David B. Brown
Table Of Contents
|Chapters 1 through 4 are on this page. Chapters 5 through 8 are continued on the next page.|
Myth 1: The Bible is Too Complicated to Understand
Myth 1: The Bible is Too Complicated to Understand
Myth 2: The Old Testament is Just as Binding as the New Testament
Myth 2: The Old Testament is Just as Binding as the New Testament
Myth 3: We Are Saved by Faith Only
Myth 3: We Are Saved by Faith Only
Myth 4: Baptism is of Secondary Importance
Myth 4: Baptism is of Secondary Importance
Myth 5: Love is All You Need
Myth 5: Love is All You Need
Myth 6: The Rapture!
Myth 6: The Rapture, The RAPTURE, THE RAPTURE!
Myth 7: Original Sin
Chapter 8: Where Does this Leave Us?
Chapter 8: Where Does this Leave Us?
The purpose of this book is to increase bible study by those who are disciples of Jesus Christ. This study will greatly enrich all that participate, and it will lead to a greater respect for the Word of God. I am not so arrogant as to think that my conclusions regarding the holy scriptures are the only ones acceptable to God. However, the average church member in the denominational world has never considered some of the major truths of God's word. For that reason they are accepting, practicing and teaching many false doctrines that were inherited from the Roman Catholic church or that have evolved since the reformation. Most alarming, the average members have been so conditioned by emotionalism that they seem no longer to care.
This book is for the average member of denominational churches. The author was raised in a denomination and taught by family and church not to challenge the religious beliefs of others. This is the essence of the problem. For our failure to challenge the beliefs of others very quickly leads to a failure to challenge our own beliefs. "If everyone else is all right, then I must be all right as well." This is a sure formula for complacency and ignorance.
Many have been conditioned to believe that it just does not matter what we believe or practice. If so, there is no reason to bother studying or discussing biblical truth. But the bible itself states emphatically that it does matter. As you read the scriptures quoted in this book, this will become quite clear. We plead with you to allow these scriptures to find their way into the fertile soil of an open and contrite heart. Your eternal destiny depends on it.
Our country is in a major moral crisis due to a lack of regard for biblical teaching. Well over 30 million abortions have been performed since it was legalized, eclipsing Hitler's holocaust. Homosexuality and other forms of sexual deviancy are being rationalized and taught in our public schools as "alternative life styles." Teen pregnancy has soared. Marriage for life has become the exceptional family mode. Gambling has become the politicians' tax of choice. Our airwaves are flooded with pornography. Our jails are overflowing, and the only solution that the politicians are proposing is to build more. Drugs and alcoholic beverages dominate our recreational activities. We could go on and on, but if these obvious alarms do not wake up the reader, nothing will. We can continue to bury our heads in the sand, or we can begin looking for the only solution: Christ.
What has this to do with the myths of denominationalism? The denominations have failed to teach the truth on some of the most fundamental and obvious of biblical truths. Is it any wonder that they flounder with regard to the moral issues which plague our country? If the bible is not the standard of authority with regard to our salvation and our relationship with God, then why should we trust it with regard to these moral issues? We will prove that the denominations have rejected the bible as their standard of authority. Thus, members have drawn the most logical of conclusions: "the bible should not deter us from doing exactly what we want to do when we want to do it." While we do not deny that there are notable exceptions, any objective, unbiased observer would agree that this is the predominant attitude in our country today.
If this book should find some degree of success, we fully expect that it will be cited as a divisive instrument of the devil by popular denominational teachers. Those familiar with the New Testament will recognize that this is identical to the reception that the religious rulers of Jesus' day gave Him (Mt. 12:24; 22:15-45). He clearly taught that His followers would have to suffer the very same treatment that he suffered (Rom. 8:17).
We fully recognize that this does not prove the validity of our assertions -- many cults and devil-worshipers are rejected (and some persecuted), and they are far from the truth. On the other hand, the fact that the vast majority believes something does not make it right (Mt. 7:13-14). It is God's word and God's word alone that determines the truth (Rom. 3:4). We only ask that the doctrines put forward in this book be evaluated in that light.
To those who feel that this is just all negative, please recognize that it is impossible to assert a positive without being negative toward the opposite position. Read Matthew 23. Jesus teachings were opposed at every turn by the religious establishment of His day, but He did not stop because His teachings were considered negative toward them.
It is not our intent to be divisive -- in fact, those who consider themselves part of Christianity are so divided now that further division would seem impossible. The basic structure of denominationalism itself is the main reason for this, as we will show in Chapter 1.
As you consider this book and the criticism of it, ask yourself: who is interested in the truth, and who is interested in maintaining the status quo? Who is benefiting from the current ignorance of God's word? What are they doing to perpetuate the myths, and why? As in Jesus day, the answers are tied closely to political and economic power of a leadership that can only be sustained by the enslavement of their followers in ignorance (Jn. 8:32). Those who love the truth will appreciate criticism of current practices and teachings which are inconsistent with Gods holy word.
We do not want you to believe anything that we write without scriptural evidence. We hope you will challenge everything in this book. Other than the scriptural quotations, this is not an inspired work; to claim such would be sinful and would curse this author with the plagues written in the book of Revelation (Rev. 18:22-23). Believe only God's word; for it, and it alone, is capable of "thoroughly furnishing you unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If I am wrong, correct me as you would a brother. If this book does nothing but get some to read and study the bible (even to defeat what is taught here) it will accomplish its mission.
Before continuing, please consider some basic definitions to get us started, and some comments on the version of God's word that we will use for quotations.
To assure a common understanding, it is important that we define terms before proceeding. When we say myths we are referring to erroneous but commonly-accepted beliefs. To identify a myth we need only compare it with the truth of God's word. If it is obvious that it contrasts with the clear teaching of the bible, then it is a myth. We have tried to deal with those which are most vulnerable (see chapter headings). These myths are not universally accepted by all members of all denominations. No doctrines are. There are always exceptions, and perhaps you (or your entire group) do not believe the myths stated in some of the chapters. If so, we commend you for your stand against the majority and for the truth. However, if you are in fellowship with general denominational teachings, you cannot help but being sympathetic with their generally-accepted doctrines; we urge you to teach your friends and neighbors the truth.
It should be clear that we are not saved by myths, no matter how much we might believe them to be true (Mt. 7:21-23). No greater injustice can be done to a person than to lead him to believe that he is saved when, in fact, he is not. The propagation of myths as faith in God is evil, and those who do so will give an accounting of it before God (James 3:1-2).
When we use the term denominationalism we are referring to the general teachings (doctrines) of the collective of those religious organizations which consider themselves denominations of the universal church of Christ. Of course, there is no such written doctrine, since the denominations do not formulate common doctrine. However, there are a set of beliefs which have come to be known as "traditional Christian beliefs." Certainly, we are not asserting that all of these are myths. However, we are asserting that these traditional doctrines contain significant myths to the point that they lead people to believe that they are saved when, in fact, they are not.
The verb denominate is used throughout this book with the meaning of to give a name to with the intent of distinguishing one group from another. Thus, a denomination is a religious organization which has been distinguished from all others by the assignment of a unique name. Those organizations which have as one of their beliefs that they (as an organization) are part of the universal church of Christ (along with all others) will be called the denominations. The doctrines which are generally accepted by all of these groups will be collectively referenced as denominationalism.
Biblical quotations are from the King James version of the Holy Bible. This is not an endorsement of the King James version -- we have chosen it because it is the most widespread and available valid version. We believe that God's divine providence has assured that the truth can be ascertained from any valid translation. By valid we mean a translation which was objectively interpreted from the most ancient available manuscripts by a diverse team of objective Greek and Hebrew scholars. We discourage the use of paraphrases since they tend to bias the reader in favor of the writer's viewpoint. In addition, it should be obvious that if an entire team of the translators have the same religious bias, of if the translation cannot be accepted by objective Greek and Hebrew scholars, it should be discarded as invalid. Since all translations are subject to the errors of men, no translation is perfect. However, the truths essential to salvation can be ascertained from any valid translation.
The only modification which we have made to the King James version is the substitution of Holy Spirit for Holy Ghost. We feel that this change will be much more meaningful to the average reader, being consistent with the common name applied to this member of the Godhead.
Brackets  will be found in many of the quoted scriptures. These are words that were inserted by the translators in an attempt to capture the true meaning (as opposed to the inference of a literal translation). In most King James versions of the bible these are in italics; however, we use brackets since italics are used for emphasis in contemporary English writings, which is just the opposite of the intent of the translators.
We recognize the inconvenience of many to look up the scriptures, and so, as much as possible, we will include the scriptural reference when we give it (unlike the introductory material above). However, we plead with you to go to the bible and read the passage in its context to assure that it is not being mis-applied. We read all kinds of religious materials that are loaded with scriptural references -- this does not prove that it is scriptural. Those scriptures could be misapplied and misused -- they might not even apply to the subject.
For purposes of convenience we will often cite the author of a given passage as being the apostle or prophet who dictated or wrote it. However, it should be understood that in doing so we are not trying to state that these things were not inspired by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul stated in 1 Cor. 2:13: "Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."
Finally, we urge you to be wary of those who take issue with us to the extent that they discourage or would prevent you from conducting your own independent personal study. The bible teaches only one way to build faith: "So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The only way that you can be defeated and enslaved is if someone can convince you that they are the authority rather than God's word. This subject is considered further in Chapter 1.
MYTH 1: THE BIBLE IS TOO COMPLEX TO UNDERSTAND
1.1 WHY BELIEVE OR TEACH THIS?
Many honest people really believe this myth, but anyone who has diligently studied the bible knows that it is both false and totally enslaving. However, as long as false teachers can convince their followers that the bible is too complex for the average person to understand, they can control their beliefs. When people go directly to the source of truth, they cannot be enslaved. Jesus said: "If ye continue in my word, [then] are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32).
Based upon the author's own upbringing, which consistently discouraged any inquiry of false religious doctrines as divisive, we expect that many reading this chapter will feel that it is not an attempt to unify but to divide. We urge you to look beyond these most prevalent attitudes and consider the fact that there is but one reality, one truth. If we believe that the bible is from God, then we must believe that it is His attempt to communicate that one reality to us. We cannot have it both ways. If we believe that this is His attempt to communicate reality to us, then we must believe that He has the capacity to communicate it to us in the most effective way. Anything short of this is a denial of His love for us.
The myth of bible complexity takes many alternative forms: (1) we cannot understand the bible alike, (2) everyone has their own interpretation, (3) we do not want to be legalists like the Pharisees, (4) you can prove anything with the bible, etc., etc. All of these have the same thing in common: they are personal excuses to avoid independent study of the only source of spiritual truth upon the face of this earth: God's word.
The apostle Paul was addressing the question: "What advantage then hath the Jew?" in Romans 3:1. His reply was: "Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2). At that time the only oracles that the Jews had were the written Old Testament scriptures. Their advantage accrued from their possession of the written word of God. However, they failed to benefit from this great advantage. Why? Was it because the bible is too complex to understand? No! Let us read on ...
Rom. 3:3-4: "For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar." Once again, the only source of spiritual truth upon the face of this earth is God's word. The Jews failed to take advantage of the oracles of God, not because they could not understand them, but because they would not believe them.
Truism: you cannot believe in something if you do not know what that something is. Many declare that they believe the bible but rarely read it and never study it. How can people claim to believe the bible when, in fact, they are merely taking other peoples' word for what it says? What you are told by someone else that it says may or may not be true: "Let God be true, but every man a liar." (We recognize that this applies doubly to books such as this one, and we urge you to challenge every word of it in light of the standard!) It is essential that we study the bible for ourselves: God demands it. Otherwise, by definition, our faith is in the word of man, not the word of God.
Why believe or teach this? The answer to both questions have one characteristic in common: ignorance. If we are ignorant of God's word and wish to remain ignorant of it, then the myth of bible complexity is a comforting one. For, if we believe that the bible is too complex to understand, then why should we make any attempt to understand it? We recognize that some teach this myth out of a real conviction -- they really believe it. However, those who have studied the bible and recognize its clear structure and basic simplicity must have other motives. Independent bible study will reveal that there is no such thing as a clergy class within the church. There is no need for someone to be educated at a university of divinity and "ordained" to make the word of God understandable to the common man. (Usually the effect is just the opposite.) However, as long as the clergy can convince others of this myth, they can easily influence them to accept traditional beliefs of men as opposed to those of God.
The psychological effect of believing this myth is devastating. After all, if the bible is too complicated to understand, why try? Most leap to this comfortable conclusion and go for weeks and months without independent bible study. In this chapter we will show that this myth is not only untrue, it is one of the most devastating tools of the devil to keep us from learning the very truth that will free us from his grasp.
1.2 WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
[Before starting this section allow us to take a few lines here to explain the meaning of the word mystery as used in many passages of the New Testament, several of which we will quote shortly. According to Vine's An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, this word does not refer to something which is complex or difficult to understand. Rather, it refers to something which was hidden prior to being revealed by God. As an example, if I asked you to guess what was in my pocket, this would be a mystery prior to its revelation. However, once I pulled out a handkerchief, this would not be at all difficult to understand.
The totally counterintuitive nature of the New Testament teaching clearly demonstrates that it could not have originated in the mind of man. However, once revealed it is not difficult to understand by those who have an honest desire to understand it. Jesus said to his largely un-educated disciples (Mark 4:11): "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all [these] things are done in parables ..." Even the parables were not difficult to understand for those who are seeking the truth; indeed, the purpose of parables was to present spiritual principles in the clearest possible way for those with honest, seeking hearts. A by-product was the virtual impossibility of their comprehension by those who were not seeking truth.
While there are times when the word mystery applies to specific parts of the New Testament, it generally refers to the gospel in its entirety. In these cases, however, a part of the gospel (including some of the most counterintuitive aspects) is used to illustrate the necessity for revelation. To illustrate one such example, the mystery in Ephesians 3:5 is defined in the next verse (Eph. 3:6): "That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel ..." While this is certainly not difficult to understand, the racial barriers that still divide the vast majority of the religious world demonstrate that this is still a mystery (hidden) to all those who do not accept the full gospel of Jesus Christ.]
The myth that the bible is too complex to understand is exploded by the Apostle Paul when he said: "... by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)" (Eph. 3:3-4). This teaches that we can and should have the same understanding as the apostle Paul had. Does anyone today claim to have a better understanding than the apostle Paul had? Do we need to have a better understanding than he did to be saved?
Why would the bible have been written in the first place if it were only going to generate controversy because it is too hard to understand? The reason that it was written, however, is not left to our speculation. Again, the apostle Paul instructing the younger Timothy (2 Tim. 3:16-17): "All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Now if the scriptures have the capacity to "thoroughly furnish us unto all good works," what happens when we ignore them and look elsewhere to determine what is and is not a good work? Can anyone read the passage quoted above and believe that the apostle Paul thought that the scriptures were too difficult for the common man to understand?
In the preface we introduced the fact that the one and only way that the bible indicates that we can produce faith within ourselves is through hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17): "So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." This theme recurs throughout the New Testament, and it is critical to our salvation that we know and understand what produces faith. We will take up the subject of faith in Chapter 3; for now, we wish to confirm that to obtain the faith that saves, we must hear the truth that is written in the bible.
The apostle John provides the authority for this conclusion (John 20:30-31): "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." Did John think we would have the capacity to understand what he wrote?
Those who think they have created faith within themselves by some means other than a study of God's word have faith in something, but it is not faith in God. Some trust their experiences, their charismatic leaders, humanism and the wisdom of man. But those are not God's ways for granting us faith. The apostle Paul makes it quite clear that it is the gospel (good news) of Christ which is the sole basis for salvation in Romans 1:16-17: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."
No one in the bible was ever chastised for honest bible study -- the bible never discourages anyone from independently studying the bible for himself or herself and thereby "working out their salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). The bible has no such motive; only men possess motivation in the direction of discouraging independent study. The thrust of the scriptures are in the opposite direction as exemplified by Paul's command to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:15): "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
Neither is there ever a stigma on challenging our religious leaders by comparing their teaching to the scriptures. Consider Acts 17:10-12: "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few."
Note three points from this passage:
1. Those of Berea were more noble because they "searched the scriptures" and validated the teaching of no less a teacher than the apostle Paul himself. If they were noble for checking up on an inspired apostle, we should not be intimidated from challenging our teachers today to provide book, chapter and verse for what they are putting forth. The burden of proof is upon the teacher, and the standard of proof is the written word of God.
2. "Therefore, many of them believed." Note once again that the honest study of God's word produces faith, a recurring theme throughout the New Testament.
3. As is true today, there were many false teachers in the first century. The test of validity was one of consistency with that which had already been revealed and written down: the scriptures. How much more is this the standard in a day and age when multiple copies of the Holy Scriptures are in each of our homes?
The scriptures were recognized as the standard of authority even in the first century when the Holy Spirit was directly inspiring the apostles and prophets to reveal the truths of the New Testament. Can anyone argue that God expected them to understand the scriptures? Since we know that God is not a respecter of persons, we know that he expects that same thing of us today.
As the New Testament was being compiled from recognized inspired writings, it became the standard of authority for the churches in the first century. The apostle Peter made this clear when he expressed the purpose of his writing (2 Peter 3:1-2): "This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in [both] which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Savior."
We also know this from the writings of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 14:37-38): "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant."
This cannot be misunderstood! The written words of the apostle Paul are the commandments of Jesus. Do you think that Paul or Peter thought they were too complex to understand? I realize that this destroys a cherished myth that is believed by many in the denominational world. But these are not difficult passages to understand. If we refuse to recognize that the writings of Paul (and the other inspired writers) are the commandments of the Lord, then what else can be said of us other than that we are willfully ignorant? "But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant" (1 Corinthians 14:38)
1.3 SUPPORTING EVIDENCE
In addition to the scriptures given above which clearly teach that the revelation of God can only be attained from a study of His written word, the bible contains mountains of supporting evidence which attest and further supports this conclusion. The bible is the most efficient book ever written; it guides us to every possible good work (2 Tim. 3: 16-17) while containing absolutely no useless information. Jesus infers this in Matthew 4:4: "But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Indeed, Jesus' respect for the written word must be mirrored in His followers. His statements with regard to the Old Testament law gives us confidence that the providence of God is active in preserving His written word (Matthew 5:17-18): "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." [The jot (YODH) was the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the tittle, the smallest stroke.] We do not have to worry about the Old Testament, and if God can preserve that, He will surely preserve the New. This was also assured by Jesus in Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
Why, then, do the very same teachers who want you to believe that the bible is too complicated to understand so often talk about lost books, defective translations, and the like? They point to the most difficult passages which may have awkward and archaic translations. Why? Is it not to create doubt in the written word in order to convince you to accept their doctrines? Surely no dispersions such as these appear in the scriptures themselves.
Jesus expected his contemporaries to understand the scriptures. He chastised them for their apparently deliberate misunderstanding. Over and over again he responded, not with what he had the authority to dictate to them directly, but with the voice of scripture. Open your bible and look at the number of times that Jesus and the apostles referred to the Old Testament scriptures in their teachings. It is obvious that they believed that those who they were teaching already understood (or could easily ascertain) these references in the identically same way as they did. In those cases where this was not true, those who misunderstood were held accountable for their error.
As an example of this, consider the incident in which Jesus corrected the error of the Sadducees with regard to the resurrection (Matthew 22:29-33): "Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard [this], they were astonished at his doctrine."
Let us observe the following from this passage:
1. Jesus did not teach that the scriptures were too difficult to understand -- he charged the Sadducees with the responsibility to understand the concept of the "resurrection of the dead" from the Old Testament scriptures.
