June 17: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8, etc

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8, etc

By all accounts, 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the earliest of Paul’s surviving letters (though some commentators would question his authorship of 2 Thessalonians), probably written sometime around 49-50 A.D. It is thus appropriate to begin an examination of Paul’s references to the Spirit in his letters at this point. For those interested in a comparative study with the Pauline speeches and statements in the book of Acts, it is to be noted that references to the Spirit are extremely rare in those contexts. The Spirit is more frequent as a subject in the speeches in the first half of the book, whereas the references in the second half (dominated by narratives of Paul’s mission journeys) tend to focus on the Spirit’s role in guiding the missionaries. Indeed, there are just three passages in Acts where Paul speaks of the (Holy) Spirit. In the last of these, at the close of the book (28:25), Paul is simply affirming the traditional view of the inspiration of the (Prophetic) Scriptures, though, by implication, a parallel would be drawn between the Prophets of old and Christian missionaries (apostles) as Spirit-inspired spokespersons for God.

The two remaining references in Acts are more substantial:

    • 19:2-7—The encounter with some believers who had only experienced water-baptism by John the Baptist; Paul makes clear to them that true baptism, in the Christian sense, also involves being “baptized” by the Spirit (i.e. receiving the Spirit). For more on the close association between baptism and the Spirit in the book of Acts, cf. the prior note.
    • In his “farewell” speech to the elders of the Ephesian congregation(s) (chap. 20), Paul reaffirms the guiding role of the Spirit (vv. 22-23, cf. above) in his missionary travels. However, in passing, he also states that it was the Holy Spirit who “set” those elders as overseers of the congregation(s) (v. 28). Most likely this means that the selection and installation of persons in these roles was made through Spirit-inspired (i.e. prophetic) guidance among the believers as a whole. Occasionally, we find similar indications of this dynamic at work in the life of the early congregations (13:2; 15:28; 21:4).

When we turn to the Thessalonian letters, these aspects of the Spirit’s role, evident in the book of Acts, can also be found. In the introduction (exordium) and thanksgiving of 1 Thessalonians, Paul expresses, together, two sides of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the early Christian mission (cf. Acts 1:7-8, etc):

    • The proclamation by the Spirit-inspired minister (i.e. prophet):
      “…our good message did not come unto in a (spoken) account only, but in power and in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|]…” (v. 5)
    • The reception by the (new) believers, who also receive the Spirit:
      “and you came to be imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the account, in much distress, (but also) with delight of (the) holy Spirit…” (v. 6)

The remaining references in 1 and 2 Thessalonians have a rather different emphasis, and one that is not so much to be found in the book of Acts, though it clearly relates to the earliest Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s emphasis is on what we would call sanctification—that is, of believers being made holy (a%gio$). This draws upon the Old Testament line of tradition that associates God’s (holy) Spirit with the cleansing of His people.

The use of water-imagery to express the idea of cleansing obviously relates to the practice of baptism, going back to John’s ministry. Early Christians largely followed the same water-ritual, both in terms of form and essential symbolism, but giving unique emphasis to the role of the Spirit. The Qumran Community, in its own way, did the same thing, using the symbolism of a water-ritual (for entrants into the Community, along with subsequent ablutions) to express the idea of a special holiness, established and maintained by God’s own holy Spirit (cf. my earlier article on the subject). Through the work of God’s Spirit, the individual’s spirit is made completely pure and holy, allowing him to join as part of the “Community of holiness”.

Paul expresses much the same idea in 1 Thess 4:1-8, in which he exhorts believers to live in a holy and upright manner that reflects the holy Spirit of God, given to them at baptism. Though baptism is not specifically mentioned here, there is every reason to think that the sort of ethical instruction Paul gives here reflects, at least in part, the instruction given to believers at the time of their baptism (a point to be discussed further in upcoming notes). The wording in verses 7-8 is clear enough:

“For God did not call us upon uncleanness, but in holiness [a(giasmo/$]. For this (reason) then, the (one) setting (it) aside, does not set aside (the will of a) man, but God, the (One) giving His holy Spirit unto us.”

To act in an immoral manner essentially means to “set aside” (vb a)qete/w) the holiness given to believers by God, through His own Holy Spirit. Since this holiness comes through the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, to set aside the holiness is to set aside God’s own Spirit, which means setting aside God Himself. The same message of holiness and sanctification is given at the close of the letter (5:23-24), only this time in terms of an eschatological promise:

“And may the God of peace keep you complete(ly) holy to the end, and whole (in every) part—spirit and soul and body—(and) without fault may he keep you, in our Lord’s (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] (us). Trust(worthy is) the (One) calling you, the (One) who also will do (this).”

The Greek syntax is a bit difficult to translate, with the main verbs (in v. 23) being in the optative mood, expressing a wish or desire. The principal phrase is a(gia/sai u(ma/$ o(lotelei=$—three concise words, which cannot be translated so simply. The optative form of the verb a(gia/zw (“make holy”), which would normally mean “may He make (you) holy”, is better understood in this context as “keep holy”. The adjective o(lotelh/$ has the basic meaning “completely whole”; a relatively simple translation of the phrase might then be “may He keep you holy (and) completely whole”. However, the eschatological context suggests that there is an allusion to te/lo$ as the “completion” of the Age. In other words, Paul’s wish is that God would keep the believers completely holy to the end—that is, until the return of Jesus (cf. 4:13-5:11), expected to occur very soon.

The earlier reference to the Spirit in verse 19—the exhortation “you must not extinguish the Spirit” (to\ pneu=ma mh\ sbe/nnute)—presumably reflects the same sort of general ethical-religious instruction found in 4:1-8 (cf. above). Probably there is the added dimension of preserving the inspired character of the Community, involving all aspects of the work and activity of the Spirit. This would explain the command that immediately follows in verse 20: “you must not make prophecies out as nothing”. The implication is that the Spirit-inspired teaching and instruction within the Community (i.e. “prophecy”) should not be ignored or devalued. By contrast, all things in the Community (including “prophecy”) must be given a thorough and fair consideration (vb dokima/zw), holding firm to those things which pass the test (v. 21).

Finally, we should mention Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which, in some ways, summarize all of the earlier references to the Spirit we have looked at here. It parallels most closely the prayer in 1 Thess 5:23, and the corresponding eschatological context of 2 Thessalonians is clear enough and hardly requires comment. Here the eschatological promise blends together with a fervent exhortation to believers, in a manner that is typical of early Christian writing:

“But we owe (it) to give (thanks) to God (for His) good favor, always about you, (as) brothers having been loved under [i.e. by] the Lord, (in) that God took you (for) himself, (as fruit) from the beginning (of the harvest), unto salvation, in holiness of (the) Spirit and trust of [i.e. in] (the) truth”

The expression e)n a(giasmw| pneu/mato$ could also mean “in holiness of spirit”, which would be just as valid in context; however, the adjoining expression “trust of (the) truth” suggests a parallel Truth of God / Spirit of God.

In these Thessalonian passages we are offered a glimpse of the way that the early Christian understanding of the Spirit was being further developed through Paul’s unique (and specially inspired) manner of expression. In his subsequent letters, as we shall see, the role of the Spirit was given a profound new theological (and Christological) dimension as well. This will be discussed over the next few daily notes.

 

June 15: Acts 2:4, 17-18ff

June 15: Acts 2:4, 17-18ff

These June daily notes have focused on the development of the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God, among early Christians, as documented in the New Testament Writings. The previous few notes have examined the special emphasis given to the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts, both in terms of the author’s adaptation of the wider Gospel tradition, and the unique treatment of the subject in the book of Acts.

There are dozens of specific references to the Spirit in the narratives, sermon-speeches, and summary notices of the book of Acts—and even more if one were to include the variant readings of the Western ‘recension’ (cf. my earlier note for key instances). I have discussed the matter in prior notes and articles, including a set of three notes in the series “The Holy Spirit in the Gospel Tradition”. There I outlined the three main ways that the Spirit interacts with believers in Luke-Acts, with all relevant examples detailed in the notes:

    1. The Spirit comes upon people, including (and especially) the primary association with baptism [Note 1]
    2. The Spirit fills people, usually in the context of inspired (prophetic) speech [Note 2]
    3. The Spirit leads/guides people, including passages which use the specific phrase “in the Spirit” [Note 3]

Today I wish to focus specifically upon how this role and action of the Spirit reflects a development of the older lines of tradition. We may similarly isolate three aspects for study:

    • The association with baptism
    • The Prophetic tradition regarding the Spirit, in two respects:
      (a) the coming of the Spirit upon God’s people in the New Age, and
      (b) the ancient tradition of prophetic inspiration
    • The phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”, as a (new) form of prophecy

All three of these run throughout the narratives of Acts, but they are also found, combined and in seminal form, in the Pentecost narrative of 2:1-4ff. On the association with Baptism, there is a clear parallel between Jesus and the disciples in this context (Lk 3:16; Acts 1:5); just as the Spirit came upon Jesus at his Baptism, so it does upon the disciples at their new “baptism”:

    • Jesus: “…the Holy Spirit stepping [i.e. coming] down in bodily appearance as a dove upon [e)pi] him”—baptism by John in water (Lk 3:22)
    • Disciples: “…tongues appeared as fire and sat (down) upon [e)pi] each one of them” (and they were all filled by the Holy Spirit)—baptism (by Jesus) in the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 2:3-4)

This symbolism implies both cleansing (i.e. the use of water-symbolism for the Spirit) and also a fundamental association with anointing (i.e. the Spirit poured out on the chosen one[s] as oil). Luke gives greater emphasis to this than do the other Gospels, especially in the scene at Nazareth set at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 4:14ff), where Jesus specifically identifies himself with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon [e)pi] me, for (the sake) of which He anointed [e&xrisen] me…” (Lk 4:18-21ff). This passage is central to the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One [Christ/Messiah] in early Gospel Tradition (cf. Lk 7:19-23; par Matt 11:2-6, note also Matt 12:18 citing a different Isaian passage [Isa 42:1-3]), as I have discussed in detail in prior notes and articles (cf. the recent note in this series). The anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit is tied to his Baptism in Acts 10:38.

