Origins of baptism - why did John use this element?

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
Matthew introduces baptism by simply stating people "were baptized by [John] in the river Jordan."
Mark similarly says "John appeared, baptizing..."
Luke - "And [John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism..."
The gospel of John differs in that John the Baptist has a conversation with the priests and Pharisees about why he was baptizing.

They are all similar, though, in that both John the Baptist and the people essentially understood what baptism was.

Was it seen as a carry over of the Old Testament washings? Those were done over and over while baptism was done once.

I know that there was a baptism for Jewish converts where they were cleansed, but the people coming out to John were already Jewish.

The people were going out to him for repentance (Matthew) and forgiveness of sins (Mark and Luke), but why did John the Baptist use the element of water and introduce baptism? Was it simply God told him to (Matt. 21:25) or did he draw on some accepted 1st century practice*? Did the people immediately accept it as a new sacrament? I hope my questions make sense.

*With the rainbow it is as later on it was with circumcision; both existed before, and at a certain time, the appointed time, were consecrated by God to serve as signs of his berith. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Hebrews 9:10 describes OT cleansings generally under the description "baptisms," which chapter goes on to describe a few literally as sprinklings of purification. There's no reason to think the word/concept was introduced to the Jews de novo as late as the ministry of JtB.

Ezekiel 36:25 describes the Messianic hope in terms of a future cleansing of the people, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean;" and the very next v26 declares that God will give them a "new heart" and put a "new spirit" (Spirit?) within them. Definitely v27 says he will give them "My Spirit." This is a Messianic expectation.

In any case, this latter passage would tend to be the specific text I should think was in mind when the question was put, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" (Jn.1:25). Some sort of Messianic connection was expected. As for why it should only need to be done once, and done, that would be pertaining to the finality of the work God would do through his Messiah.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Hebrews 9:10 describes OT cleansings generally under the description "baptisms," which chapter goes on to describe a few literally as sprinklings of purification. There's no reason to think the word/concept was introduced to the Jews de novo as late as the ministry of JtB.
I realize that’s a popular view, particularly among non-immersionists. But I would respectfully submit the best evidence points to baptismois here being a synecdoche (still literally meaning immersions, while categorically representing and thus comprehending all Levitical bodily purifications, inclusive of the subsequently mentioned sprinklings). I extensively make that case here (pp. 95–108), primarily via marshaling a range of scholarly opinions.

Having said that, in my experience people rarely change their pre-existing position on things like this, no matter the counter-arguments. And, yes, that goes for all parties concerned… :um:
 
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VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
Phil, do you have that article hosted somewhere else, or maybe as a pdf?

The link you have opens up download windows for various other software, including pdf converter and flash updates. I've been down that road before and don't really want to go there again.
 
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Phil, do you have that article hosted somewhere else, or maybe as a pdf?

The link you have opens up download windows for various other software, including pdf converter and flash updates. I've been down that road before and don't really want to go there again.
You know, I normally use a Mac, and have not experienced that before. Today I happened to be using a Windows based platform and I did notice it. Thank you for the further prompt to address this issue! I will deactivate the link and look into a different hosting option. (The PDF version is too large to be hosted directly on PB.)
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Ezekiel 36:25 describes the Messianic hope in terms of a future cleansing of the people, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean;" and the very next v26 declares that God will give them a "new heart" and put a "new spirit" (Spirit?) within them. Definitely v27 says he will give them "My Spirit." This is a Messianic expectation.

I think this observation is actually supportive of a couple of proposals made in my article:

The classification of baptismois in Hebrews 9:10 as a regulation “for the body” suggests a semantic connection (although juxtapositionally, Levitical vs. Christian) with the phrase “our bodies washed [Gr. lelousmenoi—a complete bodily bathing] with pure water” in Hebrews 10:22. In the same way, perhaps the various Levitical sprinklings mentioned later in chapter 9 then have a notional correspondence with the figurative “hearts sprinkled [rantizö] clean” that is jointly put forward in 10:22.​
The Old Testament also employs various synechdocal expressions for purification, individually using both bathing and sprinkling (figuratively) to categorically represent the general concept of cleansing.​
Wash [Heb. rahas—bathe <> LXX: louo] yourselves; make yourselves clean;” (Isa. 1:16a; cf. Ps. 51:2, 7b; Zech. 13:1)​
I will sprinkle [zaraq <> raino] clean water on you and you shall be clean...” (Ezek. 36:25; cf. Ps. 51:7a; Isa. 52:15)​
In any case, this latter passage would tend to be the specific text I should think was in mind when the question was put, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" (Jn.1:25). Some sort of Messianic connection was expected. As for why it should only need to be done once, and done, that would be pertaining to the finality of the work God would do through his Messiah.

