Born of Water: The baptism of John the Baptist, Part 1

BaptismofJesus2Price asked,

Were the disciples of Christ baptizing in the same manner as John the Baptist and his disciples ? If so, wasn’t that baptism just an outward expression of a repentance, changing of their ways ? Seems so. How else could baptism for salvation be augmented into the Old Law when Jesus said not one thing would be altered ? And, was this salvation only to those that were fortunate enough to hear this new teaching ?


The scriptures leave a lot of questions about John the Baptist (JTB) unanswered. And we usually come at JTB asking how it impacts the Plan of Salvation. We see baptism solely in terms of its effect on our individual salvation. This is, of course, a hugely important question, but it’s not the only question or the only point of John’s baptism — as I understand it. Continue reading

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Born of Water: My Teaching and a Few FAQs

BaptismofJesus2[Reposted from January 2015, with some updates.]

Judging from the comments, it would be helpful for me to lay out what I teach about baptism again. It’s not complicated, but because it’s unfamiliar to most within the Churches of Christ, many readers have had trouble wrapping their heads around it — which is surely my fault.

But I think recent discussions have shown me a better way of expressing myself. Okay — here it is —

* The traditional teaching of the Churches of Christ is largely correct. We correctly interpret Acts 2:38 and all the other familiar baptism proof texts to conclude that baptism is the moment when God forgives — normatively. (By “normatively,” I mean this is what God intends to be the normal case, but God allows for exceptions.) Therefore, I teach baptism of believers by immersion into forgiveness of sins — just as Peter preached on Pentecost. Continue reading

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Born of Water: John 3:1-8, Part 3

BaptismofJesus2c. Although Leon Morris found no evidence that “water” was used as a metaphor for birth in koine Greek, he found plenty of evidence that “water” is used as a metaphor for conception.

“Water” may be connected with procreation. This conception is quite foreign to us and we find it difficult at first to make sense of it. But Odeberg has gathered an impressive array of passages from rabbinic, Mandaean, and Hermetic sources to show that terms like “water,” “rain,” “dew,” and “drop” were often used of the male semen. If “water” has this meaning here, there are two possibilities. Being born “of water” may point to natural birth, which must then be followed by being born “of the Spirit,” that is spiritual regeneration. Or better, we may take “water” and “Spirit” closely together to give a meaning like “spiritual seed.” In this case being born “of water and the Spirit” will not differ greatly from being born “of the Spirit.”[9]

The Greek word translated “born” means “conceived” when the father is in mind,[10] and the ESV translates the same word as “conceived” or the like in Mat 1:2-16 (“was the father of” or KJV: “begat”), Mat 1:20 (“is conceived”), Acts 7:8, 29, 13:33 (quoting Psa 2:7), 1 Cor 4:15, Phile 1:10, Heb 1:5 (Psa 2:7 again), 5:5 (again). 1 John 3:9 speaks of being “born again” because “God’s seed abides in him,” and so the reference is really to conception (“seed” is a metaphor for semen[11]). Continue reading

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Born of Water: John 3:1-8, Part 2

BaptismofJesus2b. Baptism is very much in the context. John 1:19 ff. discusses the baptism of John. Indeed, in 1:26, John the Baptist says “I baptize with water” and in 1:33, John says that Jesus “will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” This is, of course, parallel with “born of water and Spirit” (although John the Baptist speaks disjunctively – it’s water or it’s Spirit) whereas Jesus is speaking conjunctively (which is closer to the church’s traditional understanding but not how John the Baptist spoke). Immediately after the account of Jesus with Nicodemus, we read in 3:22 that Jesus and his disciples went to the countryside and baptized with water.

c. There is no evidence that the Jews thought of water as an element of or symbol for physical birth. Indeed, John’s earlier references to natural physical birth speak of being “born of blood.” John 1:12-13.[4] In both cases, “of” is the same preposition, ‘ek. One commentator who sought evidence that the Jews used “water” to refer to physical birth came up with considerable evidence of water being a Jewish metaphor for conception, but nothing for associating water with physical birth.[5] Continue reading

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Born of Water: John 3:1-8, Part 1

[There was a section by this name in the original Born of Water, but I entirely rewrote it.]

BaptismofJesus2Now, as we’ve seen, there are plenty of passages that teach that if you have faith and are baptized, then you are saved. None of the previously quoted “baptism” passages, however, says what happens if you have faith and are not baptized. Perhaps baptism is one but not the only path to salvation.