2. Jesus stated that they should have understood because of the tense of a verb. Had God said "I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" then it could be concluded that they were no longer in existence. However, since He said "I am the God ..." this indicated that they were still alive (in spirit).
3. The difference in the Hebrew between "am" and "was" is based upon the presence or absence of one word; in the Greek manuscript that he quoted it was just a few letters. Thus, Jesus was basing His argument on the accuracy of the manuscripts then in existence (recall Mt. 5:17-18 quoted above).
4. Jesus could have appealed to His miraculous ability, or even performed a miracle, but when it came to the resolution of doctrine which had already been revealed, He appealed to "that which was written." So should we.
As you study these passages, keep asking yourself the question: Does God expect us to avail ourselves of the most published book in history?
As another example, consider the story of Lazarus and the rich man. There is some disagreement as to whether this passage is a parable or an actual story, but that is inconsequential here. We are attempting to ascertain whether God expects us to understand His written word today and use it to determine His plan for our lives. The complete story is given in Luke 16 beginning with the 19th verse. To summarize: after his death, the rich man was in torment and, upon finding out that there was no longer hope for his own relief, he asked Abraham if he could send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers.
Let us pick up the reading in Luke 16:27:
Observe the following from this passage:
1. The only way that they "had Moses and the prophets" was through their reading of the Old Testament scriptures.
2. "Let them hear them" clearly demonstrates that Jesus attributed to Abraham the expectation that they should have read and understood the Old Testament in order to determine the will of God.
3. The final statement clearly shows that "faith cometh through hearing," and if an individual will not allow the written word of God to produce faith, then even the most definitive of miracles will not avail. Indeed, One did rise from the dead, but those who did not have the will to be persuaded by Moses and the prophets would not be convinced even by Jesus' resurrection.
As we consider the importance that Jesus placed upon the Old Testament for determining God's will, can we really believe that the bible is too complicated to understand? (Recognize that while Jesus was upon the earth, the New Testament had not yet been written.) The Old Testament was less accessible to them, but Jesus expected them to know and understand it. How much more are we responsible for knowing the gospel by which we will be judged?
As we read through the New Testament we see reference after reference to the written word of God (generally the Old Testament) even as the New Testament was being written. In no case is anyone discouraged from studying it, and in all cases it is held in the highest esteem. As an example, the apostle Paul concludes his letter to Christians at Rome with the following statement: (Romans 16:25): "Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, [be] glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen."
[Recall the discussion of the word mystery at the beginning of Section 1.2.]
Another example is the charge that Paul gave to the Thessalonians near the end of his first letter to them (1 Thes. 5:27): "I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren." Clearly Paul expected every member of the church to understand his writings.
As a final bit of supporting evidence, consider the final warning of the bible: Revelation 22:18-19: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book." If God did not expect us to understand the bible, why would He warn us not to add to it or take away from it?
Despite the claim of inspiration of many false teachers to this day, the pure word of God has been preserved from the first century. Not one word has been added to it or deleted from it, despite all of the attempts to alter it. Many have dared to defy the threat of God; none have succeeded. Their counterfeit scriptures have been easy to detect, some even bordering on the absurd.
1.4 BIBLE COMPLEXITY
With all of this evidence that the bible is both understandable and the source of all spiritual truth, we might be tempted to conclude that it is trivial (i.e., not worthy of our time to study). Those who neglect to study it because they think it is "just common sense" make this mistake as well. In reality, the bible is a very challenging book. The apostle Peter referring to the writings of Paul stated "in which are some things hard to be understood" (2 Pet. 3:16).
The following presents that context of this statement beginning with verse 14: "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account [that] the longsuffering of our Lord [is] salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know [these things] before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and [in] the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him [be] glory both now and for ever. Amen."
Note the following from this passage:
1. The apostle Peter had a very high regard for the writings of the apostle Paul; by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he placed them in the category of "scripture."
2. Some of the things that Paul wrote were "hard to be understood." This implies that other things were not hard to understand.
3. Not the faithful but the unlearned and unstable "wrested" or twisted these scriptures unto their own destruction.
Who was responsible for misunderstanding the writings of Paul (even though admittedly they were difficult to understand)?
We have been emphasizing that the bible is capable of being understood, while clearly the scripture quoted immediately above states that certain parts are difficult to understand. It is easy to reconcile these two views. Peter did not say that all things were hard to be understood. There is a difference between "hard to be understood" and "too complex to understand." We can be safe in concluding that parts of God's word are quite simple, while others are much more challenging.
The distinction between the simple (milk) and the difficult (meat) was understood by all of the biblical writers. The apostle Paul indicated that this was correlated with the spiritual maturity of the reader or hearer (1 Cor. 3:1-2): "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [even] as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able [to bear it], neither yet now are ye able."
The distinction is between the milk of the word, which is easily digested, as opposed to the meat, which requires more maturity for its discernment. The writer of the book of Hebrews indicated that time was necessary for maturing process to take place. He chastised the Hebrew Christians for not maturing as they should have (Hebrews 5:12-14): "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which [be] the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk [is] unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, [even] those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
There is a lesson here for both the weak and the strong. To the babe in Christ: God expects us to be obedient in all things which we understand to be His will (Heb. 5:9): "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." It is our job, not just to believe that He exists but also to diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6): "But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Growth is an essential part of the life of the Christian, and this requires the addition of knowledge (2 Pet. 1:5): "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge."
To those who freely feed upon the meat of God's word, it should be recognized that you never "arrive." Indeed, it was those who had the most knowledge of God's word who were the recipients of the harshest rebuke from our savior (Matthew 23:23): "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. [Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." Note, however, that it was not their study of God's word that produced this attitude. Their misunderstanding of the scriptures had nothing to do with the scriptures being difficult. No one who is selfserving will ever allow himself to understand the writings of God. However, their error was not study per se; their error was that they went to the bible solely to prove their preconceived ideas (see John 5:30-47).
The fact that the bible cannot be totally mastered is further evidence that its author was none other than God. Moreover, the fact that its first principles are so simple only adds to this evidence. "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3) ... which introduces another way of expressing the myth of complexity: the myth that you can prove anything with the bible.
1.5 SUBMYTH: YOU CAN PROVE ANYTHING WITH THE BIBLE
To illustrate this we might cite the scriptures (Matthew 27:5) "And he [Judas] cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself." Then (Luke 3:11) "... let him do likewise." Or the famous words of Job's wife (Job 2:9) "... curse God, and die." Obviously, words taken out of context can be twisted to produce absurd teachings. But what does this prove? Give me the simplest of writings and I can do the same. Thus, should we conclude that no writings can be understood? Such reasoning demonstrates ulterior motives. God expects us to use the basic common sense which he has given to every normal human being.
This submyth is just another way of rationalizing ignorance of God's word. After all, if clever teachers can prove anything by quoting scriptures, why should the average person give it any credibility at all? The problem with the statement "you can prove anything ..." is that it is in large part true when speaking of those who are wilfully ignorant. As we observed from Peter when speaking of some of Paul's more difficult writings, he said (2 Peter 3:16): "which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." It is clear that not only the difficult but also the simple scriptures are wrested by the ignorant and steadfast to lead those with itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3) to proceed in whatever direction in which they have already set their hearts.
So the bible itself confirms that our section title is partially true, and thus the danger. But before we swallow this fable hook, line, and sinker, let us explore the part of it that is false. The old adage comes to mind: you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time ... In fact, you cannot prove any false doctrine with the bible to someone who is proficient in God's word. In most cases false doctrines are proven to those who already wish to believe them, and they will accept even the lamest, most illogical proof provided it is the same as their preconceived ideas. However, in other cases false teachers are very adept at the manipulation of both their followers and God's word to produce the effects that they desire.
Warnings with regard to false teachers are so numerous that we invite the reader to pick a point at random in the New Testament and read five chapters in a row. The chances of a warning against one in any given five pages is very high. The references to false teachers are difficult to avoid, but we must study the scriptures to recognize when a false teacher is misapplying a verse from God's word.
Appealing to the bible itself, we see absolutely no evidence that the stable and honest disciple will be readily deceived by those who twist the scriptures to their own destruction. We see absolutely no disrespect for God's word because "it can prove anything." Finally, we see absolutely no discouragement for the study of God's word for this reason.
The inevitable conclusion is that those who make this appeal are either excusing their own ignorance or discouraging study by others. They have no greater prospect than to live their lives out in slavery and servitude to the devil (John 8:32).
1.6 WHY PEOPLE DO NOT UNDERSTAND
There is a reason that most people do not understand God's word, but it has nothing to do with intellectual ability or the difficulty of the scriptures. The following story provides enlightenment in this regard (Matthew 13:10-17):
"And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and [their] ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with [their] eyes and hear with [their] ears, and should understand with [their] heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed [are] your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous [men] have desired to see [those things] which ye see, and have not seen [them]; and to hear [those things] which ye hear, and have not heard [them]."
Jesus places the responsibility for understanding upon the individual. When we say that we cannot understand it (or tell others that they cannot), we shift the blame for our ignorance from ourselves to God. For, if the bible is too difficult for us to understand and understand alike, then the fault for this must lie with the maker -- for He made both us and His word. I am not ready to blame God for my ignorance of His word, are you?
One of the tenderest and most moving passages in the bible is found in Matthew 11:25-29: "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and [he] to whomsoever the Son will reveal [him]. Come unto me, all [ye] that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light."
Jesus is calling us all today through His word (John 6:45) "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." If you study the bible with no other intent but to find what God's will is for you, you will have no problem in understanding what you need. God will change your life, what you most desire, and what you expect to find each time you open His word. Certain parts of it will be difficult to understand at first, but with maturity which comes from digesting the milk, you will soon be able to partake of the meat.
This introductory chapter is merely a sampling of the scriptures which demonstrate that God expects us to understand His written word. Once you get into it you will recognize that page after page reinforces this basic theme: the holy scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation. Paul stated to Timothy (2 Tim. 3:15): "And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
The ramifications of this simple fact are enormous in terms of organized religion. Simply put: we do not need organizations of men or a clergy class to tell us what God's word means. We will see what the bible teaches with regard to our organizing ourselves later. At this point we need to revisit the thoughts of Section 1.1. As long as you believe that God's word is too difficult for you to understand, you will make no effort to understand it for yourself, and you will be enslaved to whatever doctrine persuasive false teachers wish you to believe.
A few of these are discussed in the remaining chapters of this book. We will see that the word of God is not common sense -- that it is as far from the intuition of man as darkness is from light. The bible is not a spurious and unnecessary book. It is as essential to faith as faith is to salvation (Rom. 10:17).
If you do not agree with the basic premise of this chapter, there is really no use reading any further. For, the remaining chapters assume that the reader agrees that the bible is God's word and that it can be understood.
Perhaps you totally agree and have the highest regard and respect for the authority of God's word. We urge you to use it to validate what we have written as you read on.
MYTH 2: THE OLD TESTAMENT IS JUST AS BINDING AS THE NEW TESTAMENT
2.1 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
I expect that after reading this chapter many members of denominations will readily agree and affirm that they have always believed that we are under the New Testament today. However, I spent the first 18 years of my life in a denomination faithfully attending bible study and services where preaching was performed. For some reason there was never any emphasis on the difference between the testaments. We often hear of people picking up their bibles and opening it at random and reading a passage in a mystical attempt to obtain a communication with God. This chapter will provide a sound basis from which we can begin to organize our understanding of the bible to see what applies to us and what does not.
God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35): "Then Peter opened [his] mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." He requires the same thing of you and me that he required of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses; namely that we be faithful and diligently seek after Him (Hebrews 11:6): "But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
However, it should also be clear that the way in which this faith was sought after and demonstrated was considerably different for some than for others. It is obvious that God's law for us is not that we refrain from eating the forbidden fruit (as it was for Adam), or that we build an arc (as it was for Noah), or that we sacrifice our son (as it was for Abraham). We realize that not only are these things not commanded of us today, but if we were to teach them for God's law today, it would be sin. If some church leader today were to insist that the congregation undertake the task of building a huge ship in preparation for a flood, we would question his sanity.
The reasoning in the paragraph above is common sense. However, as this chapter unfolds we will see that such sense was (and is) not always held in common. The major point that we are trying to make is that just because something was commanded by God at one time does not make it a command for us today. While this is generally understood with regard to Adam, Noah and Abraham, the differences between the Old and New Testaments are not very well understood.
We will see that when men practiced and attempted to bind a part of God's law that no longer applied, this was considered to be sin. It was not an act of faith, nor was it diligently seeking after God. Thus, it was impossible for those who practice(d) such things to be pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6 quoted above).
In 1 Timothy 2:15 we read: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." The command to rightly divide or handle the word of truth correctly infers that it can be wrongfully handled. This would include misquoting, misapplying, taking scriptures out of context and applying commands to ourselves which God does not intend for us to apply (such as taking it upon ourselves to build an arc today).
Thus, we can no more pick and choose what it is that we want to accept out of the bible than we can discard it altogether. The picking and choosing is, in fact, both adding to and taking away from God's word, both of which are definitively condemned (Revelation 22:18-19): "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book."
In this chapter we will see that it has not been left to us to determine that part of God's word which applies to us today -- the bible clearly indicates what applies and what does not. In addition, we will further validate that to go beyond that which applies to us is sin.
2.2 WE ARE UNDER THE NEW TESTAMENT
We recognize that many in the denominations believe this. However, the degree to which they go to the Old Testament to authorize some current-day practices convinces us that many do not fully understand this rightful division of the word of God. This was a very serious problem within the church in the first century. It seemed to arise in almost every church, mainly because of the influence of Jewish converts. We will divide our presentation into three categories: (1) Jesus' teachings in the gospels, (2) inspired apostolic examples throughout the book of Acts, and (3) the teachings of the Holy Spirit through the writings of the apostles. Once this is complete we will demonstrate that the Old Testament is totally true and that it serves an essential purpose for us today.
2.2.1 THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS
Jesus lived under the Old Testament law. As we shall see, this was essential, since He had to obey the Old Testament law in every possible way in order for it to be taken out of the way for us. He totally fulfilled it for us so that God's justice can still prevail despite the fact that we have not obeyed it. All of this will be proven scripturally as this chapter unfolds.
The paragraph above is to enable us to understand the reasons that Jesus did not teach that the Old Testament was done away prior to His crucifixion. It is essential that we understand that certain information could not be understood, and therefore it was not fully revealed until after the Holy Spirit was sent to inspire the first century apostles and prophets. This occurred after Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.
Consider the message of the transfiguration as recorded in Mark 9:2-9: "And after six days Jesus taketh [with him] Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead."
Moses and Elias represent the Old Testament law and the prophets. Jesus recognized that the message of the transfiguration (that Jesus' words would take precedence over the Old Testament) could not be fully understood until after His resurrection. This appears to be the reason that he charged them to tell no on about it until then.
As a Jew, Jesus lived under the Old Testament law. As one who had faith in His heavenly father, He obeyed the law that was in effect -- the Old Testament law. Most of His interactions were with other Jews who were similarly under the Old Testament law. So, generally throughout the life of Christ (i.e., the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), we find Jesus encouraging his fellow Jews to keep the law under which they lived. For example (Matthew 23:1-3): "Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do." However, Jesus alluded to a time when this would not be the case.
For example, His very appearance on earth marked a dramatic change in the way that God would deal with man. This concept was not foreign to the Old Testament, but it was only revealed in prospect. Now it was becoming a reality. Thus, in Luke 10:23-24 it says in reference to Jesus: "And he turned him unto [his] disciples, and said privately, Blessed [are] the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen [them]; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard [them]."
A second example is given in John 4:7-26, a lengthy reading which is commonly called the story of the woman at the well. Being both a woman and a Samaritan, she was quite surprised that Jesus would address her "for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (vs. 9). Jesus got her attention by revealing that He knew about her personal life, after which she quickly changed the subject to that of the doctrinal differences which existed between the Jews and the Samaritans (vs. 20): "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." It is clear that Jesus was not excluding Samaritans, as the portion of the Old Testament that the Jews were living under would have. Further, He indicates that the temple worship mandated by the Old Testament would no longer be in effect.
Jesus gave the most insightful instructions with regard to the revelation of the New Testament to His apostles the last night that He spent with them. The entire sequence of events and instructions is in John 13-16. In John 14:25, Jesus indicated that He had initiated a new revelation which would continue with them: "These things have I spoken unto you, being [yet] present with you. But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." This clearly indicates that the Old Testament would (and will) no longer suffice. It is important to realize that this statement is made to the apostles (minus Judas Iscariot); it should be clear that all Christians do not have the capacity to remember "whatsoever I [Jesus] have said unto you."
As we proceed to review the book of Acts and the epistles we shall see that it was through the apostles that the New Testament was revealed. This is further affirmed by Jesus in John 15:26-27: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning." Interestingly, being "with me [Jesus] from the beginning" was the primary qualification for the apostle who took the place of Judas Iscariot (see Acts 1:21-22). Thus, to be a witness in this sense, one had to be an eye witness. However, these eye witnesses would also be endowed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to assure that their human memory limitations would not get in the way. There is also an inference that in due time additional information would be required (e.g., to assist with the work and organization of the church).
Now keep reading into the 16th chapter as Jesus continues (John 16:1-3): "These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me." Clearly, if Christians were to be expelled from the synagogue, there is no way that they could obey the Old Testament law. The prophecy that the killing of Christians would be viewed (by the Jews) as service to God was fulfilled (at least in part) by Saul of Tarsus prior to his conversion and becoming the apostle Paul.
Without the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the gospel could not become reality, and the full truth of God's justice, righteousness and mercy toward man could not be told. Jesus put it this way (John 16:7-11): "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged."
Jesus went on in the next few verses to indicate that they needed to observe the events which were about to transpire in order to fully understand the essence of the gospel (John 16:12-13): "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, [that] shall he speak: and he will show you things to come."
In addition, there would be a clarification -- the general terms, or proverbs, in which he spoke to them would be specifically detailed (John 16:25-28): "These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father. At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father."
When Jesus' disciples argued with him about this, he indicated that they were just too weak at this point to fully understand. Continuing our reading (John 16:29-33): "His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: but this we believe that thou camest forth from God. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
The arguments presented above do not definitively prove that the Old Testament was set aside as the standard of authority under which we live today. However, they do provide a firm basis by which we can understand the history revealed in the book of Acts and the epistles with regard to this subject. These are considered in the next two subsections.
2.2.2 THE APPROVED EXAMPLES OF THE BOOK OF ACTS
The book of Acts (Acts of the Apostles) provides the record of the historic fulfillment of the promises that Jesus made to His apostles. By seeing how these were fulfilled we can understand which part of God's word applies directly to us today. The book of Acts begins after the resurrection of Jesus, when He "showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). The first chapter covers his ascension into heaven and the replacement of Judas Iscariot. The events of Acts 2 occurred on the first Pentecost after the resurrection, which would be about 50 days after the resurrection, and thus 10 days after the ascension. The Holy Spirit was poured out onto the apostles at this time, and Peter preached the first sermon inspired by the Holy Spirit. While this sermon did not specifically indicate that the Old Testament law had been set aside, it did indicate that there was a new way that men were to become acceptable to God, and that was through the blood of Jesus (Acts 2:37-42). (We will return to a more detailed discussion of Acts 2 when we discuss baptism under Myth 4.)
Despite the fact that there were men from a wide diversity of nations present for the Jewish celebration of Pentecost (Acts 2), at this point the gospel was only preached to Jews, and the newly-formed church was localized to Jerusalem. Chapter 3 presents the story of a man healed by Peter and John, and their taking advantage of this occasion as an opportunity to further preach the gospel. However, in Chapter 4 we find the first persecution of the church was initiated by the very ones to whom the gospel was first directed -- the Jews.
