Inerrancy in Historical Perspective

It is often claimed that inerrancy is a modern concept created during the 19th century by conservative professors at Princeton. Biblical inerrancy is sometimes referred to as “that American doctrine” as if only American Christianity believes in it. They argue that inerrancy is based on a post-enlightenment concept of truth and error and the philosophy of Foundationalism which would have been a foreign concept to the authors of the Bible and early Christians.  The following quotations from church history are just a sampling of voices from the past which demonstrate that inerrancy is not a modern construct.  For more on this subject see volume 3 of Holy Scripture by William Webster, Biblical Authority by John Woodbridge, and The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell.

1 Clement 47:

“Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached?  Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos.”

1 Clement 45:

“You know that in the Scriptures there has not been written anything that is unrighteous or counterfeit.”

Theophilus of Antioch, Book 3, Chapter 12:

“Moreover, concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the Gospels, because they all spoke inspired by one Spirit of God.”

Irenaeus, Adv. Haer, 2:23:

“The pupil of Polycarp, claims for Christians a clear knowledge that ‘the Scriptures are perfect, seeing that they are spoken by God’s Word and his Spirit.’”

Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, 21:

“The statements, however, of holy Scripture will never be discordant with truth.”

Epiphanius of Salamis, Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 51:

“And it is fully demonstrated that there is no obscurity or contradiction in the holy Gospels or between the evangelists, but that everything is plain.”

Epiphanius of Salamis, Book II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide) 69:

“Nothing in the sacred scripture is contradictory or has any taint of death.”

Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, 56:

“But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke of God. But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn.”

Augustine, Letter 82:

“On my own part I confess to your charity that it is only to those books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honor and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”

Martin Luther, Works (St. Louis ed.) 19:305:

“The whole of the Scriptures are to be ascribed to the Holy Ghost, and therefore cannot err.”

John Calvin, Institutes 1.7.4:

“The highest proof of Scripture derives in general from the fact that God in person speaks in it.”

Questions for those who deny inerrancy but claim to be Christians:

  1. Are you aware of any lexical source that understands the Greek term theopneustos in 2 Timothy 3:16 in a way that would compromise inerrancy?
  1. So do you think that 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches the inerrancy of Scripture? Why not? Are you familiar with Warfield’s work on theopneustos?
  1. Do you believe that God can lie? (Heb 6:18; Titus 1:2)
  1. Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God? (John 10:35; John 17:17; Matt 4:4; Rom 3:2; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21)
  1. What would it take to convince you of the inerrancy of Scripture?

A Brief Defense of Inerrancy

The following article is an outline of my opening statement for a debate I did on inerrancy while at Houston Baptist University for my theology class:

  1. Define Inerrancy: As defined by E. J. Young in his book Thy Word Is Truth: “By this word we mean that the Scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. They are exempt from the liability to mistake, incapable of error. In all their teachings they are in perfect accord with the truth.” (113). God though “utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared” so it is not the same as dictation according to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in Article 8. Inerrancy refers only to the inspired autographs, not to errors which have crept up in the textual transmission of the Scriptures.
  2. Defend the Textual Veracity of Scripture: “Every reading ever occurring in the New Testament textual tradition is stubbornly preserved, even if the result is nonsense . . . any reading ever occurring in the New Testament textual tradition, from the original reading onward, has been preserved in the tradition and needs only to be identified.” (Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 296.
  3. Inerrancy Defended from the Scriptures: 2 Tim 3:16 –  the meaning of theopneustos is “inspired by God,” “breathed out by God,” “expiration” BDAG Lexicon (the best Greek Lexicon in the world) also approvingly cites B. B. Warfield’s essay “God-Inspired Scripture” defending inerrancy. Rom 3:2; Matt 4:4; 2 Pet 1:20-21; John 10:35; John 17:17; Psa 19:7 are also relevant.
  4. What Scripture Says, God Says: compare Gen 2:24/Matt 19:4-5; Psa 95:7-11/Heb 3:7-11; Psa 2:1-2/Acts 4:25-26; Isa 55:3/Acts 13:34; Psa 16:10/Acts 13:35; Deut 32:43/Heb 1:6; Psa 104:4/Heb 1:7; Psa 45:6-7/Heb 1:8-9; Psa 102:25-27/Heb 1:10-12.
  5. Inspiration Implies Inerrancy: If Scripture is God-speaking and inspired, it is therefore inerrant, since God cannot lie. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Psa 18:30; Psa 19:7-8; Prov 30:5-6; Isa 45:19; Rom 3:4; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18.
  6. Answers to Objections: Some assume that if Scripture was written by humans it must contain errors, but that does not follow logically because of inspiration. Contra Peter Enns, the hypostatic union resulted in a Savior whose teaching is inerrant. Alleged contradictions have been given possible solutions by Gleason Archer in Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Norman Geisler in When Critics Ask, and the numerous conservative bible commentaries which exist.
  7. The Implications of Rejecting Inerrancy: 1. It calls all of Scripture into question. 2. It makes systematic theology impossible since the Scriptures are not theologically consistent with themselves so we cannot have a consistent theology since the Scriptures teach contradictory things. That is why liberals prefer biblical theology over systematic theology. 3. We become the ultimate authority instead of God who speaks to us in the Scriptures since we are the ones who determine what in Scripture to accept or reject. We are the final determiner of what is true or untrue instead of God.
  8. If we believe in a God who can design the DNA molecule with all of its complexity and with the vast amount of information it contains, would he then not be able to control the process of the writing of Scripture so that his revelation to us is without error?