These two motifs—water (baptism) and oil (anointing)—are also combined in the image of the Spirit being “poured out” on believers in the book of Acts. The primary passage, of course, is the Pentecost speech by Peter in which Joel 2:28-32 is quoted (2:17-18ff), especially the key phrase (doubled in poetic parallel):

I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit
—upon [e)pi] all flesh…
—(yes,) even upon [e)pi] my (male) slaves and upon [e)pi] my (female) slaves
I will pour out [e)kxew=] from my Spirit in those days…” (Acts 2:17-18 / Joel 2:28-29)

This language is repeated in Acts 2:33; 10:45. The gift of the Holy Spirit coming on believers is usually connected with baptism in some way throughout the narratives in Acts (see the wording in Acts 2:38), though clearly as a distinct event:

    • In Acts 8:12-17, believers receive the Spirit subsequent to being baptized, through the laying on of hands by the Apostles (vv. 15-17)—cf. also Acts 19:2-6.
    • In Acts 10:44-48 (and 11:15-16), the Spirit comes upon believers prior to their being baptized, following the preaching of Peter

In both of these passage the sudden, dramatic experience of receiving the Spirit is described with the verb e)pipi/ptw (“fall [down] upon”)— “as Peter was yet speaking these words, the holy Spirit fell upon [e)pe/pesen e)pi] all the (one)s hearing…” (Acts 10:44, cf. 11:15). As in the case of Mary and Jesus (cf. above), the coming of the Spirit “upon” [e)pi] believers indicates the presence and power of God which has come near, transforming their entire life and being. It should be understood as the first, primary stage—the first of the three motifs listed above. The presence of the Spirit upon a person is necessarily prior to the filling and inspired leading/guiding by the Spirit.

These dual symbols of water (baptism) and oil (anointing) reflect distinct lines of tradition regarding the role of the Spirit, which find fulfillment for believers in Christ in the New Age:

    • The idea of cleansing and purification (through water and/or fire), which, in the later Prophetic tradition, was connected with the idea of Israel’s restoration. With the return of God’s people to their land, they would be given a “new heart” and a new spirit, through the work of God’s own holy Spirit. It would be the beginning of a New Age of peace, prosperity, and righteousness, in which Israel would adhere to the covenant with God in a new way (i.e. a “new covenant”). The message of God’s truth would extend from Israel/Judah to all the surrounding nations.
    • The special anointing of kings (and prophets), marked by the presence of the Spirit coming upon them (1 Sam 16:13-14, etc), is extended to the people as a whole. This represents a “democratization” of the Spirit, which will no longer be limited to select, chosen individuals (cf. the earlier note on Num 11:16-30). To be sure, unique Messianic figures (and figure-types) still played a role in Jewish tradition, but the ultimate prophetic message, regarding the role of the Spirit in the New Age, involved the people (or Community) as a whole.

Both of these lines of tradition have been discussed at length in the recent (pre-Pentecost) series of notes on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will look more closely at the Prophetic tradition regarding the Spirit, as it is manifest in the book of Acts, with special emphasis on the tradition of prophetic inspiration.

June 7: Luke 11:2, 9-13

Luke 11:2, 9-13

In our study of how the traditions regarding the Spirit of God developed in the New Testament, among early Christians, we have been considering the evidence from the historical traditions preserved in the Synoptic Gospels. As we move from the core Synoptic Tradition to its (later) developments in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we find an increasing number of references to the Spirit—most notably in the Lukan Gospel. This has already been discussed in a previous note (on Lk 4:1, 14ff)—the way that the references to the Spirit at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry have been developed and adapted, with an eye toward the role of the Spirit in the larger narrative of Luke-Acts.

A similar sort of example can be found in chapter 11 (vv. 1-13), where the author has brought together several different traditions—sayings and parables—on the subject of prayer. This is typical of the thematic and “catchword” bonding by which Gospel traditions often came to be combined together. In the Lukan Gospel, the journey to Jerusalem provides the literary framework within which a large amount of material has been included, as though it were simply a record of all that Jesus taught along the way. The fact that much of this material is found in different narrative locations in the other Gospels makes clear that the Lukan arrangement is literary, rather than historical and chronological. In 11:1-13, the unifying theme is prayer; at least three different tradition-units make up this pericope:

    • A version of the “Lord’s Prayer” (vv. 2-4), following the narrative introduction in verse 1
    • The Parable of the man who calls on his friend in the middle of the night (vv. 5-8), and
    • A short block of sayings—at least two distinct traditions (vv. 9-10, 11-13)—part of the so-called “Q” material, also found in Matthew (7:7-11)

The emphasis in vv. 5-13 is on the assurance that God, as the “heavenly Father”, will answer the prayers of His children, and that they should not be afraid to petition God in their time of need. In particular, let us examine the sayings in vv. 9-13—the first of which is virtually identical with the Matthean version:

And I say to you: you must ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened up to you; for every (one) asking receives, the (one) seeking finds, and to the (one) knocking it is [or, it will be] opened up.” (vv. 9-10)

Luke has apparently made no change to the “Q” tradition, other than perhaps the inclusion of the introductory phrase (in italics). The situation is different with regard to the tradition in vv. 11-13; it is instructive to compare the Lukan and the Matthean (7:9-11) versions phrase by phrase:

    • “Or, what man is (there) out of [i.e. among] you” (Matt)
      “And for what father out of [i.e. among] you” (Lk)
      It is possible that Luke has glossed “man” as “father” to make the immediate context of the illustration more clear, but it would also be appropriate to the overall context of vv. 1-13, which is framed by references to God as the heavenly Father (vv. 2, 13). It also establishes a precise contrast between an earthly father and God the Father, which is very much to the point of the illustration. The Lukan syntax would seem to confirm its character as a gloss—i.e., “what (man) among you, as a father…”.
    • “whom, (when) his son will ask (for) bread, he will (surely) not give over to him a stone(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “the son will ask (for) a fish and, in exchange (for) a fish, will he give over to him a snake (instead)?” (Lk)
      The Lukan syntax is simpler, emphasizing that the harmful item (snake) is given in place of (a)nti/) the beneficial thing requested by the son (a fish). The initial pairing in Matthew is bread/stone, rather than fish/snake, but it similarly establishes the pattern for the illustration.
    • “or even will ask (for) a fish, he will not give over to him a snake(, will he)?” (Matt)
      “or even will ask (for) an egg, will he give over to him a stinging (creature) [i.e. scorpion] (instead)?” (Lk)
      Matthew’s second pairing is the first in the Lukan illustration; in place of it, the Lukan version juxtaposes egg/scorpion, which makes for a more extreme (and ridiculous) contrast.
    • “So (then), if you, being evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Matt)
      “So (then), if you, beginning (now) as evil, have seen [i.e. known] (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring” (Lk)
      The two versions are nearly identical here; the use of the verb u(pa/rxw (lit. “begin under”), instead of the simple verb of being (ei)mi), would seem to be an indication of Lukan style. Of the 46 occurrences of the verb u(pa/rxw, 31 are found in Luke-Acts, and it is not used in any of the other Gospels.
    • “how much more will your Father, the (One) in the heavens, give good (thing)s to the (one)s asking Him?” (Matt)
      “how much more will your Father out of heaven give (the) holy Spirit to the (one)s asking Him?” (Lk)
      Again the two versions are quite close here, the most notable difference being that Luke reads “holy Spirit” in place of “good (thing)s”. Assuming that we are dealing with a common saying, which certainly seems to be the case, the two versions here cannot both be an accurate representation of the original. Almost certainly, Matthew preserves the original saying (or close to it), which Luke has adapted in light of the special emphasis on the role of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (cf. above). Several manuscripts (Ë45 L, etc) read “(a) good spirit” instead of “holy Spirit”, most likely in an attempt to harmonize the two versions.

The Lukan reference to the holy Spirit as the “good thing(s)” that God will give to His offspring effectively centers the saying within an early Christian context, anticipating the “gift” of the Spirit that will come upon Jesus’ disciples in Acts 2:1-4ff. It serves as the climax to Jesus’ teaching on prayer in this passage, implying that it is the Holy Spirit that will truly be the answer to his disciples’ prayer. In this regard, it is interesting to note a fascinating variant reading within the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer, found in a small number of witnesses. The majority text of the second petition (in v. 2) reads “may your Kingdom come” (e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou), just as in the Matthean version, though Codex Bezae (D) adds e)f’ h(ma=$ (“upon us”). However, in two minuscule manuscripts (162, 700) and in the writings of at least two Church Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus Confessor), we find a very different petition which substantially reads:

“may your holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us”
e)lqe/tw to\ pneu=ma sou to\ a%gion e)f’ h(ma=$ kai\ kaqarisa/tw h(ma=$

Some commentators have suggested that this is a gloss interpreting the coming of God’s “Kingdom” as a reference to the coming of the Spirit, and that it may have originated as a liturgical adaption of the Prayer in a baptismal setting. Interestingly, an identification of God’s Kingdom with the Spirit, within the narrative of Luke-Acts, may be justified on the basis of Jesus’ answer to the question posed by his disciples in Acts 1:6-8. A more precise Christian identification is made by Paul in Romans 14:17. If we go back to the sayings and words of Jesus, a similar association, between Kingdom and Spirit, can be found in the Matthean version of the saying at Matt 12:28 / Lk 11:20 (cf. the prior note); the Lukan version of this saying, which uses “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God” occurs just shortly after the section on prayer in chap. 11. We may also note the association made by Jesus in the Johannine discourse of chap. 3 (v. 5).

Though this variant reading in the Lord’s Prayer is certainly secondary (and not original), it provides an intriguing enhancement to a genuine Lukan theme in this passage. It offers a parallel, at the beginning of the section (v. 2), to the reference to the Spirit at the conclusion (v. 13), thus framing the entire pericope, and emphasizing all the more the point that the coming of the Spirit represents the ultimate goal and answer to the prayer of believers. There is a similar connection between prayer and the Spirit running through the Johannine Last Discourse—cf. 14:13-17, 25-26; 15:7ff, 26; 16:7ff, 23-24.

The variant reading itself represents a distinctly Christian adaptation of an established Old Testament/Jewish tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the New Age. Drawing upon the natural association between God’s (holy) Spirit and cleansing, the sixth century Prophets, as part of their overall message regarding the restoration of Israel (and return from exile), emphasize the role of the Spirit that God will “pour out” upon His people, cleansing them and giving to them a “new heart” and a new spirit which will allow them to remain obedient to the Covenant. The Qumran Community further developed this idea, applying it to their own religious identity as the faithful ones of the end-time. The Qumran Community viewed itself as a “community of holiness”, made up completely of “men of holiness”, led by a “council of holiness”, and established by God’s own “spirit of holiness” (1QS 8:20-9:3). The water-ritual for entrants into the Community symbolized the cleansing of the person’s spirit by the “spirit of [God’s] holiness”, so that the individual’s own spirit was made entirely holy (1QS 3:5-9), allowing him to become part of the holy Community. The parallel with early Christian baptism is clear enough, and the variant reading of Luke 11:2, if it indeed stems from a baptismal setting, would indicate that early Christians used similar traditional language, regarding the cleansing role of the Spirit in the Community.