Acts chapters 4 and 5 continue to demonstrate this persecution, while Chapter 6 gets into their concentration upon a single individual: Stephen. Chapter 7 is a very interesting chapter from the point of view of the topic of this chapter. It clearly demonstrates that it was not the position of the apostles or first-century prophets that the Old Testament was in any way erroneous. Great pains are taken throughout this chapter to document the fact that Stephen believed every word of the Old Testament. However, before he could show how the Old Testament led logically to our being under a new covenant after the death of Christ, he was brutally murdered by the Jews to whom he was preaching.
This led to a general persecution of the church and, as a result, most of the Christians were scattered (Acts 8:4): "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." This led to the conversion of many Samaritans, who were a type of half-breed race that were not considered by the Jews to be in the general classification of gentiles. Acts 8 also records the conversion of an Ethiopian Jewish proselyte with the help of Philip (one of the Christians scattered from Jerusalem). This was one of the first (if not the first) black persons converted to Christ, further fulfilling the "all the nations" clause of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19).
The character Saul is introduced in Acts 7:58 and 8:1 in connection with his contribution to the death of Stephen. His conversion is detailed in Acts 9, and he will henceforth be called Paul -- the apostle Paul. Recognize that considerable time could have passed in this chapter as attention is given to the miracles performed by the apostle Peter in the latter part of chapter 9.
Acts chapter 10 is a very significant event with regard to our subject -- the conversion of Cornelius' household, who were the first gentiles converted to Christ. If the Old Testament were still binding, the apostle Peter would have great difficulty in visiting one of another nation (Acts 10:28): "And he [Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." However, God sent several visions to convince Peter that no person was to be considered lower than another.
The racial significance of the differences between the Old and New Testaments are quite important, and they explain the reason that this issue presented such difficulty for the church in the first century. The Old Testament was very adamant that God wanted His chosen people to be separate from other nations. The only way for those of other nations to be in any way accepted by the Jews was for them to become proselytes to the Jewish Nation and religion, which were practically one and the same. As we continue, we will cite a number of Old Testament prophecies which indicated that this practice (attitude) was to cease. However, at this point, this was not generally understood by many of the Jews who had been converted to Christ. Acts 10:34-35 summarizes Peter's conclusion with regard to racial and national qualifications: "Then Peter opened [his] mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him."
Peter had brought some of the skeptical Jewish Christians with him from Jerusalem, and the 11th chapter of Acts is largely devoted to documenting the fact that gentiles were converted directly to Christ without first becoming Jewish proselytes (which would have required that the males be circumcised). Acts 11:25-26 also ties up a loose end with regard to the apostle Paul: "Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."
Herod's murder of the apostle James (the brother of John) is described in Acts chapter 12. After this, attention returns to Antioch -- the church which would be the major center for sending preachers to the gentile world. Paul and Barnabas were sent out specifically to gentile areas of the world from Antioch, although they generally initiated their work by preaching at the synagogues first. When rejected and then persecuted by their fellow Jews (with some notable individual exceptions), they turned to the gentiles. Acts 13 and 14 describe what is usually called Paul's first missionary journey.
This brings us to the first major passage which deals specifically with our subject: Acts 15. While we will quote some of the most salient passages from this text, we urge the reader to review the entire chapter before proceeding. The stage is set by Paul returning to Antioch after his first missionary journey and continuing to work with the Christians there. While he was there (Acts 15:1): "... certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." This certainly was a primary edict of the Old Testament law, and if Christians were under this law (i.e., if the Old Testament were binding on them), then this would certainly be something which should be taught and practiced.
However, this was not the case, and the apostle Paul through inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew that this was false doctrine. All throughout Acts 13 and 14 (i.e., the first missionary journey) he had taught otherwise. The word therefore in verse 2 indicates that the reader would expect Paul to have a problem with these brethren trying to bind something which God had loosed at the cost of the death of His dear son. Acts 15:2: "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."
Many believe and teach that it was necessary for this issue to be resolved by a "church council." This terminology is foreign to the bible. Paul was directly inspired by the Holy Spirit and needed no church council to tell him what was right or wrong. Notice the next few verses (Acts 15:3-4): "And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and [of] the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them." Indeed, if anything, Paul was going to Jerusalem to set them straight. In reality, however, it was to dispel the lie told by the false, i.e., that they were authorized by the apostles in Jerusalem.
As we continue reading, we see this (Acts 15:5): "But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses." Here was the crux of the matter. Circumcision was just a marker for the entire law of Moses. There was nothing wrong with these individuals practicing these Old Testament teachings as they felt appropriate. But it was completely wrong for them to bind them on other Christians; and it still is today.
Following this, the apostles and elders gathered together with regard to this matter and, weighing the evidence presented by Peter (recall Acts 10-11), Paul, and finally James quoting from the Old Testament (Acts 15:13-17): "And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men [and] brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon [Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." The Old Testament reference is from Amos 9:11-12.
It is quite significant that even in the time when the New Testament was in the process of being revealed and written, the value of the written Old Testament scriptures in validating doctrine was never questioned. If, in fact, the doctrines of the New Testament were not totally consistent with those of the Old Testament, then there would be just cause to doubt them. The fact that the Old Testament was no longer binding did not mean that it was any less true, any more than the fact that God does not now want us to build arcs invalidates the story of Noah.
The resolution of the matter was totally consistent with the doctrine originally taught by both Paul and Peter; to review Peter's words (Acts 10:34-35): "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." While I hope that most of the readers can readily accept this, it was not an easy pill to swallow in the first century. From the racial divisions that exist in most religious organizations today, we should readily understand the reason that this is true. As we continue we will see that Christians are to recognize no racial distinctions as they "go into all of the world." All of the world begins within our own communities.
This theme continues throughout the book of Acts as we follow the remainder of Paul's journeys. However, we will terminate this line of thought and leave it to the reader to study through the rest of the book of Acts with this in mind. There is tremendous evidence that we are no longer bound by the Old Testament law in the epistles, so it is advantageous that we move on to that phase of our proof.
2.2.3 THE TEACHINGS OF THE EPISTLES
The epistles were written by the inspired apostles (Paul, Peter and John) and one by a prophet (James). Generally they were written to the church that existed in a particular city (Rome, Corinth, etc.) or area. In some cases they were written to individual Christians (Timothy, Titus, Philemon), and sometimes to Christians in general. One was written to an entire nation (Hebrews). In all cases these writings have the full weight of the authority of Jesus, as we showed in Chapter 1 (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:37).
It is important to recognize that the early churches which were established by the preaching of the word (see Acts 13-14) were made up of men and women just like you and me. We all have our weaknesses. Even those churches today which are in fellowship with the Lord will have problems as these churches did. It is not our job to determine who is and who is not in fellowship with the Lord -- and this is not our intent. However, we know that the churches at Rome, Corinth, Galatia, etc. which had inspired letters written to them were indeed considered to be in fellowship with the Lord even though it is clear that certain of their members were in error.
Recognize that our intent, and the intent of this chapter, is to dispel the myth that we are still bound by the Old Testament law. We do not have the space to cover all of the New Testament teaching which deals with this subject. However, the ones that we will cover will compel anyone who believes the New Testament to understand what the inspired writers wanted their readers to comprehend. The subsections below will be ordered according to the epistles from which the scriptural proof is taken.
It is difficult to know where to start. The subject starts in Romans 2:17 and really continues through chapter 11. We will try to pick out some of the most definitive arguments.
First recognize that Paul sometimes uses the term circumcision to refer to the entire Law of Moses under which the Jews lived prior to Jesus' death on the cross. At other times he uses it to refer to the binding of this particular article of the Old Testament. For example, in Romans 2:25-29: "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither [is that] circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he [is] a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision [is that] of the heart, in the spirit, [and] not in the letter; whose praise [is] not of men, but of God." The law referenced above is the Law of Moses by which the Jews were attempting to gain salvation.
This is important in understanding what Paul was attempting to communicate with them over the next several chapters. For example, picking up the reading in Romans 3:19-26:
"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law [is] the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
Paul asserts that the "righteousness of God without the law [of Moses] is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets." Thus, there is absolutely no inconsistency between the Old and New Testaments. However, it is clear from what Paul states here that we are not under the Old Testament law: "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight." Any attempt to gain salvation thereby is vain. Indeed, if we could be saved by the Old Testament law, then there would be no reason for Christ to have died on the cross.
Paul's argumentation along this line continues through Chapter 11. We urge you to read it in its entirety. The following typifies the doctrine which the Holy Spirit was inspiring the apostle Paul to write to the Christians at Rome (Romans 10:1): "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ [is] the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Paul's assertion here is that a zeal for God is not enough -- it must be according to the knowledge that "Christ is the end of the law." Since Jesus fulfilled it for us, our attempts to satisfy God by obedience to the Old Testament law is an appeal to our own sense of righteousness, not that of God.
The confusion between Old and New Testaments was the major reason for Paul writing to the churches of Galatia. He expressed his concern early in the letter (Gal. 1:6-9): "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Paul could have been talking about any perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The remainder of chapter 1 and chapter 2 were dedicated to validating Paul's authority as an apostle. (This was essential if the letter were to be believed as being authoritative). However, once he completed this, he returns to the specific perversion which had motivated him to write the verses given above (Gal. 3:1-5):
"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if [it be] yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, [doeth he it] by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"
It is clear that there were some Jewish converts who were attempting to get their fellow Christians to return to the practices of the Old Testament.
Paul's argumentation along this line continues through chapters 3 and 4. Along the way he dealt with the question of the role that the law played: "Wherefore then [serveth] the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19). Thus, the provisions of the law would be removed once "the seed should come." The seed, of course, was Christ (Gal. 3:16): "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."
Paul uses the word faith to refer to the entire system of faith in Christ Jesus, i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ. Again discussing the duration of the Old Testament law (Gal. 3:23-29):
"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye [be] Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Once again, see how tightly coupled the cessation of binding of the Old Testament law is to the entry into the church of all races, nations, or any other division between Christians.
Some of the most definitive verses which condemn the regression to the Old Testament are in Galatians 5:2-12:
"Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion [cometh] not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you."
Consider the following with regard to this most definitive set of verses:
1. Paul was not teaching against circumcision per se (see 1 Cor. 7:18-19); he was teaching against the binding of circumcision by those who wanted to force all Christians to observe the Old Testament (recall Acts 15).
2. Apparently they were just starting at circumcision and acting like they were not going to bind anything else. However, from Acts 15:5, it was clear that they had in mind to bind the entire law of Moses.
3. Paul makes it clear that consistency demands that you cannot pick and choose what you want even from that which was once bound on God's people. No practice within the Old Testament was wrong in and of itself, and therefore men are still free to practice those things as individual traditions. However, when they bind them on their fellow Christians they fall under some of the harshest condemnation pronounced in the New Testament.
4. Those who would go back under an inferior law have made the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross a valueless act: "Christ is become of no effect unto you."
5. Those who believe that it is impossible to fall from grace must make an exception here, since Paul said: "ye are fallen from grace." This certainly shows the condemnation of those who would legislate for God.
6. "I would they were even cut off which trouble you" is a rather mild way of translating the underlying Greek text. Literally it means that Paul wished that they would mutilate themselves. Some interpret it "go beyond circumcision." This could have a wide variety of meanings, and it is one of Paul's scriptures of which Peter may have said "are some things hard to be understood" (1 Pet. 3;16). The meaning could range from Paul's wish that the false teachers would totally expose their position by going beyond their binding of circumcision to bind the entire law; in this way they would not be so apt to deceive. The other extreme is that Paul actually wished them to literally, physically mutilate themselves -- which is unlikely.
Regardless of the interpretation of the last verse of this passage, the meaning is quite clear. The binding of any part of the Old Testament law upon Christians under the present dispensation violates God's will and causes the perpetrators to fall from grace.
The church at Colosse apparently had the same problem as those of Galatia. In the following passage of scripture the apostle Paul uses the term circumcision figuratively. Recognize that circumcision was that ritual which legally converted a male gentile to be recognized as a Jew. Similarly, the male Jewish child that was circumcised on the eighth day of his life was then recognized to have met the requirements which God had established for him to qualify as being a citizen of "God's chosen people." In addition, the removal of the foreskin was also considered to be a type of cleansing and separation from the rest of the world.
With this in mind we can understand what Paul was trying to communicate in Colossians 2:8-15:
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; [And] having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it."
The substitution of the Old Testament law for Christ demeans the One in whom "dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily," who is the "head of all principality and power." The circumcision not made with hands that Christians are subject to is baptism. Baptism is that single act which puts the alien into Christ (Romans 6:3), which is analogous to circumcision putting the alien gentile into the Jewish nation.
A second figure is employed by the apostle as he speaks of the law as being a "handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us." In fact, it could not save us without the life of Christ which fulfilled it; and once He fulfilled it He "took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." What more definitive terms could be used to indicate that it is no longer binding on us?
After this, Paul goes on to further illustrate some of the things under the Old Testament law that they were being deceived into observing as matters of faith (Col. 2:16-23): "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days] ... why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh."
The regression of Christians back to the Old Testament law reflected the wisdom of man, not the wisdom of God. God's wisdom is totally manifested in Christ and the fulfillment of the law. That which is fulfilled does not need to be fulfilled again.
Those familiar with the New Testament might question why we did not start with this letter which has the differentiation of the Old and New Testaments as its major concern. We thought it best to demonstrate the breadth and clarity of the scriptural evidence before getting into this more abstract treatment.
As its name implies, this letter was written to that part of the nation of the Jews who had been converted to Christ. They were the ones who had particular problem in recognizing that their traditional religious practices were no longer binding (despite their being allowed on an individual basis). Can you imagine changing all of your religious practices? Can you imagine the shock of those whose status and authority depended upon their position within the synagogue? While we often condemn the Jews for their inflexibility, perhaps we can sympathize with them in this regard. Indeed, Hebrews presents the same type of challenge to the denominations that the apostles presented to the Jews. We expect the very same reaction.
From the very beginning of the letter to the Hebrews we find the writer emphasizing the superiority of the revelation which came through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2): "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." The remainder of Chapter 1 is dedicated to demonstrating the extent to which Jesus, the son of God, was superior to all created beings, including those who were perceived to be the most exalted -- angels.
After demonstrating the superiority of the messenger, he concludes (Heb. 2:1-4):
"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let [them] slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard [him]; God also bearing [them] witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will?"
The "word spoken through angels" is referring to the diverse revelations of the Old Testament. The Hebrews knew that under the Old Testament law "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward" even with the inferior messengers. Now that God has spoken through His own son, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"
Note further how this salvation was revealed. It was first spoken by the Lord himself when He was on this earth. The He sent the Holy Spirit to complete the revelation once the principles of the death, burial and resurrection could be fully understood historically. Recall our discussion of John 14 and 15 in Section 2.2.1. This revelation was confirmed by miracles to prove that it was, in fact, from God and not just a fabrication of some religious leader.
The remainder of Chapter 2 shows how Jesus became a perfect sacrifice for our sins by the things which He suffered. Chapter 3 shows the superiority of the revelation of Christ over that of Moses (Heb. 3:3): "For this [man] was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house." There is a clear statement here that to go back under the law as given by Moses will dishonor Christ. Chapter 3 goes on to give a stern warning that Christians can fall just as those of Moses' time fell.
Note how this warning focuses on our faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we read in Hebrews 4:1-2: "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left [us] of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard [it]." The warning goes on through Chapter 4, which concludes with the following (4:14-16): "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast [our] profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
The assertion that Jesus is now our high priest is a major departure from the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus did not qualify to be a priest according to the law of Moses, since the priests had to be from the tribe of Levi and Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. This is a major point that the Hebrews writer deals with next.
The difference between those high priests taken from among men and the Son of God is the subject of Chapter 5, where the Hebrews writer introduces the legal precedent by which Jesus could be a high priest. The precedent goes back before the law of Moses to a priest who served Abraham. His name was Melchizedek. Speaking of Jesus, the Hebrews writer states (Heb. 5:8-10): "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek." Question: who did Jesus become the author of eternal salvation to? Was it to those who obey Moses or the prophets? or was it to "all them that obey" Jesus?
This appeal to a precedent demonstrates the great respect that the Hebrews writer had for the word of God as written in the Old Testament. The assertion that Jesus was now our High Priest would seem to be reasonable and acceptable to Christians. But the writer is trying to show to those who were attempting to impose that Old Testament that it was that very document that provided the evidence that were are no longer to be subject to it. Please keep this in mind as we continue our summary of this wonderful letter.
If this argumentation seems tedious, the Hebrews writer anticipated at this point that it would be to many. He chastises them for becoming dull of hearing and for not taking their rightful position as teachers, since they had certainly been Christians long enough to have mastered these truths. But instead, they did not even understand the milk of the word. He goes on in the remainder of Chapter 6 and into Chapter 7 to further explain these concepts. He concludes Chapter 7 with the following (Hebrews 7:26-28): "For such an high priest became us, [who is] holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, [maketh] the Son, who is consecrated for evermore."
In Section 2.2.1, we introduced the concept above that Jesus could not reveal all of the truth while still on this earth. Certain things had to be accomplished by his death, burial, resurrection and ascension into heaven. This is confirmed by the Hebrews writer in Hebrews 8:4-7: "For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, [that] thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount." The principle here is quite clear -- when God gives us a pattern we have no choice but to follow it until that point when God sets it aside. Even Jesus himself could not assume the role of High Priest as long as the Old Testament law was in effect. As we saw above in our discussion of Colossians 2: 8-15, it was His death on the cross that also caused the "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross."
The Hebrews writer further explains how a better covenant supersedes the Old Testament laws (Hebrews 8:6-7): "But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second." He continues to explain that the fault was not with the covenant but with those who would not follow it. The he quotes another Old Testament passage which clearly states that a New Covenant, or New Testament, would be established: Jeremiah 31:31-34. Finally he states it in absolutely no uncertain terms (Hebrews 8:13): "In that he saith, A new [covenant], he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old [is] ready to vanish away." Remnants of Old Testament worship was still being maintained by the Jews in the first century. However, with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the temple was destroyed and never rebuilt, making total compliance with the Old Testament impossible.
Lest we think that the Hebrews writer is not talking about worship under the Law of Moses, Chapter 9 is dedicated to a detailed description of exactly what he meant. Each Old Testament detail is described as a part of the shadow that has now become reality in the revelation of the gospel of Christ. Note that often we speak of the New Testament as being more spiritually oriented and the Old Testament being more of an appeal to the physical aspects of man. This is true, and it demonstrates that the physical aspects of this life are the shadows -- the dark projections from objects that block the light. Reality is revealed by viewing these objects in the light of the New Testament.
Chapters 9 and 10 present a detailed contrast between the priesthood of Christ and the Old Testament law. Integrated into this is a detailed interpretation of Jeremiah 31:31-34. The eleventh chapter provides a clear definition of exactly what the bible means when it uses the word faith. It also clearly demonstrates that God has always required the same type of faith from all men and women of all times. The only thing that has changed is the particular law that we are under.
This rather large section of the chapter has provided but a small sample of the evidence within the bible which demonstrates that today we are under the New Testament. The next section will show, however, that the Old Testament is still essential to understanding the New Testament. A final section presents the reasons that all of this is important.
2.3 THE TRUTHFULNESS AND VALUE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
There is absolutely not one verse in the New Testament that indicates that the Old Testament is not totally true, or that it should not be believed today. Recall again where Jesus said "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus believed in the validity of the Old Testament, and so should we.
Does this sound strange? Can we believe something to be true without believing that we are subject to it? Of course! We believe that Adam was told not to eat of the forbidden fruit, but we are not under that law. We understand that Noah was commanded to build an arc, but we do not build arcs today. God requires the same faith or us as he did of them (Heb. 11), but today our faith is revealed by obedience to His son.