The Hilariously Bad Gospel of Thomas

Much has been made of the so-called “lost gospels.” Many people have asked, “Were other Gospels made during the same time as the four canonical Gospels which the early church suppressed because they contained doctrines and historical testimony that was contrary to accepted Christian orthodoxy?” Did the early church suppress other versions of Christianity that taught differently or writings that bear witness to a more historical Jesus? The answer is a resounding “no.” The “lost gospels” are second and third century fictional writings which are heavily influenced by gnosticism and Greek philosophy. Besides that, they were written long after the original four Gospels were written in order to prop up false teaching. The New Testament bears witness to false teachers infiltrating the church in the accounts of Galatians, Colossians, and 1 John so we should not be surprised to find heretical writings that claim to be authoritative. The most well-known of these is the Gospel of Thomas. If those who claim Thomas is a true Gospel which reflects early Christian beliefs would just read the document, its fictional and absurd nature would be exposed. The following selections from Thomas will show you why:

14. Jesus said to them, “If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.”

Jesus taught that fasting is a normal part of the Christian life in Matthew 6:17: “When you fast,” not “if you fast.” Fasting was also part of early Christian worship (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). Jesus himself taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and prayed for his people in John 17. Jesus commanded us to give to others in Matthew 5:42 and commanded the rich young ruler to give to the poor in Matthew 19:21. The author of Thomas evidently had little to no knowledge of the Sermon on the Mount.

22. Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.” They said to him, “Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?” Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the kingdom.”

The kindest thing that can be said here is that this doesn’t sound like the Jesus of the Bible.

30. Jesus said, “Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one.”

Thomas presupposes a polytheistic and gnostic worldview with multiple gods and emanations proceeding from the highest deity who is too pure to create the world because gnostics believe the physical world is intrinsically evil so you have to have an emanation of lesser deities who are not as pure as the first deity until you reach one who can create the physical world. On the other hand, Jesus is a biblical monotheist (Mark 10:18; 12:32; John 5:44; 17:3).

37. His disciples said, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?” Jesus said, “When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample them, then you will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid.”

The only people who could say “Amen” to this are nudists. Clothing was given to us by God after the fall as a reminder that we need the shedding of blood to cover us and cover over our sins because an animal had to die for Adam and Eve to be forgiven pointing to Christ’s sacrifice (Gen 3:21; Heb 9:22; 10:4).

87. Jesus said, “How miserable is the body that depends on a body, and how miserable is the soul that depends on these two.”

112. Jesus said, “Damn the flesh that depends on the soul. Damn the soul that depends on the flesh.”

These statements reflect a gnostic view of the body that sees the body and the physical world as intrinsically evil. The Bible teaches that death is the unnatural separation of the soul from the body and is not something to be desired in and of itself. The resurrection of our body is the ultimate goal, not the intermediate state, when the curse will be reversed and our bodies will be without any defect or sin resembling our risen savior (Phil 3:21).

114. Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

The irony of this statement is that many of the advocates for “gnostic Christianity” are also feminists but these words run contrary to any sense of equality between men and women. Paul said that men and women are equal in Christ in Galatians 3:28 and Jesus healed many women in his ministry without ever turning them into men (Luke 13:16).

What Doctrines Are Essential to Christianity?

How do we determine what doctrines are essential to Christianity and what are areas where Christians may disagree and still consider each other to be Christians? Another related question is how much doctrinal agreement is necessary to remain in fellowship with others in a church? What false teachings should compel Christians to leave a church? How do we discern a true church from a false church? This article will try to answer these questions based on my understanding of the Scriptures and church history. To answer these questions, I have divided Christian doctrines into four categories: 1. primary essentials if denied demonstrate that those who believe such are non-Christians, 2. primary essentials if still denied after rebuke and biblical correction demonstrate that those who believe such are to be treated as non-Christians, 3. ecclesiastical differences which prevent Christians from consistently fellowshipping together, and 4. secondary issues which while important are areas where Christians can disagree and still remain in fellowship together.

1. Primary essentials of Christianity if denied demonstrate that those who believe such are unbelievers:

1. There is only one God

2. Jesus is both fully God and fully man in one person

3. Jesus rose from the dead physically

4. Jesus is a true prophet of God

5. The full deity and personality of the Holy Spirit

6. God exists as a Trinity of persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit

7. The divine attributes of God: omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, immutability, eternality

8. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary

9. Salvation comes by trusting in Christ alone for salvation: by grace alone through faith alone apart from human works or merit.

10. The second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead

11. The damnation of the wicked

12. Salvation only comes through Christ

13. Marriage and sexuality is only between one man and one woman

14. The sanctity of all of life

15. The necessity of the Great Commission and evangelism

Those who deny at least one of these: Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Eastern Orthodoxy, Christian Science, Christadelphians, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarianism, Socinianism, Open Theism, Hyper-Preterism, Universalism, Pluralism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Homosexuality, Gnosticism, Judaizers, Pelagianism, Liberalism, certain forms of Hyper-Calvinism, and other cultic movements and heresies of early Christianity.

2. Primary essentials if denied after receiving correction from the church (Matt 18:17-20) demonstrate that those who believe such are to be treated as unbelievers though it is possible they may still be genuine believers:

1. The inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, and perspicuity of Scripture

2. The historicity of Genesis and the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch

3. Original Sin

4. The gospel rather than baptism is the instrument of regeneration

5. Justification is by faith alone on the basis of the imputation of the passive and active obedience of Christ

6. Penal-Substitutionary Atonement

7. The rejection of antinomianism and Sandemanianism

8. The rejection of the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel

9. Salvation only comes through faith in Christ

10. Hell as eternal conscious torment

3. Ecclesiastical essentials:

1. Sunday not Saturday as the Lord’s Day

2. Only men can teach and have authority over other men in the church

3. Baptism is for believers only

4. The correct mode of Baptism

5. Non-hierarchical church governance

4. Secondary non-essentials:

1. Predestination, the extent of the atonement, Calvinist/Arminian debate

2. Musical instruments in church

3. Worship styles

4. Communion every week, monthly, or quarterly

5. Wine or grape juice in the Lord’s Supper

6. Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts

7. Eschatology differences

8. Other issues which may divide denominations and Christians

David Brainerd on the Purpose of Life

The biography of David Brainerd has been used by God to advance Christian missions and inspire believers for centuries.  Here are some of my favorite selections from the end of Brainerd’s life:

Near night, while I attempted to walk a little, my thoughts turned thus, “How infinitely sweet it is to love God and be all for Him!”  Upon which it was suggested to me, “You are not an angel, not lively and active.”  To which my whole soul immediately replied, “I as sincerely desire to love and glorify God, as any angel in heaven.”  Upon which it was suggested again, “But you are filthy, not fit for heaven.”  Hereupon instantly appeared the blessed robes of Christ’s righteousness which I could not but exult and triumph in.  I viewed the infinite excellency of God, and my soul even broke with longings that God should be glorified.  I thought of dignity in heaven, but instantly the thought returned, “I do not go to heaven to get honor, but to give all possible glory and praise.”  Oh, how I longed that God should be glorified on earth also!  Oh, I was made for eternity, if God might be glorified!

