“Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 9, 10, and 11 (John 3:5 and :16; 1 Pet 3:21)

muscleshovelWe are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.

Chapter 9

In chapter 9, Randall thoroughly disproves the notion that the church was founded by John the Baptist. He is, of course, exactly right.

The library taught Shank the same thing —

The denominational history research revealed historical facts that none of the Baptist Pastors seemed to know (or they didn’t want to share with me). The Baptist Church began with a man named John Smyth, a Fellow of Christ’s College in Cambridge, who had broken his ties with the Church of England. He became a Puritan, then a Separatist, and ended his days working with the Mennonites. Persecution led Smyth into exile to Amsterdam where he and fellow worker Thomas Helwys would come to form the first Baptist Church somewhere between 1607 and 1609, depending on which historian is referenced.

(Kindle Locations 1615-1620).

I wonder whether Shank researched the “denominational history” of the Churches of Christ. If he had, he’d have learned that our roots go back to the early 19th Century (or maybe the late 18th — it’s not a sharp line). We’re nearly 200 years younger than the Baptists if you apply the same standards and tests to both denominations.

Chapter 10

Shank describes his conversation with a Lutheran pastor. This pastor declares that in John 15, Jesus says that he is the vine and the denominations are the various branches. And I’m sure the pastor said that, but it’s obviously bad theology and any Lutheran pastor should know better. (Martin Luther certainly wouldn’t have approved, and I doubt that many other Lutheran pastors would either.)

Randall has no problem proving the Lutheran pastor wrong. (And I have to wonder what kind of route Shank worked to find so many pastors who know their Bibles so poorly.)

Chapter 11

John 3:16 and 3:5

Shank describes a conversation with Randall over a game of chess. Shank pulls out John 3:16, certain that Randall will have to capitulate to the clear logic of the verse.

Randall, using his index finger, said, “Look at the verse again – that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Notice these two words here in verse 16… should not?”


“These words represent a condition,” Randall said. “If you quote John 3: 16 by itself, you’re taking it away from its context and you’re ignoring the entire remote text distorting the meaning. Mr. Mike, I’m not ignoring John 3:16. You’re lifting it out of context in an effort to make it mean something it doesn’t mean.”

(Kindle Locations 1817-1825).

Interestingly, although the KJV and ESV use “should” before “not perish,” the NASB, NET Bible, and NIV say “shall.” Why? Is Jesus saying that baptism is a condition in this verse?

Actually, “should” is not conditional but in the subjunctive voice, which is nearly forgotten in modern English (if only it were not so!) It can refer to something that may or may not happen, that is, it can take on the meaning of “supposed to” rather than “shall” happen. It does not, in this verse, refer back to John 3:5 (“born of water and the Spirit”) as an implied condition. I can find no Greek resource or commentary that says “should” is conditional on some prior act based on the grammar.

Wallace, in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 474, says,

The fact that the subjunctive is all but required after ἵνα does not, of course, argue for uncertainty as to the fate of the believer. This fact is obvious, not from this text, but from the use of of οὐ μή in John 10:28 and 11:26, as well as the general theological contours of the gospel of John.

And footnote 86 on p. 480 says —

ὥστε + the indicative (used but twice in the NT in subordinate clauses [John 3:16 and Gal 2:13]) still bears the force of “actual result,” while ὥστε + the infinitive can be used to mean “natural result” or “actual result.”

Even the Greek specialists see nothing in the verb that looks back to John 3:5, only a question of whether the subjunctive means an uncertain result, that is, an unsure salvation — which is far, far away from Randall’s teaching.

And the argument overlooks dozens of other parallel passages that do not use the subjunctive voice at all. For example (and I’ve given other examples in previous posts) —

(Rom 3:21-22 ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it —  22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

No subjunctive voice, and no even arguable reference to water baptism for chapters. And there are dozens of verses just like it.

Randall next reads John 3:5 as requiring water baptism, which is not at all an unreasonable position, but it’s a frequently challenged position. There are good arguments on both sides of that one.

Now, it’s very hard to reconcile reading verse 5 into verse 16 with the many, many other verses in John that promise salvation to all with faith in Jesus — unless we conclude, as I’ve earlier suggested, that God wants us water baptized but will not let an insufficient baptism prevent him from honoring his promises to save all with faith in Jesus.

In fairness, if John 3:5 (“born of water and the Spirit”) refers to water baptism, it would seem that Jesus makes “born of water” essential by his grammar in v. 5. So why does he speak v. 16 a few minutes later and not mention this essential condition? If v. 5 refers to water baptism, then it sure seems to contradict 3:16, and a couple of dozen other verses in John promising salvation to all with faith in Jesus.

