Word Study #174 — Baptism — “of John” or “into Jesus”

February 26, 2013

This is an outgrowth of the discovery, while working on the Epiphany study (#171), that the marked difference between the baptism preached and administered by John “the Baptist”, and the later practice of baptism as a symbol of commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom, has seldom been addressed. It is this latter category on which the study in chapter 10 of Citizens of the Kingdom is focused (to which you may wish to refer). Here, we will attempt to explore the contrast between the two approaches.
John himself took great care to point out the difference: all four gospels (Mt.3:11-16, Mk.1:4-9, Lk.3:7-21, Jn.1:25-33) record his identification of his own role as “preparing the way”, in conformity with Isaiah’s prophecy, for the coming of the Lord. His messages did contain elements that were later incorporated in Kingdom teaching: the choosing of a completely re-directed life (see “repent” #6) which has clearly observable results (Lk.3:10-14); the announcement of the arrival of the Kingdom (note the perfect tense of eggiken – #164 – it is NOT future!); the irrelevance of the prevailing hierarchy (Mt.3:7-10 and Lk.7:29); and the absolute superiority of both Jesus and the Spirit-baptism that he would administer (Mt.3:11, Mk.1:8, Lk.3:16, Jn.1:26 – footnote).

John correctly described his function as a fore-runner (Jn.3:28), accepting the assignment announced to his father before his birth (Lk.1:17) “to get a prepared people ready for the Lord!” This is a concept that has been obscured much too frequently by the serious misunderstanding of “repentance” (#6) and “forgiveness” (#7), which too commonly are cast (incorrectly) in the guise of a legal “pardon” issued in spite of guilt, instead of the more linguistically correct message of “the taking away [removal] of shortcomings, failures, and transgressions.”

(Are you aware that even in the traditional KJV, the word “pardon” does not exist anywhere in the New Testament? It is included in neither John’s nor Jesus’ messages, baptisms, nor anywhere else!)

The intent of John’s baptism is further attested by the use of the preposition eis in a purpose construction – eis metanoian – “into [for the purpose of] a changed life [repentance]” (Mt.3:11), and Luke’s record of his response to those who asked what shall we DO?” (Lk.3:10-14).
John also bore testimony to his own purpose being “that he (Jesus) be revealed to Israel” (Jn.1:31) as the Son of God.

There appears to have been a brief period during which both men were “baptizing disciples” (Jn.3:22-4:2), during which John quickly disabused his followers of the notion that they were competing (3:26-28). It seems that the practice of baptism implied identification with one’s teacher, an idea also referenced by Paul in I Cor.1. But John (whether the preacher or the author is not clear) also associated it with a more far-reaching acceptance of Jesus’ sovereignty (3:31-36). This may be the first New Testament evidence of the concept of a personal commitment. He also notes that Jesus himself was not the one doing the baptizing (4:1-2) at that time.
Luke notes (7:29) that Jesus overtly connected people’s attitudes toward John’s baptism to their perception and acceptance of God’s purposes, so it should certainly never be disparaged.

Jesus himself actually said very little about baptism. He made reference to “the baptism of John” (Mt.21:25, Mk.11:30, Lk.20:4) when he put the Pharisees on the defensive after they questioned his own authority.
He used the term in reference to his own approaching suffering and death (Mt.20:22,23; Mk.10:38-39) when responding to James and John’s attempted “status-grab” as well as simply describing his own prospective demise (Lk.12:50). It is not clear whether or not this is the same incident.
The only other mention of baptism by Jesus is in his final instructions to the disciples after his resurrection (Mt.28:19, Mk.16:16, Ac.1:5). Here, it is associated with (1) making disciples, (2) teaching new recruits the principles of Kingdom living, and (3) the results of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which John had predicted at the beginning.

