Thursday, January 27, 2011

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - An Analysis - Part III

The Baptism of John

The question of the relation of the baptism of John to Christian baptism is one that is still very much disputed and could be the topic of a paper of its own. As seen in the overview of a few of his contemporaries, some ignored the issue and some refused to discuss it. Therefore, due to the lack of uniformity of thought on the issue, it would be tempting to ignore it. Unfortunately, Strong's position on the matter is integral to his view on 're-baptism.' This makes its discussion necessary, but also allows it to be limited to what is necessary to analyze Strong's understanding of 're-baptism.'

Looking at the testimony of Scripture, some believe John himself differentiates his baptism from Jesus', and therefore have argued that the baptism of John was not a valid Christian baptism. This is why Paul baptized the twelve Ephesians (Acts 19:1-7).[65] But, if the words of John are taken at face value, Jesus' baptism is not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16), so would that mean that Christian baptism has nothing to do with water baptism? Also, is one to understand that Jesus' disciples, some of which were John's disciples before they became Jesus' disciples, were all re-baptized by Jesus in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Central to this discussion, and to Strong's discussion of 're-baptism,' is the understanding of the Acts 18:24-19:7 pericope. In this pericope the reader is presented with two situations involving people who had received the baptism of John.

Acts 18:24-28 Sub-Pericope. The first situation involves Apollos, who is said to be eloquent, mighty in the Scriptures, having been instructed in the την οδον του κυριου, and ζεων τω πνευματι, "though he knew only the baptism of John."[66] One day, while he is boldly speaking in the synagogue, Aquila and Priscilla hear him, and subsequently take him aside to explain to him "the way of God more accurately." He is then sent on to Achaia with the blessing of the congregation there in Ephesus, with no mention of his being re-baptized with a Christian baptism.[67] The phrases την οδον του κυριου and ζεων τω πνευματι are central to the understanding of this first part of the pericope. First, Apollos had been instructed in the ways of the Lord, not just in the ways of God (Cf. Acts 18:26). Even if he seemed to have some minor deficiencies, he knew enough about the Lord to be able to teach "accurately" about the things of the Lord. Second, he was fervent in spirit.[68] The close verbal parallel with Rom 12:11 has led many commentators to assume that this meant he was probably a Christian,[69] even though he lacked Christian baptism.

Acts 19:1-7 Sub-Pericope. The second situation involves the Ephesian twelve. Unlike Apollos, these are described as μαθητας and as ignorant of the Holy Spirit; like Apollos they had only been baptized "into John's baptism." Paul's interaction with them is markedly different from Aquila and Priscilla's interaction with Apollos. He explains to them that "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." At this, they "were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus," and then received the Holy Spirit. The two aspects central to the interpretation of this passage are the use of μαθητας and the twelve's apparent ignorance concerning the Spirit. The use of the appellation disciple has been interpreted in various ways,[70] but ultimately Marshall's interpretation makes the most sense. He notes that "Luke is not saying that the men are disciples but is describing how they appear to Paul."[71] As for their ignorance concerning the Spirit, most agree that this is not a total ignorance about the Spirit, because Jews, John's disciples, and Christians would all have heard of the Spirit. So, they must have been ignorant of the coming of the Spirit.[72] Therefore, due to their lack of knowledge about Christ and their lack of the Spirit, it can be concluded that these twelve were not Christians; consequently, they still required baptism when they believed after having heard about Christ Jesus.

From this pericope one can then conclude with Barrett that "it is probable that the two stories reflect different ways of receiving disciples of John the Baptist into the church."[73] John's baptism was "not inherently lacking" but "had as a primary purpose the leading of persons in a christological direction," and when "actualized in the Spirit-baptism of Jesus," it was considered valid, as in the case of Apollos.[74] This was similar to what would have happened to the apostles who were baptized before Pentecost, and then received the Spirit at Pentecost.[75] While in the case of the Ephesian twelve, the lack of any Christological understanding and the lack of the indwelling of the Spirit pointed to a lack of belief in the Messiah and a lack of regeneration.[76]

John's baptism, under the special circumstances described above, was apparently accepted by the early church as a valid substitute for Christian baptism,[77] but this does not make it equivalent to Christian baptism. Using Strong's own definition, John's baptism did not constitute a token of one's "previous entrance into the communion of Christ's death and resurrection."[78] So when he claims that Jesus' baptism pointed forward to his death and resurrection, and believer's baptism, wherever it is administered, "whether by John the Baptist, or the apostles, or by the later ministers of Christ's church," points backwards to the same, he is being inconsistent with his own definition.[79]

[65] Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:24-27, 33; cf. Luke 3:3. See: Akin, ed. Theology for the Church, 785 n45; 616. In an attempt to weaken the Baptist arguments for immersion, some Methodists have historically taken an extreme position and denied any relation between John's baptism and Christian baptism. See "John's Baptism," Quarterly Review of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South 6, no. 4 (1852): 592-617.

[66] Scripture quotations throughout the paper will be from the NKJV.

[67] F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, Rev. ed., New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 360; John B. Polhill, Acts, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 397; C. K. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 898; Cf. Paton J. Gloag, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870), 189.

[68] Cf. the NIV with "spoke with great fervor"; Alfred Firmin Loisy, Les Actes Des Apotres (Paris: E. Nourry, 1920), 712.

[69] Barrett, Acts of the Apostles, 888; Polhill, Acts, 396; Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 359; Gloag, Acts, 186-87. Gloag also states that "on account of the article before πνευματι, some, and especially the Fathers, suppose that the Holy Spirit is meant" (187).

[70] Some have understood this as referring to believers: Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 363; and Gloag, Acts, 194. Some have understood this as referring to them as disciples of John: Polhill, Acts, 398-99; and Christopher B. Kaiser, "Rebaptism of the Ephesian Twelve: Exegetical Study on Acts 19:1-7," Reformed Review 31, no. 1 (1977): 59.

[71] Quoted by Barrett in Barrett, Acts of the Apostles, 893.

[72] Gloag, Acts, 195-96; and Polhill, Acts, 399.

[73] Barrett, Acts of the Apostles, 898. Beasley-Murray, in George Raymond Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1962), 112, also concludes that "it would appear that the baptism of John was good enough in one case but not in another."

[74] J. B. Green, "From 'John's Baptism' to 'Baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus': The Significance of Baptism in Luke-Acts," Journal for the study of the New Testament. Supplement Series, no. 171 (1999): 168.

[75] Beasley-Murray, in Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, 110, sees Apollos as "representative of an unknown number of disciples of John who passed quietly unto the sovereignty of the Messiah Jesus and who were graciously visited by the Spirit without any further ecclesiastical intervention."

[76] Similarly, Dargan states that "the invalidating defect in the immersion which these men had previously received was not that of an unauthorized administrator – that not being in question – but clearly that of ignorance on their part of fundamental truth which they should have known as necessary to an intelligent reception of baptism." See: Dargan, Ecclesiology, 364.

[77] Cf. Ben Witherington, Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007), 77 [on-line]; accessed 10 October 2010; available from; Internet. Here Witherington writes that "John’s baptism is no satisfactory substitute for the true Christian rite in view of the accomplished work of Jesus, which is the foundation and background to the Christian water rite."

[78] Strong, Systematic Theology, 931.

[79] Strong, "The Baptism of Jesus," 235.

No comments:

Join my blog network
on Facebook