Regardless of how we sort all that out, the fact is that God’s grace is often bigger and better than even biblical grammar. Consider —

(Lev 4:1 ESV) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, 3 if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.

The command says, in clearly absolute terms, that if you sin unintentionally against any of God’s commands, you “shall offer” a sacrifice. In law, that’s the language lawyers use to make an obligation binding — and this is a law.

But how many people can you name that were forgiven of their sins before Pentecost without offering a bull? There are many, including those baptized by John the Baptist.

You see, God can waive (decide not to enforce) his own laws — and the Old Testament gives many examples of exactly that (David and Bathsheba being a classic case but not the only case). Yes, God really does want believers to be water baptized, and yes, God will at the least honor all his promises to save those with a genuine faith (as defined in the previous posts) in Jesus.

Jesus fulfills the Law but he also creates all kinds of exceptions, saving without animal sacrifice, bringing Gentiles into the elect nation, and on and on. Praise God for exceptions! God will never do less than he promises, but he often does more than his laws require him to. One example is what we call grace.

1 Peter 3:21

Randall next argues from —

(1Pe 3:21-22 ESV) 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

This has been discussed at this blog before. One side emphasizes “baptism … now saves you” and the other side emphasizes “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The first part of the verse seems to say that the water itself saves, but no one teaches that, not even in the Churches of Christ. Thus, even the traditional Church of Christ advocates do not take “baptism … now saves you” literally. They say it means that God saves you through the resurrection of Jesus at the time of water baptism — which is not what it says but surely much closer to what it means.

The “not as a removal of dirt from the body” side argues that it’s the appeal to God that is true reason for salvation, not the getting wet, which is literally what the text says, but that weakens “baptism now saves you” into nothingness, which is clearly not Peter’s intent. That verse can’t mean that baptism matters not one whit!

Fortunately, I’m not here to argue either the Church of Christ or the Baptist position. My view is that baptism is normatively the moment of salvation and receipt of the Spirit, but that God will ultimately honor “the appeal for a good conscience” — even if the baptism is flawed. And that understanding fits the text as written just fine.

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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11 Responses to “Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 9, 10, and 11 (John 3:5 and :16; 1 Pet 3:21)

  1. John says:

    Jay, in regard to the Lutheran Pastor who claimed that the brances were the denominations, you said, “…(Martin Luther certainly wouldn’t have approved, and I doubt that many other Lutheran pastors would either.)

    Randall has no problem proving the Lutheran pastor wrong. (And I have to wonder what kind of route Shank worked to find so many pastors who know their Bibles so poorly.)

    First of all, very wise. I am sure most readers admire your integrity. Secondly, while growing up in the CoC, I heard story after story of preachers in other churches who were ignorant of the scriptures, only to find out later those were, well, stories. The truth is there are MANY preachers who know the Bible very well and a discussion of the Bible with them does not come down to “shootilng fish in a barrel”. I have enjoyed many wonderful Biblical discussions with preachers from both sides of the spectrum, and with those who form the middle. Some were more frustrating than others, but that makes us stretch.

  2. Price says:

    Jay, need some clarification here… if you have time and wish to…

    The only passages that PERHAPS speak to baptism in salvific terms are Mark 16:16, and John 3:5. There is the commission that Jesus gave His disciples to baptize but there is no salvation attached to it.. In fact, there is no resulting benefit of baptism mentioned in the Matt 28 passage at all.. Since the overwhelming majority of scholars seriously question the authenticity of Mark 16:16, that leaves only John 3:5.. Is there any other passage of scripture quoting Jesus that states baptism is essential to salvation other than these 2 verses?

    Your remark that it seems strange (my paraphrase) that Jesus would suggest baptism was necessary by some cryptic remark to Nicodemus in verse 5 then go on to state unequivocally on numerous other occasions that faith/belief were the only requirement.. I agree that this is strange indeed. Especially, since the remarks in John 3:5 have opponents to the conclusion that water immersion or baptism is in view in John 3:5.

    Lastly, and perhaps you might want to speak about this at some other time….why would you think that in Acts 1 Jesus tells his disciples that instead of using water as John did..(and apparently His own disciples did)(odd that He refers only to John when they were baptizing in water as well but whatever)….He would baptize with the Spirit.. In Acts 1 Jesus specifically contrasts water with Spirit… That just can’t be pushed aside…

    Just a thought.. John 3:5 IF..it is a statement relative to baptism.. one notes that of water and Spirit doesn’t demand an order of compliance.. Could it be that one is born of Spirit by faith and then is baptized ? John 3:5 allows that order.. correct ? I don’t see any demand that getting wet first is necessary in 3:5… It’s just our tradition and belief that we are saved by water immersion that has lead to that order… Thoughts ??

