Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Baptism in Ephesians 4:5

Craig, on his blog "Just a Simple Guy," has written concerning the meaning of "one baptism" in Ephesians 4:5. The verse says there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." What is that one baptism?

Most commentators say it's baptism in water, into the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Some commentators say it's baptism in or by the Holy Spirit.

Craig has leaned toward the view that it's the baptism Jesus underwent for us when he died on the cross; that it's Jesus' identification with us. (I'm simplifying here.)

I've leaned toward the view that it's baptism into the Name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, which has two parts: the part where someone baptizes us with water, and the part where Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit.

I commented there, including a summary...
Whatever interpretation we take, I think we can agree on certain things:
1. Baptism should unite, not divide, true Christians.
2. Baptism is the God-given initiation into life as a believer.
3. There’s a sense in which Jesus is baptized for us, a sense in which Jesus baptizes us in the Spirit, and a sense in which someone baptizes us in water as a sign of new life in God (especially in Jesus).

Do you have any further insights for Craig or for me? (If basically for him, leave it on his blog; if basically for me, leave it on mine. Remember that neither of us will permit you to use our space for bashing sound Christians who don't fully agree with you.)


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

You already know what I'm going to say about "one baptism," which is the literal view taken by Greek Orthodox and many Protestant groups... you can only be baptized once. I hold to that formally and nominally as a member of that historic church. Russian Orthodox tend to rebaptize Protestants and often Roman Catholics and others, taking the view that no one's baptism is valid but theirs. I also understand and respect those churches that hold to believer's baptism and therefore rebaptize adult converts who were baptized as infants.

All that notwithstanding, in my heart of hearts, or as we say, in my "knower" (Greek, νους), one faith is the faith taught in the Holy Bible, one Lord is, of course, Jesus Christ, and one baptism is that life in Christ where our natural man is put to death and buried as far as the world goes, that is, the one baptism is what we undergo (and it's a life-long process) when we let the Lord "sink our ship" for us, which is as you know the original meaning of βαπτιζειν.

This last reason is why we cannot ever go simply on the basis of who has been baptized, how and by whom, when we try to understand whether a person is a Christian or not. Our Orthodox priests have warned the backsliders many times publicly from the pulpit, "Don't think that just because you were baptized Greek Orthodox when you were a baby that you're going to get into heaven." Anyway, brother, that's my take on it, in all humility.

I am correctible if anyone can ever demonstrate to me how an act of men, even with the sanction of churches, can definitively save anyone. Only Jesus saves, and His words, to Nikodemos for example, about being born of water and the Spirit, are still not meant to be used as a way to hold God to His promises. God doesn't ever need to be held to His promises. Anyone who truly accepts Christ, confesses Him before men, and follows His commands doesn't even think in those terms at all. Holding God to His promises? How can our good, man-loving and faithful God do anything but fulfill His promises? The very fact that we believe in the first place is a promise fulfilled by God in His great mercy, answering us even before we sometimes have thought to ask.

Craig and Heather said...

Very interesting perspective.

I do not know Greek, so I must take your word for it.

Did Jesus "sink his ship" then in these passages?

Matthew 20:22-23 MKJV
(22) But Jesus answered and said, You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They said to Him, We are able.
(23) And He said to them, You shall indeed drink of My cup and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.

Luke 12:49-51 MKJV
(49) I have come to send fire on the earth. And what will I do if it is already kindled?
(50) But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am pressed down until it is accomplished!
(51) Do you suppose that I have come to give peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.

Not arguing, just seeking to understand.


Jim Swindle said...

Thank you, my brother. No, I wasn't at all sure what you'd say, since my question wasn't really about how we should baptize or about who we should baptize or about which baptism is valid. My question was simply about the meaning of "baptism" in this particular verse.
I certainly agree with you that having received water baptism (in whichever way is most correct) does not guarantee that we are real Christians who'll get into God's kingdom.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

"baptize" is a word that was used in ancient Greek to describe what happened when a ship went down. Of course, as language and ideas developed, it took on other meanings.

I'm not quite sure of the point you are making, Craig, with the bible verses you cite.

It seems obvious that Christ is here speaking of His passion, what He is about to suffer, the Cross, the Tomb, and so on. In that sense the meaning is consonant with my explanation of what "baptism" means to me, in the experiential sense.

Craig and Heather said...

The point I was trying to make in my post (the one Jim referred to) was that I think the "one baptism" in Eph 4 is this one that Jesus speaks of in these references. I based this on a couple of things. It seems to me that Eph 4 is a God centered argument. He says "endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" then he explains why. He centers his "why" in the nature of Christ (one Lord, faith, baptism), then the nature of the Father (One God, Father of all, who is above all etc) then he speaks of the unified effort or work of the Spirit in the Body of Christ.
Secondly I have been looking at some verses that do seem to say baptism saves. But my question was what baptism. This is when I came to the conclusion that His baptism is what saves me. He identified with me in His suffering. Without this, I could not be saved.

