Question:

Before I was baptized, I confessed that I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and I still do. If you look at I Timothy 6:12-13, Paul says Timothy made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses, and then says that Jesus made the good confession in the presence of Pilate. If you look at the confessions that Jesus made before Pilate (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:28-38), He did not confess the He was the Son of God, but that He was the King of the Jews. In Acts 8:37 we read about the confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but if your version contains brackets, this verse is not in the early manuscripts, which means it probably was added later; therefore, this could mean that people who do not confess before they are baptized that Jesus is the King of the Jews or the Messiah because of Matthew 16:16, their baptism might count for nothing, because they did not do what God said. However, in Romans 10:9, it is written "if you confess with your mouth Jesus Lord" (NASB), so it may not be exactly saying Jesus is the King of the Jews. Also all the confessions I found seem to stress the idea that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, not just that He is the Son of God. Do we have to say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God? Can we count that we are saved (if you made the same kind of confession as I did before you were baptized)? Is there any other examples of confession that would contradict this idea? The only passage that I have found so far that may mean I am saved is  I John 4:15. Do we have to say the exact phrase Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah, the Son of God and understand what we are saying is basically my question. Note: I feel that I may be over thinking it, but I do not want to risk it. What do you think?


Answer:

It appears to me that you are trying to reduce an idea down to a ritual. There are numerous confessions of Jesus in the Scriptures:

  • Peter's: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
  • Thomas': "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).
  • John's: "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31).
  • Nathanael's: "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:49).
  • An angel's: "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

As you noted, Paul spoke of the good confession made by both Timothy and Jesus before Pilate: "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen" (I Timothy 6:12-16).

What did Jesus confess? "Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?" Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (John 18:33-37). The other accounts simply record that Jesus agreed with Pilate's statement that he was a king (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:1-3). Thus, Jesus directly told Pilate that he was a king who pre-existed his birth, who came into this world to bear witness to the truth.

Luke's account points out that the Jews charged Jesus with "And they began to accuse Him, saying, "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King"" (Luke 23:2). It was this later statement that lead Pilate to ask if Jesus was a king. But what we need to notice is that the Jews equated the Christ with being a king. Earlier when Jesus was brought before the Jews, he was asked a question similar to the one Pilate asked. "But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, "I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!" Jesus said to him, "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven"" (Matthew 26:63-64; see also Mark 14:60-62). Thus, Jesus confessed before the Jews that he was the Christ, the Son of God, who had the right to sit in judgment on these judges.

Notice then that the eunuch's confession in Acts 8:37 is not different from all these other confessions. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37). Yes, there is a dispute over Acts 8:37. The oldest manuscripts come from the eastern church centered around Alexandria in Egypt. It isn't surprising since the climate there is dry and more conducive to preserving ancient manuscripts.

  • The Chester Beatty I manuscript (p45), dated about A.D. 200-225
  • Sinaiticus (Aleph01), dated in the fourth century A.D.
  • Alexandrinus (A02), dated to the late fourth century to early fifth century
  • Vaticanus (B03), dated to the early fourth century
  • Ephraemi Rescriptus (C04), dated to the fifth century

All these eastern manuscripts are missing Acts 8:37.

The earliest manuscript to have Acts 8:37 is the Codex Laudianus (Ea 08), dated around A.D. 534-550, which is a western manuscript. But there are other evidences as well:

  • "Philip declared that this Jesus, and that the Scripture was fulfilled in Him; as did also the believing eunuch himself: and, immediately requesting to be baptized, he said, "I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God" [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.12.8, about A.D. 180].
  • "For although in the Acts of the Apostles the eunuch is described as at once baptized by Philip, because he believed with his whole heart, this is not a fair parallel" [Pontius of Carthage, The Life and Passion of Cyprian, about A.D. 208-225].
  • "In the Acts of the Apostles: "Lo, here is water; what is there which hinders me from being baptized? Then said Philip, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" [Cyprian, The Treatises of Cyprian, Treatis 12, Book 3, Section 43, about A.D. 208-258].
  • "That same Philip ... baptized the officer, that is the eunuch of Queen Candace, who had worshiped in Jerusalem, and returning thence was reading in his chariot Isaiah the Prophet, and understood it not. Philip being admonished went up to his chariot, explained the Scripture, unfolded the faith, preached Christ. The eunuch believed on Christ, and said when they came unto a certain water, "See water, who doth hinder me to be baptized? Philip said to him, Dost thou believe on Jesus Christ? He answered, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Immediately he went down with him into the water." [Augustine of Hippo, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the Gospels, Sermon 49, Section 11, about A.D. 354-430].

All these authors are numbered among the western churches and show knowledge of Acts 8:37 that reaches very far back in time. We also know that the book of Acts first circulated in the western churches. Yet, it appears that when the book reached the eastern churches, Acts 8:37 was missing. The Majority (or Byzantine) manuscripts also don't have Acts 8:37. These are later manuscripts, but form the bulk of the ancient manuscripts that we have in our possession.

One theory is that Acts 8:37 was accidentally dropped from a copy sent to the eastern churches and never got corrected. Most scholars today lean to claiming that it was added to the western manuscripts, but they have a hard time accounting for the early quotes.

It should be noted that there was a major dispute that might have played a role. During this time frame, there was a belief being pushed that infants should be baptized. Of course, Acts 8:37 shows that a confession was made before baptism, which can't be done by infants. Thus, there may have been incentive not to correct the missing verse and as time progressed the baptism of infants became the prevailing belief.

Thus, there is good reason not to discount the confession of the eunuch, even though there are plenty of other verses that show what is meant by confession Jesus before men.

Even though the wordings are different, the confessions are all essentially saying the same thing:

  • Jesus is the Son of God -- He is deity who came in the flesh to live among men.
  • Jesus is the Anointed of God (the Christ or Messiah) -- He is the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning God's plan to save mankind from their sins.
  • Jesus is our Lord (or our King) -- The Messiah was the heir to David's throne and would establish a never ending kingdom. As King, he holds complete authority over our lives. He is not just King of the Jews, but King of all kingdoms.

Confession starts with a public statement about what you believe, but confession is not a one-time act. It is a way of life. Asking a person before they are baptized merely insures that they are willing to continue to confess Christ throughout their life. In both Matthew 10:32-33 and Romans 10:9-10, confess is in the present tense in the Greek. It means that it on going at present and not one-time event that occurred in the past.

Prior to baptism, I would prefer that people state in their own words what they believe; yet, I recognize that many people are nervous when they decide to be baptized into Christ, so I'll ask if they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Some will only say "yes," but others will state their belief in greater detail. Since this is just the beginning of living a life that proclaims the Savior, either is acceptable. After all, Jesus' confession before the Jews and before Pilate was merely an affirmation of what they stated.

Thank you so much, sir. That is really good information. Thank you for your time.