Before proceeding further to consider how this Lukan emphasis on the Spirit reflects the historical traditions surrounding the earliest believers (in Luke-Acts), it will be worth examining one additional Gospel tradition where the Lukan version, apparently, makes reference to the Holy Spirit. In the next daily note, we will look briefly at the saying in Lk 10:21-22 (par Matt 11:25-27).

 

June 2: Mark 1:9-11 par

Mark 1:9-11 par

Along with the saying of the Baptist (cf. the previous note), there is a related early Gospel tradition involving the Spirit of God (and/or the “holy Spirit”)—the famous narrative of the Baptism of Jesus. I have discussed the entire episode of Jesus’ Baptism at great length in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”; here, in this note, the discussion will be limited to how this narrative tradition reflects a development of the earlier lines of Old Testament and Jewish tradition, regarding the Spirit of God.

The core Synoptic narrative is best represented by the Markan version (1:9-11), with the descent of the Spirit described in verse 10:

“And straightaway, stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens being split (open) and the Spirit as a dove stepping down unto him”

The Matthean version (3:16) is expanded, offering more precise (if blander) detail:

“And (hav)ing been dunked, Yeshua straightaway stepped up from the water, and see!—the heavens were opened (up), and he saw [the] Spirit of God stepping down, as if a dove, [and] coming upon him”

The Lukan version (3:21-22), by contrast, is briefer, but embedded within a complex syntactical structure that is difficult to translate; the relevant portion reads:

“…(an) opening (up) of the heaven and (the) stepping down of the holy Spirit, in bodily appearance as a dove, upon him”

The main details are consistent across the Synoptic tradition, and are also shared by the Johannine version (1:32ff), presented as an indirect narration by the Baptist:

“I have looked at the Spirit stepping down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him”

The three key details, found in all versions, are: (1) the Spirit “stepping down” out of heaven, (2) the form/appearance as a dove, and (3) its coming “upon” Jesus. Let us briefly consider each of these.

1. “stepping down” (vb katabai/nw) out of heaven

This signifies the heavenly origin of the Spirit, implying that it comes from God in heaven. The Markan and Johannine versions specifically state that it came “out of” (e)k) heaven, while Matthew has “from” (a)po/) heaven. The dramatic opening up of the heavens (i.e. the skies) in Mark/Matthew makes clear the idea that the Spirit comes down onto the earth. The use of the verb katabai/nw (lit. “step down”, i.e. come down) has special significance in the Gospel of John, which uses both katabai/nw and the related a)nabai/nw (“step up”) in a uniquely theological (and Christological) sense. The “descent” of the Spirit marks the beginning of this descent/ascent motif—that is, the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus, respectively—in the Gospel (cf. 1:51, etc).

2. The Dove

Commentators continue to debate the significance of the dove appearance of the Spirit in this episode. Many ideas and associations have been suggested, but three seem particularly relevant:

    • The Creation account, which depicts the spirit (or breath) of God “hovering/fluttering” like a bird (Gen 1:2, cf. the earlier note); other Old Testament passages similarly describe God’s presence in creation (that is, among His people) using bird-imagery (e.g., Deut 32:11-13).
    • The fundamental meaning of both pneu=ma in Greek and j^Wr in Hebrew is that of wind, i.e. something blowing; this makes for a natural association with the image of a bird in flight. Similarly, the image of a bird in the expanse of the skies (or heavens) connotes freedom, exaltation, purity, and so forth. Many religious traditions worldwide depict the life-breath (i.e. soul, spirit) of a person as a bird.
    • The whiteness that characterizes many doves, and is traditional of the dove, serves as a natural symbol for the holiness (i.e. purity) of God’s Spirit.

Only the last of these relates specifically to a dove, and is particularly important to the baptism setting, with its emphasis on cleansing. It is worth remembering that the literal expression in Hebrew is, most commonly, “spirit of [God’s] holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr), rather than “holy spirit”; that is, the emphasis is squarely on holiness and purity as a divine characteristic.

3. Coming “upon” Jesus

The Markan version uses the preposition ei)$, which is somewhat ambiguous; literally, it could mean “into”, but most commentators would render it here as “unto”. In Old Testament tradition, this could be comparable to the idea of God’s Spirit coming (or “rushing”) to a person, using the preposition la#. By contrast, Matthew and Luke (along with the Johannine version) use the preposition e)pi/ (“upon”), corresponding to the Hebrew lu*. There are even more Old Testament passages which express the idea of God’s Spirit being (or coming) upon a person—cf. Num 11:17ff; Judg 3:10; 14:6; 1 Sam 10:6, 10; 11:6, etc (discussed in recent notes). Moreover, this was the basic idiom that was developed in later Prophetic tradition, involving the image of the Spirit being “poured out” upon a person (cf. the discussion below).

The Significance of the Baptism Scene

This needs to be considered from several vantage points:

    • The Baptism scene in the context of the early Gospel narrative
    • The language and imagery in the scene itself, especially the detail of the “voice” from heaven
    • How the scene was understood, in context, by the Gospel writers
The Context of the early Gospel narrative

This involves: (a) the baptism rite in the setting of John’s ministry, and (b) the saying of the Baptist regarding “the one coming”. Both of these aspects were discussed in the previous note, where I pointed out the significant parallels with the water-ritual performed for entrants into the Qumran Community. The ritual symbolized the person’s “spirit” being cleansed (and made holy) by God’s own Spirit; moreover, this cleansing was preparatory for the purification that would take place at the end-time. The Gospel narrative clearly indicates that the baptism rite, as performed by John, was for the cleansing of sin, and that it similarly anticipated the end-time Judgment of God—when the righteous/faithful ones would be purified, while the wicked would be consumed.

What is distinctive about the Baptist’s message in this regard, is the localization of this end-time cleansing with the Messianic figure of “the one coming”. On the derivation of this expression from the tradition in Malachi 3:1, as interpreted in a Messianic sense, cf. the previous note, along with my supplemental note in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. Implicit in the early Gospel narrative is that Jesus, with his initial appearance at his baptism, is being identified with this Messianic figure. The point is not made explicit at all in the simpler Synoptic narrative of Mark, but the connection is evinced, in different ways, by the other Gospel writers. For example, the inclusion of the Infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke establishes the Messianic identity of Jesus even prior to the Baptism, a point reinforced by Matthew’s citation of Isa 9:1-2 in 4:12-16. Luke sets the Baptism episode in the context of questions regarding whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One (3:15ff); this is presented even more prominently in the Johannine Gospel (1:19-27).

The pouring of water in the baptism-rite also suggests the idea of anointing—indeed, both motifs were associated with the Spirit of God in Old Testament Tradition, as discussed in prior notes. In the ancient kingship traditions—going back to the earlier leadership of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges—the Spirit of God came upon the ruler, in a manner similar to prophetic inspiration (cf. 1 Sam 10:6, 11; 11:6, etc). In the case of Saul and David, there is a close connection between the coming of God’s Spirit and the anointing ritual (1 Sam 16:13f); even after the principle of Spirit-inspired charismatic leadership waned, the presence of the Spirit was still tied to the king’s anointing in the (Judean) royal theology. There is less evidence for the anointing of prophets; however, the expression “anointed one” (j^yv!m*, i.e. messiah) could be applied to prophets, as well as kings and priests. As mentioned in the prior note, the early Gospel tradition, during the period of his ministry, seems to have identified Jesus as a Messianic prophet rather than the Davidic ruler figure-type. Cf. Parts 2 and 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

The Voice from Heaven

The heavenly voice in the Baptism narrative primarily represents a theophany—that is, the manifestation of God among human beings (His people, or their chosen representative[s]). The main Old Testament example, of course, is the Sinai theophany, when the people heard the voice of God speaking (Exod 19:19ff; 20:18-21; Deut 4:10-12). In the Gospels, this theophanic voice relates specifically to key moments during Jesus’ ministry, demonstrating God’s relationship to him specifically. In addition to the Baptism and Transfiguration episodes (Mk 9:7 par; Lk 9:35 [v.l.]), there is a comparable occurrence in the Gospel of John (12:27-32). The heavenly voice at the Transfiguration essentially repeats the voice at the Baptism (in Matthew’s version they are virtually identical), and the parallel episodes serve to divide the structure of the Synoptic narrative:

    • The Baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ (Galilean) ministry
    • The Transfiguration marks the end of that ministry, and the beginning of the events leading up to his Passion

The declaration made by the heavenly voice, and its precise significance, continue to be debated. There does seem to be an allusion to Psalm 2:7, which would strongly indicate an identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) of the Davidic ruler type—i.e., future/end-time king from the line of David. In some manuscripts of Luke 3:22, the voice actually quotes Psalm 2:7, an indication, at the very least, that early Christians had made the connection. However, it seems more likely that the primary allusion is to Isaiah 42:1, which clearly references the Spirit coming upon God’s chosen one (cf. my earlier note on the passage). The Greek word translating db#u# (“servant”) is pai=$, which literally means “child”, and so could easily be interpreted in the specific sense of “son” (ui(o/$). The Servant of the deutero-Isaian poems is best understood as an Anointed leader patterned after Moses, who will lead Israel in their return from exile (a ‘new Exodus’). He thus serves as a Messianic prophet-figure, parallel to the end-time Prophet patterned after Elijah (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6, cf. the previous note). In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus is associated with both Moses and Elijah.

The Meaning of the Scene in the Gospels

Given the explicit notice that the purpose of John’s baptizing was for repentance and forgiveness of sin, it is interesting that the Gospel writers do not give any evidence of the theological implications of this in relation to Jesus. At the level of the historical tradition, the idea of Jesus’ sinlessness was not yet an issue, and, by the time the Gospels were written, the Baptism-tradition was so well-fixed that the writers were no longer free to comment on the matter. Only at Matt 3:14-15 is there any indication of an apologetic concern, expressed more in terms of Jesus’ apparent submission to John, than on his need for repentance.

Whatever the specific reasons or circumstances for Jesus being baptized, at the historical level, the Gospels quite clearly demonstrate that the scene is not about cleansing and purification, but of consecration and empowerment. The best parallel from Old Testament tradition is that of prophetic inspiration—that is, the Spirit of God coming upon the chosen/gifted spokesperson (ayb!n`) who will serve as God’s representative. The idea of Jesus as a Davidic (royal) Messiah is largely foreign to the first half of the Synoptic narrative (the Galilean ministry period); only with the journey to Jerusalem, and the events leading to his Passion, does the Davidic association come more clearly into view. Two aspects of Jesus’ ministry are most directly relevant to the ayb!n` (prophet) role:

    • Preaching and teaching—i.e. Spirit-inspired utterance, and
    • Healing miracles, demonstrating his power and authority over spirits of disease, etc.

