be hindered from baptism…we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons. (To Fidus, Epistle 58 :2,6)
As for baptismal regeneration:
“I have heard, sir,” said I, “from some teachers, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.” He said to me, “You have heard rightly, for so it is.”(The Shepherd of Hermas, [c. 140] 4:3:1-2)
They had need [the Shepherd said] to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of their former life. These also, then, who had fallen asleep, received the seal of the Son of God, and entered into the kingdom of God. For, [he said,] before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he puts mortality aside and again receives life. The seal, therefore, is the water. They go down into the water dead [in sin], and come out of it alive. (Ibid., 9:16:2-4)
For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Irenaeus, Fragment 34 [c. 190] )
Speaking of the view of the early Church (first two centuries) on baptism, respected Protestant Church historian J. N. D. Kelly writes:
It was always held to convey the remission of sins . . . the theory that it mediated the Holy Spirit was fairly general . . . The early view, therefore, like the Pauline, would seem to be that baptism itself is the vehicle for conveying the Spirit to believers; in all this period we nowhere come across any clear pointers to the existence of a separate rite, such as unction or the laying on of hands, appropriated to this purpose.(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper Collins, revised 1978, 194-195)
Likewise, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church (edited by J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, revised 1978, 100, “Baptism”), another respected Protestant reference work, which shows no inclination for Catholicism at all, in its tone or content, states:
Doctrinally, baptism very early came to be understood as a means of grace or a sacrament, in the sense of an instrumental means of regeneration . . . Infant baptism was practiced in the second century, but only with the aid of an adult sponsor.
Jack (like so many Protestants), may not give much credence to the facts of Church history or apostolic Tradition (passed down in apostolic succession), but in this instance (as with so many others which uphold Catholic Tradition), he ought to ask himself how it is that the entire Church could get the biblical teaching so wrong, so early, when it is utterly “clear” and uncontroversial to people like him? Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist is another viewpoint that was absolutely universal in the early Church.
How could the whole Church have gotten it so wrong, right after the age of the apostles (and led even by some students of the apostles)? Didn’t they ever read the Bible? How could “Roman Catholicism” have come to dominate “biblical” Christianity so early and cause it to adopt false views? Whether these facts have an effect on the beliefs of evangelicals or not, I should think that they are at least highly curious and odd to them, and something to be pondered and explained in some sort of rational fashion.
2. A textual variant produced at Acts 8:37, regarded universally by textual critics as being a later addition, nevertheless shows us the importance of personal faith vis a vis baptism in the early Church. In this variant, Phillip tells the eunuch, that he can only be baptized if he believes with all his heart. The eunuch replies that he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Despite its sub-Biblical nature as a mere textual variation, this certainly tells us something about common piety in the early Church; belief and baptism were inexorably tied together.
It is simply another illustration of what I just dealt with. For Jack’s view of what he thinks this proves to succeed, Phillip would have to run across an infant, ask the child if he or she “believes” and upon receiving a quizzical expression and no reply, conclude that the child was unfit for baptism. That would be an example of an explicit disproof of infant baptism (which Jack can’t find in Scripture).
I think that Mr. Armstrong has to answer why both belief and personal repentance, which have strong evidence in scripture as being pre-requisites to baptism, can be completely ignored in the case of infant baptism.
And I did. Most of the biblical evidence comes from the nature of covenants and the parallels to circumcision. But as I have pointed out, when I gave 14 biblical citations along those lines, Jack chose one to comment on and utterly ignored the other 13. So what can I do? He asks for such “answers” and then when I offer them from the Bible, he ignores them. But now Jack has plenty indeed to answer to in my lengthy reply to his initial critique.
This is a hard question, I think, much more difficult than the Catholic apologist realizes. For even if baptismal regeneration were somehow proven, (which it has not been) we still have the problem that faith and repentance are tied very closely to baptism in the scriptures, as I argued earlier. If the Catholic replies that baptism “cleanses the soul of original sin” and “infuses justifying grace” automatically, he still has to prove this, and since such language is not, in my opinion, scripturally based, I think that this is a problem for the Catholic apologist.
I don’t, and I’ve done my best to explain why. There is a reason why many Protestants, including Martin Luther, agree with us on baptismal regeneration (including of infants), and I believe I have highlighted many biblical reasons for that agreement.
Zeke: I gotta run. I have some questions for my pastor . . .
I have tried my best to do justice to the evangelical view. I encourage the reader to extract what he can, and even though most of what I say may be straw, perhaps something golden and of worth will remain when all the chaff is burned up.
And I would hope the same for my own portion. I thank Jack for the opportunity to further explain the Catholic position on baptism, and for his cordiality.
(originally 3-13-02; a few sections that were off the immediate subject matter were removed on 10-31-18)