Baptism in Galatians
(Gal 3:27 ESV) 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Baptism? Where does baptism come from? Why not say, “For as many of you as were circumcised into Christ have put on Christ.” Why is baptism different from circumcision? After all, Paul sure seems to be adding baptism to faith!
The phrase “put on” is better translated in the NIV as “clothed yourselves with.” The verb refers to putting on clothes. The metaphor is likely borrowed from —
(Isa 61:10 ESV) I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
(Zec 3:4 ESV) And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
We know that in later years, Christian converts received new clothes when they were baptized — sometimes a white robe. The same is true of Jewish proselytes. It may be that Paul is referring to an actual ritual, or it could be that the ritual came later, inspired by this passage. Either way, that’s the image.
Well, in just the preceding verse, Paul said,
(Gal 3:26 ESV) 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
So is it faith that makes us sons of God, per v. 26, or baptism per v. 27? Is it both? If so, why mention baptism just this once?
Beasley-Murray (in his excellent Baptism in the New Testament) seeks to reconcile the seeming conflict between verses 26 and 27 as follows:
If Paul were pressed to define the relationship of the two statements in vv. 26-27, I cannot see how he could preserve the force of both sentences apart from affirming that baptism is the moment of faith in which the adoption is realized — in the dual sense of effected by God and grasped by man — which is the same as saying that in baptism faith receives the Christ in whom the adoption is effected.
And although Beasley-Murray is a Baptist, here he sounds very much like a member of the Churches of Christ. But why is it okay for baptism to be the moment when salvation is effected and not okay for circumcision to be that moment? Paul isn’t saying that the Jews got it wrong — God made a rule and the rule is baptism, not circumcision. No, Paul repeatedly argues that circumcision can’t be essential because it’s not faith. But neither is baptism, is it?
I’ve argued in the past, along with Luther, that baptism isn’t a work at all because it’s a gift —
Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.
Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.
Luther insisted in the necessity of baptism, while Zwingli and Calvin practiced baptism but only as a response to a command. They taught salvation occurred at the moment of faith and so baptism comes later and does not effect salvation.
Luther explains that baptism is a gift from God and is only effective if received in faith. If the convert thinks he’s only taking a bath, nothing happens. He must by faith believe that he is obeying God’s command.
And that’s a beautifully, powerfully expressed sentiment. But baptism is still not faith. It’s not a work of the Law (as the Law says nothing of baptism), but neither is it faith.
As more than one reader has pointed out, circumcision is often as much a gift as baptism, as circumcision is performed by someone else. In the case of babies (which is normative among Jews), the baby is entirely passive and, likely, not happy about the procedure at all. He’s done nothing of his own accord, and yet it’s a work. Therefore, showing baptism to be passive is not enough to rescue it from being a work. It sure doesn’t turn it into faith.
The grammar of 3:27
Does the “for” in 3:27 means that baptism is the reason that faith makes us sons of God? The verb “put on” or “clothed yourselves with” is indicative aorist and speaks of a point-in-time event..But it doesn’t specify whether the putting on occurs before or concurrently with the baptism.
(Gal 3:25-27 ESV) 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Notice the repeating use of “for.” In Greek,”for” (gar) either gives the reason for what precedes or else illlustrates what precedes. Thayer’s advises —
When in successive statements gar is repeated twice or thrice, or even four or five times, either a. one and the same thought is confirmed by as many arguments, each having its own force, as there are repetitions of the particle … or b. every succeeding statement contains the reason for its immediate predecessor, so that the statements are subordinate one to another:
Thus, the second “for” either modifies v. 25 (“we are no longer under a guardian”) or gives the reason for v. 26 (“you are all sons of God, through faith.”). Young’s Literal Translation treats vv. 23-29 all as one sentence. The three verses are really all one sentence (actually, part of one even longer sentence).
Should we interpret v. 27 as giving the reason that v. 26 is true? That seems unlikely. After all, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” is as basic as it gets. Baptism does not give the reason that faith in Jesus saves. Baptism could, however, be seen as illustrating that fact. And Thayer points out that “for” can offer the reason for what precedes or illustrate what precedes —
[Gar] serves to explain, make clear, illustrate, a preceding thought or word: for equivalent to that is, namely; a. so that it begins an exposition of the thing just announced … . b. so that the explanation is intercalated into the discourse, or even added by way of appendix:
Thus, v. 27 could be an appendix illustrating what’s been said — so that v. 27 explains vv. 25-26. Does baptism illustrate our salvation by faith? Yes, indeed, it does.
And baptism also illustrates that we are no longer under the Torah as guardian. Baptism is conditioned only on faith, not circumcision or other obedience to the Law. The Galatians should have known from their own baptisms that they’d already met the requirements to be saved and need not be looking for further evidence of their justification.
This is much the same argument as made by the Campbells and Walter Scott. They taught at a time when many denominations with Calvinist roots would not accept someone as saved absent proof of a saving experience — some divine act of election independent of the believer’s own choice. This left many a believer feeling incapable of finding salvation as they had faith but that couldn’t truthfully relate a divine experience demonstrating God’s unconditional election. The Restoration leaders, however, taught that anyone with faith is eligible for baptism, and that baptism is sufficient evidence of salvation. A person, having been baptized, need not wonder whether he’s been elected or received God’s salvation. Baptism is sufficient assurance because God saves at baptism.
The point of v. 27 is to illustrate the truth of what has already been said. Baptism illustrates that faith is sufficient and that obedience to the Law is no longer required, because baptism is administered to those with faith — regardless of obedience to the Law. And baptism illustrates that we are sons of God by faith in Jesus for the very same reason.
Now, does this bring us to Thomas Campbell’s position, that baptism assures us of our salvation, but doesn’t effect our salvation? Well, it unquestionably teaches that baptism is intended to assure us of and illustrate our salvation. Does that mean it only assures us of our salvation? Well, that would fit the logic of Galatians nicely, but I’m not sure it’s a fair reading of the rest of the New Testament. After all, Romans 6 teaches that we’re baptized into Christ and therefore into his death, burial, and resurrection. How do we reconcile that with —
(Gal 5:6 NAU) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
Passages in 1 Corinthians teach much the same thing. Therefore, how do we reconcile Galatians’ teaching that we are saved by faith in Jesus — which excludes all additions to faith as essential to salvation — with Romans 6 and the several other passages that associate baptism with salvation?
That’s the topic of the next post.