Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Plunge Part III: What’s In a Name?

During the early part of the twentieth century until the present, there continues to be a heated debate amongst several arms of the church over water baptism. For the most part this schism in the church at large is over the formula that is to be called over those baptized. In the Bible there are two distinct formulas. The first is found in the gospel of Matthew is believed to have been written between 55 and 60 A.D. As far as timeline goes, this coincides with the writing of the book of Acts by Luke that was believed to have been written about 62 A.D. As is well known, Luke penned it as a continuation of the recount of the Ministry of Jesus based on the Gospel of Mark -Luke uses about 60% of the gospel of Mark in terms of chronological events.

A Closer look at Matthew

Let’s start with the basics here. Here audience is an important factor. Matthew was written in a dialect that was used throughout the region where the Jewish people resided and its primary audience is Jewish. However Luke’s Acts was written in Greek and therefore it is believed to a wider audience. Why is this important? Because one would expect the formulas used by both writers to be reversed. That is a text written to a primarily Jewish audience would suggest a more specific formulae verses one that recounts the preaching of the gospel to ‘All nations’ - account of the Acts of the Apostles, to be more universal.

As Part one and two of this series have shown, the Jew or a Jewish oriented audience would have understood better the importance of the Name of Jesus being invoked over the candidate. It was a familiar thing to them to be baptized in the name of who or what they were to serve (see my previous post). Yet in Matthew, the Trinitarian formula is used. This is in itself an inconsistency and therefore must be explained. What comes to our aid here is that scholars have detected syntactical evidence that might indicate a transliteration of the original text. While it is debatable, it is indeed a plausible assertion. Research has shown that there is a distinct possibility a more primitive form of the Divine Commission reads like the following: Mt 28:19 ‘Go and make disciples unto Me among all nations, baptizing them in My name, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…’ Infact, it is well documented that this type of usage is found in the writings of Eusubius, an early church historian (approximately during the 3rd century). While it is also known that Eusubius had a penchant for loosely quoting the scriptures, it could be said that this was his ‘take’ on the meaning of the scriptures at the very least or that he based his usage of the text upon a version of the scripture. Regardless, the evidence would show that in the exegetical discipline the phrase of the Trinitarian formula is somewhat ‘out of place’ with the context of the scriptural passage. What this simply means is that more than likely the text may be a transliteration of the original text.

I have heard teaching that the phrase ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ refers to the role of the Son of God and so infers and confirms the Apostles implementation of the divine commission recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. To be frank, this is a very poor attempt to reconcile the two scriptural formulas. It not only lacks proper scholarship but totally misses the mark of the phrase of the ‘in the name of’ – see Parts I and II - and how the Jew would have understood that phrase and applied it. In essence this approach attempts to glue together two scriptures where they really do not offer a clean and reasonable integration. It is naïve and dangerous to ‘force’ the scriptures even though the result is reconciliation of the two. Moreover, it is not good scholarship. If this poses a dilemma to some, then it still must be conceded that the scriptures in their present form must be allowed to stand separate and so weather the controversy. We must as believers have the integrity to allow them to stand as such yet offer plausible explanation admitting that we simply do not know the full extent or application of this subject in the scriptures. This is what I have presented and what others more knowledgeable than me have offered as integration.

A Reprise of the Acts.

I have to say the last post is a very thorough presentation on the usage of the baptismal formula ‘in the name of Jesus’. To recap Part II concerning the baptismal formula, I would say that what we really witness is the name of Jesus being invoked over the Jewish or Jewish-oriented believer. This is clear from the passages where detail is present. What this simply means is that the Jew or Jewish-oriented believer upon repentance would have seen it as natural to enter into service through a ritual cleansing much akin to the mikveh of which they would have been familiar and probably practiced quite often. They would have understood the entry into the waters as a transitional step from one lifestyle to another – more literally one type of life to another. This is the root of the meaning of Romans chapter 6 – a new kind of life. Very literally Paul in his discussion of baptism in the sixth chapter of Romans is referring to the perspective the believer should have regarding their following Christ. It is a life that they have ‘died’ to and then have been risen up into a new life- that is another form of life. Now it must be said that the sacerdotal power of the baptismal rite is limited. There is no power in the act nor in the person performing it. It is simply a transition point and so a marker in the life of the believer as they transition from believer to disciple or follower. It is not the ‘pixie dust’ that transforms the person nor is it a step in the process of being born again. Please see my previous two posts for more on this. To put it succinctly, ‘in the name of Jesus’ is a very orthodox application of the baptismal formula and is more consistent and meaningful to a Jewish audience. In fact, I would say that it is the most primitive and pure form historically of how baptism was performed in the ancient church. Where I differ with some is that I do not see it as a spiritual unction as the Catholic, Mormon, some Pentecostal and Latter Rain Churches would couch it. It is an act of obedience and has nothing intrinsic to it concerning the spiritual state or position of the believer.