So that is my background. However, it seems that you know the original language much better than I do. I had never heard the "sink our ship" phrase. So I was wanting to hear more of your input on how that concept applied to what Jesus said of himself. I think there may be a beautiful picture there I am not seeing.

In most baptism discussions I have seen people speak of when people are baptized. When they do speak of Christ's baptism, they tend to speak of when John baptized Christ. But these verses are speaking of His death, I believe. I find it very interesting that he used this word, and VERY interesting when I think of what you said the word originally meant.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...


"In most baptism discussions I have seen people speak of when people are baptized. When they do speak of Christ's baptism, they tend to speak of when John baptized Christ. But these verses are speaking of His death, I believe. I find it very interesting that he used this word, and VERY interesting when I think of what you said the word originally meant."

You are absolutely correct on what Jesus means when He speaks of His baptism. Jesus never refers to His baptism by John as anything other than the way in which His Father had ordained for His Son to be revealed to the world. Some people also think that Christ's baptism by John somehow means He was baptised for the sins of those who came before Him and therefore would not have had the chance to be baptised for the remission of sins. That may be correct, as it is consistent with the Orthodox belief that when Christ's soul descended to Hades (She‘ol, the underworld) He loosed the bonds of those who were chained there and quite literally emptied it of its inhabitants ("He preached to the souls in prison" is the phrase used to describe this).

But whenever Christ speaks of baptism in relation to His followers, it is always (I believe) in reference to His passion. That is the Orthodox belief, and the explanation in my first comment is based on that understanding. Our old man is crucified with Christ. That is our true baptism, even though we go through the act of physical baptism.

The Orthodox Church does not dogmatize on when exactly a person is saved relative to their age, the mysteries (sacraments, ordinances) they have participated in, or even their level of understanding and their formal confession of faith, because these are imponderables. But it does (we do) confirm that salvation is dependent on our acceptance of Christ's saving work for us, and is accompanied by the signs associated with personal sanctification. Not that we have or do anything through our own power, but that we let Him do everything in us, for us, and through us.

Craig and Heather said...

Let me ask what may seem to be an unrelated question.

In 2 Cor 1 the word comfort, and Comforter is used repeatedly. Paraklete?
I have heard that this word is a picture word as well, of a ship that comes alongside of a sinking vessel, or a vessel in distress.

Is this correct?

If so, the picture that I am seeing is that He "sunk his ship" on my behalf, and now is the one who comes alongside me to rescue me from the same fate.

(In John He says He is sending another paraklete - another of the same kind - so both Christ and the Holy Spirit do this.)


Jim Swindle said...

Thanks, Craig and Romanós, for the interesting and helpful discussion. My Greek is not at all as good as that of Romanós, but my understanding of parakletos is that it would originally have referred to someone/something CALLED (kletos) ALONGSIDE (para). It has thus been translated as advocate, lawyer, helper, comforter. I'm not at all sure that the original imagery was of a boat. Similarly with baptisma/baptismos - it seems to have meant dipping, dyeing, plunging in water, without regard to what was plunged/dyed: to dye a cloth, to sink a ship, to wash hands. So I don't think I'd see the nautical references as essential to the meaning of either word, though they'd certainly fit within the range of meaning for each. Romanós, please correct me if I'm wrong here.

Jesus was baptized in water because it was fitting; as Romanós says, maybe for the sins of those who came before him. Later he was baptized into full identification with our sins--by dying in our place. We are now baptized into him--buried with him, raised with him. This is done by the Spirit. Water baptism is the physical, outward sign of this, but sometimes the sign exists without the reality (and vice-versa).

So, are we saved by baptism? Certainly not by the sign alone, but we're saved by being in Christ and by Christ being in us, and that's what baptism means. As an old hymn ("I've Found a Friend") says, "I am his and he is mine forever and forever."

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Words sometimes cloud the issues we want to speak of so strongly.
I like everything Jim said in his last comment, and all of it is correct as far as I know (regarding the Greek) and orthodox bible Christianity for the rest.

The Greek language as the idiom of the New Testament (and even of the Old, as many Greeks at the time of Christ were Hellenized and thought through their theology using the Greek language found in the Septuagint), the Greek language has many interesting nuances and allusions in it from its long history.

I heard the "sinking the ship" from a Greek elder many years ago. He probably also knew the nautical associations of the word paráklitos; the Greeks are, after all, a pre-eminent nautical people (navs = ship).

What I understand of paráklitos (I will use English letters, in case you aren't a fluent Greek reader) and of other words associated with it, such as paráklisis, which is a kind of prayer service in Orthodoxy, in which we request the prayers of others in behalf of those who cannot ask for themselves (and therefore need our advocacy), is that it all has to do with the basic idea of "the man at our right," that is, our "advocate." Far more than "helper" is implied by this word. Something much stronger, something absolute. "He will not quit until we win our case, no matter what the cost."

That's the Holy Spirit, for sure.
Our Paráklitos.

Craig and Heather said...

Thank you so much for the conversation here.
I have so enjoyed meditating on His Baptism.