Baptism, An Exploration: Galatians, Part 2 (Baptism)

JESUS BAPTISMBaptism in Galatians

Paul declares,

(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.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to Baptism, An Exploration: Galatians, Part 2 (Baptism)

  1. Bob Brandon says:

    So, for the Campbells, the concern regarding baptism was the recognition that it was not about how can others accept that we are saved but how can we be confident that we are. Paul in Gal. 3 comes from a slightly different tact: why go back to the acceptance of others when you already know that, ever since you submitted to baptism because of your faith in Christ, you remain accepted by Christ?

  2. Norton says:

    Jay
    Good explanation of Gal 3:25-27. That resolves some problems I have had in understanding the passage in light of other baptism passages.

  3. ClydeSymonette says:

    Jay:

    Good post. I give “a thumbs” up to the following statement.

    “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.”

    Would it be more accurate to say, “Paul illustrated that faith is sufficient and obedience to the Law is no longer required. He pointed to their baptism to demonstrate to them that they were sons of God by faith in Jesus?”

    Jay, your roots are obviously very deep in the Word. God bless.

  4. Jay,

    In my thesis on The Use of Baptism in Exhorting Christians, one of the conclusions I reached was that baptism is used to exhort because it gives assurance to the believer of his salvation and his new relationship to God.

    The connection between faith and baptism is firm. Without faith in the crucified Savior, there is no true Christian baptism. This is stated in Galatians 3:26-27, is clear in Romans 6 and lies very near the surface of Colossians 2:12. The problem in much of the preaching in the Church of Christ is that this solid connection between faith and baptism, between baptism and trusting the sacrifice of Jesus becomes nebulous – and baptism effectively becomes a sacrament. That is why we have people (as Al Maxey points out) who argue that the moment of salvation is when the nose breaks the surface of the water on the way up. More is made of the act of baptism than of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, we preach baptism instead of preaching Jesus, and faith takes a back seat to baptism.

    To some degree, this is reaction to Calvin and Zwingli's divorce of faith and baptism. It is, however, over reaction because it changes the fundamental nature of baptism. As we have preached it, it does become a "work" comparable to circumcision (as Paul discussed it in Galatians). That, however, is not the way Paul understood baptism. To him, baptism demonstrates faith in Jesus, but is not an addition to faith; it embodies and enacts faith.

    This is a good post in a good series. Keep up the excellent work!

    Jerry

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Bob,

    I think that's a fairly fair summation. I wish I'd thought of it!

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Clyde asked,

    " Would it be more accurate to say, 'Paul illustrated that faith is sufficient and obedience to the Law is no longer required. He pointed to their baptism to demonstrate to them that they were sons of God by faith in Jesus?'"

    Clyde,

    Yes, Paul uses baptism as an illustration. Water baptism is, of course, illustrative of what happens in Spirit baptism — God's Living Water washes us. That doesn't mean that baptism is ONLY an illustration.

  7. aBasnar says:

    Just so we don't have to scroll up again:

    Gal 3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
    Gal 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
    Gal 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

    What about this:

    Since through baptism we are clothed with Christ and become sons of God, this prooves to us that we are not obliged to keep the law in order to be received into God's Kingdom.

    Baptism never stands in contrast to faith, nor is it sufficient to say it is an expression of the faith, but it is the beginning of a new relationship with God and the new birth. Paul asked the Galations also HOW they received the Spirit: Through faith or through the Law? The answer is through faith, but in baptism (see the normal course of action in Actzs 2:38).

    Faith in Christ encompasses the whole New Covenant, not just "mental assent" to the great thruths of the gospel. To say: He is of the faith is to say: He is in the New Covenant.

    Being baptised is the Beginning of faith in Christ, when we are clothed with Christ. We are outside of Christ before baptism and in Christ afterwards. The fact that the Galations were born again and received the Spirit apart from the Law makles Paul point to baptism, because baptism is the event where this happens.

    Therefore I see no tension at all between verses 26 and 27, and this is what the Evangelical understanding of baptism fails to recognize. And therefore also we cannot have fellowship with unbaptized persons because they are outside of the covenant. We may be friends with them, we may exhort them, we may serve them, we may invite them … but we are not in fellowship (yet). Evangelicals who just focus on faith and have a different understanding of the New Birth can have fellowship with all professing Christians. As soon as we recognize the significance of baptism this is not possible anymore.

    One sign how we express that (and I am convinced that this is scriptural) is "closed communion". We don't invite unbaptized persons to take from the bread and the wine. The order is: Repentance – baptism – fellowship. Baptism marks the border between being outside of the faith or of the faith, outside of Christ or in Christ.

    Alexander

  8. Pingback: Jay Guin on Baptism | Christian Conversations Now

  9. Anonymous says:

    Jay, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I just found your blog a couple of weeks ago and find it very refreshing. I grew up thinking the 5 steps was the gospel. I now see that explanation as “a different gospel.” I linked to your post at “Christian Conversations Now” along with some additional comments.

    If the question is, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” the answer should always be, “That’s the wrong question.” The question ought to be, “What is necessary for salvation?” To that we should always answer, “Christ crucified.”

    But, our attempts to connect baptism to faith and to find that “baptism is conditioned only on faith” is to imply that we are trying to connect things that we disconnected that should not have been taken apart to begin with. When the gospel becomes a prayer, or 4 steps or 5 steps it is no longer the gospel of Christ crucified. And our assurance of salvation is in our prayer or our 4 steps or 5 steps, but not Christ crucified. Faith in faith leaves no room for trust in the Cross of Jesus.

    Whatever our view of baptism is and how it relates to “clothed with Christ,” “put on Christ” and salvation is the reason we are saved is always Christ crucified. Our response to the gospel is never the cause or the reason we are saved. At best we might say it identifies “who” is saved. But that might be assuming too much. Can belief be separated from the good news? Is faith conditioned by one’s moral superiority or intellect?

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