But oh, that God might be glorified!  This was the burden of all my cry.  Oh, I knew, I should be active, as an angel, in heaven; and that I should be stripped of my filthy garments, so that there was no objection.  But, oh, to love and praise God more, to please Him forever!  “Lord, let thy kingdom come.”

My heaven is to please God, and glorify Him, and to give all to Him, and to be wholly devoted to His glory.  That is the heaven I long for; that is my religion, and that is my happiness, and always was ever since I suppose I had any true religion.  All those that are of that religion shall meet me in heaven.  I do not go to heaven to be advanced, but to give honor to God.  It is no matter where I shall be stationed in heaven, whether I have a high or low seat there; but to love, and please, and glorify God is all.  Had I a thousand souls, if they were worth anything, I would give them all to God; but I have nothing to give, when all is done.

It is impossible for any rational creature to be happy without acting all for God.  God himself could not make him happy any other way.  I long to be in heaven, praising and glorifying God with the Holy Angels.  All my desire is to glorify God.

There is nothing in the world worth living for but doing good and finishing God’s work, doing the work that Christ did.  I see nothing else in the world that can yield any satisfaction besides living to God, pleasing Him, and doing His whole will.

And so Brainerd had more joy on his deathbed than all the sinners in the world.

Egalitarianism and Inerrancy

One of the most significant divisions among those who name the name of Christ is whether or not women can teach or have authority over men in the church. I would like to make the argument in this article that egalitarianism and inerrancy cannot consistently exist together.

1. The best egalitarian Bible scholars agree that 1 Timothy 2:12 is in disagreement with their position:

Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles writes:

“Paul was not in this case engaging in sober exegesis of Genesis, but supporting his culturally conservative position on the basis of texts that in his eyes demonstrate the greater dignity and intelligence of men and, therefore, the need for women to be silent and subordinate to men” (208).

F. F. Bruce disagrees with Paul’s position during a conversation with Scot McKnight as recorded in The Blue Parakeet:

“What about the silencing passages of Paul on women?” I asked. “I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah.” “What do you think then about women in church ministries?” Professor Bruce’s answer was as Pauline as Paul was: “I’m for whatever God’s Spirit grants women gifts to do” (206-207).

2. Most feminists who have read the Bible agree that 1 Timothy 2:12 contradicts their view:

For example, the feminist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton rejected Paul’s writings as authoritative:

“It cannot be admitted that Paul was inspired by infinite wisdom in this utterance. This was evidently the unilluminated utterance of Paul, the man, biased by prejudice. But, it may be claimed that this edict referred especially to teaching in religious assemblies. It is strikingly inconsistent that Paul, who had proclaimed the broadest definition of human souls, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male or female, but ye are one in Christ Jesus,’ as the Christian idea, should have commanded the subjection of woman, and silence as essential to her proper sphere in the Church” (The Woman’s Bible).

3. All of the arguments that are used to reconcile egalitarianism and the Bible have been thoroughly answered by Andreas Kostenberger, Thomas Schreiner, and Wayne Grudem. See Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth which answers all of them in exhaustive detail. There seems to be an unwillingness to interact with the best arguments set forward by complementarians. The arguments for complementarianism are simply dismissed instead of dealt with at the exegetical level.

4. There is a theological trajectory, as noted by Owen Strachan, that begins with egalitarianism, then moves to mother-god language, and ends with the normalcy of homosexuality and gay marriage. Just look at the beliefs of Rachel Held Evans and the emerging church movement. Egalitarianism is the gateway drug of theological liberalism. Once the historicity of Genesis is abandoned, you can believe anything you want about marriage, gender roles, sexuality, human dignity, or modesty. I can attest to the accuracy of this trajectory based on my time among theological liberals.