We have to consider John 3:1-8 –

(John 3:1-8 ESV) Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

If “born of water” in verse 5 refers to baptism in water, Jesus has said that baptism is not only a path to heaven, it is the only path to heaven. Continue reading

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Born of Water: Don’t we contact the blood of Christ at baptism?

BaptismofJesus2In the Churches of Christ, it’s long been taught that souls are cleansed when we contact the blood of Christ in baptism. Very typical is this from Jeffrey Asher[1]

I submit that the Scriptures teach the blood of Christ is applied to sinners in baptism, and that this is what the apostle Paul had in mind in Romans 6:3 when he said we are “baptized into [Christ’s] death.” …

Baptism into Christ’s death enables us reach the blood of his cross (John 19:34). Baptism is God’s operation of washing us in the blood of the Lamb and cleansing us of our sins (Col. 2:12,13). “[You] were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. . . . ” How much clearer can it be? God forgives men of their sins when they obey his command for baptism.

Of course, John 19:34 says nothing about baptism. Continue reading

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Homosexuality: The Conversation in the United Methodist Church

the-bible-and-sexuality-blog-heading (1)Adam Hamilton is  senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, a congregation of 20,000 members. He recently posted a blog article captioned “The Bible, Homosexuality, and the UMC — Part One.” He has not yet posted a part 2. The article advocates for acceptance of gay marriage by the Methodist Church. He argues,

Had the early church held these assumptions consistently, they would never have reached the decisions that circumcision was no longer required of Christians, or that Christians were no longer bound by much that is found in the Law of Moses.  We would still be worshipping on Saturdays, eating only what was kosher, offering animal sacrifices, and administering capital punishment for everything from working on the Sabbath to rebelliousness on the part of children (Jesus never explicitly taught that these portions of the Scripture were no longer binding upon his followers; this call was made by the apostles at the urging of Paul). …

On the issue of same gender acts, they wrote based upon their understanding of human sexuality, in the light of the prevailing same-gender practices of their time. And though we believe that they were inspired, the precise nature and extent of that inspiration remains a mystery. We do know that this inspiration was not some kind of divine dictation, but it was through the impulse of the Spirit at work in very human authors who were addressing the people and circumstances in which they lived. This inspiration did not prevent historical or scientific errors. It did not prohibit the recording of differing accounts of the same story in the Gospels. It did not keep the Bible’s authors from allowing slavery and genocide; and it did not transform the biblical authors’ patriarchal perspectives on women.

The blog post was picked up by the Ministry Matters website, a popular site providing ministry resources for preachers and pastors. (You should read Hamilton’s entire article.) Continue reading

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Born of Water: Baptism as a Story that Defines Us, Part 2

BaptismofJesus2We’ve all experienced our own Exodus, our own escape from slavery, our own defeat of the armies of the enemy, our own entry into the protection and leadership of God – through baptism. And this tells us how to live as Christians.

Just so, Paul writes,

(Gal. 3:23-29 ESV) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 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. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Again, we see the two great defining narratives of Judaism: sonship of Abraham and freedom from slavery. But Paul redefines these narratives in vital ways. Continue reading

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pepperdine2I’d been planning on being at the Pepperdine lectureship for nearly a year now, and scheduled to teach two classes on baptism. Unfortunately, my arthritis has badly flared and I can’t handle either the flight or the walking.

I was counting on hearing the inestimable N.T. Wright speak and meeting him in person as a faculty member, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

I was looking forward especially to meeting many of my readers, some for the first time. Maybe another time …

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Born of Water: Baptism as a Story that Defines Us, Part 1

Over the next few days, I’m going to post some new material written for the new edition of Born of Water.

BaptismofJesus2Most Americans have a Western mindset, born of the Enlightenment and, long before that, the Greek philosophers. We think in terms of propositional truths. We’re all lawyers and scientists. What is true is that which can be stated in a simple, declaratory sentence and tested by logic and experience.

The Jews of biblical times, however, had an Eastern mindset. They thought much more in terms of story and narrative. Hence, their greatest teacher famously taught using parables. He even used his own life as the largest of canvases on which to paint his lessons.

When we Westerners confront a parable of Jesus, we insist on extracting a moral or lesson or principle – ripping the lesson out of its narrative. And that’s not wrong. It just limits what we can learn. Easterners, however, see the story as the moral, and so they seek to live in the story. Continue reading

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