  3. One old irritation that surfaces in Shank’s book here is the willingness to argue over English syntax while not having a good grip on the grammar or the history of the language. If you are going to make grammar and syntax the basis for a belief, you darn well better know the language expertly. But alas, this is simply another case of having an idea, and searching for something in the Bible which can be argued to “prove” that this idea is correct.

    The best known of these errors is, of course, 2 Tim 2:15 (KJV), which says in part, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God…” This statement from Paul never referred to the academic study of the Bible. The word “study” as used here meant to be diligent (see also 1 Thess. 4:11). This change in usage is accurately reflected in every major translation made in the last hundred years, including in the New King James Version. But how many thousands of sermons have been preached– shucks, how many were preached last Sunday– that encouraged Bible study using a blatant error in language?

    Sometimes, I feel we argue over what the Bible says, but we really only care what it says that supports our arguments. This sad opinion comes from our too-common resistance to change our view when a favorite scriptural prop is shown to be faulty.

  4. Alabama John says:

    Most times we are on here are only trying to teach our position instead of learn.

    it is interesting that in all this talk about grace, I have not heard a single time “unmerited favor” used and that has been the teaching of what Gods grace is for the last 75 years I know of.
    In your last paragraph “the appeal of a good conscience” is one thing we sure agree on in regard to baptism and I also agree on it for obtaining forgiveness for things we didn’t know for some reason that we might do or have done wrong but with a pure, desiring to do it right heart.
    I call it Available Light judgment and I of all people need all of it I can get.

  5. Monty says:


    You are of course right about the meaning of study. You learn something new every day, if you keep your mind open, and listen to those with more knowledge. But with that said, isn’t the context an admonition to Timothy, an evangelist, to rightly treat(espouse) the word of God in it’s presentation to hearers? How would you suggest we(today) be diligent in rightly treating(“cut straight”-Diaglott) (rightly speaking) the word of God, without being diligent in our study of it?

    Given, it’s a stretch to use this to mean “everyone should study the Bible” (there are other verses that could be used to get that point across), it’s still in the same vein to me. If the sermon ties studying diligently to the necessity of speaking the word of God “rightly” to our friends, wouldn’t that convey the same idea? Just curious.

  6. Ray Downen says:

    Those who want to nullify the command of Jesus that new converts are to be baptized seek “proof texts” to teach that sinners are saved by faith alone. But every verse to which they point to prove that faith alone saves somehow manages to speak of the need of faith without mentioning that faith alone does anyone any good at all. Those who love Jesus will surely be sickened by ones who claim to also love Him but who think His command is not important.

    Perhaps they think Matthew is incorrect in his version of the great commission. That’s the only excuse I can think of that might justify their disputing with the apostles who clearly taught that entrance into the Lord’s church was by way of repenting and being baptized. NO apostle ever speaks of salvation by faith alone. Each writing does emphasize that we are saved by Jesus and by believing Him to be our risen LORD. But their practice shows their understanding that the great commission was to be obeyed. Why do so many today want to disbelieve and disobey Jesus by promising salvation prior to baptism into Christ?

  7. Philip says:

    Ray I appreciate what you are saying, I would never argue that the great commission is not to be obeyed, or baptism, or repentance or a whole host of things that are commanded. I hope we all would agree the “saving power” is only found in the redemptive work of Jesus at the cross and God’s power to resurrect. Obviously we have to respond in faith. How that faith is represented in my life is, repentance, baptism, forgive those who sin against me, so that i might be forgiven etc. I would never boast in in anything, including my baptism, but the saving power of the blood of Jesus. So am i saved by faith? YES, period, and my faith is demonstrated in many ways, including baptism, which in and of itself is a response of my trust in God. Where am i going wrong?

  8. Jay Guin says:


    You’re quite right. Neither Shank nor Randall ever look past the KJV. Several errors would have been avoided just by using ANY modern translation.

    Many Landmark Baptists treat the KJV as an inspired translation. If Shank grew up in the Landmark church, it’s easy to see how he so easily bought into Randall’s pitch

  9. laymond says:

    Price try. 1Pe 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

  10. laymond says:

    NIV 1Pe 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 clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    Since some people here don’t trust the KJV I though I might back it up with a ” modern translation.”

  11. Robert says:

    Laymond 10 point of praise to you!!! I just giggled with JOY.

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