Of what value is the Old Testament? First and foremost, it is important because it is essential to our understanding of the New Testament. The Old Testament is quoted throughout the New Testament to explain the full meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without an understanding of the Old Testament, these New Testament passages are meaningless; thus we cannot understand all of the New Testament unless we have some basic understanding of the Old Testament. This makes this understanding of and faith in the validity of the Old Testament essential to our salvation today. Christians must dedicate themselves to a study and understanding of the Old Testament -- not because it is God's law for us today, but to understand God's law for us today, i.e., the New Testament. [In case you feel uncomfortable about calling the New Testament God's law for us today, read 1 Corinthians 9:21, where Paul said that he was "not without law to God, but under the law to Christ."]
A second reason that the Old Testament is important is that it contains timeless knowledge with regard to the nature of both God and man. How can we understand suffering without the book of Job? How can we sing songs of praise to God without the book of Psalms? How can we obtain the wisdom of the wisest man whoever lived without the book of Ecclesiastes? How can we know where we came from without the book of Genesis? We could go on and on, but Jesus said it best when he said: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Every word includes the Old Testament.
Finally, we know that the Old Testament is a priceless treasure because the New Testament tells us that it is. In Romans 15:2-4 we read: "Let every one of us please [his] neighbor for [his] good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." First, Paul quoted an Old Testament scripture (Psalms 69:9) as proof that Christ pleased not himself. Then he stated the value of the Old Testament scriptures ("things ... written aforetime"). They are for our learning that we might have hope through patience and comfort of the scriptures.
As a second example, consider the writing of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10. This is a very powerful chapter that many people do not wish to hear. It states unequivocally that Christians (which implies that they are in a saved, covenant relationship with God) can be lost just as the Israelites who were saved (out of Egypt) fell from God's grace. After describing what happened to them in great detail, he stated (1 Corinthians 10:11-12): "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." The Old Testament was written for our admonition. Remember, God is no respecter of persons. We can clearly and graphically see that those of old were clearly condemned for their disobedience. Do you think that we are better than they? On the contrary, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb. 2:3).
So the Old Testament should be believed because it is the truth revealed of God. Faith in its validation will lead us to conclude that we are not under its edicts today; with the death of Christ we are under the New Testament. However, the value of the Old Testament is in enabling us to understand the New Testament, helping us understand the nature of God, helping us to have comfort in hope, and admonishing us to be faithful.
2.4 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Let us apply what we have learned immediately above to answer this question. In Numbers 13 we read about Moses sending spies into the land of Canaan to spy out the land. It was God's will that they bring back a positive report and have faith in Him to take the land. However, we read that all but Joshua and Caleb brought back a report which demonstrated a lack of faith in God. God was extremely displeased with them and we read in Numbers 14 how he condemned them to spend 40 years in the wilderness, and that none of the unfaithful would cross over into the promised land. Toward the end of Chapter 14 we read about these men repenting themselves and deciding indeed to attempt to take the promised land. It says (Numbers 14:44: "But they presumed to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and discomfited them, [even] unto Hormah."
Timing is everything. Had they demonstrated that zeal a few days before they would have been blessed by God. These things are written for our admonition ...
Consider a second example. It is recorded in Exodus 17:6 where Moses was commanded of god: "Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel." However, a later occasion is recorded in Numbers 20:10-12: "And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts [also]. And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them."
Timing is everything. Moses could have argued that God had previously commanded him to strike the rock. What was wrong with that now? Moses could have, but he had more sense than to do such a foolish thing. Moses and Aaron both knew what they had done wrong -- they had not trusted God.
Today when we practice and bind the Old Testament rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ, it demonstrates that very same lack of faith in God. Is it important? Ask Moses.
MYTH 3: WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH ONLY
3.1 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
There is no subject more important than our salvation. There is only one reality with God: either we are saved by faith only or we are not. If we are saved by faith only, then it ought to say it in the New Testament (i.e., the covenant under which we now live -- see Chapter 2). On the other hand, if the word of God indicates that this is a false doctrine, but we decide to believe it anyway, we will be eternally lost.
That the denominations generally teach that a person is saved by faith only is a documented fact. It is a remnant of Calvinism which denominational leaders feared to challenge. In fact, at least since the 1950's the trend has been to make this a central tenet of the ecumenical movement.
The reason for this seems quite clear from an historical point of view. While denominational churches were relatively independent with each member practicing religion through the local congregation, each could teach its own variation of the conditions of salvation. Of course, some of these were much closer to the bible pattern than others. However, in the late 1940's and early 1950's large interdenominational revival meetings began to develop. Radio and TV evangelists began to emerge, the largest and most successful being Billy Graham.
The ecumenical plea -- to unify the denominations under some common denominator -- was embraced by the practitioner in the pew, and the clergy saw little reason to object. After all, these inter-denominational teachers never dealt with any controversial doctrinal issues, and they always encouraged their converts to return to their home church, or else to go to the "church of your choice." It seemed like an ideal marriage.
Unfortunately, the only common denominator was the lowest common denominator. The radio and TV preachers could hardly specify any real biblical condition without offending someone. Yet, they could not just return everyone to their home church without saying something about salvation. So they told people that if they "just believed" in Jesus Christ they would be saved. The exact definition of "just believing" was left to each person to interpret as s/he saw fit. This offended no one except those who were committed to the concept of a single reality, a single truth (Jn. 8:32). However, this was such a small minority that they could be ignored.
The terminology used often varied. Probably the way that it is most often stated now is "accept Jesus as your personal savior" and you will be saved. However, in all cases there was (and still is) absolutely no outward action required. In fact, often even the suggestion of a scriptural condition of salvation was militantly taught to be sinful, becoming one of the very few points of doctrine which was contentiously defended by denominationalists. Most often new converts are urged to pray for forgiveness and acceptance, but rarely is this stated to be a condition of salvation.
This is not saying that salvation by faith only was of recent origin. Indeed, we can see its roots in many false teachings that are identified in the New Testament (and we plan to deal with these in this chapter). However, we are presenting what we believe to be the obvious reason that the mass-media preachers do not align themselves with clear biblical teachings as to the conditions of salvation. It would quickly diminish their large numbers, and it would put them at odds with the local congregations which teach a variety of rituals and doctrines as part of their religious practice.
Let us begin our study of this interesting topic by defining our terms. This subject is particularly fraught with potential semantical arguments, and if the differences here were purely semantic we would be extremely pleased. Our purpose in defining what we mean by faith only is to enable us to communicate effectively about the subject. Once these definitions are established we will deal with the scriptural reasons that one should never teach anyone to be saved by faith only. At that point we will proceed to consider exactly what the bible does state about the doctrine of faith only in Section 3.4. We will then present what the bible means when it teaches that we are saved "by faith." In Section 3.6 we will present what the bible teaches the conditions of salvation are -- how we get into a saved condition, and how we keep ourselves in that condition.
It is of paramount importance that we define our terms because they often mean different things to different people. The proposition that we are evaluating is that we are saved by faith only.
"We" means those of us who are currently alive, and thus, as we saw in the Chapter 2, living under the New Testament, often called the gospel of Christ.
The word saved is referring to being rescued from the consequences of our sins. All have sinned (Rom. 3:23); therefore, all are in need of salvation. In addition, when people are saved, they enter into a different relationship with God. This is often referenced in the New Testament as being "written in the Lamb's book of life" (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 20:15; 21:27; 22:19). In question in this chapter is the definition of those conditions which must be satisfied for a person to be transformed from the condition of being lost to the condition of being in fellowship with God.
The term faith only must be defined collectively. It will be defined in detail later in the chapter. However, our intent now is to present the perception of the meaning of this term when faith is taught as the sole condition of salvation. Since the bible does not teach salvation by faith only, it has no scriptural definition when used in this way. Since its usage as a condition of salvation is not unique, it can (and does) have a very wide range of meanings. In fairness, its usage in James 2 is probably not the way that most denominational practitioners view the term, although this does provide the biblical definition of it. To be as accurate as possible, our observation of the current denominations, and our experience in a denomination for 18 years leads us to believe that the following is a reasonably acceptable definition of the term:
The concept of faith only carries with it the idea that when an alien sinner totally believes and puts his/her faith in Jesus Christ and accepts Him as his/her personal savior, it is at this point in time that the person's name is added to the Lamb's book of life, and absolutely no other actions are required in order for the believer to receive forgiveness of sins and to enter into a covenant relationship with God.
The word only means that absolutely no action other than faith is necessary to bring about salvation.
3.3 WHY NOT FAITH ONLY?
The bible clearly teaches that we are saved by faith. Indeed, we have already given many scriptural references that teach this, and we will deal with this further in the next section. The question is: Can we therefore conclude that we are saved by faith only? In reality, the bible teaches that there are many things by which we are saved. Consider the following:
1. We are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8): "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God." Are we saved by grace only?
2. We are saved by hope (Romans 8:24-5): "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, [then] do we with patience wait for [it]." Are we saved by hope only?
3. We are saved by faith (John 3:16): "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." Are we saved by faith only?
4. We are saved by repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10): "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." Or, note Luke 13:3 where Jesus put it in a negative light: "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Are we saved by repentance only?
5. We are saved by calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21): "And it shall come to pass, [that] whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (See also Romans 10:13.) Are we saved by calling on the name of the Lord only?
6. We are saved by faith and confession (Romans 10:9): "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Can we be saved by faith if we refuse to confess? Can we be saved by confession if we do not believe?
7. We are saved by faith and baptism (Mark 16:16): "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Can we be saved by faith if we refuse to be baptized? Can we be saved by baptism if we fail to believe?
8. We are saved by baptism (1 Peter 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." Are we saved by baptism only?
9. We are saved by acts of obedience (Philippians 2:12-13): "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure." And (Hebrews 5:9): "And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." Are we saved by acts of obedience only?
10. We are saved by enduring to the end (Matthew 24:13): "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Are we saved by enduring to the end only?
This is not an exhaustive list, but it enables us to demonstrate some things about the doctrine of faith only.
First, since the list above clearly shows that we are saved by a number of different things, we can confidently affirm that we are not saved by anything only. The doctrine of faith only (or anything else only) trivializes the word of God. "Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). To write off the entire New Testament by condensing it into one verse has got to be wrong. [While we applaud the zeal of those who hold up large signs of bible verses at nationally broadcast football games, the bible should not be so trivialized. There is no single verse that can adequately sum it up to the exclusion of the rest.]
The reason that it has been condensed is to make a palatable appeal to the masses. As we discussed above, radio and TV quick-salvation presentations just would not allow for a detailed discussion of the complete word of God. So the leaders present it in an easy, simple, understandable -- and wrong -- summary.
We have arranged the ten items above roughly in the amount of effort which is demanded of the believer. Please reread the scriptures from above again to assure that this is, in fact, the teaching of the New Testament. Then consider the following thoughts:
1. We are saved by grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. What God has done for us in sending His son to die on the cross for our sins it totally without merit on our part (Rom. 5:6-11). If we are to be saved by something only, why not make it grace only? This is the belief of the universalists who do not believe God will condemn anyone. It was also a major tenet of Calvinism that we are saved by the "irresistible grace of God" and that there is nothing that we have to do with it one way or the other. We will not discuss this further, for it makes our very being and existence meaningless. If there is anything that the bible teaches it is that each person has a free will and will be held accountable for his behavior, not the behavior of God. However, the same argumentation that extrapolates valid scripture to make faith into faith only, can also be applied to make grace into grace only, or mercy into mercy only, or any of the other conditions into that condition only.
2. We are saved by hope. While grace is totally independent of anything that man has done or will do, hope requires something of man. Hope is desire plus expectation. In this case it is the desire to be in a covenant relationship with God now and forever. The now part is totally within the control of a person to be grasped immediately by meeting the conditions of salvation. The forever part, however, is not yet a recognized reality (seen), and thus must be viewed with expectation. The desire for eternal life is within most normal people; the expectation is not. We are saved by hope in the sense that it is this hope for the realization of eternal life in the hereafter that motivates us to keep ourselves faithful to God.
3. We are saved by faith. This is absolutely not in question. The bible teaches in dozens of places that we are saved by faith. Recall how that faith is acquired (Rom. 10: 17): "So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." In the next section we will take up the question of what the bible means when it teaches that we are saved by faith.
4. We are saved by repentance. As the quoted reference indicates, repentance is brought about by Godly sorrow for sin. Those who repent of their sins do not repeat those sins willfully. Repentance is the most difficult part of our part of salvation. It involves sorrow not only for the things done, but also for the things undone. It requires a complete change in life to be reoriented away from self and toward Christ. With this and the 2 Cor. 7:10 definition in mind, think about this question: could there be any chance that man could be saved by repentance only? Or, more importantly, is repentance only even conceivable? Are there any circumstances under which it could possibly exist? We will see that the same reasoning applies to a living faith.
5. We are saved by calling on the name of the Lord. This is not in dispute; but what does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? Read Matthew 7:21-23: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Thus, "calling on the name of the Lord" is more than asserting that what is being done is in His name. If, in fact, the actions so labeled are not by His authority, this assertion would bring reproach upon the name of the Lord. Much in religion today does just that. "Calling on the name of the Lord" means that the individual looks to Jesus for authority for all things. This is totally consistent with Mt. 7:23: "he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
6. We are saved by faith and confession. (Note that "confession" here is not a confession of sins in the Roman Catholic sense; it is the truthful statement that the person making the confession believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God; see Mt. 16:16). Romans 10:9 gives two conditions for salvation. We need to ask two questions: (1) is it possible to have faith without confessing Christ? and (2) is it possible to confess Christ without having faith? We will show below that the faith upon which salvation is conditioned cannot exist without this confession. On the other hand, item 5 above indicates that one can make the statement of belief for self-serving purposes and not out of true faith in Christ. As for the necessity of confessing Christ, see also Mt. 10:32-33.
7. We are saved by faith and baptism. This multiple condition statement, given in Mark 16:16, can be evaluated in the same way as that given immediately above: (1) is it possible to have faith without being baptized into Christ? and (2) is it possible to be baptized into Christ without having faith? The answers are the same. However, we defer consideration on baptism to the next chapter.
8. We are saved by baptism. While we will see in the next chapter that the bible clearly teaches this in many passages in addition to 1 Peter 3:21, it never teaches that a person is saved by baptism only. Of all of the acts that are commanded of us, baptism is the least demanding -- indeed, an argument can be made that it is something which is done to us, not something that we do. However, it is up to each of us to subject ourselves to it. Baptism is also the only command of God that we only obey once.
9. We are saved by acts of obedience. These are not works of our own creation. They must be the works of God. This premise is not arguable. We might argue over just what is required, but we cannot argue that some act or acts of obedience are required (even if it is only faith). It is necessary for us to become familiar with the New Testament to determine just what these works are.
10. We are saved by enduring to the end. Clearly there is no quick and easy salvation solution given in the New Testament. If we do not equip ourselves with the strength that God supplies we will not even know what it means to endure, much less know how to meet the snares of the devil which are strategically positioned to assure our failure. Thus, Peter said (1 Peter 5:8): "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle [you]. To him [be] glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
It should be clear that the doctrine of faith only is, at best, an oversimplification. In the next section we will show that faith only is defined by scripture. While we recognize that this is not the definition that is acceptable to denominational teachers, our question is this: why not use scriptural terms in scriptural ways? The answer, of course, has to do with deception.
3.4 WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES ABOUT FAITH ONLY
The words faith and only come together only once in the bible. So that there will be absolutely no misunderstanding, we quote the entire context of that occurrence (James 2:14-26):
What [doth it] profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can that faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be [ye] warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what [doth it] profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent [them] out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Reread verse 24 in your bible again: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Can it be wrong for us to teach that a man is not saved by faith only when, in fact, the bible does?
Of course, it can be argued that this is not what is meant when denominational teachers use the term "faith only" today. However, the burden of proof is upon them to prove their doctrines from the New Testament. It is impossible for us to know for sure what they mean when they use this term, although we gave what we thought was their meaning above. Let us analyze James 2:14-26 first, in order to see that it is not contradictory of the other numerous bible teachings with regard to salvation by faith:
14 Apparently there were some who were saying that one could possess faith without demonstrating this faith by works. Either that, or they were, in fact, claiming to have faith while not demonstrating it with works. Is this not what those who teach salvation by faith only are not implying today? If not, why even use the term? Thus, the question is quite relevant: Can that faith save him?
15-17 The absurdity of this position is exposed by James. This is like telling a hungry person to be fed without feeding him. In verse 17 James does not deny that such a faith can exist. However, this is not a living faith. It is a dead and ineffectual faith, and thus does not have the capacity to save. It is not the faith upon which salvation is conditioned in John 3:16.
18 James shows that it is impossible to reveal faith without some outward manifestation, i.e., works. This outward appearance of righteousness is the confession of Christ which is commanded of every Christian. It is impossible for a Christian to only be one inwardly -- if the inward faith is there, the works of obedience and righteousness will be impossible to hide.
[Let us pause right here to state our belief that this is the position of most denominational teachers. They are not against the practice of good works. Our question is: why don't they come out and teach this. Why keep it camouflaged under the umbrella of faith only?]
19 As an extreme example, James shows that the demons have a knowledge of God -- they believe, but this does not save them.
20-23 "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness." This is also reviewed in Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19. Hebrews 11 is a clear definition of faith, which we will address in the next section. Notice, however, that every act of faith on Abraham's part was reflected in some outward work. Abraham never had faith only -- to him this would have been an absurd theological concept.
24 These works are not works of man's own devising, which can never have any impact upon salvation. Further, they do not merit his salvation even if they are in complete compliance with God's word. They justify the man because they proceed out of a living faith in the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse his sin. Any other type of faith is totally useless for anything but to deceive others.
25 James argues from the greatest (Abraham) to the least (Rahab). God is no respecter of persons -- the same type of faith is required of us all. Since James is talking to Christians under the New Testament, it most certainly applies to us.
26 This very interesting verse not only defines what faith without works is, it defines what physical death is: the body apart from the spirit. Of what use is the body apart from the spirit. We quickly embalm it and bury it before it decays. Even so a dead faith needs to be put as far away from us as possible.
What are you saved by? a living faith, or a dead faith?
3.5 WHAT IT MEANS TO BE SAVED BY FAITH
The bible clearly teaches that we are saved by faith. The passages that are usually used to prove the doctrine of faith only are those which prove that we are saved by faith. Since we saw above that we are not saved by faith only (or anything else only), the logical question follows: what does the New Testament mean when it says that we are saved by faith?
First and foremost, we saw that this was a living faith. Recognize that faith is an abstract term. It is purely a motivator of action. We can imagine that we have faith. We might convince ourselves that we have faith. But, since it is intangible, there is no way for us or them to tell apart from the actions which it motivates. The argumentation presented above totally supports these concepts. Since living faith will always be accompanied by some outward manifestation of the action which it motivates, James reasons that this is the way that we determine if we have faith (James 2:18): "... show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works."
In those cases where we are commanded to determine the faith of others the same rule holds (Matthew 7:15-20): "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
The Hebrew writer added to this basic definition of faith in the eleventh chapter (Hebrews 11:1-2): "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report." While this is not the easiest of definitions, it can be understood in light of what we have already established from James 2. In particular, the things hoped for do not have substance, at least not for us at the current time (if they were seen they would not be hoped for -- recall Romans 8:24). The Hebrew writer states that faith is the substance of these things. It produces tangible accomplishments (substance) by which we can envision those things which do not yet exist for us (i.e., eternal life). This is "the evidence of things not seen."
