Anything to Make a Point

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

An old friend of mine, whom I have had an ongoing debate concerning the necessity of baptism, found a reference that he felt proved that baptism occurs after salvation. The book is The Immerser: John the Baptist, by Joan Taylor, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

In the section of interest, beginning on page 96, the author states, "In the New Testament, it is stated that crowds gathered at the Jordan River, where they were baptized, 'confessing their sins' (Mark 1:5 - Matt. 3:6). Essentially, there is only one account here, that of Mark, which has been used by Matthew and Luke."

Before her point is made, the author has ruined her reputation for accuracy by echoing a old line from Higher Criticism. Followers of Higher Criticism do not believe that the miracles recorded in the Bible truly happened, nor do they believe that those recording the words of God did so by inspiration. Instead, they will argue that the Bible developed over centuries as did any other book of human origin. Thus the book of Mark is believed to be first gospel book, since it was the shortest. The books of Matthew and Luke used it and another mysterious book never found to create their more elaborate accounts. By repeating this myth, the author has declared that she does not believe in the inspiration of the Bible.

The authors of the Bible claimed that their words came straight from God. "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:19-21). Peter's point is that no Scripture records a prophet's private interpretation of what God said. These holy men of God were given what to write by the Holy Spirit. It is not the work of man.

Paul made a similar claim: "But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). To claim that one biblical author copied from another is to claim that the author was not inspired by God. Paul stated that inspired writings reflected the very words of God. "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (I Corinthians 2:12-13).

Knowing that the author does not understand the Bible, I'm inclined not to continue, but for my friend's sake, I kept reading. "In the Marcan version, there is a definite sense that repentance, baptism, and remission of sins are all packaged together. The same packaging is found in relation to Christian baptism in Acts 2:38: "Repent, let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Elsewhere in Luke-Acts remission of sins is linked only with repentance (Luke 24:27; Acts 2:38; 5:31)."

Already an inconsistency leaps out. The author finds that there is a connection between repentance, baptism, and the remission of sin in Mark's account. She notices that it is similar to Acts 2:38's discussion of baptism, but then she contradicts herself by stating that in Luke's writing remission of sins is only connected to repentance and cites Acts 2:38 again!

Like many denominational writers, the author artificially narrows her view. She only examines passages that use the phrase "remission of sin" without any consideration of synonyms. She also restricts her view to only the works of Luke, further emphasizing that she doesn't see the Bible as the word of God but as a collection of individual writers who might contradict each other. These artificial restriction causes her draw false conclusions.

Remission, or forgiveness, of sins is connected by God to more things than just repentance. Christ's blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:22). Luke connects remission of sins with faith, "To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). Remission of sins is also connected with the preaching of Jesus (Acts 13:38). So much for her argument that Luke only connects remission of sins with repentance.

It is Luke's account that connects forgiveness of sins with salvation. "To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins" (Luke 1:77). To be forgiven of one's sins is to be saved from sin. It is being released from the bondage of sin and, hence, the Greek word is sometimes translated as deliverance or liberty. "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18). Remission of sins is also paralleled to justification. "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).

To claim that only repentance is linked with the remission of sins, the author had to ignore another passage that talks of the removal of sin in Luke's writings. "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Here baptism is mentioned without repentance yet it is clearly connect with the removal of sin. Such is not surprising to those of us who know the Bible. Acts 22:16 is Paul's recounting of his becoming a Christian. In his own writing Paul stated concerning his and other's baptism, "How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:2-7). Notice the continuing theme that baptism, by connecting a person to the death of Christ, frees a person from the slavery of sin. That is remission (freedom, deliverance, forgiveness) of sins!

Next, take careful notice of the quote of Acts 2:38. The author gives it as, "Repent, let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the remission of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." I know of no translation that renders the verse in this way. One of the key warnings is the use of Messiah instead of Christ. "Messiah" is a transliteration of a Hebrew word for "anointed;" "Christ" is a transliteration of the Greek word for "anointed." By using "Messiah" instead of "Christ" the author is subtly bolstering her claim that Acts was originally written in Aramaic, but without proof. As it stands, "Messiah" is a mistranslation of the Greek text that we have. Also notice that she dropped the coordinating conjunction "and" after the word repent. It is an attempt to make the section concerning baptism a subordinate clause, non-essential for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. You will not find this in any marketed translation because the Greek does not support such a reading.