Why the Conflict?

Is there really a controversy here? On the surface there appears to be. But we must understand that the church of the Apostles was trail-blazing and therefore many of the challenges that would face the church in the coming centuries could not have been anticipated. The remarkable thing is that with all that happened to the church from its inception through the next 300 years, the church of Jesus did not dissipate upon their exit. It gained strength and fortified its positions on the person of Christ and the Trinity as well as practices of the faith on subjects such as baptism, church governance and the like. What is seen, like it or not, is a transition of the baptismal formula. We can see this as either the loss of something or the gain of something. The origins of the change in formula were out of necessity. During the time described (100 -300 a.d.) the church was under extreme attack from within. The Gnostics had invaded the church and as such, they were seen by some as true believers. The Apostle John in His first epistle directly addresses the problem – they had presented another Jesus. The term John uses to de-lineate a Gnostic and so their teaching is that most Gnostics confessed that Jesus was not a physical entity. That is, he was not ever flesh but was an emanation from the spirit world sent to bring truth and enlightenment. Therefore He never died on the Cross, because he was not human. To continue, the Gnostic saw a duality in God. They saw the Old Testament God as evil and the New Testament God as good. Therefore, the true Gnostic would have gladly gone under the baptismal font in the name of Jesus – that is to prepare for a life of service to Jesus but would never have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This formula would have exposed the Gnostic because they would have refused to be baptized to serve what they held as an evil god.

I have said all that to say this. The Trinitarian formula was used conservatively from about 90 a.d. until present. The reasons for its usage was to protect the church from those who would enter in and dilute its purity of doctrine and so the position and person of Christ. For good or ill, the fruit of its application preserved the church and maintained its spiritual integrity for almost two millennia. Measure it as you want, but the Trinitarian Formula was and is a buttress for the church of the Lord Jesus and always will be.

A final point:

Are there any indications in the body of the New Testament that might indicate and so provide explanation for the transition of the formula from ‘in the name of Jesus’ to ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ as recorded in Church History? The answer to that question is yes.

Paul in the scripture below provides some of the seminal elements for a Trinitarian formula:

“1 Cor 6: 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Spirit of our God.”

Many claim that baptism must be invoked in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly this is consistent with the scriptures analyzed thus far. But Paul is developing here and in Col 2:12 something not addressed in some of the other scriptures analyzed in Parts I and II of this study: he includes the other persons of the trinity when alluding to water baptism. Note the scripture: “but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Spirit of our God.” In this scripture all three are noted: Jesus, the Spirit and God the Father. 1 Cor 6:11 is, no doubt, the scriptural corollary of Matt 28:19 in the Pauline Theology showing consistency with it. It is the reconciliation between the ‘Jesus only’ and the Trinitarian formula – rather than a ‘jamming’ of the ‘in the name of’ Jesus into the ‘in the name of’ the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and appreciates the development of the baptismal theology in the early church. Historically, the epistle to the Corinthians is said to be written between 55 and 57 A.D. while Matthew was said to be written between 55 and 60 A.D and so the time frame is consistent with the development of the Trinitarian formula that the church would adopt from that time forth. The ‘recent’ recurrence of ‘Jesus only’ baptism is a 20th Century phenomenon and historically the fruit of this theology has been flawed theologically (Oneness, that is God is not a Trinitarian Entity but One God with many manifestations throughout History ) or has caused extreme sectarianism and elitism with the body of Christ so much so, it has regressed into heretical doctrines that would further divide the body of Christ into different realms in the heavenlies thus denying the very tenet of baptism – to make the divisions in the natural of none effect in the spirit – that is as Galatians so clearly points out: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus…”


The very subject of Water Baptism has been a point of controversy during the entire history of the church. It is therefore naïve to think that standing two thousand years from the point where the divine commission was received that we can fully grasp or understand the import and implications of water baptism. For the most part, we can truly only speculate about its implications. However, I do believe that there are a few constraints that keep us from taking anything too far concerning its power and purpose:

1> First, in John chapter 17, Jesus in His high priestly prayer, gives us one clue on how to look at water baptism. In principle, baptism in its true intent was meant to solidify and unify the body of Christ under one Head. Jesus as He prayed on the night before His death mentions and seals this forever as His and the Father’s main desire for us – that we be one even as He and Jesus are one. There is no other act recorded in the scriptures that is offered to do this other than water baptism. Thus any doctrine or position on Water Baptism that would divide the Body of Christ in essence violates its basic purpose and intent. Therefore positions held on Water baptism that is sectarian (i.e. us versus them) are not consistent with the purpose of baptism and therefore need to be seen as what they are: an aberrant view and possibly heretical. Jesus will not be pleased with those who seek to divide His people. That is the work of His infernal enemy the devil.