Of the Old Testament Prophets, the working of miracles is associated most commonly with Elijah (and his successor Elisha), and also, to a lesser extent, with Moses. Inspired preaching is common to many of the prophets, though the specific idea of teaching, with its connection to the Torah, would be most closely related to Moses. Thus Jesus could well be viewed as an Anointed (Messianic) prophet patterned after both Moses and Elijah (cf. the Transfiguration scene). However, direct allusions in the Gospels are slight, and it is only in the Gospel of Luke that we find a clearer portrait of the kind of Anointed figure Jesus understood himself to be. This will be discussed in the next daily note.

June 1: Mark 1:7-8 par

For the daily notes beginning in the month of June, I will be following up on the earlier (pre-Pentecost) series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. In the light of those studies, we will examine how this understanding of the presence and work of God’s Spirit—and, specifically, the idea of His “holy Spirit” —was developed in early Christian thought. It is a subject I have discussed, with regard to the Gospel Tradition, in a prior set of notes; here, however, the focus will be on how the earlier Old Testament (and Jewish) tradition regarding God’s Spirit was developed.

We begin with a core set of the earliest Gospel traditions (esp. the Synoptic Tradition); as these have already been discussed in some detail in the aforementioned series, the treatment will be more limited here.

Mark 1:7-8 par

The first passage referring to the (Holy) Spirit in the Synoptic Tradition comes from a saying/declaration by John the Baptist (Mark 1:7-8 par), which is certainly among the very oldest/earliest to be preserved in Christian tradition (cf. the articles on the Baptism of Jesus in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”). The age (and authenticity) of the saying is confirmed by the fact that it is recorded no fewer than six times in the Gospels and Acts, having been transmitted independently in at least two (or more) strands of tradition. Moreover, while John the Baptist has a central place in the earliest Gospel narrative, he soon disappeared from Christian tradition generally—he is never mentioned in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts, and only once in the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers (c. 90-150 A.D.), as part of a simple Gospel/creedal formula (Ignatius, Smyrneans 1:1, cf. Rom 1:3-4). Thus the prominence of John in the primitive Gospel narrative and kerygma is virtually a guarantee of authenticity.

Admittedly, some commentators have questioned the authenticity of such a reference to the “holy Spirit” by John the Baptist, considering the historical detail in Acts 19:1-3ff to the effect that disciples of John the Baptist were apparently unaware of the existence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, however, the numerous occurrences of the expression “holy spirit” (= “spirit of holiness”) in the Qumran texts would tend to increase the likelihood that John, indeed, might make use of the same expression. In particular, there is a certain similarity between Johannine/Christian baptism and the water-ritual for entrants into the Qumran Community (cf. 1QS 3:6-9, discussed in a prior article), and the “holy spirit” of God plays a central role in both.

Mark’s short account of John the Baptist and his ministry (Mk 1:2-8), which precedes the Baptism of Jesus (vv. 9-11), climaxes with the core saying in vv. 7-8:

“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of (the shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|].”

Matthew and Luke provide a more extensive account, including additional sayings and teachings by John; the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7-8 is in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16. Here the three versions are presented side-by-side for comparison, with the main elements in Matthew/Luke which differ from Mark indicated by italics:

Mark 1:7-8 Matthew 3:11 Luke 3:16
“The (one) stronger than me comes behind me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bend (down) to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet). I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit.” “I dunk you in water into a change-of-mind [i.e. repentance]; but the (one) coming behind me is stronger than me, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to bear/carry the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.” “I dunk you in water; but the (one) stronger than me comes, of whom I am not (worthy) enough to loosen the straps of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet)—he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit and fire.”

For more on the differences between Mark and Matthew/Luke, cf. my earlier note. Of special significance is that Matthew and Luke both add “and (in) fire [kai\ puri/]”. This emphasizes the coming/future Judgment of God upon humankind (cf. Matt 3:7ff par), and leads into the added saying in Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17. The common idea shared by the “holy Spirit” and “fire” is that of cleansing, which also happens to be the principal meaning of the baptism water-rite.

Moreover, the triad of water-spirit-fire all represent elements associated with purification and cleansing in Old Testament tradition. Cleansing by water is common enough (Num 8:7; 19:12; Ps 51:2; Ezek 16:4; 36:25; Zech 13:1, etc), and the imagery is occasionally extended to the (symbolic) pouring out of the Spirit of God (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Ezek 36:25-26). Fire is also used as a symbol of purification; in addition to the idea of burning up garbage and refuse, there is the metallurgic imagery, whereby base metal is refined and its impurities removed through fire—cf. Psalm 12:6; Isa 4:4-5; 48:10; Dan 11:35; 12:10; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3. Offerings and objects consecrated to God are also burned with fire (Ex 29:18, 34, etc; Deut 13:16; Josh 6:24). These three elements (water, fire, and the “holy spirit”) are combined in 1QS 4:20-21 from Qumran (cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke I-IX [AB vol. 28], p. 474); the following details are relevant to the setting of John’s ministry:

      • It will occur at the (end) time of God’s visitation—i.e., an eschatological setting
      • God will purge the deeds of humankind by His Truth
        • refining (by fire) a portion of humankind (i.e., the righteous/chosen ones)
        • removing every evil spirit from their flesh
        • cleansing them from wickedness with (the) holy Spirit
        • sprinkling them with the Spirit (as with water)
      • The righteous ones are cleansed with the Spirit of Truth

Let us look a bit more closely at the saying in Mark 1:8, which follows the second phrase of the saying in v. 7 by establishing a contrast between John and the “one coming”; here is the version in Mark:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in [e)n] the holy Spirit”
e)gw/ e)ba/ptisa u(ma=$ u%dati, au)to\$ de\ bapti/sei u(ma=$ e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|

For the other Synoptic versions (Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16), they are very close to the Markan saying (as noted above), but share three key differences:

    • Both use a me\nde/ construction—i.e. “on the one hand…on the other…”
    • Each includes the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7 in the middle of the saying corr. to Mk 1:8—i.e. “I dunk you in water…, but the one coming… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”
    • Each adds “and (in) fire”—”he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and (in) fire

The version in Acts (1:5, par 11:16) represents a saying by Jesus, indicating something which Jesus had told his disciples about John:

“(On the one hand) John dunked in water, but (other other hand) you will be dunked in the holy Spirit” (1:5)

The version in John (Jn 1:26 & 33) shows a more substantial reworking of the tradition; the reference to the holy Spirit does not occur until John the Baptist’s reporting of the baptism of Jesus.

The Development of Tradition

How does this saying of the Baptist relate to the Old Testament and Jewish traditions regarding the Spirit of God and the “holy Spirit”? Two points need to be considered:

    • The association of the holy Spirit with the water-ritual (dunking/baptism), and
    • Its significance in relation to “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$)

The first point can be illustrated by the water-ritual of the Qumran Community (cf. above). As the physical ritual (sprinkling/bathing) with water is performed, it symbolizes the underlying reality of purification by God’s Spirit (“spirit of [His] holiness”), through which the entrant’s own “spirit” is made completely holy. This idea builds upon the earlier Prophetic tradition regarding the role of God’s Spirit in the future restoration of Israel. This is a theme we find in a number of the 6th century Prophets (Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah). In the coming New Age of Israel’s restoration, associated with the specific idea of the return of Israel/Judah to their land, the people will be given a “new heart” and a ‘new spirit’, purified and made holy (and obedient to God’s covenant) through the presence and work of God’s own spirit. The the “pouring out” of God’s Spirit upon His people is seen as a mark of the coming New Age (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 39:29; cf. also Zech 12:10); for discussion of these passages, cf. the notes in the series on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.

By the time of the Qumran texts, this restoration-theme had come to be understood in a strongly eschatological and Messianic sense. The Qumran Community viewed itself as the “remnant” of Israel, the faithful ones of the end-time, who would be delivered and led by the Anointed One(s) of God. By all accounts, John the Baptist’s preaching had much of the same flavor, proclaiming the coming of an Anointed figure (i.e. Messiah) who would deliver the faithful and usher in God’s end-time Judgment. The cleansing of his baptism rite was in preparation for this eschatological event, much as we see at Qumran (cp. 1QS 3:6-9 with 4:20-21). There is little reason to doubt the historical accuracy of this aspect of John’s ministry, given what we know of Jewish eschatology and Messianism from the Qumran texts and other Jewish writings of the period.

In this regard, John’s use of the expression “the one coming” (o( e)rxo/meno$) provides the key to the meaning and context of the saying in Mark 1:8 par. In Mk 1:7 (also Lk 3:16; cp. Acts 13:25), the Greek wording is “(one) stronger than me comes [e&rxetai]…”, but in Matthew (3:11) the wording is:

“the (one) coming [e)rxo/meno$]…is stronger than me”

This use of the participle also occurs in the question posed by the Baptist in Matt 11:3 / Lk 7:19:

“Are you the (one) coming [o( e)rxo/meno$]…?”

The same expression occurs in the Baptist’s saying in Jn 1:15, 27. Most likely, it is derived from Malachi 3:1, and the last clause— “the Messenger of the covenant, whom you take pleasure in, see! he will come“. In the Greek [LXX] version, the form is e&rxetai, as in Mark/Luke (cf. above). In other words, “the one coming” [o( e)rxo/meno$] likely refers to the Messenger of Mal 3:1, a point I discuss in a supplemental note to the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. While the “messenger” (Ea*l=m^) of the original prophecy would have referred to a heavenly being who served as God’s representative (representing YHWH Himself), by the 1st century A.D. it would have been interpreted in a more distinctly Messianic sense. The origins of this interpretation can be found in the closing verses of the book of Malachi itself (4:5-6), identifying the “messenger” with a future appearance of “Elijah”.

Thus, it seems probable that John the Baptist envisioned the coming of a Messianic Prophet, according to the figure-type of Elijah, who would serve as God’s representative and usher in the Judgment. The New Testament evidence, regarding just who fulfills this expected Messianic role, is exceedingly complex. On the one hand, nearly all of the evidence—and certainly from the Galilean ministry period in the Synoptic narrative—points to Jesus as the Anointed Prophet like Elijah. Indeed, in Jn 1:20-21ff, John explicitly denies being the Elijah-to-come, presumably reserving it for another (Jesus). Yet, at the same time, in at least one tradition, Jesus states the reverse—that John is the Elijah-to-come (Matt 11:14; cf. 17:12-13 par). Subsequent Christian tradition followed the identification of John with Elijah, but this identification is by no means so certain in earliest strands of the Gospel tradition itself. I discuss the matter at some length in prior notes and articles (e.g., Parts 23 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

What is the relation of the “holy Spirit” to this end-time Anointed Prophet—the role ultimately fulfilled by Jesus? The context of the saying in Mk 1:7-8, clearly indicates a comparison—the “one coming” is greater/mightier [i)sxuro/tero$] than John, but yet he will continue the Baptist’s work of cleansing God’s people, only in a more intense and complete way. Instead of using a water-rite that may symbolize cleansing by God’s Spirit, he will purify people with the Spirit itself, under the related image of fire.