Now this is an insight I can largely agree with (with the above mentioned qualifications in mind).
:smug:
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I realize that’s a popular view, particularly among non-immersionists. But I would respectfully submit the best evidence points to baptismois here being a synecdoche (still literally meaning immersions, while categorically representing and thus comprehending all Levitical bodily purifications, inclusive of the subsequently mentioned sprinklings). I extensively make that case here (pp. 95–108), primarily via marshaling a range of scholarly opinions.

Having said that, in my experience people rarely change their pre-existing position on things like this, no matter the counter-arguments. And, yes, that goes for all parties concerned… :um:
I wouldn't expect one such as yourself, believing the true mode of baptism is specified in the term, not to argue for it from the term.

So, what follows is not strictly effort at confutation; rather to demonstrate and affirm (as you say) that these counter-arguments are not likely to sway those who don't wish to be swayed.


Since I deny the premise that the mode of NT baptism is specified in the term, and deny a second premise that baptism "literally mean(s) immersion" (the closest Eng. precise lexical equivalent is whelm), I evidently have no issue with the term in Heb.9:10 being in some sense synecdochtal; in that I regard the term itself by the time of writing of the NT is already broadened to definitionally (per context) include: ritual washings in general, mode unspecified.

The claim I made is supported by the context, in which forms of OT baptism mentioned are specifically sprinking by mode. One must rule that reading inadmissable a priori (because the mode in that view is specified in the term) in order to have the author Hebrews first make a synecdoche of the exclusive term; then go on to describe purifications that could not be strictly described by that term. Why choose baptismois in that case at all?

The question only grows in complexity when one goes to the Mosaic rites, and looks for any description of ceremonial cleansings that are described as, or must be in the nature of the case, immersions. These are lacking. The writer of Hebrews is actually compelled to use the only fulsome descriptions present in the Law, namely sprinklings; besides his evident desire to employ the prime example of the Sinai oath-ceremony. The prior existence of baptism as a term of general reference for ritual washings makes his subsequent references to certain sprinklings particular instances of the general description.

Furthermore, taking the wilderness experience as the first-condition for the implementation of the ritual Law, given the natural scarcity of water and its miraculous provision (cf. Ex.15:22; 17:1; Num.20:2; 21:5; Dt.1:19; 8:15; Ps.107:5; Hos.13:5; Jer.2:6; Neh.9:20), and the limits of regulated worship (the laver being the sole source of cleansing waters for the Tabernacle and associated rituals, and its chief reservoir), it must be wondered whether originally there was ever conceived in Moses' day any ceremonial washings whatsoever that were not "conservative" and sparing. Such that, sprinklings would be normal even expected. Pouring out would be required to preserve the reservoir clean. Sponge or rags would be the ordinary method of personal hygiene

1) in the absence of freshwater rivers and pools of depth,
2) having a single miraculous water source,
3) with privacy available only in tents,
4) over mostly permeable ground, in contrast to cavernous pitted stone surfaces resistant to leak, and
5) facing the need of any manufactured tubs or basins to be portable along with the rest of one's camp kit.​

Complete immersion of anything, especially a thing or a body of size, is nothing if not an astonishing luxury in the desert, "...a dry and arid land, a land where no one lives" (Jer.51:43); however... if one must have mikveh in the wastes, surely then the LORD will provide? On the other hand, the point of ritual, as a kind of body-synecdoche, is that the part is intended to represent the whole (ala circumcision, or Jesus washing the disciple's feet, see Jn.13:8,10). Thus, for Israel to submit them to sprinkling (or any other OT cleansing or purification), though the element of it touch them but briefly, they are still beneficiaries in their whole person, an understanding of which benefit is also behind Ezk.36:25.

It's not that under alternate circumstances, perhaps in the land and with the possibility of more lavish accommodations, additional water would never be welcomed for ceremony and more elaborate ceremony would certainly be eschewed (but mark the need for authorization). It is that in the original circumstances, and in terms of the Law, there is nothing that requires lavatory extravagance or copious amounts of water in the nature of the case, and no provisions explicitly made for such.

It requires reading-back into the Law from a peculiar NT expectation based on something the word baptism allegedly requires, that there would be even one OT "immersion" demand, let alone multiple washings of that kind. It is the wilderness experience (not the land) and the origin of Mosaic ceremony to which the author of Hebrews appeals. He argues explicitly from the text of Scripture, whence he equates Mosaic sprinklings with OT baptisms already introduced. It is a natural and unaffected reading. It lends itself to the text-driven conclusion that "baptism" as a NT word starts its service as a ritual term essentially indifferent to mode.