5. None of the seminaries or colleges that teach egalitarianism require their professors to sign The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

6. None of the denominations that promote egalitarianism require their ministers or employees to affirm The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

7. Many of those denominations that do support egalitarianism are now supporting same-sex marriage and mother-god language (see the PC(USA), ELCA, Episcopalians, the Moravian church, UCC, the emerging church, and a large portion within the UMC and Church of England).

8. Compare the ending of Women in the Church edited by Kostenberger and Schreiner with that of Discovering Biblical Equality edited by Ronald W. Pierce which is infected by postmodern thinking:

“If such obedience involves a certain amount of suffering and being misunderstood, this, after all, has always been part of the calling of followers of Christ, and we live in a time where being conservative may be the most radical thing of all.”

Versus (try not to laugh):

“There is an arrogance to which we are all liable. It is the arrogance of thinking that only we have the truth. God’s truth may well be greater than all of our ‘truths.’ Until we come into that larger truth, we may be true to the truth we have embraced. But even as we embrace our paradigm, may God help us to move toward an understanding of his true and perfect paradigm which may well swallow up all earthly paradigms for the relationship of men and women in the church and home.”

9. If Paul was wrong in 1 Timothy 2:12, on what basis can you believe he was right in Galatians 3:28? If Paul contradicted himself, why can’t 1 Timothy 2:12 be right and Galatians 3:28 be wrong? You are ultimately reduced to a subjective hermeneutic where you decide what in Scripture is right and what is wrong.

The Church Has Gone Baptism Stupid (Part 2)

In my last article, I argued that the Christian Church is incredibly divided over the subject, mode, and nature of baptism. These misunderstandings about baptism flow from removing baptism from its Jewish context as an act of repentance which brings one into a new community of faith. This is not the same thing as saying baptism is necessary for salvation, but rather, it is the recognition that baptism is a visible act of faith and repentance that normally followed right after the first exercise of faith in Christ. I will demonstrate this briefly from Scripture. If you are not a Baptist, I would like to make the humble suggestion that a great deal of what you have been taught about baptism is a lie.

So what exactly is baptism? In order to better understand baptism while in college, I did a detailed study of every text related to baptism in Scripture. As I was examining Mark 1:4-5, a light went off in my head: baptism is an act of repentance. In baptism, the person being baptized is repenting of their sins rather than merely being a passive agent. Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? I never would have figured this out based on our church’s practice of baptism. Baptism is treated like an assembly line where one person after another is dunked without them saying a word. The modern church environment is too sterile to allow for those being baptized to give their testimony of faith or (heaven forbid) confess their former sins publicly. We couldn’t do toddler baptism either since they don’t have any big sins to confess. We have to get baptism over with fast because it’s taking up time that should be used for the preaching of the Word and the whole thing makes us feel uncomfortable anyway since getting dunked in water is rather undignified and humiliating. But the text reads:

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

The verb “to baptize” comes from the Greek baptizo which means “to dip” or “to immerse.” There is no disagreement among reputable Greek scholars on this. You will not find a single Greek lexicon that defends “to pour” or “to sprinkle” as an acceptable translation of the term. The first edition of the Liddell-Scott lexicon tried to do it, but every edition after that removed pouring as an acceptable translation because the editors knew that “to pour” is a biased translation based on church tradition rather than occurence in Greek literature. Even if we had no idea what “baptism” means, “to pour” or “to sprinkle” are impossible meanings here. Those who are being baptized are the direct object of the verb. A person cannot be divided into parts or poured out like water can. Only a liquid can be sprinkled or poured, but a person can be immersed. The Jordan river is the indirect object of the verb (the dative case).  The water is not baptized, but the person is being baptized in the water. The preposition en or “in” only makes sense with immersion. Bible translation committees mistranslate en in Matthew 3:11 as “with” because if it is accurately translated as “in water” then this would exclude baptism by pouring and therefore not sell as many copies (Bible translations must be denominationally neutral). But notice that the same preposition is translated accurately in Mark 1:5: “in the Jordan.” “You” in Matthew 3:11 is the direct object of the verb baptize (the accusative case). It is the person who is being baptized, not the water. If baptizo can mean “to pour” we could translate the Bible like this:

“were being poured by him in the river Jordan” (Mark 1:5)

“I pour you with [in] water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11)

“What prevents me from being poured?” (Acts 8:36)