Most people of the world think of faith as being a figment of the imagine of the religious -- pie in the sky, if you will -- that for which there is no evidence. This is not the least bit true. Recall the source of faith (Romans 10:17): "So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." As we saw in the previous chapter, the word of God was given first through the Lord and then through the apostles and prophets, and it was confirmed by miracles when it was delivered (Hebrews 2:3-4). Thus, it is not an invention of man, but a reliable communication from God. The only question is: do we allow it to generate faith in us? If we continue to hear and seek him, it will do just that. If we cut it off and do not diligently seek God, then it will not. Recall Hebrews 11:6: "But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
The source of faith is the proven and confirmed word or God. The effect of faith is to provide substance of the things hoped for. How is this accomplished? the Hebrew writer answers this question in the only way possible: by giving examples. We will not go through all of the examples, but we urge the reader to read the entire 11th chapter of Hebrews. It defines living faith more effectively than any other explanation could. In absolutely no case can we find anything which could in any way be described as faith only. In every single case faith materialized as "the evidence of things not seen." In every single case it led to obedience to God.
The bible clearly teaches that we are saved by faith. But it is not faith defined by man, it is faith defined by God. Hebrews 11 defines the quality of faith which God expects of us today.
As we see the word faith appearing in God's word, it is important that we do not interpret it to be the dead faith, or faith only. In many places it is used to refer to the entire plan of salvation (such as in John 3:16). Here, and most other places, faith does not mean dead faith (faith only), it means a living faith. Thus, it carries with it the confidence and desire to obey all of God's laws that apply to us today.
3.6 WHAT THEN ARE WE SAVED BY?
We wish to close this chapter on a positive note. If we are not saved by faith only, then what are we saved by? Let's look at the positive side of Jesus' statement (Mt. 7:21): "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." Can anyone deny that we are saved by doing God's will? Dare they? If it is God's will that we are saved by doing nothing, then so be it! If it is God's will that we be saved by faith only, then so be it! On the other hand, if we must walk on burning glass and nails, then so be it! Our job at this point is to determine just what this is.
It is essential that we understand the two aspects of salvation: (1) what we must do to get into a covenant relationship with God, and (2) what we must do to keep ourselves saved. Confusing these two aspects of salvation prevents us from dealing with the subject intelligently. We recognize that one of the basic tenets of Calvinism was the security of the believer (or, as it is often stated "once saved always saved"). We will not address this, since it is so obviously contrary to scripture. (We urge any who hold to this belief to read any three pages of the New Testament in a row -- it is difficult to find three pages in a row in which this doctrine is not clearly contradicted. Indeed, we have already presented many scriptures above that contradict this doctrine, and many more will be presented in the remainder of this book.)
Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), all are in need of salvation. Some people claim that they have no sin, but this is rare. Most people know that they have sinned and believe earnestly that they have met God's plan of salvation when, in fact, they have not. Let us take this one step at a time -- we will first address the subject of escaping the consequences of our sins and entering into a covenant relationship with God. Then in the final section we will address the issue of keeping ourselves saved.
3.6.1 ENTERING INTO A COVENANT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
We have established by the review of a number of scriptures that we are saved by faith -- but this is a qualified faith -- it must be a living faith. We have also seen how this type of faith is produced (Romans 10:17): "So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Hearing is the beginning of salvation, and it is the most critical step. If we are willing to hear and we continue to hear (listen to) God's word with a believing heart, we will be saved. If we refuse to hear, then no other acts on our part or on God's part can possibly save us.
Let us explore a logical arrangement of conditions which Jesus himself placed on salvation. The first condition would logically be to hear the word. Indeed, Jesus made hearing and learning the word of God a condition of coming to Him (John 6:44-45): "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." Note first that this is a condition: "No man can come to me, except ..." This fits logically into all that we learned about the value of God's word in bringing about our salvation.
Obviously we are not saved by hearing only (Romans 2:13; James 1:22). Those who have never heard would be in a better position than those who hear and refuse to act upon what they hear. Hearing produces faith, and faith is the next logical condition of salvation (John 3:16): "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Few people have any problem in accepting faith as a condition of salvation.
What does faith motivate us to do? What do we learn from hearing God's word? One of the first things is the recognition of our own sin. It would seem reasonable that this recognition of sin would bring about sorrow -- a sorrow that would further motivate us to turn from our sin. Repentance is a requirement, however, not because it is reasonable, but because Jesus made it a condition of salvation. In Luke 13:3 Jesus stated: "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Let's examine the context of this passage to be sure that this concise condition applies to us spiritually (and not just to them, possibly physically). The recorded incident begins in Luke 13:1: "There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
It seems clear that the people who came to Jesus at this time were ordinary people, just like you and me. They were not murderers, rapists, or obviously immoral. Like us, they brought up incidents which would show them in the best possible light. The implication was that these were pointing their fingers at obvious sinners, and saying "we are not like them." Jesus reaction reflects the truth taught in Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Thus, we can never take refuge in the sin of others, no matter how bad we might imagine them being. Think of the worst possible sinner that you can imagine -- a child abuser of the most perverted kind. Then listen to Jesus: "...except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish." Being under the influence of the devil is not a matter of degree. If Jesus is not Lord of your life, then Satan has control of you, and repentance is essential to change this state.
Repentance leads to a cessation of sin, or, at least the attempt on our part to get it out of our lives. The word itself means a turning around. To turn away from sin is not sufficient -- we must also turn toward something. Jesus talked about this in Matthew 12:43-45: "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth [it] empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last [state] of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation."
Jesus did not leave us void. We are not saved by repentance only. The positive aspect of the Christian life is summed up in a word: confession. Jesus made this a condition of salvation when he stated (Matthew 10:32): "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."
To this point we have established four conditions of salvation which prepare the alien sinner for the final step. The bible teaches these steps in a number of ways. We will see in the next chapter that one of the most informative ways is through the examples of conversion given in the book of Acts. We will consider all of these in the next chapter, but in order to get things into perspective, let us consider one of the most detailed cases of conversion (Acts 8:26-40):
"And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to [him], and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth."
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on [their] way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, [here is] water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
Note that the sequence of events which occurred follows exactly the conditions set by Jesus:
1. The eunuch heard the word both by reading the Old Testament and by further hearing from an inspired teacher. This was necessary as the New Testament was still being revealed.
2. The eunuch obviously believed the truth of the word of God. His faith came by hearing the word of God, both in written and spoken form.
3. While repentance is not explicitly mentioned in this example, we will see that it is in several others. The fact that it is not mentioned does not at all mean that it did not take place; and it is obvious from his actions that he was willing to make a major change in direction in his life.
4. The eunuch confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, which Philip states to be a condition of baptism.
This summarizes the first four steps given by Philip to the eunuch.
It is clear, however, that we have left something out. Surely, from the example we can see that baptism was an integral part of preaching Christ. Jesus made baptism a condition of salvation in John 3:3-5: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
If this is not baptism that Jesus is talking about, then what is it? We read in Romans 6:3-4: "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." This tells us that the apostle Paul assumed that the Christians at Rome thoroughly understood that baptism put them into Jesus Christ. Further baptism is "into death" and we arise from it to "walk in newness of life." If that is not the rebirth of John 3:3-5, then what is?
We will leave these questions open for right now. The next chapter is totally dedicated to the subject of baptism, and there is no clearer doctrine taught in the New Testament than that of the purpose and practice of baptism. The two paragraphs above are merely to introduce this topic at this point for completeness.
In summary, we have determined that Jesus' own words as recorded in the New Testament have established five conditions which must be satisfied if we are to do the will of our Father who is in Heaven:
1. Hear the truth (i.e., God's word)
2. Believe the truth
3. Repent of one's sins
4. Confess a belief in Christ, and
5. Be baptized into Christ.
It should be noted that baptism is the only one of these conditions that is performed once and only once. We should never stop hearing and studying the truth -- we never totally master it and we always need it to continue improving. Obviously, we should never stop believing. To stop repenting would mean that we would turn back and repeat the sins that we turned from when we first owned Christ as Lord. And finally, our confession of Christ is exactly what the great commission commands (Mt. 28:18-20), and this charge applies to us for life.
While these are ongoing commitments of faithful Christians and not just one-time obligations, baptism is different. Legitimate baptism is only to be performed once. By legitimate, we mean that which is authorized by Jesus Christ, which would mean that it is performed as He prescribed and for the reason which He specified (either directly or through writers inspired by the Holy Spirit). Baptism is the only command of God that we are under today that is only performed once in satisfying our reasonable and spiritual service to their Lord (Rom. 12:1).
3.6.2 KEEPING OURSELVES SAVED
While it is fairly simple to summarize that part of God's plan of salvation which puts a person into a saved condition, the entire New Testament is necessary to describe the standards set for people once they become Christians. Any attempt which we might make to summarize or reduce this would be futile and akin to establishing a creed.
Is the New Testament a law like the Old Testament was? Yes and no. In the sense that it is the truth by which we regulate our lives, the answer is yes. In 1 Corinthians 9:21 the apostle Paul was discussing how he would not practice the Old Testament traditions when we was trying to convert gentiles so that he would not offend them. He stated: "To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law." Those "without law" were without the law of Moses, or the Old Testament law. Even though Paul was not under the Old Testament law, he was still under law to God, because he was under the law to Christ.
The New Testament provides the truth -- the reality -- by which we can make Godly decisions within our lives today. It provides all moral truths with regard to all of the relationships of life. It also provides the truth by which our worship is pleasing to God. Finally, it provides the truth by which the church can be organized to best satisfy its great commission. In these regards, we are under law to Christ.
In the sense that it is minimal set of specifications which when obeyed will merit our salvation, it is unlike the Old Testament, and is not a law in this respect. Unfortunately, many Christians want to view it this way. They want to determine the minimal requirements, satisfy them, and then get on with life. If this is the way you approach the New Testament, there is not the slightest chance that you will ever be able to understand it.
What does God want? Everything. Listen to the apostle Paul pleading with some of the same people who were proposing that "we continue in sin that grace may abound" (Rom 6:1). In Romans 12:1: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service." The New Testament is not a set of rules, it is a set of principles. This set of principles will enable us to understand what it means to render our bodies a total sacrifice to Him. When this occurs you will no longer be "conformed to this world: but [will be] be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
Can we ever hope to master and meet all of the principles of the New Testament? This would be sinless perfection, and we are never to feel that we have attained this (1 John 1:8): "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." We are going to stumble and fall as weak babes in Christ, just as a baby has many falls while learning to walk. But this is a far cry from salvation by grace or faith only, which excuses virtually all disobedience to God's law. Christians cannot grow closer to God if their attitude is one of excusing their own sins. It is essential that we whole-heartedly repent, turn and despise their sin, and pray to God for forgiveness in our quest for perfection (1 John 1:9-2:6):
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked."
Christians make every attempt to be faithful, and ultimately, in the vast majority of cases with the help of God, they are.
With this understanding of what scriptural faith is, we are ready to see the reason that several other myths of denominationalism go unchallenged.
MYTH 4: BAPTISM IS OF SECONDARY IMPORTANCE
4.1 WHY ALL THE FUSS? -- DEFINITIONS
To place anything that God has commanded into the realm of secondary importance is to trivialize it. Baptism is among the clearest and most articulated doctrines in the New Testament. At the same time, there are more alternative teachings with regard to baptism than any other teaching in the denominations. These doctrines have arisen out of Roman Catholic and denominational traditions -- they are not the consequence of ambiguous biblical teaching. (When you complete this chapter you will have read the vast majority of the verses in the New Testament which deal with baptism, and you can determine the validity of this last statement for yourself.)
There was a time when denominations honestly and forthrightly discussed their differences with regard to baptism in an attempt to bring about true unity on this important doctrine. These attempts have largely been abandoned in favor of the teaching which is the title of this chapter. The reason for this is the overwhelming momentum of the inter-denominational efforts which emerged in conjunction with the radio and TV efforts of the 1940's and 1950's, and it continues heavily with this impetus even today. It is impossible for these preachers to take a definitive stand with regard to baptism, since it is impossible for them to baptize "over the air" (in any way). As a result of this, it became most convenient for them to ignore the tremendous number of scriptures which deal with baptism, and to declare that a person was saved by "faith only" or "accepting Jesus as your personal savior."
When confronted with questions regarding baptism most of these religious leaders either state or necessarily imply that baptism is of secondary importance. The popular doctrine is that since you are saved by faith only, baptism is of secondary importance. So we hear: "Go to the church of your choice and be baptized according to the way that they teach you."
If we could find the basis for this quote in the scriptures, we would not question it. However, if scriptural baptism is what puts a person into Christ, then we must teach it! We cannot throw away a major teaching of Jesus and the apostles just because it is not convenient to radio and TV preachers. We cannot pick those scriptures that we wish to follow and throw away the rest (Rev. 22:18-19; Mt. 4:4).
With these factors in mind, let us define the terminology that we will use in this chapter. The Greek word for baptism (baptizo) in the New Testament was not translated -- it was transliterated out of the Greek. Baptizo was not a dedicated religious word as baptism is today. It merely meant immersion, and it was applied to the immersion (typically in water) of anything. It started to be used for religious purposes with the preaching of John the Baptist.
When we state the myth that baptism is of secondary importance, we are referring to that baptism which the bible states was commanded of and was practiced by Christians in the first century. (We shall see from the scriptures which will be quoted below that this was baptism in water.)
By secondary importance, we mean that the most prevalent and common denominational teaching is to de-emphasize this practice to the point where many now believe that it has virtually nothing to do with salvation.
At this point we will present the biblical teaching. As we have done above, this will be subdivided according to the teachings given in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the book of Acts, and the letters written to the churches (epistles). We plead with you to be patient as we present this to you in the most logical way that we can.
4.2 WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT BAPTISM
Let us emphasize that we are not the least bit concerned here with what any given religious organization teaches on the subject. It would be impossible to state all of the variations of the beliefs and the history as to how they evolved. We are only concerned with the biblical teaching. While the following is not exhaustive, it is an attempt to totally represent the biblical view.
4.2.1 THE GOSPELS
Baptism was not a religious practice under the Old Testament law, and (as we saw in Chapter 2) the Old Testament law was still in effect until it was nailed to the cross with Christ (Col. 2:14). Thus, we would not expect the full teaching on baptism to be revealed until it was done so by the Holy Spirit through the apostles. This revelation is recorded in the book of Acts, and detailed teachings are given in the letters which the apostles wrote (epistles). However, baptism was so important that its foundations were established by Jesus while He was still on the earth.
The first preacher to baptize was John the baptist. Mark's account is quite concise and informative (Mark 1:1-11):
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, [saying], Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Note the following from this passage:
1. John the baptist preached in preparation for the messiah, Jesus Christ, who was formally known as Jesus of Nazareth.
2. As part of this preparation John also preached: "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." However, this did not in any way relieve Jesus or any of the other Jews of their obligations under the Old Testament law.
3. This was clearly water baptism: "and [they] were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins."
4. John was not the Christ. He foretold of one who would shortly appear: "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
5. Jesus' baptism by John was accompanied by a miracle which attested that Jesus was the one of whom John had foretold.
According to Matthew's account (Matthew 3:14-15): "John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer [it to be so] now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him."
Since Jesus had no sin, he was not in need of "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." However, to provide the example to fulfil all righteousness, he allowed himself to be baptized.
The next mention of baptism indicates that Jesus disciples baptized under His authority. In John 3:22-24 we read: "After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison." Clearly this was water baptism, and the lack of distinction between that practiced by Jesus and John implies that they were quite similar (if not identical) in intent.
As we continue to read (John 3:25-30):
Then there arose a question between [some] of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all [men] come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I [must] decrease.
The transition of disciples from John to Jesus was not something that Jesus wished to precipitate prematurely (John 4:1-3): "When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee."
The final mention of baptism in the gospels is in the great commission. According to Matthew's account (Matthew 28:18-20): "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen." The great commission commands us to baptize. The command to baptize is right along side the command to preach the gospel and to "teach all things I have commanded you." This shows that the great commission applies equally to us, since the great commission was one of the "all things" which Jesus commanded them.
In Mark's account of the great commission (Mark 16:15-16): "And he [Jesus] said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." Here Jesus made baptism a condition of salvation. Some argue that since Jesus did not say "he that believeth not and is not baptized shall be damned," only faith is the condition. However, if there were two conditions for non-salvation, one could be baptized without believing and still be saved. This would be nonsense. Of course, Jesus could have said "he that believeth not or is not baptized shall be damned." However, this would imply that it is possible to have faith without being obedient. As we saw in Chapter 2, this is never taught in the bible, and so we can see the reason that it is not implied here. The Holy Spirit brought to Mark's memory exactly what Jesus said and it was exactly what He meant. Both faith and the clear indication that that faith is alive (baptism) are commanded, and they are conditions of salvation. The person who refuses to be baptized does so because s/he does not believe the clear commands of God.
The gospels alone demonstrate God's commands that believers be baptized. However, this command was not fully understood or implemented until after the Old Testament law was no longer in effect. This occurred when Jesus died on the cross and ushered in the plan of salvation under which we now live. This is documented in the book of Acts.
4.2.2 THE BOOK OF ACTS
The book of Acts is effectively a continuation of the Gospel according to Luke (compare Luke 1:1-4 with Acts 1:1-2). It picks up in history where the gospels leave off -- right after the resurrection of Christ. Jesus appeared after his resurrection and taught them for the duration of 40 days (Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-6). Some of the final teachings of Jesus are given in Acts 1:4-8, after which he was observed to ascend into heaven (Acts 1:9-11).
The remainder of the first chapter of the book of Acts covers the 10 days between Jesus' ascension and the Jewish religious holiday of Pentecost. Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week at the time of year which coincided with the Jewish observance of the Passover. The word Pentecost comes from the word fifty, indicating that it occurs 50 days after the passover observance. The Jews counted both the beginning and the ending portions of the day. Thus, both the passover observance and the day of Pentecost fell upon the first day of the week. While this does not directly relate to the subject of baptism, it places the second chapter of the book of Acts into its proper context. For, on this day the apostles were immersed in the Holy Spirit, enabling them both to speak with His inspiration and to confirm what they said by definitive miracles. Acts 2:1-4:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
This is the first record of such an event ever occurring, and it was the fulfillment of the prophesy which Jesus had spoken just a few days before (Acts 1:5): "For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence." We will elaborate more on the baptism in (with) the Holy Spirit in Section 188.8.131.52 below. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was a promise; it was never commanded. The apostles did not practice it in the sense of doing anything to bring it about. You might validate this as you review Acts 2:1-4 once again.
The essence of Acts chapter 2 is the sermon which Peter spoke. Everything else relates to the circumstances of the environment in which that sermon was spoken. Being inspired by the Holy Spirit, the sermon itself tells us today as it told them on the day of Pentecost what they needed to do to be saved. The first part of the sermon (Acts 2:17-21) explained the astounding events which everyone was observing. Peter quoted Old Testament scripture (Joel) to prove that the things which were being done had been carefully planned by God. This was not an illusion, a mass hysteria, or a ploy provoked by emotional manipulation (as is typical of many staged events today).
The next portion of the sermon (Acts 2:22-24) appealed to their own observation. These people, many if not most of whom had been present when Jesus was crucified, had also observed His miracles and knew of His capabilities (reference Mark 15:31). This led directly to another quotation (Acts 2:25-27) from the Old Testament (Psalms 16:8-10). By this Peter went on to reason with them that Jesus through His resurrection had fulfilled this prophesy and ascended to the throne of the kingdom (Acts 2:30-31): "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption."
This was adequate proof for them, and they recognized the full validity of Peter's statement in Acts 2:36: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." The scriptures are very clear as to what transpired at this point (Acts 2:37-41):
Now when they heard [this], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men [and] brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, [even] as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added [unto them] about three thousand souls.