As noted above, is likely that John himself had in mind the end-time appearance of God (coming to bring Judgment), through the work and presence of God’s own Messenger (Mal 3:1ff), who would be identified with Jesus. The main point of the contrast would seem to be that John’s ministry of washing/cleansing (by water) was preparatory for the end-time purification to be brought about by God (by Spirit/fire). That this greater “cleansing” reflects two sides, or aspects, of the Judgment seems clear from the “Q” version (and the parallel in the saying of Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17)—God’s Spirit/fire will burn up the wicked, but the righteous (i.e. the faithful ones who have repented, etc) will be purified and saved.

Interestingly, it is only in the Gospel of John that we actually read of Jesus doing anything like baptizing his followers in the Spirit; this is in Jn 20:19-23, the climactic scene of Jesus with his disciples after the resurrection:

“…even as the Father has set me forth from (Him), so I (am) send(ing) you. And saying this, he blew [i.e. breathed] in/on (them) and said to them: ‘Receive (the) holy Spirit…'” (vv. 21b-22)

This should be taken as indicating what the Gospel writer (and/or his tradition) understood by ‘dunking/baptizing in the Spirit’. Of course, in the traditions of Luke-Acts, this event is realized even more dramatically in the Pentecost scene of 2:1-4ff, though, in that narrative, the sending of the Spirit is less clearly presented as something that Jesus himself does. On the ambiguity of the Spirit being sent by God the Father, Jesus (the Son), or both—cf. especially the ‘Paraclete’ passages in the Johannine Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16). The dual-identification of the Holy Spirit with the Spirit of God, and also the Spirit of Christ, represents a uniquely Christian development, that will be discussed further in these notes.

 

Supplementary Notes on Baptism

As a supplement to the recently concluded series of daily notes on Baptism (and the bapt- word-group), I thought it worth discussing the mode and form of early Christian baptism. The New Testament writings give no precise directions as to how the ritual was (to be) performed; however, they do contain certain clues which may allow us to reconstruct, at least partially, the ritual as practiced by Christians in the second half of the 1st century A.D.

The Gospels and Acts

To begin with, the dunkings performed by John the Baptist were performed in the Jordan river (and similar water sources, Mark 1:5, 9 par; Jn 3:23). Presumably these would have taken place with the person standing (or kneeling) in the river, along with John, who would have literally “dunked” (vb. bapti/zw) the person down into the water, or, perhaps, taken up water to pour over the person’s head. In the Synoptic account of Jesus’ baptism, it is stated that he “stepped up” (vb a)nabai/nw) out of the water (Mk 1:10 par), clearly indicating that he had previously “stepped down” into the water (i.e. into the river). According to the notice in Mk 1:5 par, those who were dunked gave an account of (i.e. confessed) their sins; presumably, there would have been a corresponding announcement (by John) of the “release” (a&fesi$, i.e. cleansing, forgiveness) of the person’s sin. Assuming the historical accuracy and reliability of all this, these details, taken together, would form the kernal of a ritual (and rudimentary liturgy).

According to the (historical) tradition in John 3:22; 4:1-2, Jesus and his disciples performed similar dunkings, and, almost certainly, the earliest Christian baptisms, as referenced and narrated in the book of Acts, followed the Johannine (i.e. the Baptist’s) pattern. This means that those who were baptized would have been taken to the Jordan (or a similar water-source) and immersed (fully or partially) in the water, with a confession of sin, etc. The main difference was that these early Christian baptisms were performed “in the name of Jesus”, meaning that they involved a confession of trust/faith in Jesus (cf. 22:16), with the corresponding affirmation that this signified that the person now belonged to Jesus (as his follower). This early baptism is perhaps best illustrated in the episode of Philip and the Ethiopian official (8:26-40), which culminates in the official being baptized:

“And as they traveled down the way, they came upon some water, and the eu)nou=xo$ [i.e. the official] said, ‘See, water! What (would) cut me off (from) being dunked [baptisqh=nai]?’ And he urged the vehicle to stand (still), and they both stepped down into the water, Philip and the eu)nou=xo$, and he dunked [e)ba/ptisen] him. And when they stepped up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord…” (vv. 36, 38-39a)

Verse 37 is almost certainly not part of the original text, but reveals the early Christian concern that baptism be tied to a clear profession of faith by the one being dunked:

“And Philip said, ‘If you trust out of your whole heart you are able (to be dunked)’. And giving forth an answer, he said, ‘I trust (that) Yeshua (the) Anointed is the Son of God’.”

It is possible that this addition reflects early baptismal practice (i.e. in the late-first or early-second century). Two other elements were closely connected with baptism in the book of Acts: (1) the laying on of hands (by an apostle or other designated minister), and (2) that the Holy Spirit would come upon the person. In all likelihood each of these were incorporated into the early ritual.

The Pauline Letters

In discussing the passages relating to baptism in Paul’s letters (Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; 2 Cor 1:22, etc), we explored the possibility that he was drawing upon baptismal traditions of the time—that is, how baptism was practiced c. 50-60 A.D. Given the highly formulaic language, and the basic character of the symbolism, this indeed seems likely. It would mean, then, that Paul’s references give us some idea of the mode and form of the ritual itself. I would note the following points:

    • The symbolism of the believer participating in the death (and burial) of Jesus suggests that a literal dunking (i.e. full or partial immersion) was still being employed
    • The language of putting off an ‘old’ garment, and putting on the ‘new’ (i.e. Christ and/or the Spirit as a garment) suggests that ceremonial clothing was involved in the ritual. This would be in accord with similar initiation rites performed in contemporary ‘mystery cults’, etc. The symbolism is so basic, and natural to the ritual action itself, that it is hard to imagine that Christians would not have applied it to baptism at a very early stage.
    • References to anointing in a baptismal context. This could simply be an extension of references to Jesus as the Anointed One (vb xri/w, noun xristo/$), and to the coming of the Spirit as an anointing (Luke 3:22 par; 4:1ff, 14, 18ff). However, it would be natural enough, and quite expected, if this aspect were symbolized in the ritual through an actual anointing (xri=sma) with oil. We know that Christians in the first century did made ceremonial use of oil for anointing (James 5:14).
    • In all likelihood, ceremonial anointing (if indeed it took place) following baptism was meant to symbolize the presence of the Spirit, which Paul elsewhere refers to with the (parallel) image of sealing (2 Cor 1:22; also Eph 1:13; 4:30). Such language may have been part of the baptismal ritual as early as Paul’s time (cf. below).
    • The wording in 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Col 2:12, etc, may well reflect early baptismal formulae, such as would have occurred in performance the ritual, part of a basic liturgy. In addition to a confession of trust in Jesus by the person being baptized, there likely would have been a declaration (by the officiating minister[s]) prior to entering the water, and subsequently after the person emerged from the water. However, we can only speculate as to the details.
The Remainder of the New Testament

The only other direct reference to baptism is 1 Peter 3:21 (cf. the previous note). Most of what can be ascertained from the Pauline references (above) likely applies here as well. The use of the noun e)perw/thma could reflect a formal question/answer process as part of the baptism ritual, though this is far from certain. Baptism is presumably referred to in Hebrews 10:22, and also 6:2 (plural baptismoi/, dunkings/washings), but with little indication regarding the ritual itself; however, 6:1 could possibly reflect the sort of (formal) instruction which would precede baptism.

The noun xri=sma (“anointing”) in 1 John 2:20, 27 probably alludes to the baptismal symbolism of the believer’s union with Jesus through the presence of the Spirit—following the core early Christian tradition of the coming of the Spirit as an “anointing”. Similarly, there may be baptismal allusions in the motif of washing (i.e. washing of one’s robe) in the book of Revelation (7:14; 22:14), as also of the white robes that believers wear (3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:9ff; 19:14).

It may be possible to reconstruct the first-century baptism ritual, loosely, as follows:

    • The believer descends into the water (i.e. full/partial immersion)
    • This would involve a ceremonial removal of the ‘old’ garment
    • An officiating minister would make declaration regarding the putting away of sin (the old nature), etc
    • The believer makes public profession of faith, probably as part of a simple question/answer liturgy
    • Upon stepping out of the water, there is the ceremonial donning of a ‘new’ garment
    • An officiating minister makes declaration regarding the new life in Christ, etc
    • A ceremonial laying on of hands, and(/or) anointing with oil
    • Symbolic act/announcement to the effect that the believer has been “sealed” with the Spirit, along with an exhortation to live/act in a holy manner (until Jesus’ return)
Other Early Christian Evidence

References to baptism outside of the New Testament, in writings from the late-first and early-second centuries, are not as common or as extensive as one might hope. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110) makes two contributions to our knowledge of baptism in this period:

    • It is not proper to baptize without a presiding overseer (e)pi/skopo$) for the congregation (or region) being present (Smyrneans 8:2)
    • Ephesians 18:2 provides the earliest evidence for the mystical/symbolic belief that Jesus, in his own baptism, effectively sanctified the waters that are used (everywhere) when believers are baptized; this would become an important part of the baptism ritual in the Eastern (Syrian) churches.

The manual known as the Teaching (Didach¢¡) of the Twelve Apostles gives us the only real description of baptism prior to about 150 A.D. Generally dated to the first half of the 2nd century, but perhaps containing material and traditions from the late-1st century, the section dealing with baptism is in the short chapter 7; the instruction may be summarized as follows:

    • Baptism should be performed with the trinitarian formula “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matt 28:19); in spite of that same directive being uttered by Jesus in the Matthean passage, it does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament, nor is there any indication that Christians prior to 70-80 A.D. (i.e. when the Gospel of Matthew was likely written) ever used such a trinitarian formula; Didache 7:1 is the oldest direct evidence for its use.
    • Baptism should be done in “living water”, that is, in the natural running water of a river or stream; this suggests a continuation of at least a partial immersion of the believer (and officiating minister) in the water.
    • The baptism involves the pouring of water over the head of the person, presumably while he/she stood (or kneeled) in the water
    • This pouring should be done three times (i.e. “trine baptism”), corresponding to the trinitarian formula
    • The believer should fast (one or two days) prior to baptism, presumably as a sign of repentance
    • In 9:5 it is further directed that no one should partake in the ritual meal (Lord’ Supper / Eucharist) unless they have first been baptized “in the Lord’s name”.