After Pentecost, there is a marked shift in the accounts of baptism. They vary in the order ascribed to the various elements. Although Peter’s first sermon (Ac.2:38-41) still connects it with “repentance” and “the taking away of shortcomings” (in this case, their ignorance of who Jesus really was/is), he immediately included the gift of the Holy Spirit. Even more significantly, the following account (Ac.2:42-47) describes the vibrant community thereby created – the first such description – clearly a part of the “new creation” now in process.
Philip’s sojourn in Samaria included the baptism of those who chose to identify with his “preaching the Kingdom of God (Ac.8:12) and the name of Jesus”. Nothing is said about “repentance” there, and the gift of the Holy Spirit came later, mediated by other apostles.
In Philip’s subsequent encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (vv.26-40), that brother was baptized at his own request, upon learning of Jesus, with again, no mention of repentance. Some manuscripts include a note that “the Holy Spirit fell upon him” and others omit that phrase.
The two events are overtly connected in the account of Ananias and Saul (Ac.9:17-18) and also Peter and Cornelius (Ac.10:44-47), although the order is reversed in the latter case, since it took the intervention of the Holy Spirit to convince Peter that it was even OK to offer baptism to believing Gentiles (11:16).
In Philippi, neither the account of Lydia’s family (16:15) nor of the jailer’s household (16:33) mentions either “repentance” or “the Holy Spirit”, nor does that of Crispus’ household in Corinth (18:8).
However, the saga of Apollos (Ac.18:24-19:7) and the folks at Ephesus whom he had recruited while “knowing only the baptism of John” makes it clear that both Priscilla and Aquila and later Paul, recognized that John’s “baptism of repentance” was insufficient alone. Far too many people and groups even today are “parked” with those partially-taught folks in Ephesus! Remedying that lack, their identification with Jesus, and baptism “into (eis) the name [identity: see #24] of Jesus” were followed (v.5-6) by the manifestations of the Holy Spirit so necessary to the propagation of his Kingdom.

Clearly, as the message spread and the Kingdom continued to grow, people’s understanding of the implications of baptism also matured.
Twice (Rom.6:3-11 and Col.2:12) Paul represents it as symbolic of sharing in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, emphasizing a total break from one’s prior existence and a complete transformation of life.
To the Galatians, he spoke of being “clothed with Christ.” (Gal.3:27)
In I Cor.12 and Eph.4:5, he relates it to being joined with other disciples by baptism into the mutuality of one Body.
The theme of loyalty and identification also appears in Paul’s protest against factionalism (I Cor.1), even to the point of thankfulness that he did little baptizing among them, lest their loyalty be to him rather than to Jesus.
The identification of ancient Israel with Moses (I Cor.10:2) and Peter’s parallel with the folks rescued on Noah’s ark (I Pet.3:21) are clarified by Peter’s assertion that the act of baptism itself conveys no particular power, but simply expresses one’s chosen adherence to God.

Perhaps the most useful summary is facilitated by observing the objects of that little (but powerful) preposition “eis”. John preached a baptism eis metanoian – “into a changed life [repentance]” and eis ton erchomenon pisteuosin – “toward becoming faithful to the coming one.”

Baptism eis to onoma iesou – “into the name [identity] of Jesus,” eis ton thanaton – “into his death (and resurrection!), and eis hen soma – “into one Body”, on the other hand, provides the entrance into the very life of Jesus, of which the Spirit (#52 and 53) is the essential breath.

There IS a difference!

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Word Study #173 — “Sanctuary”

February 19, 2013

Here is another word that is frequently used in contemporary Christian circles in ways that bear no resemblance whatever to its New Testament antecedents. This study should be undertaken in tandem with a review of #32, “Holy”, because the Greek word for which “sanctuary” is the traditional translation, is simply the neuter form, hagion, of the adjective hagios, upon which that essay was based. The masculine and feminine forms refer to people, and the neuter to places or things. However, hagion is never used of the gathering place of the faithful – or of anyone else. That designation belongs to the word “synagogue”.

Hagion, translated four times as “sanctuary” and three times as “holy place”, appears only in the letter to the Hebrews (8:2, 9:1, 9:2, 9:12, 9:24, 9:25, 13:11), and refers exclusively to that portion of the Old Covenant’s tabernacle or temple area which could only be entered once a year, and then only by the high priest! There is absolutely no precedent for applying such a “reverential” designation to the principal assembly room of any “house of worship.”

Neither is there any New Testament application of the word to any person or group, regardless of its appearance in a number of saccharine choruses commonly designated “praise songs”. I am sure the folks who created them, and who repeat them interminably, all mean well – but they simply have never put forth the effort to understand what they are saying! Waxing sentimental about a few statements of God’s promises to “dwell” in / with / among his people (Rom.8:11, II Cor.6:16, II Tim.1:14) – an entirely different word and concept (See #82) – they substitute the idea of a place where only a high priest was allowed to go??? Come on, folks! That just doesn’t fit!!!