Question: what would be your response if someone were to ask you "Men [and] brethren, what shall we do [to be saved]?" Would you take it upon yourself to improve upon that which was inspired by the Holy Spirit and spoken by the apostle Peter on this occasion? By what authority would you say that baptism should be omitted from your response? What in the New Testament indicates that it is of secondary importance? In this passage it is placed as a condition of salvation on the same level as repentance. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized." What could be said about those who refused to be baptized?
We are going to see that every detailed case of conversion given in the book of Acts states that the subject(s) were baptized. We repeat: there is no clearer doctrine spelled out in the New Testament than the importance that baptism plays in our salvation. We challenge those who teach otherwise to deal with all of the scriptures which are presented in this entire chapter.
The next case of conversion is in Acts 8, and it is significant because it applied to Samaritans, a half-breed race which were generally shunned by the Jews (recall Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan women in John 4:9). It was the first step in taking the gospel to the "all nations." However, to get the context, let us first briefly review the chapters after Acts 2 that lead up to it.
In Acts 3-5 we read of the persecutions to which the apostles were subjected from the Jews when the apostles performed miracles in the name of Jesus. Acts 6 shows an issue involving racial distinctions in the first century church and how it was resolved. Acts 7 is the sermon that Stephen gave to the Jews who "set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us" (Acts 6:13-14).
This was an interesting accusation in that it was partially true. However, anything that is only half true is 100% false. While it was true that the Old Testament law was nailed to the cross with Christ (Col. 2:14), and that the temple would be destroyed (Mt. 24), Stephen was not blaspheming the law or in any way disallowing the customs of Moses, which were still permitted under the New Testament. The entire seventh chapter of Acts is a review of the Old Testament, which demonstrates that the accusations against Stephen were without any foundation. However, as is usually the case, close-minded leaders turn to the only recourse that they have when presented with the clear truth: violence.
The stoning of Stephen was much like throwing water onto a grease fire. It resulted in the very opposite of that which the Jews intended, and demonstrated the wisdom of God (Acts 8:4): "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word."
This leads us to the next documented cases of conversion which was different only in that it involved Samaritans (8:5-13):
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed [with them]: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
There are a multitude of lessons that could be obtained from this passage, but we wish to remain on the subject of this chapter by demonstrating that the doctrine and practice of baptism was an integral part of the preaching of the gospel. Clearly this was water (and not Holy Spirit) baptism as we observe by reading on (Acts 8:14-17): "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they [their] hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."
Nationality seemed to motivate the recording of the next case of conversion as well, which is by far the most detailed case in the New Testament. It involved a native Ehiopian who was a Jewish proselyte, demonstrating God's respect for faithfulness regardless of color or nationality. It occurs in Acts 8:26-39:
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to [him], and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on [their] way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, [here is] water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
Reread the above passage and note the following:
1. The eunuch heard the word from the Old Testament and from Philip who was inspired to speak the truth of the gospel.
2. The eunuch believed both the Old Testament prophesy and the new teaching which Philip imparted to him by preaching (Rom. 10:17). It is necessarily implied that this "preaching of Jesus" included the doctrine of baptism.
3. While not explicitly stated, repentance is implied. The only condition which Philip placed upon his baptism was his willingness to confess his belief that Jesus is the Son of God.
4. The mode of baptism is clearly revealed to us by this example. There is not the slightest implication that baptism was of secondary importance.
Note that this example is totally consistent with the conditions which Jesus placed upon our salvation which are outlined in Section 3.6.
The next example of conversion -- that of Saul of Tarsus (later called Paul) -- is one which is often seized upon for an example for us today. Yet I know of no one who claims to have been stricken blind as part of his/her getting into a covenant relationship with God. In reality, the experience that Paul had on the road to Damascus did not save him -- it only got his attention. What saved Paul was the same thing that saved the Jews on Pentecost, the Samaritans and the eunuch: a living faith in the word of God. This living faith motivated them to do God's will to the best of their knowledge and ability. See that it was this same living faith that Paul had as we consider his conversion in detail (Acts 9:1-22):
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought [him] into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I [am here], Lord. And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for [one] called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting [his] hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard [him] were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
It is interesting that, just as the angel did not speak directly to the eunuch to tell him what he must do to be saved, Jesus did not speak directly to Paul to tell him what he must do to be saved. Paul asked the question: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord [said] unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." From that point forward the conversion of Paul was quite similar to all other examples in the New Testament.
Now Paul's "calling" was different in the sense that he was chosen to be an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8-11). However, the process of conversion was the same. He was taught the gospel of Jesus Christ by natural means -- hearing the words of Ananias. He believed and was baptized.
Let us look further into this conversion, which is recalled by Paul during his preaching later on in the book of Acts (Acts 22:6-16):
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.
And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt [there], Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
This verse links baptism to washing away Paul's sins. If Paul was in a saved condition prior to baptism, then he was saved before having his sins washed away.
The next case of conversion is recorded in the tenth chapter of Acts and it is further explained in Chapter 11. It is quite significant because it details the conversions of the first gentiles to Christ. We have already discussed the racial problems which existed in the first century church. So their conversions directly into the body of Christ, and not through being proselyted into Judaism (i.e., via circumcision), caused quite a stir among the existing converts, all of whom were Jews.
Because these conversion also involved the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we will take up that aspect of it in more detail in Section 184.108.40.206. We will summarize the story here and quote the scriptures that we feel most relevant, but we urge you to read both of these chapters in detail.
The story begins with an introduction to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2): "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian [band], [A] devout [man], and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway." Few people today would even think this man would be in need of salvation. However, recognize that we cannot be saved by the works of our own hands -- we are all in need of the blood of Christ regardless of how devout or righteous we might be. Cornelius in this condition (without Christ) received a vision of God which prepared him for the preaching of the apostle Peter. This vision (Acts 10:3-8) instructed him to send for Peter, which would take about a day to accomplish.
At about the time that the messengers from Cornelius were arriving, Peter had a vision which instructed him to eat some meat which was unclean according to the Old Testament law (which Christians were no longer under). Peter refused to do so thinking that it was against God's law, and the response is given in Acts 10:15-16: "And the voice [spake] unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven."
At this point Peter did not fully understand the vision (Acts 10:17). However, the men from Cornelius arrived at that very moment, and Peter consented to go with them. Once he got there, he put two and two together, as recorded in Acts 10:28: "And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I [unto you] without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me?" Racial problems are not unique to our generation, and the breaking down of the walls that had so long separated Jew and gentile goes a long way toward explaining the meaning of the events of these two chapters. It is interesting that Peter would ask the reason that he was summoned; however, this might have been a rhetorical question to set the context for the preaching of the gospel.
Cornelius explained his vision and stated (Acts 10:33): "Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God."
Peter's response was very enlightening (Acts 10:34-35): "Then Peter opened [his] mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." This is a very interesting and definitive teaching with regard to the elimination of racism from the Lord's church. But what does this have to do with baptism? Much -- if we recognize that baptism was analogous to circumcision in that it is the act that puts a person into the Lord's kingdom. [We will show this in the next section when we discuss Colossians 2:8-15. However, if we recognize it at this point, it helps to explain the interaction in this chapter between the racial issue and baptism.]
Several Jewish Christians had come with Peter to observe. Those of their number who wanted to go back under the Old Testament law had no problem with gentiles being baptized if they were circumcised first. However, this would be the first case of their being baptized without the benefit of circumcision.
The sermon that Peter proceeded to preach to them (Acts 10:34-43) is a very interesting, concise summary of the gospel. Peter did not have a chance to finish, however, before the following events occurred (Acts 10:44-48):
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
The fact that the Holy Spirit fell upon them and enabled them to speak in tongues was not adequate demonstration of their salvation. It was, however, sufficient proof to the Jews accompanying Peter that these gentiles were fit subjects for baptism for the remission of their sins. So Peter "commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." If they refused this command claiming that their baptism in the Holy Spirit was ample demonstration of their salvation, would they be acceptable to God?
We will pick up this story again in Section 220.127.116.11, where we will show that Cornelius and the gentiles with him were, in fact, baptized in the Holy Spirit. As was the case on the day of Pentecost, they were not expecting it, praying for it, or in any other way anticipating it. Since we are concentrating on the subject of water baptism for the remission of sins at this point, we need only observe that these gentiles were converted the same way that all other Christians were and have been converted since Jesus died on the cross. They heard the word, believed it, and with a willingness to repent of their sins and confess their belief that Jesus was the son of God, they were baptized for the remission of their sins.
As with many other conversions recorded in the book of Acts, miraculous events played a part, but they were peripheral to the actual process of conversion itself. That is, the miracles revealed and confirmed the truth -- exactly the role that the bible performs for us today. The process of hearing, believing and obeying the truth (our part) is identical for us today as it was for everyone converted in the first century.
Acts 11 further explains Acts 10, and then tells about the various other churches which were formed (especially Antioch), and the fact that the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). This is quite significant, since most denominationalists today are under the impression that Jerusalem was the center of all church activity. Although several of the apostles remained at Jerusalem, the actual work of the church was as distributed as the Christians were. Christians did not need the apostles' presence, they had the authority of Christ. Neither did they need a central organization, all they needed was the truth.
Acts 12 tells of the ratcheting up of the persecution, now by the puppet government which was installed by Rome to rule the Jews. However, the motivation was still to please the Jews who were still very concerned about losing their political and economic base if the church was allowed to grow. Despite all of this Acts 12:24 sums it up: "But the word of God grew and multiplied." Christians were being made, souls were being saved, but it was the word of God that was growing and multiplying.
Early in Acts 13 we read about the church at Antioch sending out Paul and Barnabas on what is generally called Paul's first missionary journey. They needed no edict or authority from Jerusalem -- they had the word. Chapters 13 and 14 contain the experiences of Paul and Barnabas as they preached the gospel and established churches in most of the cities that they visited. There are no individual cases of conversion detailed in these chapters. Nor are any documented in Acts 15, which we have discussed in detail in Section 2.2.2.
There are two detailed cases of conversions in Acts 16, which begins what is commonly called Paul's second missionary journey. The first is described beginning in verse 13, but to include the location, we will also quote verse 12 (Acts 16:12-15):
And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, [and] a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted [thither]. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard [us]: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought [us], saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide [there]. And she constrained us.
At this point (the writer) Luke apparently understood that the reader would assume that if she believed what Paul said, she would be baptized. So there is not an assertion of the fact, but "And when she was baptized ..."
The next case is given after Paul and Silas were thrown in jail after exorcising a spirit of divination from a young maiden whose owners were using the evil spirit that possessed her for their gain. Losing their means of income, they stirred up the city against Paul and Silas and the magistrates had them put in the inner prison. God intervened with an earthquake and miraculously all of the prisoners were released. Generally, a Roman jailor who allowed prisoners to escape paid with his life. Apparently to avoid this fate, the jailor was about to kill himself, where we pick up the story (Acts 16:27-34):
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed [their] stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
Once again we see that the pattern is the same. Hearing the truth, the jailor believed, repented of his past sins and was baptized for the remission of sins.
As the book of Acts progresses, we would expect it to become less explicit with regard to some of the details of conversions. For example, when it comes to the Corinthians in chapter 18, it merely states (Acts 18:8): "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized."
A final example is quite informative in that it indicates that calling an act baptism does not qualify it to be "in the name of the Lord." Let us consider the passage first (Acts 19:1-7):
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Spirit. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.
We read in Acts 8 that it was through the laying on of the apostles hands that the Holy Spirit was given. Paul, in discussing this with these disciples in Ephesus discovered that, not were they ignorant of this, they had not even been baptized by the right authority. True, they had been baptized unto John's baptism, and in the era of John the baptist this was according to God's will. However, this is not what God wants for us now. We must be baptized in the name (i.e., by the authority) of the Lord Jesus.
The ramifications of this are tremendous! Why were you baptized? Was it because your church leaders told you to? Was it to gain entry into some denomination? Was it without your knowledge when you were a little child? Or, was it by the authority of Jesus Christ? If it was not by His authority and for the purpose which He determined -- for the remission of sins -- then you need to be baptized as those in Acts 19 were. If not, then why were those in Acts 19 commanded to be baptized again? Is God a respecter of persons?
We have presented all of the detailed cases of conversion given in the book of Acts (and hence the New Testament, since all of them are recorded in Acts). We notice that some of the steps which are obviously a part of Gods plan to bring man to redemption are omitted in some of these examples. We do not have an explicit statement (although it is implied) that they all heard, believed, repented and confessed their belief in Jesus being the son of God. However, we read the explicit statement that those converted were baptized in every single case. This is no fluke -- God does not put something in the scriptures for no reason.
As for the reason and importance of baptism, this is covered in detail in the epistles which we will consider next. Let us complete this section with a question: if baptism is mentioned so often in the book of Acts, why is it not discussed more from the pulpit? Why is it so skillfully avoided? As we continue to see the frequency, clarity and consistency with which baptism is discussed in the New Testament, keep these questions in mind.
4.2.3 THE LETTERS TO THE CHURCHES
When the first converts were commanded to be baptized, there appeared to be a knowledge of the mode and purpose of baptism. There was no controversy as to whether it was "necessary" or what it's purpose was. There is no doubt that the work of John the Baptist not only introduced Jesus but served to prepare the people for the religious practice of baptism as well. We see this on the day of Pentecost when the first gospel sermon was preached under the inspiration (and with the baptism) of the Holy Spirit. There was no question as to the mode and purpose of baptism when Peter commanded (Acts 2:38): "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
It seems, however, that the early Christians were just like us in that they soon forgot the reasons for and the significance of what they had been through. To many, baptism might have become a mere prerequisite for local church fellowship, as it has become to many today. They may have viewed it merely as a work to be accomplished and forgotten. It may have been relegated to a secondary role, as we have seen is generally the case in denominationalism today.
For these reasons the writers of the epistles, and the apostle Paul in particular, provided additional information with regard to baptism as they wrote the various churches. We will consider these according to the letters in which they occur. Remember as you read these letters that they were addressed to Christians.
Some at the church at Rome had apparently fallen under the influence of false teacher who led them to exploit the grace of God. Essentially they called evil good and good evil by teaching that if Christians did any works of righteousness they would not be relying upon the grace of God. [While this extreme might not exist today, the basic concept is one that keeps many from observing scriptural baptism.] We see Paul responding to this in Romans 6:1-11:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in the likeness] of [his] resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us summarize the teachings of this passage:
1. The idea that we somehow glorify God by continuing in sin is as far from the doctrine of Christ as one can get, and it is sure to result in eternal condemnation to those who live by it.
2. Paul understood that the Christians at Rome understood that they had been "baptized into Christ." We saw above that baptism was that final act in all detailed conversions given in the book of Acts. One cannot have fellowship with God or Christ as long as they are in their sins. Baptism being the final act of conversion is consistent with it being for the remission of sins, which is what is taught in Acts 2:38.
3. While they seemed to understand that they were baptized into Jesus Christ, they did not seem to understand that they were "baptized into his death." This is allegorical, the burial in water representing a burial after our death to sin (repentance).
4. The death is not nearly as important as the resurrection: "that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." This is the essence of what Paul was trying to communicate to them. However, the lessons that we learn with regard to baptism are significant.
5. Our death to sin is analogous to Christs's death on the cross; repentance is analogous to his crucifixion: "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."
Before we leave this passage, let us compare it with the rebirth which Jesus made a condition of salvation. Recall what Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3:3-6): "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
If being born "of water and the Spirit" is not accomplished by the act of faith which results in baptism, then what does? Baptism is what puts a person into Christ, and if one is not in Christ, "he cannot see the kingdom of God." If one does not become a part of the body of Christ, "he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Indeed, the body of Christ, the church and the kingdom of God are one and the same (Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:13), and when you enter one, you enter them all.
18.104.22.168 FIRST CORINTHIANS
The primary problem in Corinth was one of division. Early in the first chapter we see that they were denominating the church by naming their various factions after men. Paul uses the doctrine of baptism to demonstrate to them that this should not be the case (1 Cor. 12:12-13): "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also [is] Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether [we be] Jews or Gentiles, whether [we be] bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit."
In Romans 6 we learned that Christians were "baptized into Jesus Christ." Here we learn that Christians are "all baptized into one body," and therefore, there should be absolutely no divisions within that body. We can say that the Corinthians were much closer to unity than are the denominations. At least the Corinthians did not disagree on the purpose or mode of baptism. Clearly they understood that it was the act of faith that added them to the Lord's body, the church.
We discussed the difference between the old and new laws in Chapter 2, and to communicate this was the main objective of Paul's letter to the church at Galatia. Note how he weaves the doctrine of baptism into the argument against racial division, just as he did for the Corinthians with regard to their doctrinal divisions (Galatians 3:23-29):
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye [be] Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Note the following:
1. Faith is used interchangeably here with the entire gospel of Jesus Christ when he says "before faith came."
2. The Old Testament law was like a schoolmaster to bring them to a point where the sacrifice of Christ could have its full meaning. However, after Christ had delivered the gospel there was no longer a need for the schoolmaster.
3. As is true with the Romans and Corinthians, Paul assumes that they understand that they were "baptized into Christ." What they did not seem to understand is that they should have "put on Christ." Just as when we put on a coat, anyone looking at us sees primarily the coat, when we put on Christ that is what should be seen predominantly in our lives.
4. Conclusion: there can be no racial, economic or sexual distinctions as to the acceptability of those who are baptized into Christ -- all are equally acceptable, and there should be absolutely no divisions in His body.
We are beginning to see that the teachings on baptism are not isolated passages that can be taken out of context. There are universal doctrines which require considerable effort to avoid and misunderstand.
The problems at Colosse were much the same as those which existed in Galatia. The Judaizing teachers within the church were starting with the binding of circumcision in an attempt to force all Christians to observe the entire Old Testament law (see Acts 15:5). To this the apostle Paul gave a number of responses, the following of which included a reference to baptism (Col. 2:8-15):
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; [And] having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
Observe the following:
1. Circumcision was that unique and totally unreasonable act which God had given to the nation of Israel through which they were to separate themselves from the world and confirm their covenant with Him. It was unreasonable in that there is no way that human wisdom would lead to such an action. The Jews thoroughly understood its significance, and the gentile Christians at Colosse were also probably given this Old Testament background as part of their instruction as Christians.
2. "In whom [Christ] also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." Clearly baptism has replaced circumcision as the action which puts one into the kingdom of God, which as we saw above is another designation for the body of Christ, or the church. Baptism is the "circumcision of Christ."
3. Notice the similarity between the shadow of things to come (see Col. 2:17), circumcision, and the reality in Christ: baptism:
a) Both were totally unreasonable actions from the point of view of man, and, as such, neither is a work of man's origin.
b) Both are things that are done to a person, not something that a person does (albeit a person must subject himself to it).
c) Both mark that point in time at which there is the separation from the world and the entrance into full citizenship of the people of God -- circumcision under the Old Testament and baptism under the New Testament.
d) Both are considered by the holy scriptures to be of the highest importance in satisfying the desires of God.
4. "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." When did this quickening occur? Clearly, when they were circumcised with the circumcision of Christ.
5. Is there something magic in immersion? Should we make it into some mystical rite? Absolutely not. What makes baptism valid is not the mere act itself -- it is the "faith of the operation of God," or as the American Standard puts it "faith in the working of God." Baptism is not a work of man, it is an act of faith in the working of God.
6. Baptism without faith is invalid. However, this does not imply that faith can exist without baptism. We are not at liberty to tell God how we are going to express our faith in Him, how we are going to be free from our sins, or how we are going to enter His kingdom. He has set the terms, and if we have faith in Him, we will accept His terms. Baptism without faith is invalid; faith without baptism is equally invalid.