Establishing that the author doesn't believe in the inspiration of the Bible and that she plays games with the Scriptures to make points not supported by the Bible, it is tempting to discard the book even though I've only looked at one paragraph. However, I continued for my friend's sake. "The Greek phraseology of "a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins," [words in Greek] (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; cf. Acts 13:24), may be explained by examining the possible underlying Aramaic prepositions. The genitive case, [word in Greek], "of repentance," would have been rendered in Aramaic by the prefix [letters in Aramaic] This prefix is capable of many meanings, not simply "of." It can indicate "in order that," or result, "resulting from," or cause, "because of" (cf. Dan. 3:22). The phrase could also be rendered in the construct state, translated by "of." In the Community Rule form Qumran, the construct form [words in Aramaic], literally "waters of impurity" (1QS 3:4, et all.) may be translated "water for the removal of impurity," a phrase deriving from Scriptures (e.g., Num. 31:23). The eis of the Greek phraseology may itself be translated as "with a view to"; that is, repentance will result in the remission of sins. In Aramaic, the prefix [letter in Aramaic] can express the same. It can mean "to" or "towards" but also "because of," "for," "in regard to," "concerning." While the precise Aramaic must remain a matter for speculation, these prefixes are what we find in the Syriac translations of the Greek Gospel texts, and they render the phraseology extremely vague. In Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the phraseology could easily accommodate a translation consistent with Josephus: for example, "an immersion resulting from repentance fro the remission of sins." Repentance and the remission of sins are linked; the remission of sins is what follows from repentance."

Notice carefully that the author admits that her conclusion is based on guess work. She states there is a "possible underlying Aramaic preposition" and she admits "the precise Aramaic must remain a matter for speculation." However, this doesn't slow her down from drawing wild conclusions from mere speculation.

In essence, her conclusion is founded upon a speculation that the writings of Mark and Luke were originally in Aramaic and were translated at a later time into Greek. In Aramaic, the preposition for "for" is more loose in meaning than the Greek preposition used in Acts 2:38 and Mark 1:4. The problem is that the argument is without foundation. Just because there is a "for" in Aramaic that has broader meaning, it does not change the fact that the Greek holds a tighter meaning; a fact that the author is forced to admit. Eis in Greek is always forward looking. The odd thing is that the Greek language does contain a "for" that is looser in meaning, it is the word gar. If a looser meaning was truly called for in these verses, why then was it not used?

But what about the claim that Mark and Luke's works were originally written in Aramaic? Consider that each of the gospel accounts had a target audience. Matthew was directed to the Jews, Mark to the Romans, and Luke to the Greeks. Why would Mark write in a language that the Romans could not understand? (For example, Paul addressed a crowd in Hebrew (Acts 21:40), but the Roman commander on the scene did not understand what Paul said (Acts 22:24). Luke clearly addresses both Luke and Acts to a Greek (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). The books make note of when the speakers switched into Hebrew (Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14), such would not be necessary if the original writing was in Hebrew or the closely related language of Aramaic. Both Matthew and Mark translate Hebrew or Aramaic phrases into Greek for the readers, indicating that Hebrew and Aramaic were not the original languages of these writings (for example: Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

Despite all of this, the author does come to the right conclusion: remission of sins comes as a result of repentance. The problem is that she skips the coordinating action of baptism. Acts 2:38 states that remission of sins comes as a result of both repentance and baptism. In fact, buried in one of her footnotes is a quote from Holladay's A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon which does explain the facts correctly. "It simply means that this immersion does not take place without repentance, which in turn takes place with a view to the forgiveness of sins." In other words, repentance leads to baptism, which in turn leads to forgiveness of sins. Unfortunately, Holladay and the author press beyond what the Greek states to insist that an Aramaic translation would allow forgiveness of sins to precede baptism but not repentance.

Finally, take note that the author is pleased that her understanding of salvation makes the Bible consistent with the writings of Josephus. Josephus was an ancient Jewish historian. He was not inspired of God, nor was he a Christian, yet this author feels that it is necessary to mold the Bible after Josephus. Once again she proves her lack of respect for the writings of God.

Once again, another attempt to remove baptism from God's scheme of redemption fails to make any head way. "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 3:21).