Now compare this with immersion:

“were being immersed by him in the river Jordan” (Mark 1:5)

“I immerse you in water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11)

“What prevents me from being immersed?” (Acts 8:36)

Baptism as an act of repentance also excludes the practice of infant baptism since an infant cannot repent or confess their sins. It is a baptism “of repentance” or one that is characterized by repentance. This is evident from what is taking place in the water: “confessing their sins.” Before John immersed them in water, they would confess their sins publicly and so bring them out into the open. This is part of Christian repentance (Jas 5:16). This repentance leads to eternal life and forgiveness of sins (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25). That is why this baptism characterized by repentance results in “the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). It is not the act of immersion in water that brings about forgiveness, but repentance of which baptism is a form. The thief on the cross and Cornelius were justified by faith before baptism (Luke 23:43; Acts 10:44-47).

Here we also have an explanation for almost every verse that is quoted to argue for baptismal regeneration. Repentance results in the forgiveness of sin and biblical baptism is an act of repentance. Repentance and baptism are not two different things, but baptism is an act of repentance since it involves the confession of sin and the renouncement of one’s former way of life. We see this in 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” It is not the “removal of dirt from the body” – the physical action of being immersed in water (how does pouring a little water remove dirt from the body?), but the “appeal to God for a good conscience” which saves. The appeal to God is faith and repentance for forgiveness of sins which results in a clean conscience after we have been forgiven (Rom 10:9-10; 1 John 1:9). A person does not need to be immersed in water in order to ask God for forgiveness. Baptism acted as one of the first means or opportunities for repentance because everyone in the first century understood what baptism is. Baptism was the equivalent of our modern altar call. It was only for pagan Gentiles and unbelievers who wanted to join the Jewish community. That is why John’s action of demanding for Jews to be baptized was shocking. It was even more shocking to John for Jesus to request baptism since baptism was reserved for sinners (Matt 3:14).

In this context, Acts 2:38 makes perfect sense. Peter’s demand that the crowd repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins was necessary because if a person refused to be baptized, it would demonstrate that their repentance was not genuine since public baptism would result in them getting kicked out of the synagogue. Peter is not asking them to do two different things, but one thing in two different ways. This is confirmed by the parallel to Acts 3:19: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” To repent and turn are not two different requirements for salvation, but two different ways of expressing the same truth: (repent and be baptized / repent and turn) with forgiveness of sins being the result. Every Baptist who has ever converted to the Church of Christ did so because he or she embraced a paedobaptistic understanding of the nature of baptism that separates repentance and baptism because an infant is unable to repent, or rather, already held to it since many Baptists don’t understand baptism either. They were unable to understand that repentance and baptism in Acts 2:38 are not two different requirements for salvation and fell into the same trap that removed baptism from its Jewish context as the early church did.

For Baptist churches, as a bare minimum, the person being baptized should give their testimony of faith and explain how he or she came to saving faith in Christ. That means we stop baptizing toddlers and those who don’t understand what baptism is. Because our context is very different from that of the first century, we must carefully teach those who claim to be Christians the truths of Christian faith, the gospel, and what baptism means before baptizing them, otherwise they will have no idea what is going on in baptism (Matt 28:19-20). Baptism took place immediately after conversion for the first century church because they actually understood what baptism meant and what it would cost them. This understanding of baptism has largely been lost today and we need to move toward recovering the radical nature of baptism. Baptism is not an assembly line and those who participate in it are not passive agents.

For further study on baptism, see The Meaning and Use of Baptizein by T. J. Conant and Baptism: Its Mode and Subjects by Alexander Carson. These are two of the finest defenses of the Baptist position you will ever read. You can read them for free on Google books. If the collective visible church would just read Mark 1:4-5, we would not have all of the divisions in the church on baptism that we do now.

If you have never trusted in Christ to save you, repent and place your faith in him (Rom 10:9). Then get baptized in a Bible-believing church as an ongoing act of repentance which demonstrates the truthfulness of your faith. In baptism we show that we are willing to be humiliated by professing that our former life was a lie that would have sent us to hell had not God saved us through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the gospel. Baptism is not for good people, it’s for sinners like us.