Other evidence from the mid-second century may be summarized:

    • 2 Clement 6:9 emphasizes the need for the believer to maintain the purity of his/her baptism; presumably this sort of exhortation would have been part of the early ritual itself
    • In this regard, baptism is specifically referred to as a seal (sfragi/$) in 2 Clement 7:6; 8:6 (cf. also Hermas Similitude 8.6.3; 9:16:3ff, etc), i.e. something which must not be broken. This language goes back at least to the time of Paul (cf. above), and would have related to the (ritual) symbolism of anointing.
    • Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (c. 150-155), discusses Christian baptism in chapter 61; his instruction generally matches that of Didache 7 (above), though with greater exposition of the theological and ethical signficance, giving special emphasis to the older aspects of repentance and cleansing (from sin) which were first associated with the dunking/washing ritual (cf. above). He also provides a brief notice in chap. 65 of baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) as it is to take place in the congregational setting.

By the late-2nd and early-3rd centuries, more extensive treatments on baptism were being produced, and which have come down to us—most notably Tertullian’s On Baptism, and the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. These works demonstrate clearly how the older/earlier traditions were developed and given a more precise and authoritative form.

In terms of the visual representation of baptism, the earliest evidence comes from the 3rd and 4th century Roman “catacombs”. The representations generally support the description in Didache 7, of a partial immersion (i.e. standing in water), while an officiating minister pours water over the person’s head. Below are three examples (including a modern reconstruction):

Early depictions of the Baptism of Jesus followed a similar pattern, establishing an artistic template for the scene—both in Western and Eastern tradition—that would last for centuries:

Note on the Baptism of Children

Several of the images above suggest that children are being baptized. We know that by at least the late-2nd century, children were baptized regularly, though there appear to have been some misgivings about baptizing small children (cf. Tertullian On Baptism §18). The question regarding whether young children (and infants) should be baptized, or whether the ritual is best reserved for consenting adults (possibly including older children), has been the subject of longstanding debate and discussion. Many Protestants, in particular, argue strongly in favor of adult “believer’s baptism”, and against infant (or child) baptism. In spite of this, baptism of infants has been the common practice, throughout much of the Christian world, since the 5th century.

As far as the New Testament evidence is concerned, there is no indication that children (especially infants) were ever baptized. Since the original Johannine dunkings, and the corresponding early Christian baptisms that followed, were centered on a conscious profession of faith and repentance from sin, it is unlikely that they were ever performed on children (i.e., those younger than 12 years of age). The only possible evidence for the baptism of children are the notices of entire households being baptized (cf. Acts 16:31; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16), but it is far from certain that this would have included young children. Supporters of infant baptism today cite parallels with circumcision; to be sure, a parallel is made between circumcision and baptism in Col 2:11-12 (possibly also Rom 4:11), but only insofar as the image of removing the outer skin resembles that of “putting away” the ‘garment’ of the old nature. There is no suggestion of its application to children; moreover, Col 2:11-12 is the only such example of this parallel being drawn.

January 13: Baptism (1 Peter 3:18-22)

The Baptism Ritual: Symbolism and Efficacy

This is the last in a series of daily notes on baptism, commemorating the dates of Jan 6 and 13 and the Baptism of Jesus. One of the most pressing questions for believers in recent times, regarding baptism, has to do with the efficacy of the ritual. As we saw in the previous notes on Paul’s treatment of baptism in his letters, baptism represented the new life believers have and experience in Christ. However, the question is: does baptism symbolize a situation which already exists independently, or does the ritual in some way confer or transmit this new life to the believer?

In technical theological language, this latter idea is referred to as the “operative power” (virtus operativa) of the ritual itself, whereby the ritual (in this case, baptism) serves as a “means of grace” which functions ex opere operato (i.e., by the [proper] performance of the ritual). Christians with a more sacramental orientation tend hold this view, or belief, regarding baptism—that it serves as a vehicle whereby God transmits the saving power of Christ and the Spirit to the believer. By contrast, spiritualist Christians—that is, those who emphasize the inward spiritual aspect of religion over and against the outward form—would utterly reject such a sacramental approach. Many Protestants share this tendency, treating baptism as a symbol of the new life we already possess through trust in Jesus and the presence of the Spirit.

When we turn to the writings of the early Christians, what they say about baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) is ambiguous in this regard. For the most part, the baptism ritual is symbolic, but at times they seem to indicate that the ritual itself is efficacious. The evidence in the New Testament is, in my view, rather less ambiguous, but direct reference to baptism (especially outside of the Gospels and Acts) is scarce enough to make any conclusions on the matter tentative and uncertain. In fact, there is only one passage which addresses the efficacy of baptism directly—1 Peter 3:18-22; it also happens to be the only direct reference to baptism outside of the Pauline letters.

1 Peter 3:18-22

Verses 18-22 form the conclusion of an instructional section of the letter (3:13-22), exhorting believers to live in a faithful and upright manner, even in the face of suffering and persecution. In so doing, believers will be following the example of Jesus himself (v. 18), whose suffering culminated in his death and resurrection. In previous notes, we saw how Paul interpreted the baptism ritual in terms of our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus; and here the author (Peter) seems to have something of the same idea in mind. Part of Jesus’ death (and burial) is said to have involved his proclaiming “to the spirits in (the prison) guard”, i.e., in the realm of death and the dead. This enigmatic tradition has been much discussed; I will not address it here except to say that it relates in some way to the early Christian idea of salvation, of the work of Jesus delivering and freeing humankind (those who respond in trust to him) from the power of sin and death.

As a prototype for these disbelieving “spirits”, the author draws upon the ancient tradition reflected in Gen 6:1-4ff, of the situation on earth at the time of Noah and the great Flood. The widespread wickedness of that time is paralleled with the author’s own time—seen as the period just before the end (4:7)—with the Flood serving as a type for the imminent coming Judgment (cp. Matt 24:37-38 par; 2 Pet 2:5). The people bound by wickedness in the current end-time are no less “dead” than those to whom Jesus preached (in the realm of death); by proclaiming the Gospel to them, they may yet be saved before the coming Judgment (4:1-6). Believers, too, were dead, and have died to sin, only to come alive again in new life through the Spirit (4:6).

This is the context for the reference to baptism in 3:21, couched as it is within the image of the great Flood. The common motif is that of being submerged in water, which explains how the Flood can serve as a parallel to baptism:

“…in (the) days of Noah, (with the) box [i.e. ark] being put down [i.e. built] in preparation, (and) into which a few—that is, eight souls—were saved through water, which also (is) a pattern opposite [i.e. facing] us now—(the) dunking [ba/ptisma] (that) saves—not (as) a putting away of (the) dirt of (the) flesh, but (the answer) of a good sunei/dhsi$ unto God (in response to) what is asked, through the standing up (out of the dead) [i.e. resurrection] of Yeshua (the) Anointed” (vv. 20-21)

The syntax here is complex and difficult, as indicated by the literal (glossed) translation above. The number of parenthetical English words I have used shows how poorly the Greek syntax (and much of the vocabulary) has a corresponding equivalent in English. The portion in bold above is especially important, since it is a direct statement—one may say, the only such statement in the New Testament—regarding what the ritual of baptism actually accomplishes for the believer. It is framed as a contrast, with the negative clause given first:

“not (as) a putting away of (the) dirt of (the) flesh”
ou) sarko\$ a)po/qesi$ r(u/pou

In other words, the water of baptism does not (concretely) wash away the sinfulness (or “dirt, filth”) of the flesh. This is in spite of the longstanding idea of baptism as symbolizing a cleansing from sin, going back to the original Johannine dunkings (Mark 1:5 par; cf. Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11). In more conventional religious language, we may paraphrase 1 Peter here as saying that the ritual of baptism itself does not effect the forgiveness and cleansing of a person from sin. What, then, does baptism accomplish? The author indicates this in the positive statement that follows:

“but (the answer) of a good sunei/dhsi$ unto God (in response to) what is asked”
a)lla\ suneidh/sew$ a)gaqh=$ e)perw/thma ei)$ qeo/n

The Greek is extremely difficult to render into English, as can be seen by the considerable variety in translations. For ease of analysis, it is useful to break down this awkward phrase into two components:

  1. suneidh/sew$ a)gaqh=$. The noun sunei/dhsi$ (syneíd¢sis), which I leave untranslated above, derives from the verb sunei/dw (syneídœ), “see (things) together”, i.e. “see completely”. It refers to a (correct) perception and awareness of how things are, sometimes rendered in English as “consciousness”, or, when emphasizing the moral/ethical aspect of perception, “conscience”. The modifying adjective a)gaqo/$ (“good”), means that one’s awareness and perception is good, or (functions) for the good.
  2. e)perw/thma ei)$ qeo/n. The noun e)perw/thma (eperœ¡t¢ma) stems from the verb e)perwta/w (eperœtáœ), “ask/inquire about”. The noun occurs only here in the New Testament, and only once in the Greek OT (Dan 4:14 Theodotion). However, the evidence from the papyri, for both the noun and verb, shows that it was used in a technical sense, of formal questions and answers made over a contract, etc. In such a setting, the noun can refer to an answer given to a question, in the sense of a confirmation or guarantee (some translations here use “pledge”). This answer is given “unto God” (ei)$ qeo/n), and two specific settings could be in mind: (1) the believer’s response (or ‘pledge’) at the time of baptism, i.e. during the ritual, or (2) in the scene of the Judgment, when the believer stands before God to give answer. Given the strong eschatological context of chaps. 3-4, I am inclined to favor option 2, but it is hard to be certain.

Putting these elements together gives us 1 Peter’s answer as to what the ritual of baptism truly accomplishes. I would perhaps summarize it this way:

By undergoing the baptism ritual, which certainly entailed a public confession of one’s trust in Jesus, such a person demonstrates his/her awareness of how things stand between the believer and God, “for the good” (a)gaqo/$). This perception, confirmed through the ritual, means that the believer will be able to stand before God at the Judgment and give an answer, without fear or doubt. But the believer’s response at baptism (i.e. the confession of faith, etc), also functions as a pledge to God, to remain faithful and live in a holy manner befitting the new life one has in Christ. It is in this sense that a person is saved now, in the present, with the truth of salvation realized even prior to actual moment of the Judgment. The dunking “saves” a person in two respects: (1) as symbol of salvation, following the parallel of the ark, and (2) as sign of the believer’s awareness of what has been achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 21b-22), with confidence/certainty that we can stand before God at the Judgment.

January 12: Baptism (1 Cor 12:13; 2 Cor 1:22)

Baptism: Clothed with the Spirit

In these notes on baptism (and the bapt- word-group), I have pointed out the two uniquely Christian aspects of the dunking ritual: (1) being dunked “in the name of Jesus”, and (2) the association between baptism in the Holy Spirit. Both of these were developed by Paul, in each instance giving deeper theological (and Christological) significance to the early Christian understanding of the ritual. In the previous note, we examined how the tradition of baptism “in the name of Jesus” led to a greater emphasis on the believer’s union with Jesus (i.e. being “in Christ”), and, in particular, of a participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus.

