Friday, June 24, 2005

A Brief Response to the Hyper-Sacramentalist

If only one thing has become clear in this exchange it’s that the hyper-sacramentalist should just stop having any "more thoughts on baptism." Here are a few of his latest “thoughts.”

As far as Acts 2:38 goes, I have no idea how one of my critics thinks that appealing to the BAGD lexicon (whichever edition) is going to help his cause. That lexicon lists the use of eis in Acts 2:38 under the heading 4f: “to denote purpose in order to, to,” and specifically “for forgiveness of sins, so that sins might be forgiven.” It is true, that heading 6a lists a usage “at, in the face of.” However, this obviously makes no sense in Acts 2:38 (”repent at the forgiveness of your sins”?). Matthew 12:41 and Romans 4:20 both make perfect sense by rendering eis as “at.”
Just what does the hyper-sacramentalist think “at” means in these contexts? Some locative connotation? Hardly. “The men of Nineveh . . . repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matt 12:41). Which came first? The repentance or the proclamation? “Yet he did not waver through unbelief with respect to the promise of God” (Rom 4:20). Which came first? The promise of God, or the potential to waver? The word “at” in each case means something like "upon" or “in response to.” Therefore, “at” makes perfect sense in Acts 2:38: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ [at = upon = with respect to = in response to] the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

As for Matthew 3:11, it makes perfect sense to render eis as “for.” It is on the occasion of baptism that people repented of their sins; it was the means of bringing to expression their sincere repentance.
Let me remind the reader what Matt 3:11 actually says: “I baptize you with water for repentance.” Don’t let the hyper-sacramentalist’s equivocation fool you. He still insists we translate the word eis as “for” (after all, it is found in a baptismal context). Indeed, we have an exact parallel situation with Acts 2:38. In each case baptism is the subject. In each case baptism is said to be “for” something. In each case “repentance” is part of the equation. We are told by the hyper-sacramentalist that the “obvious teaching” of Acts 2:38 is that baptism is done for the purpose of forgiveness of sins; hence, baptism “justifies.” And all of this, we are told, is based on the use of the word eis.

But notice that in the case of Matt 3:11 the hyper-sacramentalist has to change the meaning of “for” from for the purpose of to as a means of expressing. Otherwise, he’d have us arriving at the completely ridiculous conclusion that baptism results in repentance rather than the other way around! So he’s now forced to interpret “for” in two opposing senses in identical baptismal contexts so that he can maintain his “baptismal justifification” agenda. He wants to insist that eis “proves” baptism is the instrument of forgiveness and justification; but he doesn’t want to insist that eis proves baptism is the instrument of repentance. That is quite telling.

But let’s just experiment a moment. If eis means “a means of bringing to expression” in Matt 3:11, then let’s apply that same meaning to Acts 2:38: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ as a means of expressing the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). If we render eis in Acts 2:38 in the same way that the hyper-sacramentalist renders it in Matt 3:11, then it loses it’s sacramental teeth, doesn’t it? If all baptism does is provide a means for expressing forgiveness of sins, then I want to welcome the hyper-sacramentalist to the fold, because that is exactly what we Baptists believe baptism does.
I frankly have little patience for the games my critic plays with the Greek text.
Then, by all means, stop playing them.
He is promoting a translation of eis which is rejected by every Bible translation on the market (so far as I know), and has the gall to accuse those who do not follow his idiosyncratic translation as promoting the bondage of a false gospel.
Actually, if understand the word “for” in Acts 2:38 in exactly the same sense that the hyper-sacramentalist understands it in Matt 3:11, then by all means, let’s translate eis as “for” in Acts 2:38. Problem solved.
And please notice the nature of his argument. Originally, he suggested that the phrase eis aphesin ton hamartion humon (”for the forgiveness of your sins”) should go only with repentance, and not baptism. Then, once that measure was exposed for the sham that it is, he suggests that if that won’t work, we can do the opposite. The preposition eis (now with the unlikely meaning of “because of”) goes only with baptism, and not repentance! Whichever option serves the purpose of keeping his pietist, non-sacramental view of baptism intact!
Actually, if the hyper-sacramentalist will go back and reread what I wrote, he might figure out that he is confusing the exegetical options I brought forward to the actual exegetical option to which I hold. And speaking of “whichever option serves the purpose of keeping his pietist, [sacramental] view of baptism intact!,” shall I again mention what the hyper-sacramentalist does with the translation of eis as “for” in Matt 3:11 vis-à-vis Acts 2:38?
Unfortunately for him, Peter told his audience that two things had to happen for their sins to be forgiven–they had to repent and be baptized.
And yet, amazingly, no “baptistic” scholar (Fee, Marshall, Bruce, Carson, Grudem, et al) thinks Acts 2:38 teaches “baptismal forgiveness.” How is that possible? Do they just not know about Acts 2:38? And why doesn’t the hyper-sacramentalist rail against them as well? Just because two commands are mentioned does not mean that eis applies to both of them. This is where my earlier observation of the difference between the plural “repent” and the singular “let each of you be baptized” applies most forcefully. Since they do have this difference the question must be asked, “Why?” You will simply not find this difference in most dual commands found in the NT; unless those commands are to be considered independently of each other. That is the case here as well, and it very strongly suggests that the subsequent clause goes with one of those commands but not both.
As for 1 Corinthians 6:11, it is the view of the vast majority of scholarly commentators that baptism is in view here, albeit with a few noteworthy exceptions (like Fee).
We might ask the further question of just which denominational affiliation the “majority of commentators” are affiliated with. I suspect I know.
Yet my critic seems to think that this is not a reasonable way to read the verse. Why? Because it would conflict with his pietistic, evangelical, un-Reformational, un-biblical theology, that’s why.
Hmmm . . . I wonder if this is directed to me, or to Gordon Fee.
Paul refers to an occasion when the church was “washed” in “the name” of the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:13-15 clearly connects the “name” of Jesus Christ with the event of baptism (as in the book of Acts).
I’m sorry, I must have missed it. Just where does 1 Cor 1:13-15 use the word “wash”? Could it be that this is just the “un-evangelical, hyper-sacramental, un-biblical theology” and presup of the hyper-sacramentalist at play here?
As for the Roman Catholic view of grace, if one will simply read the quote I provided, it is rather obvious that our current Pope uses the term grace in a very straightforward sense.
And if the hyper-sacramentalist does not understand the fact that two opposing paradigms can use identical language and mean completely different things by that language, then there’s not much I can do to help him.