More commendable, but still linguistically in error, is the occasionally popular idea of a place of worship as a “sanctuary” or a location of safety and refuge for society’s “victims du jour” – whether the conscientious objector of the Vietnam era or the undocumented immigrant of the early 21st century . Patterned, I suppose, after the “cities of refuge” provided by the Old Testament law (Num.35), the concept is an excellent one, and fully in harmony with New Testament principles of providing shelter for those in need. In fact, I suspect that the primary reason for the absence of such instructions in the New Testament was that the faithful were more likely to need that sort of protection than to be in a position to offer it, (“Refuge” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament text). The idea is good – but “sanctuary” it is not.

By all means, celebrate the living presence of the Lord in and among his people!
Share that celebration with any who need a place of protection, shelter, or care!
But do so with the joyful realization that the idea of a secluded, walled-off “sanctuary” is a relic of the past!
No longer is access restricted to the upper echelons of hierarchy, or the lonely, introspective, self-centered contemplation of mystics.
In Jesus, “the veil is taken away!” – torn to shreds! – in the glory of his triumph!
ALL of his people are not only eligible but welcomed into the courts of our King!

Thanks be to God!


Word Study #172 — Escape vs. Enlistment

February 11, 2013

It seems as though every announcement of yet another “world crisis” – of which there has never been a scarcity – invariably gives birth, among the very vocal advocates of a particularly aggressive “evangelical” orientation, to an increasingly urgent campaign which represents “accepting Christ” – which is NOT a New Testament concept – see #133 – as the exclusive route of “escape”, not only from the immediately perceived threat, but from some “eternal” manifestation thereof.

Never having noticed such a theme in the New Testament, I decided to undertake a deliberate search, only part of which could involve actual “word study” (the word “escape” does appear, but in very different contexts), and the rest requiring a careful perusal of the Gospels to discover Jesus’ own methods of “recruiting” or enlisting followers.

“Escape” was traditionally used to translate seven different Greek words, but was used only twice by Jesus himself. Once, Lk.21:36, using ekpheugo, he is encouraging single-minded faithfulness on the part of his disciples, in order to “stand before the Son of Man” after either the destruction of Jerusalem or perhaps his final coming. The distinctions between those events are clear only to people who are trying to “prove” their own pet theories. The other, using pheugo, without prefix, which is Jesus’ only recorded threat of “the judgment of hell”, occurs in his stern critique of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who were actively opposing his ministry (Mt.23:33). It is never used of the ignorant.

It is quite enlightening, however, to examine the other uses of the various words.
By far the majority are related to the common word, pheugo, and its prefixed variants. According to L/S, the primary use of pheugo is “to flee or take flight, to take refuge, to purpose or endeavor to get away”. In fact, 26 of its 29 occurrences are traditionally translated “flee”. Of these, 18 (Mt.2:13, 8:33, 10:23, 24:16, 26:56; Mk.5:14, 13:14, 14:50, 14:52, 16:8; Lk.8:34, 21:21; Jn.10:5,12,13; Ac.7:29, 27:30; Rv.12:6) refer simply to running away for one’s own physical safety, as does one of the “escape” translations (Heb.11:34).
John the Baptist spoke of “fleeing from the coming wrath” (Mt.3:7, Lk.3:7), but Jesus did not!
Of greater significance are Paul’s admonitions regarding what his readers should “flee from”: I Cor.6:18 – perversions, I Cor.10:14 – idolatry, I Tim.6:11 – “these things” (he has been talking about the pursuit of wealth), and II Tim.2:22 – “youthful passions”.
James (4:7) assures us that even the devil will “flee” from those who resist him.
Peter, in his second letter, uses the prefixed form, apopheugo, (L/S – “to avoid, flee from, escape) in similar advice regarding “the corrupt passions of the world” (1:4), “depraved human passions (2:18), and “the world’s contamination” (2:20).
Diapheugo (L/S – “to escape, get away, survive”) appears only once, regarding prisoners escaping during the shipwreck (Ac.27:2).
Ekpheugo (L/S – “to flee or escape, to be legally acquitted, to escape death, to omit”) refers to Paul’s escape from Damascus (II Cor.11:33), as well as warnings to the faithful not to neglect or be careless about their commitment to following instructions (I Thes.5:3, Heb.2:3), and to exercise caution in judging others (Rom.2:3). In the Revelation, “fleeing away” concerns, not people at all, but “every island” (16:20) and even “heaven/the sky” itself (20:11)!
Diasozo (L/S – “to preserve through danger, to come safely through, to recover from an illness, to preserve, maintain, or keep”) describes safety in a shipwreck (Ac.28:1,4; 27:43,44) or flood (I Pet.3:20), healing (Mt.14:6, Lk.7:3), and the safe transport of a prisoner (Ac.23:24).
Out of a couple hundred uses of exerchomai (literally, “to come out”) traditional translators chose “escape” only in Jn.10:39, of Jesus avoiding arrest.
There are only two uses of a noun form, ekbasis (L/S – “a way out, termination, completion, accomplishment”). I Cor.10:15 promises divine provision in times of stress (traditionally “a way of escape”), although extra-Biblical uses of the word tend more toward successful endurance than avoidance. In Heb.13:7, the same word was traditionally rendered “the end”, where “result” would have been more accurate.