The association with the Spirit is even older, going back to the early layers of the Gospel Tradition—to the saying of the Baptist (Mark 1:8 par), and the appearance of the Spirit during Jesus’ own Baptism (Mark 1:10 par; John 1:32-33). The historical traditions in the book of Acts show how each of these came to be part of the distinctively Christian dunking ritual. The coming of the Spirit on the first disciples (2:1-4ff) was seen as a fulfillment of the saying in Mk 1:8 par (1:5, 8), an event which would essentially be repeated as individuals and groups came to trust in Jesus, and were baptized, throughout the narratives (on this, cf. the prior note).

To the extent that Paul develops this connection between the Spirit and baptism, it is in terms of the same participatory aspect—i.e. of being “in Christ”, united with him—which we explored in the previous note (on Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12). The direct evidence for this is relatively slight, but I would highlight two passages in the Corinthian letters—1 Cor 12:13 and 2 Cor 1:22.

1 Corinthians 12:13

The principal theme of 1 Corinthians is the unity of believers in Christ. The thrust and (rhetorical) purpose in the letter is to address the points of division and disunity which have come about in the congregations (1:10-11ff). Interestingly, in the introductory causa, stating his reason for writing, baptism is specifically mentioned as a possible source of division:

“Has the Anointed (One) been separated? Paulus was not put to the stake [i.e. crucified] over you(, was he)? or were you dunked [e)bapti/sqhte] in the name of Paulus?” (v. 13)

Here the meaning of baptism in the name of someone is made clear—it essentially signifies that one belongs to that person: “I am of Paul [i.e. I am Paul’s]…” (v. 12). Even saying “I am of the Anointed (One) [i.e. I am Christ’s]” can be problematic if it results in fostering sectarian division among believers. By the time Paul comes to chapter 12, he has developed the theme of unity extensively, throughout the letter, even as he addresses specific practical issues. One particular image used to illustrate this unity of believers is that of the many different parts that make up a single human body; in 12:12, this image is turned into a direct declaration of Christian identity:

“For accordingly, just as the body is one, and (yet) holds many parts, and all the parts, (while) being many, are one body, so also is the Anointed [i.e. so he is one body]…”

This is a seminal declaration of the doctrine of “the body of Christ”, and its meaning is unmistakable—believers are united together in Christ as parts of a body. And what is the basis of this union? Paul makes this clear in verse 13:

“…for, indeed, in one Spirit we all were dunked [e)bapti/sqhmen] into one body—if Yehudeans {Jews} or if Greeks, if slaves or if free (person)s—and we all were given to drink (from) one Spirit.”

A similar baptismal formula occurs in Galatians 3:27-28 (cf. also Col 3:9-11), which includes the idea of entering into Christ (i.e. putting him on) as a garment:

“For as (many of) you as (have) been dunked [e)bapti/sqhte] into (the) Anointed, you (have) sunk yourselves in (the) Anointed (as a garment). (So) there is in (him) no Yehudean {Jew} and no Greek, in (him) no slave and no free (person), in (him) no male and female—for you all are one in (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

A comparison of these two statements reveals that being dunked “into Christ” is essentially the same as being dunked “into the Spirit“; similarly, we may say that “sinking into [i.e. putting on] Christ” also means “putting on the Spirit”. If this is understood as happening from without (i.e. by submerging in water), it simultaneously occurs from within, using the image of drinking water. The joining of these two motifs, or aspects, is paralleled by the saying of Jesus in Mark 10:38, where Jesus’ suffering and death is figured both as drinking from a cup and being dunked (in water). Thus, in the Pauline expression of the significance of baptism, we may isolate three distinct, and related, points:

    • The union with Christ, symbolized by the ritual, occurs and is realized through the presence of the Spirit
    • It is the Spirit which effects the reality of our participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus
    • This is effected both without and within—i.e. involving the entirety of our person—the imagery of “dunking” blended with that of “drinking”

2 Corinthians 1:22

To this imagery of being clothed by the Spirit, we may add that of being sealed. Like being baptized in the name of Jesus, the motif of the seal (sfragi/$) primarily signifies belonging—i.e. that believers belong to Christ (and to the Spirit). It is in the book of Revelation that this imagery is most prevalent (7:2-8; 9:4, etc), but Paul makes use of it as well. For example, he uses it to characterize his role and position as an apostle (1 Cor 9:2); but the primary context is that of the essential identity of believers, as manifest by the presence of the Spirit (which is also the Spirit of Christ). This is most clearly expressed in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22:

“And the (One) setting us firmly with you in (the) Anointed (One), and (hav)ing anointed us, (is) God—the (One) also (hav)ing sealed [sfragisa/meno$] us and (hav)ing given (us) the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts.”

Here sealing (vb sfragi/zw) is more or less synonymous with anointing (vb xri/w), and it is likely that both reflect the symbolism of the baptism ritual as it was practiced in Paul’s time (and, presumably, in the Pauline congregations); for more on this, cf. below. The noun a)rrabw/n is a transliterated Hebrew word (/obr*u&), which fundamentally refers to a token meant as a guarantee that a person will fulfill an obligation (i.e. make [full] payment, etc). For believers, this means a guarantee (or pledge) of our future salvation (and glory)—i.e., deliverance from the Judgment, resurrection/transformation of the body, and eternal life with God. The Spirit is this pledge, given to those who trust in Christ (the Anointed One), and symbolized in the baptism ritual. Much the same idea, with the same language of sealing, is found in Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30. For other Pauline use of the seal motif, cf. 2 Timothy 2:19, and Romans 4:11 where it refers to circumcision, as an Old Covenant parallel to the baptism ritual for believers in the New Covenant (cf. the previous note on Col 2:12).

On the Baptism Ritual

Many commentators believe that, in passages such as these (discussed above), Paul is drawing upon the baptism ritual as it was practiced by Christians at the time. If so, then it may be possible to reconstruct the rite, at least partially. Based on the Pauline references, and in light of the origins of baptism in the Johannine dunkings (followed by Jesus and his disciples), I would suggest the following rudimentary outline of elements, or components, to the early Christian baptism (c. 50-70 A.D.):

    • A ceremonial action whereby the believer removes his/her (outer) garment and enters the water (full or partial immersion); upon coming out of the water a new garment is given to the person which he/she puts on, symbolizing the new life in Christ.
    • Having emerged from the water, the believer is anointed with oil, symbolizing the anointing or “seal” of the Spirit
    • (This anointing possibly would be accompanied by a ceremonial laying on of hands)
    • Throughout the ritual, a simple liturgy would be followed, including:
      • Confession of faith in Jesus by the believer
      • A declaration by the officiating minister, prior to the person entering the water, and
      • A corresponding declaration, after the person leaves the water, including
      • An exhortation that he/she should live in a manner consistent with the new life (that the baptism symbolizes)

The mode and form of early Christian baptism will be discussed further in a supplemental note.

January 11: Baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12)

Baptism: Union with Christ and Participation in His Death

The unique contribution made by Paul to the early Christian understanding of baptism was his emphasis on the believer’s participation in the death (and resurrection) of Jesus. Elsewhere, he makes use of the simple symbolism of washing (vb lou/w), i.e., the earlier/original idea of a cleansing of sin, referring to the waters that (symbolically) wash away a person’s sins—1 Cor 6:11; also Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5. However, when it comes to the distinctly Christian development of the dunking/washing ritual (baptism)—(1) being performed “in the name of Jesus”, and (2) the association with the Holy Spirit (cf. the previous two notes)—Paul gave to these elements of the ritual a greater theological depth and significance. He did this primarily through his emphasis on the participatory aspect; that is to say, baptism symbolized the believer’s union with Jesus Christ, and, with it, a participation in Jesus’ own death.

Romans 6:3-4

This was very much a theological emphasis of Paul’s, even when there was no particular reference to baptism—see, most notably, Galatians 2:19-21 (also 5:24; 6:14). The central idea is that, through trust and union with Jesus, we die to sin (and its power). This goes a step beyond the traditional religious requirement of repenting from one’s sins; it means that the believer in Christ is actually dead to the power of sin. For Paul, it is the sacrificial death of Jesus that accomplishes this, freeing humankind from bondage to sin. This is the central tenet of Pauline soteriology, best and most fully expounded in chapters 5-8 of Romans; and it is in Romans 6:1-11 that Paul draws upon the baptism ritual to illustrate how believers have died to sin (and so must think and act accordingly). The ethical, paraenetic thrust of the passage is clear from the rhetorical question posed in verse 1 (“Shall we remain upon sin…?”), and which Paul answers himself in verse 2: “May it not come to be so! We, the (one)s who died away to sin, how shall we yet live in it?”. This leads to the argument based on the significance of Christian baptism:

“Or, are you without knowledge that, we, as (many) as were dunked [e)bapti/sqhmen] into (the) Anointed Yeshua, we were dunked into his death? So we were buried together with him through the dunking [ba/ptisma] into the death, (so) that, just as (the) Anointed (One) was raised out of the dead through the honor/splendor of the Father, so also we should walk about in newness of life.” (vv. 3-4)

The concluding exhortation in v. 4 is part of the ethical instruction Paul is giving in these verses, but it, in turn, is based on a key theological and Christological point: we should “walk in newness of life” because we are united with both Jesus’ death and his resurrection:

“For if we have come to be planted together in the likeness of his death, (it cannot be) other (that that) we will also be (in the likeness) of his standing up (out of the dead)…. And, if we died away with (the) Anointed, we trust that we also will live together with him, having seen [i.e. known] that (the) Anointed (One), (hav)ing been raised out of the dead, does not die away any longer, (and) Death no longer acts as Lord (over) him.” (vv. 5, 8-9)

This idea of baptism symbolizing our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection does not appear to be part of the earliest Christian understanding of the dunking ritual (based on the evidence in the book of Acts, as discussed in the previous notes). How, then, did Paul come to emphasize and develop this particular aspect? Several factors seem to be involved. First, it is a natural development of the ritual action—i.e., stepping down into the water represents death, while emerging again indicates the beginning of new life. And, even though this symbolic dimension was, it seems, not part of either the Johannine dunkings or the earliest Christian baptisms, it is known from contemporary initiation rituals (in the mystery cults, etc). Tertullian specifically notes the similarities (On Baptism 5.1), and, indeed, it is to be expected that early Christians (and perhaps as early as Paul) would come to interpret baptism in a corresponding way.