22.214.171.124 FIRST PETER
While we have presented over a dozen scriptures which indicate that baptism is that act which puts the convert into a saved condition, the only scripture which explicitly states that "baptism saves" is the first letter which we have from the apostle Peter. Let us consider this passage carefully (1 Peter 3:18-22):
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 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: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
Some have made this a difficult scripture by their mystical interpretation process. It is important that we allow our reasoning to progress from the known to that which might be somewhat obscure.
Let us subdivide the passage and establish that which is clear from this passage, especially as it relates to baptism:
1. The first part is quite understandable: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit ..." We understand that Jesus gave His life on the cross for us that, although we are unjust, we can be justified and enter into a covenant relationship with God. Jesus was "put to death in the flesh" -- crucified and buried. But he was "quickened by the spirit" -- made alive by the power of the His eternal and divine spirit.
2. "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison ..." Not in the body, but by His spiritual presence Jesus went and preached to the spirits which are now "in prison," i.e., awaiting the final judgment. Jesus is often declared to have had a presence in Old Testament times (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). This presence was through His spirit, although the actual preaching was done by Noah. The spirits in prison are those who were enslaved to sin in Noah's time.
3. "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water." This is speaking of the spirits in prison. From the record we know that they we extremely disobedient. We also read in 2 Peter 2:5 that Noah was "a preacher of righteousness," and thus we can conclude that Jesus spoke through him. Noah was saved, or separated from sin, "by water."
Note: the author would certainly not be dogmatic with regard to the meaning of the scriptures given above. There are alternative explanations which are equally as plausible. However, the resolution of these has no effect upon the interpretation or application of the verses which follow.
4. "The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us ..." In Noah's time the world was totally consumed with sin (see Genesis 6:5). The world was completely emersed with water, which thoroughly cleansed it from the sinful humanity which inhabited it. Just as Noah was separated from sin by this "baptism" of the earth, we are separated from our sin by faith in the working of God when we are obedient in baptism. In the sense that baptism separates us from our sins and places us into Christ, baptism saves. However, we have emphasized that we are not saved by baptism only any more than we are saved by anything else only.
5. "... (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) ..." It is not the mere washing of the dirt off the body that saves. If so, all would be saved. It is the involvement of the very spirit of the individual. Baptism must be preceded by faith, repentance and the willingness to confess the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. This is summarized as "the answer of a good conscience toward God."
6. "... by the resurrection of Jesus Christ ..." Removing the parenthetical statement, the verse would read: "The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us ... by the resurrection of Jesus Christ ..." This is totally consistent with the teaching of the apostle Paul which we reviewed above in which baptism is referenced as a burial with Christ, e.g., Romans 6:4: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Without the resurrection of Christ, baptism would be meaningless.
While the context of the statement "baptism doth also now save us" may be difficult to resolve, the statement itself is not. It is totally consistent with every other passage on water baptism in the New Testament, all of which must be explained away if, in fact, the act of baptism is not that act which transforms the alien sinner into Christ.
This brings to a close the biblical teachings with regard to water baptism. Avoiding this overwhelming body of evidence, false teachers within the denominations have used a number of arguments to relegate baptism to a secondary role, if not denying its role in salvation altogether. The remaining sections of this chapter will deal with some of these. We will first consider other types of baptism which the New Testament defines. Then we will discuss the common objections which have been made in an attempt to disregard the biblical doctrine. Finally, we return once again to the importance of sound doctrine in general.
4.2.4 OTHER BAPTISMS
Frequently those arguing against the biblical doctrine of baptism will evade the issue by arguing that the baptism mentioned in a given scripture is not water baptism. That there are other types of baptism discussed in the New Testament is not the issue, and we will deal with them in the following subsections. However, we have seen in our study above that the one baptism practiced by the church in the first century was emersion in water for the remission of sins.
In Ephesians 4:1-6 the apostle Paul wrote:
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [There is] one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who [is] above all, and through all, and in you all.
Thus, understanding and practicing this "one baptism" was just as essential to keeping "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" as understanding the fact that there is one Spirit, one God and One Lord, etc. To intentionally confuse others by stating that we are now subject to two or three baptisms destroys the unity of the Spirit and does despite to the bond of peace.
That emersion in water for the remission of sins was the one baptism practiced in the first century is quite obvious from the scriptures presented above. Thus, generally when the word baptism appears in the New Testament, this is what is being spoken of. Those who practice any type of water baptism are tasked with the heavy responsibility of explaining why they also practice another in light of Paul's assertion "there is one baptism." The burden of proof is upon them; I cannot explain it.
That other baptisms are described in the New Testament is readily admitted. We will discuss three others: (1) baptism of the Holy Spirit, (2) baptism of fire, and (3) baptism for the dead. We will also discuss the use of the word baptism in reference to an emersion in suffering. As these are discussed it will become clear that, while they existed, they were not commanded. Indeed, if the mere mention of the existence of a type of baptism in the New Testament necessarily implies that we are supposed to practice it today, then we would need to practice all four or five of these. However, as we examine them more closely we will see that this is not the case, and that "there is one baptism" practiced by the Lord's church.
126.96.36.199 BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Holy Spirit baptism is by far the type of baptism most often confused with the scriptural baptism which is commanded. Some would totally write off all of the arguments made above by substituting Holy Spirit baptism in every occurrence of baptism, thereby mystifying the process and making it a purely subjective experience. This blurring of reality is difficult to deal with, and all we can do is plead with those so inclined to read the scriptures objectively. For example, read the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. How can this be made into Holy Spirit baptism? It is just not there!
In all cases where Holy Spirit baptism occurred, it is so described. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was first mentioned by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11): "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and [with] fire." Let us defer discussion of baptism with fire for the present except to say that if this statement were a command, we would also be commanded to be baptized with fire. Some rationalize that they are the same thing, but we will show in the next section that the baptism with fire was an extreme warning, a threat of the terrors of hell. As contrasted with this, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was a promise, and it is described as such throughout the New Testament.
As an aside, it is very important that we do not confuse being filled with the Holy Spirit with being baptized in the Holy Spirit. These are two different things. We see many good men who were totally dedicated to God described as being "filled with the Holy Spirit." For example, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist is described in Luke 1:67 as being "filled with the Holy Spirit." Clearly the baptism of the Holy Spirit had not yet occurred -- John the Baptist who predicted it was not yet even born. As further evidence, consider the words of Jesus in John 7:37-39:
In the last day, that great [day] of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
So while there were those prior to the resurrection of Christ who were filled with the Holy Spirit, there was a further promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit which had not occurred. This would be ushered in by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The very figure itself -- immersion as opposed to filling -- is indicative of a greater measure.
Recall that Jesus was the one who promised to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26): "But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." This was on the night that He was betrayed. Clearly this is a promise, not a command. Although we should realize that this promise is not limited to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, this greater revelation was going to be heralded by the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
We know that the baptism of the Holy Spirit had not occurred prior to the day of Pentecost by reading the first verses of the book of Acts (Acts 1:1-8):
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Spirit had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: And, being assembled together with [them], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, [saith he], ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Note first that even this is limited to the apostles: "being assembled together with them" i.e., the apostles. At this point he commanded them "to wait for the promise of the Father, which, [saith he], ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence."
Thus, the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was repeated specifically to the apostles. At this point the apostles were still not fully understanding what this meant. They still supposed that this meant a political or military empowerment: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"
Jesus knew that when they were enlightened by the Holy Spirit they would understand, so he stated what they were to expect upon their baptism: "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
It is quite clear that the fulfillment of this prophesy came only about ten days later on the day of Pentecost. Read carefully exactly what happened (Acts 2:1-4):
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
From the last verse of the previous chapter we see that the "they" here is the apostles, the very same as Jesus had repeated the promise to a few days earlier. They were the only ones who had the capacity to be witnesses of Him, having been with him throughout His ministry (see Acts 1:21-22).
"... they were all with one accord in one place." It does not say that they had yet instituted meetings on the first day of the week. Pentecost fell on the first day of the week; however, they could have been together for that holiday celebration. In any event, there was no record of any type of emotional stimulation or any other man-made invocation of the action of the Holy Spirit. This is totally consistent with 2 Peter 1:21: "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost." It was totally unexpected.
"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." This was not a group illusion. It was a supernatural event which could be clearly seen and clearly heard by the natural senses of men and women. It was not wind, but this was the closest thing to describe what they heard; it was not fire, but that was the closest thing to describe what they saw. However, what they saw and heard were clearly not anything that they had never seen nor heard before. The "them" here is the same as the "they" previously -- the apostles.
"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." This too is clearly a supernatural event which proved definitively the truth of what the apostles were speaking. This would not have been possible had the apostles been using language which could not be understood. This event defines what it means to "speak in other tongues." Until and unless the New Testament enlarges the definition, these tongues were languages which could clearly be understood by those who heard it in their native tongues. (Acts 2:5-8): "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?"
There is nothing else in Acts 1-2 that tells us that this was an occurrence of a baptism in the Holy Spirit other than the timing which coincides with the words of Jesus recorded in Acts 1:5 ("For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence"). There is only one other situation which is in any way comparable to this. Interestingly, while Pentecost was the first preaching of the gospel to the Jews, the second occurrence of baptism in the Holy Spirit occurred when the gospel was preached to the first gentiles.
We discussed the conversion of Cornelius and the gentiles that were present on that occasion above in Section 4.2.2. We will not repeat that background. However, at this point we wish to focus on the aspects of that event that made it a baptism in the Holy Spirit. Recall that as Peter was preaching the gospel of Christ to them (Acts 10:44-48): "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days."
We know that when "the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word," this was a baptism in the Holy Spirit because in Acts 11 after those of the circumcision contended with Peter about it, this was his reply (Acts 11:15-18): "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as [he did] unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."
"The Holy Spirit fell on them [the gentiles], as on us [the apostles] at the beginning." Notice that Peter makes a distinction between this event and what had become the more routine imparting of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the apostles hands. This was not the imparting that we observed, for example, in Acts 8. It was a direct bestowal from God which was therefore like that which the apostles experienced in the beginning.
It was the second occurrence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. If not, then why would Peter state: "Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit?" Then he went on to argue that this was God's testimony that they were fit subjects for baptism. A careful reading of Acts 10 and 11 will show that this second occurrence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was as much for the benefit of the Jewish converts as it was for the gentiles. Indeed, while the speaking in tongues was for the unconverted in Acts 2, it is now for the converted.
Why was such a sign needed for believers? The answer lies in the deep-rooted racial prejudice which is still so evident in our world today. What would it take to convince the religious bigot today? God did everything that he could short of forcing them to believe, and apparently the demonstration had an immediate positive effect. However, from the recurring problems of the Judaizing Christians in most of the churches that Paul wrote to, it did not totally solve the problem.
This second occurrence of the baptism with the Holy Spirit was quite analogous to the first. Note the following similarities:
1. It was an introduction of the gospel to a new "race" of people (the Jews in Acts 2, the gentiles in Acts 10),
2. It was not the result of emotionalism -- in both cases it was totally unexpected, and
3. It was clear proof to even the most hardened of skeptics (or the most prejudiced) that the gospel was indeed the will of God.
The two events recorded in Acts 2 and Acts 10 are the only events that the New Testament identifies as being baptisms with the Holy Spirit. The author would be in sin to state that it occurred at any other time (2 John 9). The purpose here, however, is not to convince you of this nearly as much as it is to get you to investigate this for yourself. So, search the book of Acts in detail and determine if any other events are stated to be a baptism with the Holy Spirit. However, recognize that the essence and true value of the promise of the Holy Spirit is not the miracles which were produced -- it was the revelation of the truth, for it is in the truth of God that we have salvation.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit were not limited to those who were baptized with the Holy Spirit. Let's review Acts 8 once again. There we see a man who was endowed with gifts of the Holy Spirit, Philip, preaching to the Samaritans. Philip had received these gifts from the laying on of the apostles hands (possibly as recorded in Acts 6:5-6). The result of Philip's preaching is recorded in Acts 8:6: "And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did."
Acts 8:7-11 tells about a man named Simon who had previously influenced these people with his sorcery and tricks. "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done" (Acts 12-13).
It is clear, however, that while Philip could preach, confirm the truth he spoke with miracles, baptize and thus lead others to salvation, he could not impart the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the new converts. Of course, prior to the completion of the New Testament, which would thoroughly furnish mankind unto every good work, it was necessary for new converts to be endowed with these gifts so that they would have access to the truth. The problem was that the apostles who could impart this through the laying on of their hands were in Jerusalem (Acts 8:14-19):
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they [their] hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
With the exception of Acts 2 and Acts 10 (the baptisms with the Holy Spirit) there is no record of direct impartations of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit separate and apart from the laying on of the hands of the apostles. Acts 19 gives another example (Acts 19:5-6): "When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied."
If the baptism with the Holy Spirit were to occur today, we would expect it to happen just as it did in the first century as recorded in the book of Acts. It would not be brought about by emotions or the will of man. However, when men and women were gathered together serving God to the best of their ability according to His word, He would act upon them in a way which was so obviously supernatural and miraculous that testimony of men to this effect would not be required.
In conclusion, the baptism with the Holy Spirit was a promise of Jesus. It was not something that was commanded, and it cannot be obeyed. The two times that it was recorded to have occurred in the New Testament were truly extraordinary events which ushered in a new era in what God expected from His people. These baptisms were totally sufficient to set in motion the revelation of the entire gospel of Christ, through which we are saved. Thus, they thoroughly fulfilled the promise which John the Baptist and Jesus made with regard to Holy Spirit baptism.
188.8.131.52 BAPTISM OF FIRE
The baptism of fire is completely different from the baptism with the Holy Spirit, as we can see by reading the rest of the words of John the Baptist as presented in Matthew 3:11-12: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [with] fire: Whose fan [is] in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Note the contrast between the wheat and the chaff. The wheat will obtain the benefits of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the essence of which was the revelation of the truth. The chaff would be burned with unquenchable fire -- the baptism with fire. If this is not talking about the judgment, then this language is quite misleading, which we doubt.
No other mention is made of the baptism of fire per se in the rest of the New Testament with the exception of the same account in the other gospels. However, emersion in fire, whether it be literal or figurative of something much worse is a continuous warning throughout the New Testament. Well over half of the time that the word fire is used in the New Testament it is referring to this place of eternal torment of the unrighteous. This baptism was not commanded -- we are informed of it to warn us from the wrath of God to come.
Some have thought that because fire is mentioned in the Pentecost account, that this was the baptism with fire. Acts 2:3 reads: "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." This was not a baptism with fire -- fire was not even involved. If this was a baptism with fire, then Acts 2:2 would be a baptism in wind ("... And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting"). Neither wind nor fire were involved.
184.108.40.206 BAPTISM FOR THE DEAD
The subject of baptism for the dead is, admittedly, one of those writings of Paul "in which are some things hard to be understood" (2 Peter 3:16). This being the case, it is essential that we do not over-ride those very clear and easy-to-understand scriptures, such as those which related to water baptism given above. As contrasted with the repetitive nature of those scriptures, there is only one which relates to baptism for the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:29: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?"
In order to begin to understand this verse it is essential that you read the entire 15th chapter. The apostle Paul is dealing with some false teachers who were teaching that there was no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12). He gives a series of a dozen or so arguments (depending upon how you count) as to reasons that this teaching was false. It is a tremendously fascinating study, and if you have not studied it, we urge you to do so.
To understand verse 29 we must recognize that the apostle Paul was still adding to this argumentation. This argument is fairly self contained. There are several plausible explanations which fit the context. For example, some believe that the "baptism for the dead" is a baptism in suffering for the cause of Christ. This is consistent with the argumentation -- why would they do this if there was not a resurrection. Why would the apostles be suffering to the extent that they were? This fits with the next question: "And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?"
We believe that a much more plausible explanation is that the false teachers in Corinth were themselves practicing the false doctrine of baptism for the dead. This creates absolutely no need for twisting the obvious meanings of the words, and it presents a devastating argument which would completely destroy the influence of the false teachers (at least upon those who were honest). In effect, it worked one false doctrine against another. If you do not believe in the resurrection from the dead, why do you practice baptism for the dead?
While we do not believe it essential to know exactly the meaning of this verse, and would surely not be dogmatic about it, the following arguments support the view that the false teachers were, in fact, practicing the false doctrine of baptism for the dead:
1. Paul asks "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead..." He does not include himself or the apostles in this practice. We know that "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). There is not one shred of evidence anywhere in the New or Old Testaments that there is anything that the living can do can have an influence over the fate of the dead. Just the opposite is taught (e.g., see Luke 16:19-31). Thus, baptism in behalf of the dead would be a complete contradiction to everything which the bible teaches with regard to our salvation.
2. "... if the dead rise not at all?" The people teaching this had to be the same as the ones practicing baptism for the dead or else the entire argument would be irrelevant. The false teachers could merely respond: we don't and they shouldn't because there is no resurrection. Clearly, the very same ones who taught that there was no resurrection were practicing baptism for the dead. This is certainly not a good authority upon which we should base any such practice (as some have).
3. "... why are they then baptized for the dead?" This argument is truly devastating. Paul saved it for almost the last argument that he presented. Here they were practicing baptism for the dead when they did not even believe that the dead would be raised.
4. "And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?" Note the switch. They practice baptism for the dead but do not stand in jeopardy. We do not practice baptism for the dead, but the very fact that we (the apostles) stand in jeopardy every hour is ample evidence that they knew that Jesus was resurrected and that Jesus taught that they too would be resurrected from the dead.
5. The fact that Paul cites a practice as part of an argument does not infer that he agrees with the practice. There are several examples which could be given; a good one is recorded in Romans 2:25: "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision." Obviously Paul was not teaching the necessity for circumcision, but for purposes of argumentation he allowed for a moment that it would profit if we were able to keep the entire law flawlessly. It was not necessary for Paul to oppose a doctrine as absurd as baptism for the dead, and to do so would not have addressed the subject (i.e., the resurrection).
Again, we would not be dogmatic about this, but it seems to us to be the most logical explanation.
If we assume that baptism for the dead was being practiced at all (even erroneously), it further confirms the early Christians' belief that baptism was essential to salvation. Again, however, there is absolutely no evidence that baptism for the dead was in any way sanctioned by the apostles.
220.127.116.11 THE BAPTISM OF JOHN
The baptism John the baptist was authorized of God because John the baptist was sent of God. It was for the remission of sins, but it was not to put the subject into the body of Christ because the church had not been established prior to the day of Pentecost (the first recorded preaching of the gospel after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ). Thus, it was necessary for those baptized by John's authority (i.e., in his name) to be baptized again into the name of Christ. This is clear from a passage that begins in Acts 18:24 and ends in 19:7:
And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, [and] mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto [them], and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace: For he mightily convinced the Jews, [and that] publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve.
We will not belabor a discussion of this passage since it has been discussed in Section 18.104.22.168. However, it is interesting that "they should believe on him [Jesus]" infers that they should be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; for, when they heard the first, they were obedient to the second.
22.214.171.124 OTHER MENTIONS OF BAPTISM
The word baptism means immersion, and anywhere that we might find immersion we might find it translated (or transliterated) as baptism. In most cases its figurative use is intended to convey the meaning of an immersion in suffering. Consider Matthew 20:20-23:
Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping [him], and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed 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 [it shall be given to them] for whom it is prepared of my Father.
The meaning is quite clear.
Similarly, in Luke 12:49-53: "I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."
Uses of the word baptism in such contexts do not relate to the major premise of this chapter. Those who would invoke these scriptures in an attempt to place baptism in a secondary role are merely trying to confuse the issues.