Significantly, except for John the Baptist and the single instance of Jesus with the Pharisees noted above, the use of any of the “escape” words is almost entirely mundane and practical, and neither “spiritual” nor a matter of “destiny”.
And Jesus himself never offered any form of “escape”, either immediate or future, as an incentive for enlistment in his Kingdom. Quite the opposite! He repeatedly emphasized the high cost of faithfulness!

I was interested, and somewhat surprised, to discover that the gospels record very few instances of Jesus actually taking the initiative to invite someone to join his group. The synoptics describe the “calling” of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew (Levi) with a simple “Follow me!” and the offer to “teach you to fish for people” (with no further explanation – although that lack does not inhibit expansive elaboration by many self-styled “teachers”!)
Interestingly, Luke (5:10) records Peter’s profession of his purported “sinfulness” – which would have surely been pounced-on by modern “evangelists” – being summarily dismissed without comment by the Lord himself, and followed by an invitation to get involved in the work of the Kingdom!
John includes several general invitations: “Come and see!” to Andrew and his companion (1:39), later repeated by Philip to Nathanael (1:46), an offer of water to the thirsty (4:10, 7:37-39), life itself (5:21-29, 40), and true freedom (8:30-36).
There are many more instances recorded of Jesus teaching those who were already following to some degree, than overtly recruiting.
Even more interesting is Jesus’ response to people who, on their own initiative, volunteered to follow him. Mt.8:18-22, Lk.9:57-62, 10:17; Mt.16:21-28 and parallels, and 19:16-22 all focus, not on escape to safety from worldly or other-worldly perils, but on the expectation of homelessness, abuse, persecution, and the necessity of making loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom one’s absolute priority (Mt.22:1-7, Mk.9:43-48, Lk.9:23), even in the event of the loss of life itself, after the pattern of Jesus own personal expectation.
Jesus never offered anyone a “free one-way ticket to glory”, or a promise of “going to heaven when they die” (see #118 and #119). If you can find any such references, please contribute them.
Notice in the much-quoted interview with Nicodemus (Jn.3) that the discussion is about entering – or seeing – the Kingdom, not “heaven”! Those two are never equated.
To the young man who inquired about “eternal life” (see #28), the instruction was to use his wealth to look after the poor, and personally to follow Jesus. (Mk.10:17-22)
When a man who had been healed begged to follow him (Mk.5:18), he was gently told to go tell the folks at home what Jesus had done.

Jesus did offer on-the-job training (Mt.11:28), peace amid fierce opposition (Jn.14:27-31, 15:18 through most of chapter 16), and both the ability and the authority to represent him (Mt.10:1, Mk.3:14-15), as well as constant companionship (Jn.13-17) and eventual resurrection (Jn.6:40), but these were addressed to folks already committed to him and his Kingdom.

When the Kingdom is accurately described and demonstrated, no recruiting is necessary! Neither are made-up promises of escape or prosperity needed or appropriate.
Enlistment in the Kingdom of Jesus must be completely voluntary, with full understanding of the risks as well as the benefits.
Anything less does violence to the Kingdom, the King, and his committed disciples!