2> Faith is the one element that supercedes and yet confirms and legitimizes any act done through it. In the case of water baptism, there is one scripture in Galatians about it that is eclipsed by the word ‘faith’:

Gal 3:22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

Faith is mentioned no less than FIVE times before the mention of Water Baptism. I have said this before and firmly believe it is true: As God is our Spiritual Father, Faith is our spiritual Mother – we are birthed into the Kingdom through it. As in the story of the two women during King Solomon’s reign, Two women approach him with the dilemma about one child. In the body of the story, both lay claim to the child. Solomon in His wisdom, says to divide the child in two. The true mother begs him not to kill the child while the other seeks it as a fair and impartial thing to do for both claimants. King Solomon hands the custody of the child over to the true mother that pleads for the life of the child even though it means her parting with it. This is a good analogy of those who seek to divide the new creation over an act versus not being the true birth mother - that is faith. Let those who seek to divide the child be warned: Jesus the King will always confirm the true Mother of the child of God and give them over to her. The other will be exposed for what she is: a liar and deceiver.

A Personal Note

What I have offered here leaves perhaps more questions than answers and I do not deny that fact. The truth of it is we cannot genuflect the scriptures to bend them to what we want them to say because they yield a consistent theology and support a doctrinal position we want to hold. We must be mature enough to allow proper analysis to support our take on any scripture or doctrinal position. We must agree where we can find common ground and believe or hold to what we are convinced is truth and proper teaching. But as Paul told Timothy, we must become skilled in the dividing of the word of Truth and if the scriptures, the language and the historical facts do not coincide with our beliefs and convictions, then it is we who must change for the scriptures cannot. As Walter Kaiser, well known exegetical scholar wrote concerning the scriptures and the job of the exegete or interpreter said:

“The sole object of the expositor is to explain as clearly as possible what the writer meant [sic and nothing more!] when he wrote the text under examination. It is the interpreter’s job to represent the text, not the prejudices, feelings, judgments, or concerns of the exegete. To indulge in the latter is to engage in eisgesis, “a reading into” a text what the reader wants to say…It is precisely at this point the issue gets sticky for modern interpreters. While all would, to some degree or another, disparage eisgesis, not all are convinced that the discipline [sic exegesis] can be defined in objective terms. Meaning for many moderns has become plural – they see various levels of meaning…”

Yet in the scriptures it is the usus loquendi (local usage or context) that drives the meaning and so application. This is what has been attempted flawed as it is, it is my best attempt to ‘represent the text’ in the light of its local usage. This is what I offer: perhaps incomplete and shrouded in mystery by the process of time and cultural perspective, yet in its spirit attempting to represent the text no matter how many questions it leaves, poses or produces. This is exactly why baptism will continue to be a debated subject. What is my recommendation to you? It is to recognize the reality of the dilemma. It is to as best as you can rightly divide the scriptures and to reach conclusions with integrity no matter if they tie up all the doctrinal loose ends. It is the word of God and cannot be forced and should not be forced. If we engage to do so, we do so at our own peril and judgment before God. When we stand before Him and we answer for what we have taught would it be better to say we did not fully know although we sought to answer questions that were perhaps unanswerable even perhaps not meant to be answered or to say that we preached and did not represent Him to the world through His word with integrity because we presented a cogent systematic teaching that was flawed. Which one would be able as the Apostle John has said about that day, to stand before Him in confidence?
This series on water baptism has been a personal journey for me that I have undertaken over the last few years. It is an example of what must be done to tear down flawed teaching that has lodged itself within the heart and mind of the believer. One must never be afraid to question anyone on any subject within the scriptures. If you look hard enough and deep enough, God will always provide a way of escape from error and a deliverance from spiritual abuse that uses the scriptures as a mace to hold us in bondage. In my personal case, the answers and freedom were waiting for me to discover when it was time. I was in a movement for years and even was a pastor of a church within dysfunctional religious organization. The first year that I had branched out into my ministry within this organization, I had purchased a book that sat gathering dust for years but in time, when I was ready, God revealed to me this book that had sat for years in my library waiting to show me the way out of spiritual bondage. I am convinced it is God’s design for us to live free. In my case it was waiting for me when I was ready. My prayer is that this series will serve as an example of how to divide the word of truth and to have the conviction if you seek you will find. If the stronghold of spiritual abuse in your life is water baptism then this series I hope will help you. If it is not, use the principles and methods presented to help you strain truth from error. Allow God’s men whoever they are to speak to you from their life’s work. It is what God has provided to help you out of the prison of bondage spiritual abuse that has been constructed.

Ironically the thing meant to hold you in bondage is the very hammer that will shatter the prison that we in our duplicity have allowed to hem us in…that is the very word of the Almighty.

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