Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Baptism of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sins

How did people in the Old Testament have their sins forgiven? How is all of the stuff with the temple, and the stringent requirements that God gave in the Old Testament reconciled with grace through faith in the New Testament? These two questions are answered in very different ways depending on the person asked. The ways that this question is answered varies as much as the people asking it do.

One of the ways that this is answered is by saying that salvation was always by grace through faith (cf. Eph 2:8, 9) and not by works of the Law (cf. Gal 2:16). This happens to be what I see as clearly taught in Scripture, but others see the picture a bit differently. Another view is that the Jews in the Old Testament were saved by a combination of faith and works, and since the coming of Christ, all men are still saved by grace through faith and works. Other schools of thought would hold to a mish-mash assortment of views of varying consistencies that include a dual covenant (Israel is still saved by nature of being Israel, and the gentiles are saved by faith) theology, a hyper-dispensational theology that espouses a works righteousness salvation of the Old Testament and a true grace salvation of the New Testament, and many many more.

In a very roundabout way I came to deal with the question of salvation in the Old Testament, or under the Old Covenant, while studying for a Sunday school overview of John the Baptist. John the Baptist is one of the figures in the gospels who does not get too much attention by the Biblical writers or by the church. Most Christians will know that John was a relative of Jesus, that he was the promised forerunner of the Messiah, that he baptized Jesus, and that he was martyred by Herod. This is a fairly good and complete summary of who John was and what his mission was, so I didn’t want to focus primarily on these issues. What I wanted to investigate was the content, the message, of John the Baptist.

Have you ever noticed it when you gloss over a passage quickly when it seems to say something that you don’t agree with or when you simply don’t understand it? Perhaps I’m the only person who has done this, but I was definitely guilty of that in the past when I’d read a description of John’s message and ministry.

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4)

I believe that the New Testament teaches baptism, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins, however the way that Mark formulates John’s message seems to combine these three things in a way that flies in the face the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It was this text that prompted me to study John the Baptist in hopes of coming to see how best to understand this text in light of the rest of the Scriptures.

Checking the other three gospel accounts gives some clues as to what the message of John was even if there is no point by point theological statement written down.
16 John answered and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 "His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." 18 So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people. (Luke 3:16-18)

In this passage I didn’t even focus on verses 16 and 17 except for the context of what John said. It was verse 18 that grabbed my attention. John was preaching the gospel, or at least what Luke identified as the gospel at a later date. I think that it is important to know that Luke, like the other New Testament writers, refers to the message of salvation from the condemnation of God as the gospel. Furthermore, Luke uses this word to summarize what Christ Himself was proclaiming during His own ministry. So whatever we say about John’s message, we cannot say that it differed from that of Christ’s own message.
7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” (John 1:7-8)

The apostle John understood and related the message of the Baptizer to be one that pointed to Christ and was clear enough so that “all might believe through him.” This would not be possible if John the Baptist was making people a slave of the Law or tradition in order to bring about salvation. The facts that the ministry of the forerunner to the Messiah was to clear the path to Christ and that John’s message was shown to be in harmony with the message of Christ Himself should erase any fear of a proclamation of baptismal regeneration from Mark 1:4. There is still one more Scripture that I had not looked at in this context before, which really captured the truth that John’s message was one that lined up not only with Christ, but also with the apostles.
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; 26 and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:24-28, emphasis mine)

I wanted to emphasize the later part of verse 25 but also include 27 and 28 because of the more complete context of Apollos’ early faith and ministry. Notice that before Apollos had been baptized in the apostolic ministry, he was “speaking and teaching the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John.” In other words, Apollos had come into contact with the ministry of John the Baptist and had been baptized by him (cf. Mark 1:5). This may have happened during one of the many Jewish feasts where the faithful would make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate and worship.

John’s message was clear enough and direct enough that Apollos truly was able to “believe through” John’s preaching (cf. John 1:7) but then was not present during the further ministry of Christ, or at least not surrounding the time of the crucifixion and resurrection. The reason I say that is that if he were around, he would have experienced the baptism of the apostles and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

If Apollos was proclaiming the falsehoods concerning Christ and His role as Messiah, he would not have been “speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus”. So the fact that Apollos was accurately teaching the things concerning Jesus without any apostolic instruction but only with the teaching from John the Baptist is a great testimony for the content of John’s teaching. John the Baptist was truly making the paths straight to the messiah, and Apollos is an example of the fruit of his ministry.


Anonymous said...

Hi Eric
Nice teaching on John The B

Shows that Salvation is a process.
First comes the good news of Salvation thru Repentance of our sins and recieving Jesus atonment for our sin and coming to live in our once dead spirit. (Someting Appolos had)
Then comes the Pentecost Baptism of Jesus Himself coming in tongues of Fire to manifest into our soulish rhelm-of mind-emotions and will. (Something Appolos was about to have)
Power to live a Holy Life and resist sin.
Then Comes walking out our salvation in fear and trembling with the saints I know below and having to love those who disagree with me -Gotta Love John Mark -LOL

Gary said...

I've lost track of the number of times that a Baptist or evangelical has told me that Acts 2:38 was mistranslated; that the "for" in that passage of God's Holy Word should be removed and replaced with "because of".

It doesn't matter to them that every English translation of the Bible translates this word in Acts 2:38 as "for" or "into" and never "because of", because these Christians know in their hearts that God would never, ever say that baptism has anything to do with the forgiveness of sins.

Below is an excellent article by Lutheran pastor, Matt Richards on this subject:


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