4.3 COMMON OBJECTIONS AGAINST BAPTISM
We anticipate that there will be some arguments made on behalf of the myth that baptism is secondary. In this section we anticipate those which we have heard in the past. We encourage the study of these possible arguments since study motivated by a search for the truth can only increase faith.
4.3.1 SALVATION IS NOT BY WORKS
The reasoning applied is given by the following syllogism:
1. Major premise: Salvation is not by works,
2. Minor premise: Baptism is a work; therefore
3. Conclusion: Baptism can have nothing to do with salvation.
Of course, this logic could be applied to obtain release from any and all of God's commands. Example: Hearing is a work. If not, why not? It certainly requires more effort than baptism. Are we to refrain from hearing the truth so that we will not be saved by works? Apparently those who avoid hearing the truth think so.
Those who apply the logic above usually believe in faith only, a myth which we covered in sufficient detail in Chapter 3. However to get the discussion going, consider the response that Jesus gave when he was asked what one needed to do to work the works of God (John 6:29): "Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." Thus, Jesus considered faith to be a work. According to the logic given above, faith can have nothing to do with salvation. Clearly something is wrong.
What is wrong is that both the major premise and the minor premise are false. However, they are half true. Let's explore the half that is true and attempt to adjust them so that they can be of value to us.
Two passages are usually quoted to support the major premise: Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Let us study what these passages actually teach and modify our major premise appropriately. Consider first Titus 3:4-7:
But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
There are several kinds of works: (1) works purely devised and executed by God, (2) works devised of God but executed by man, and (3) works purely devised and executed by man. Question: which one of these three is the apostle Paul talking about when he said "not by works" above. Let's consider them in turn:
1. A simple reading indicates that Paul could not possibly be talking about works which purely devised and executed by God: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done."
2. Those who believe in faith only believe that Paul was talking about the second alternative which we have proposed: works devised (and commanded) by God which are then executed by men. However, if this is true and we are not saved by such works, then either we are:
a) saved by works which are purely devised and executed by man (see alternative 3 below), or
b) we are saved by works purely devised and executed by God.
We know of no one who purports to believe the bible who accepts alternative "a" as being reasonable. However, the only other alternative is "b." This was the only conclusion that Calvin could come to, and it is the logical conclusion if it is sinful to be obedient to God. But how can anyone possibly believe such a thing -- every page of Gods word screams that this is erroneous.
3. The only other alternative is that the works which are condemned in Titus 3:4-7 are those which are devised and executed by man. This is obtained by the process of elimination detailed above. However, even without this reasoning, the plain reading of the passage in its context indicates this.
Before leaving this passage, let us continue to the very next verse (Titus 3:8): "[This is] a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men." Why should we be careful to maintain good works if they have nothing to do with our salvation. "These things are good and profitable unto men" because they lead to our salvation. It is never counterproductive to obey God!
Calvin knew that we could not have it both ways. Either there are conditions to salvation or there are none. If there are any conditions of salvation at all, then we must observe all that God has set forth as conditions. Why do we recognize faith to be a condition of salvation without recognizing repentance. If we recognize repentance, why not confession? And if any of these, they why not baptism? Indeed, baptism is stated to be a condition of entry into Christ and His kingdom several times as often as these other conditions. At least Calvin was consistent when he renounced all conditions of salvation and declared that we are saved by the irresistible grace of God which is totally beyond our control.
The same reasoning applies to Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Condemned are the works originated by man. The works of God which we do by faith are not of ourselves, they are of God. We cannot boast about keeping God's commandments and still keep them (this is an oxymoron). Again, when we read on we find that the very purpose of this admonition is to prompt us to walk in the works of God (Eph. 2:10): "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
Let us conclude by adjusting the syllogism with which we opened this section:
1. Major premise: Salvation is conditioned on commands which originated in the mind of God,
2. Minor premise: Scriptural baptism is a commanded operation of God which originated in the mind of God; therefore
3. Conclusion: Scriptural baptism is essential to our salvation in that a failure to comply with this simple act clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in His promises.
4.3.2 THE THIEF ON THE CROSS
The reasoning applied is given by the following syllogism:
1. Major premise: If one "exception to baptism" can be found, then baptism cannot possibly be essential to salvation,
2. Minor premise: The thief on the cross is an exception; therefore
3. Conclusion: Baptism cannot possibly be essential to salvation.
By "exception to baptism" we mean that someone is stated to be saved who has clearly not been baptized. While the above syllogism is logically correct, we will show that the minor premise is clearly false, and therefore the conclusion does not follow.
First, however, it does us well to examine the major premise. Those who make the argument based upon the thief on the cross do so in full recognition that they cannot identify one other individual in the New Testament who was stated to have been saved who had not allowed himself or herself to be subjected to scriptural baptism. This itself is very powerful evidence in favor of baptism being a condition of salvation, especially if the argument based upon the thief is not valid.
We also wish to state emphatically that we recognize that ultimate judgment rests with God. If God wants to make an exception, then in His infinite wisdom and mercy, He certainly has the right to. Our intent is not to put God in a box -- it is to better understand and teach what He has stated in the New Testament. Those who teach others to stake their salvation on the thief on the cross need to study this closely and determine if they are not going beyond the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9: "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not
God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.")
Let us begin our study by reviewing the scriptures which record the event of concern. It is given in Luke 23:39-43: "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, dost thou not fear God, seeing that thou are in the same condemnation? and we indeed justly, for we received the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Let us take this last sentence to mean that Jesus wanted both the penitent thief and us to know that the thief was saved. We feel that this is the most reasonable meaning of "today shalt thou be with me in paradise." Further, we agree that if the thief was baptized at all it would probably have been by the authority of John the baptist. Jesus' disciples baptized (see John 3:23-30, 4:1-2), but this was not the same as that commanded on Pentecost, because Jesus had not yet died on the cross.
This proves the point. If baptism were a requirement prior to the death of Jesus on the cross, then there is no evidence that the thief was not baptized by Jesus' disciples. But it was not a requirement. There is no evidence in the New Testament that anyone was "baptized into Christ" prior to the day of Pentecost (which is recorded in Acts 2). Those who lived prior to Jesus death on the cross lived under the Old Testament law, and baptism was not part of the Old Testament law. Thus, the specific terms of salvation of the thief on the cross is irrelevant to the terms of our salvation today.
If we are going to use figures who lived under the Old Testament law to make exceptions to those conditions of salvation which God has established for us today, then we could use Noah or Abraham. While, in general, God expects the same faithfulness of us as he does of them (God is no respecter of persons), yet we demonstrate this faithfulness in completely different ways. It would not be a demonstration of faith on my part today to build an arc or to offer my son as a sacrifice to God. Yet, if these men failed to do that they would not be listed in Hebrews 11 as men of faith.
It is easy to be sidetracked into simplistic explanations which support preconceived ideas. Let us restate the accurate syllogism that applies:
1. Major premise: If one "exception to baptism" can be found, then baptism cannot possibly be essential to salvation,
2. Minor premise: The thief on the cross is not an exception since he did not live under the New Testament and neither are there any exceptions after the day of pentecost which is recorded in Acts 2; therefore
3. Conclusion: Baptism is essential to salvation.
If this conclusion does not follow then our entry into Christ is different from those in the first century, as we saw in Section 4.2 above. If this were the case there would be something in the New Testament to this effect. In the absence of it, we cannot go beyond God's word in our teaching.
4.3.3 PAUL NOT SENT TO BAPTIZE
Endless bogus arguments can be made by taking verses out of context. A classic example of this is 1 Corinthians 1:17: "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect."
Was Paul stating that baptism was of secondary importance? ... that it was not a command? If so, this would be quite contradictory to the dozens of passages which were presented in Section 4.2. However, there is no contradiction. When we place this passage in its context we see exactly what Paul was trying to say, and it does not de-emphasize baptism in any way.
To show this, let us first consider the entire context (1 Corinthians 1:10-17):
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you; but [that] ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them [which are of the house] of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
This is a very informative and enlightening passage which has little to do with the doctrine of baptism. Let us analyze it in detail to see exactly what Paul was trying to communicate to the Corinthians:
1. First, the subject is not baptism, it is division. Clearly, the Corinthians were denominating -- they were dividing the church and calling these different groups by distinctly different names. It is interesting that calling a denomination after Paul was condemned even though Paul was an apostle and his inspired writings and speech had the full weight of the commandments of Christ (1 Cor. 14:37: "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord"). But then, even those who claimed "I am of Christ" for the purpose of making distinctions within the Lord's church were condemned for this.
2. "Is Christ divided?" This rhetorical question would be answered in the affirmative by denominationalists. The obvious answer is no; Christ is not divided. The body of Christ is not divided. At some point when such divisions arise the organization so divided ceases to be the body of Christ.
3. "... was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" This begins to get at the context of the 17th verse which is at issue here. These rhetorical questions necessarily infer that the readers, the Corinthian Christians, were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and not in the name of Paul. Thus, they should only call themselves Christians (1 Peter 4:16) and not Paulites or any other name to distinguish themselves from one another. This does not diminish the importance of baptism in any way. In fact, the very mention of it in this context emphasizes its importance as the act which distinguishes Christians from those of the world.
4. "I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other." This is a statement of frustration on the part of Paul, since it is evident that the Corinthians were calling themselves and dividing themselves over those who had baptized them. Who baptizes you is not important. The important thing is that it is done in obedience to (in the name of) Jesus Christ. The fact that Paul cannot remember who he baptized further illustrates this point -- whether a person were baptized by Paul or some other Christian has no relevance to that person's salvation!
5. "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel ..." The role of the apostle Paul was preach the new truth that was specifically given to him through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit -- the gospel of Christ. Any Christian could baptize, it did not take an apostle to do that. And there was always the danger of someone trying to exalt themselves by saying that they were baptized by the apostle Paul. (Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus did not baptize -- John 4:2.) Thus, there was probably an advantage to Paul avoiding the performance of baptisms.
6. "... not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." This does not relate to baptism. It introduces a contrast between the "word of the cross" and the "wisdom of words" which is another expression for the wisdom of man. This subject continues through the end of Chapter 4.
In summary, the context clearly shows that the apostle Paul was not trying to de-emphasize baptism, he was trying to de-emphasize the baptizer.
4.3.4 CONVERSIONS WHICH DO NOT MENTION BAPTISM
We stated that every detailed case of conversion included the specific mention of baptism as the culminating act which put the convert into Christ. There are a few conversions in which baptism is not explicitly mentioned. Let us consider these to determine if this creates authority for us to place baptism into the secondary role which it has assumed in the denominational world today. Since all of the cases of conversion are in the book of Acts, all we need to do is scour this book to find them.
The first such situation is given in Acts 11:19-21: "Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." This is certainly not a detailed case of conversion. "Believed" and "turned to the Lord" are general terms which infer that they (in the words of John the baptist -- Mat. 3:8) "brought forth fruits worthy of repentance." What does it mean, "believed" and they "turned to the Lord." The only way that we can tell is to examine others who believed and turned to the Lord and examine what they did. This is what we did when we examined the detailed cases of conversion given above.
Acts 13:12 presents another case: "Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord." Again, a living faith is one which motivates the convert to be obedient to God's will.
While the above two passages do not pose any great difficulty, the next occurrence does. We place it in its context (Acts 13:44-48):
And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, [saying], I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
The last verse infers that because they were ordained to eternal life, they believed. However, this is not a necessary inference. It could equally be read: as many as believed were ordained to eternal life. Of course, there is a sense in which faith is a gift of God in that if God had not revealed His word to us, we would not have faith (Rom. 10:17). However, God has made this gift available to all people of all nations -- "whosoever will may come" (Rev. 22:17).
Again in Acts 14:1 we have a situation which is not detailed: "And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed." Recognize that there is no inference that these people did not hear, repent, confess or subject themselves to baptism. The fact that it says that they believed is not evidence that they were saved by faith only any more than a statements of cases of baptism infer that they were saved by baptism only. Since repentance, confession and baptism are motivated by faith, a statement that they believed infers that they performed these simple acts of faithful obedience. And, just a few verses (Acts 14:22) later Paul and Barnabas are said to be "Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." It is not enough to just "begin in the faith;" we must also "continue in the faith."
Another set of non-detailed cases of conversions is given in Acts 17:10-12: "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few." Their faith, in this case, is attributable to their searching the scriptures to assure that the teachings of the apostle Paul were correct. No details with regard to these teachings are presented in this general case of conversion. The New Testament scriptures, however, adequately furnish with all of these teachings as well as all others that we need so that we can understand "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3).
Another case is given in Acts 17:32-34: "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this [matter]. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which [was] Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them."
Another interesting case demonstrates that the impersonation of the miraculous allegedly in the name of Jesus is nothing new. It is also one of the most humorous stories in the New Testament (Acts 19:13-20):
Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of [one] Sceva, a Jew, [and] chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all [men]: and they counted the price of them, and found [it] fifty thousand [pieces] of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
Each case of conversion illustrates a different component of salvation. In this case the aspect emphasized is repentance, and it is illustrated by the way in which these people separated themselves from their past sins. This is not done to de-emphasize any other of God's commands. When we put all of the scriptures together we get the entire picture of what God wants us to do and be (Mt. 4:4).
One final example of baptism not being mentioned is quite enlightening. Consider Acts 26:24-29, which occurred after a rather lengthy sermon which Paul preached to Festus and King Agrippa:
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
King Agrippa believed; Paul said "I know that thou believest." He gave the reason: "For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner." But this was the same type of belief that James spoke of when he said: "the demons also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). It is a dead faith -- faith devoid of any actions to demonstrate that it exists.
This returns to the subject of Chapter 3. The statement that someone believes infers that that person is obedient to God. Denominational teachers would have us believe that it necessarily implies just the opposite. They would have us believe that because the above cases of conversion do not mention other acts of obedience that this necessarily implies that these acts of obedience are not required. Some (admittedly extremists) go so far as to teach that any performance of such acts are sinful and will preclude a person from salvation.
What should we teach? Should we ignore all of the cases of conversion as well as the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (many of which are documented in Section 4.2 above)? Are we going to allow those cases where Luke recorded that people "believed" to set all of these teaching aside? Or are we going to believe that the bible is inconsistent? Consistency demands that the statement that certain individuals believed infers that they were obedient to whatever commands of God that they knew and understood. If there is any doubt at all about this, reread Hebrews 11.
4.3.5 IF A PERSON GOT KILLED ON THE WAY TO HIS BAPTISM ...
One of the most persuasive arguments against the necessity of baptism has nothing to do with scriptural argumentation. It is launched with a single definitive emotional argument: "Do you mean that someone was on the way to their baptism and got killed that they would be lost."
Actually, I don't. But what I believe is of little consequence to anyone but me. It is what the bible teaches that counts. Since the bible does not deal with this exceptional circumstance, neither can we state anything definitively on it. The bible never gives an example of where a person believes and is on the way to render obedience to God in baptism and gets killed; thus, it does not specifically tell us God's judgment on such a case.
The problem, however, is not what opinions that we hold with regard to this hypothetical case. There are many such hypotheticals which the bible does not detail for us. For us to draw conclusions and base doctrine on these is clearly going beyond that which is written, and it is condemned (1 John 9). That is the problem. For an entire body of doctrine is based upon the following syllogism:
1. Major premise: If one circumstance which constitutes an "exception to baptism" can be found, then baptism cannot possibly be essential to salvation,
2. Minor premise: A person who is killed while on their way to being baptized is saved; therefore
3. Conclusion: Baptism is not essential to salvation.
Let us determine if this is sound reasoning.
First, consider the major premise. This is an assumption of legalism which those opposed to baptism would never espouse unless it served their own ends. In reality, God has the full right to make exceptions as He sees fit (which, in reality, would be both perfectly righteous and just). That is not the point. The point is that we have absolutely no right to make such exceptions and base doctrines upon them. Thus, there is no guarantee that the major premise is true. We might dream up any number of reasons that God might under some special circumstance not require baptism (such as the total absence of sufficient water). Admittedly such are far fetched, and we are not teaching that God does allow them as exceptions. We are only stating that the fact that He would does not mean that the rest of us who are not subject to these exceptions are free from those requirements that we can meet.
Consider as a real example given in Romans 10:9: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." If a person does not have a voice, he cannot possibly be able to confess Jesus with his mouth. This person would not be lost. However, this does not in any way alter our responsibility to confess Jesus with the mouth. Can we refuse to confess Christ because those who are prevented from it are excused? Such logic is totally unreasonable when applied to confession. What makes it any more logical when applied to baptism?
Now let us turn to the minor premise: A person who is killed while on their way to being baptized is saved. There is no assurance that this is true. The fact that we believe it does not make it true. We saw that the bible teaches several steps prior to the act which puts the believer into Christ. Baptism must be preceded by hearing, belief, repentance and confession of belief that Jesus is the Son of God. It would be equally valid to apply this reasoning to any of these steps: A person who is killed while on his way to confessing, repentance, belief, hearing ... where do we draw the line?
Suppose a person is killed on their way to attending gospel preaching in which Jesus will be preached and they would render full obedience to the gospel and be saved. Is that person saved? If so, does this mean that there is no need to hear the gospel preached?
As the old wise man once said: "That's whittling on God's end of the stick." If God wishes to make exceptions, that is His business. I cannot teach such because the bible does not teach any. We believe in the perfect justice and the perfect grace of God. I do not need to get into the business of Gods judgment in order to preach the word of God. I just need to state what the bible has said with as much love as I can. This we have done as best we can by presenting the teachings of the New Testament in Section 4.2 above. The convoluted logic of this section does not set that aside. Rather, it is an attempt of those whose worldly interests are best served from such deceit.
Since neither the major nor the minor premises can be determined to be true, the conclusion can certainly not be inferred or proven in any way. The bible teaches that baptism is essential to salvation and to teach otherwise constitutes the gravest disservice that we can render our fellow man.
4.4 IS THIS IMPORTANT?
We hardly believe that you would have read to this point if you did not believe that this is important. However, it is not the misunderstanding of God's word that is the greatest enemy of the truth. It is the pure complacency that most people have for scriptural doctrine. They reason: "As long as I am a good person, isn't that enough? The bible, after all, is just common sense. I am a loving person and that is what God really wants."
This is not the reasoning of an evil person. But it is the reasoning of one who feels that he or she is justified by works. Being a good, loving person is not enough. We all need the blood of Christ for our justification. The terms and conditions for having that blood wash away our sins are set by God, not man. These are clearly presented in the scriptures referenced above. Those who think this is a skewed presentation should read the entire New Testament for themselves. Those who agree should also be skeptical and verify not only that truthful conclusions are being taught, but also that scriptures are being applied properly and truthfully.
Please review this chapter and as you do recognize that baptism is not the issue here! The issue is faith in God and His word. Do we believe what he said or don't we? Are we going to take Him at His word, or aren't we? Baptism is easy. It requires virtually no effort on our part. It is an arbitrary thing. Those who are going to associate with some church are going to be baptized at some time in some way and for some reason. Why not do it God's way and for God's reasons? If we cannot practice scriptural baptism in all of its simplicity, what can we practice? If we refuse to follow God's will on this simple thing, what is going to happen in those moral issues which require tremendous faith on our part? When we look at the collective morality of our country, we must ask: Is our slide into immorality caused by the same refusal to obey God that leads us to accept this myth of denominationalism instead of regarding baptism with the importance that God gave it?
In the next chapter we discuss another myth that so often diverts attention away from God's word and toward subjective self-direction: the idea that love is all you need.
CHAPTER 5 Continued on next page
This document by David B. Brown: [email protected]
Return to Biblical Insights
|Home||Greetings||Who We Are||Helpful Info||Rest Room||Search||Contact Us|