Second, the ritual meal (the Lord’s Supper) specifically signified a participation of believers in Jesus’ death, and it would be natural for the baptism ritual to take on a similar significance. Unfortunately, we have precious little detail in the New Testament on how the earliest Christians viewed the Lord’s Supper, but the Gospel tradition, attested in multiple sources (Mark 14:22-25 par; 1 Cor 12:23-26ff; cf. also John 6:51-58), suggests that the ritual would have carried this meaning from the earliest times.

Third, it is a natural development of the fundamental belief that believers are united with Jesus. This union means that we are also joined with him in his death, and all that was accomplished in it. Note how Paul has developed the traditional idea of being baptized “into [ei)$] the name of Jesus” (cf. the earlier note), and the expression which would have signified that a person belonged to Jesus, as his trusting follower. Now, however, in Rom 6:3, Paul speaks simply of being baptized “into [ei)$] the Anointed Yeshua” —that is, into the person of Jesus himself. This is essentially equivalent with idea of being “in [e)n] Christ”, an expression (and theological statement) used repeatedly by Paul (8:1-2; 12:5; 1 Cor 1:30, et al), including here at the close of the passage (v. 11).

Finally, though sometimes overlooked, we have the Gospel tradition of the saying of Jesus whereby he refers to his suffering and death as a “dunking” (i.e. baptism, ba/ptisma); there are two ‘versions’ of this saying:

“Are you able to drink (of) the (same) drinking cup that I drink (from)? or to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with) the (same) dunking [ba/ptisma] that I am dunked [bapti/zomai]?…” (Mark 10:38f)
“And I hold a dunking [ba/ptisma] (that I am) to be dunked [baptisqh=nai] (with), and I am held (tight) together until the (time when) it should be completed!” (Luke 12:50)

The Markan version, with its pairing of the cup and the “dunking”, effectively establishes both Christian rituals—Lord’s Supper and Baptism—as being fundamentally tied to the disciple’s participation in Jesus death.

Colossians 2:12

The participatory aspect of baptism is stated again in Colossians 2:12, and in similar ethical, exhortational context—cf. verse 6: “So, as you received the Anointed Yeshua, the Lord, alongside, you must walk about in him [e)n au)tw=|]…”. This is the familiar Pauline idea of being “in Christ”, and is repeated in verses 10-11:

“…and you are in him [e)n au)tw=|] having been made full, (in the one) who is the head of all chief (rule) and authority, in whom [e)n w!|] also you were cut around [i.e. circumcised]—a cutting round [i.e. circumcision] done without hands, in the sinking out (away) from the body of the flesh, in the cutting round of (the) Anointed—”

The statement regarding baptism follows:

“(hav)ing been buried together with him in the dunking [ba/ptisma], in whom [e)n w!|] also you were raised together, through the trust (you have) of the (power) of God working in (it), the (One hav)ing raised him out of the dead” (v. 12)

This is precisely the same dying and rising with Christ theme expressed in Rom 6:3-4, stated more concisely in context of the framing concept of being “in Christ”. What is notable here is the way that Paul (accepting the genuine authorship of Colossians) blends baptism together with the motif of circumcision, suggesting that the ritual dunking holds a similar place for believers (in the New Covenant) as circumcision did for Israel (in the Old Covenant). This is the only place in the New Testament where such a parallel is drawn; however, the comparison here is perhaps better understood in terms of the nature and significance of the ritual action—that is, of cutting away the flesh. It very much fits the Pauline idea of the believer as a new creation, having set aside the old nature of things that had been in bondage under sin; indeed, this is the aspect Paul emphasizes here, when he refers to the ‘putting off’ (lit. sinking out away from, a)pe/kdusi$) the “body of the flesh”, as a snake would shed its skin. The same point is made in verse 13, uniting even more closely the motifs of baptism and circumcision:

“and you, being dead [in] the (moment)s of falling alongside, and in the (outer) edge of enclosure of the flesh, he (has) made you alive together with him, (hav)ing shown favor to you…”

I have translated the noun a)krobusti/a quite literally as “(outer) edge of enclosure”, rendered more commonly (and correctly) as “foreskin” (i.e. of the male genital organ). The paraptw/mata are the failings or sins (lit. “[moment]s of falling alongside”) of the believer, especially those committed while still under bondage to the power of sin. The “foreskin” signifies the outermost part of this old condition, and thus that which is most dead. Through trust in Jesus, and symbolized by the baptism ritual, this ‘old nature’ is cut off and put away—the believer dies to the old and comes alive again to the new.

This symbolic dimension of baptism is more frequently expressed with clothing imagery—i.e., of removing an old garment and “putting on” one that is new. This will be discussed in the next daily note, as we explore Paul’s understanding of the role of the Spirit in the baptism ritual.

January 10: Baptism (Acts 1:5; 2:38; 8:15-16; 10:47)

Baptism and the Holy Spirit

As discussed in the previous note, there were two key aspects of early Christian baptism which marked a significant development over the earlier ritual dunkings performed by John the Baptist. The first of these was that baptism took place “in the name of Jesus” (cf. the previous note), meaning primarily that the believer “called upon Jesus”, confessing faith in him, while being dunked. The second aspect was an association with the Holy Spirit. There were three factors which brought about this close connection between baptism and the Spirit:

    • The motif of cleansing—in Old Testament tradition, the Spirit of God, being associated with images of both water and fire, as well as the idea of God’s holiness, was naturally related to the cleansing of people from sin and impurity.
    • The saying of John the Baptist (Mk 1:8 par): “I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in (the) holy Spirit”.
    • The descent of the Spirit on Jesus’ at his Baptism (Mk 1:10 par; John 1:32-33)

Of these three, the second is the one that is emphasized in the book of Acts. Let us briefly consider four key references:

Acts 1:5

“(for it is) that Yohanan dunked [e)ba/ptisen] in water, but you will be dunked [baptisqh/sesqe] in (the) holy Spirit after not many (of) these days.”

This statement (by Jesus), which concludes the introduction/prologue of Acts (vv. 1-5), appears to be an adaptation of the original saying by the Baptist (Mk 1:4 par), interpreted by Jesus (and the author of Acts) so that it refers to something that will soon happen to the disciples. It is fulfilled when the Spirit comes upon them as they gather together on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4ff, cf. also 1:8; Luke 24:49). This same event is essentially repeated for other believers and groups who come to faith thereafter, throughout the narrative. The coming of the Spirit, where it is noted in the different missionary episodes, is typically connected with the ritual dunking (baptism) that takes place upon confession of trust in Jesus as the Messiah. There are four such notices—2:38; 8:15-16; 10:44-47 (par 11:5-16); 19:5-6.

Acts 2:38

At the conclusion of Peter’s Pentecost speech, the command to repent and be dunked (baptized) is connected directly with the promise of the coming of the Spirit, repeating the earlier phenomenon experienced by Peter and the other disciples (vv. 1-4ff):

“…You must change your mind(set) [i.e. repent] and must be dunked [baptisqh/tw], each (one) of you, upon the name of Yeshua (the) Anointed, unto (the) release of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.”

In verse 41, it is said that around three thousand people there in Jerusalem came to faith in Jesus, and were dunked (baptized); there is no mention of the coming of the Spirit, though, in light of Peter’s statement, we may assume that it took place. The Spirit was specifically referred to as something promised (by a message from God, e)paggeli/a) to the people of Israel, through the Prophets, etc, and as a fulfillment of the very covenant(s) made with their ancestors. The use of the noun e)paggeli/a was especially frequent by Paul in his letters, sometimes specified in a similar way as referring to the Spirit (Gal 3:14ff); on this usage elsewhere in Luke-Acts, cf. Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4; 2:33; 13:32.

Acts 8:15-16

Interestingly, in the episode at Samaria, people were baptized “in the name of Jesus”, but did not receive the gift of the Spirit until subsequently, when apostles (Peter and John) prayed and layed hands upon them (vv. 14-17). This curious separation of baptism and receiving the Spirit has been variously explained. It could conceivably be intended to emphasize the specific authority 0f the apostles; but, if so, the scene with Simon that follows (vv. 18ff) warns against a superstitious view regarding such personal authority. From a literary standpoint, the purpose could be seen as connecting (and legitimizing) the new mission (outside of Judea) with the earlier Jerusalem Community that had been the focus of the narrative in chapters 1-7. Paul similarly receives the Spirit after hands are laid on him (by Ananias, 9:17, prior to baptism), but otherwise there is little in the New Testament that would make the coming of the Spirit dependent upon the laying on of hands (cf. also on 19:5-6, below).

Acts 10:44-47

In the Cornelius episode, the people also receive the Spirit prior to being baptized, but not through the laying on of hands—the Spirit “falls” on them as Peter was speaking (v. 44). This is the first time in the book of Acts that Gentiles come to trust in Jesus, and Peter’s Jewish-Christian companions are amazed that “the gift of the holy Spirit has also been poured out upon (those of) the nations” (v. 45). Here, the presence of the Spirit takes priority over the ritual dunking (baptism); note how Peter states this in verse 47:

“It is not (possible, is it, for) anyone to cut off these (people) (so that they are) not to be dunked, th(ese) who received the holy Spirit even as we did?”

Clearly, they are to be regarded as part of the Christian Community because they received the Spirit, not because they were baptized. To be sure, baptism follows naturally, but the essential identity of the believer is not dependent on the ritual.

Acts 19:5-6

The final passage to be considered is the episode at Ephesus involving an encounter between Paul and Jewish Christians(?) who had been followers of John the Baptist (19:1-7). A distinction is made between John’s ministry and belonging to the Christian Community as a believer in Jesus (as the Messiah), and this involves a similar contrast between Christian baptism and the earlier dunkings performed by John (and his disciples). It necessitates that a believer who had received a Johannine baptism be baptized again (i.e. rebaptism), this time in the name of Jesus (v. 5, cf. the previous note). Once this happens, the Spirit comes upon them:

“and (with) Paul’s setting his hands upon them, the holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with (other) tongues and foretold [i.e. prophesied].” (v. 6)

This is one of the last references to baptism in the book of Acts (the only other being in 22:16), and it effectively brings together all of the key motifs and associations:

    • The development of the early Christian ritual from the dunkings performed by John, with a corresponding contrast between the Johannine and Christian forms
    • Baptism taking place “in the name of Jesus”
    • The role of laying on of hands, especially when done by a leading or designated apostle
    • The connection with the coming of the Spirit, and the various (miraculous) phenomena that result from it

Having now surveyed the main evidence in the Gospels and Acts, we now turn to the letters of Paul, to see how certain theological and Christological aspects of early Christian baptism were to develop. The next note will explore the distinctive Pauline emphasis on baptism as representing the believer’s participation in the death of Christ (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12).