If baptismois is not a general term largely shorn of any derivational expectation as to mode (but allowing a mode may be specified on occasion), if baptismois means immersion, where is immersion in the Law, per Heb.9:10? Where is it commanded or necessary if merely implied? How would the wilderness wanderers know they must find a way to perform this ritual according to an extravagant/luxurious, rather than a conservative mode? Is this a reasonable conclusion? Is this a conclusion owing mainly to the biblical text/context, or to a lexicon of word origin?


P.S. I do realize two NT authors also draw attention to two cases of immersion, both in close connection with OT baptisms, both which predate the Sinai legislation. Actually Phil D. should take some credit--several years ago he wrote something on the PB on this perennial topic; and whatever it was, it drove me to fresh reflection on the multiple facets of baptism's import, including one that I had been neglecting or minimizing: and that is as it pertains to the topic of judgment. As Luther (paedobaptist) is reported to have said (let me paraphrase): "Daily, wake to drown your old man of flesh in the waters of your baptism, and rise up to live your life today in Christ."

So I myself am proof it is possible to be provided with insight even from an opponent, bringing about agreement (though... often with qualification).
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Hey, Rev. Buchanan. Based on our past interactions on this topic I wasn't quite sure what if any response I might get, but this is good. Lots to go over!

I guess I'm thinking I'll respond to what you've already written in a number of posts, a little bit at a time, probably over a number of days. In the process, assuming and hoping you choose to keep interacting, I trust we will both listen well, speak plainly, and as such maybe keep learning from each other. Even though we're not likely to substantially change each other minds, as we've already pointed out, perhaps both just a bit grumpily, we might still at least come to understand and appreciate each others positions a little better. And with that, l'll start...

I wouldn't expect one such as yourself, believing the true mode of baptism is specified in the term, not to argue for it from the term.

I deny the premise that the mode of NT baptism is specified in the term, and deny a second premise that baptism "literally mean(s) immersion"

The first statement in relation to the second really isn't quite accurate. I have never simply "argued from the term", at least not a priori or ipse dixit. Rather, upon extensive inquiry over the years (though certainly upon the initial prompt of the soon to be mentioned sources) I have come to see why virtually all lexicons, along with the vast majority of theologians and scholars, including those Reformed, indicate that both the verb baptizo and the noun baptismos natively and ordinarily (some say always) convey the act of immersion. Then, as a matter of sound hermeneutics, at least as I see it, I take that definition as the proper starting point for interpreting those words. If and when a given context will not admit of such a definition, but only then, I would certainly seek for a possible nuanced or even different definition. Anyway, that's what I strive for.

I have to think at least the hermeneutical part of the above explanation mirrors your own approach. So, as you've said, our different understanding of baptizo/baptismos really lies in our differing take on the native and ordinary meaning of the words, and the impact various contexts in which they occur may have on their import. And that's the whole point of my lengthy article on James Dale. I attempt to thoroughly explore those contexts, and explain in detail why I have come to see things the way I do. Correspondingly, I go to lengths to show what the historical consensus on a given philological point or understanding of a literary passage has been, which again I defer to as the best starting point for proper interpretation. I then attempt to establish from objective evidence why I am generally convinced said consensus is or isn't correct. As such, I do think my approach is both substantial and logical. If there is disagreement with my observations or understanding of the data, then that is certainly fair game.

I don't even know if you've ever read the Dale article, and you certainly don't have to. After all, it is way too long... But I still think at the very least direct interaction with the specified basis of any of my stated claims is required before they can possibly be discredited. And I will endeavor to do that with regard to yours, insofar as they have been expressed.

As a smaller quibble, I think it's kind of putting words into my mouth to represent my position or intent as establishing the "true" mode of baptism. I don't think I've ever used that terminology. Frankly, it sounds too sanctimonious and triumphal for my liking. I've even made a number of statements over the years here on PB that I hoped would prevent such an impression. If I've said things that have caused you to think otherwise, please point them out to me so I can better explain my position. If I had to assign an epithet for what I want to determine with regard to the mode of baptism, and believe I have, it would probably be "apostolic". Each person can then decide for themselves what the practical implications of this may be.

Well, I haven't gotten real far yet, but I'll stop for now. Pax.
 
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
the closest Eng. precise lexical equivalent is whelm

That view is reminiscently Dale-ish, although his preferred terms were “intusposition” or “merse” (for which one Yale Prof. took him to task for being “scarcely English”). Anyway, do mainstream lexicons agree that “whelm” is the most “precise” equivalent? I haven’t found any that do, at least not in the literal usage of baptizō or baptismos. as in the passage under discussion, Heb. 9:10. That includes the big three, BDAG, Kittle and LSJ. Rather, their primary definitions all refer to physical actions or acts involving dipping/immersing/plunging/sinking, etc. So too say natively Greek-speaking sources, including EO churches, going back to when such was first even contested.

Admittedly, older versions of Strong’s use “whelm”, among other terms, although the “Enhanced” version and Zodhiates’ expanded update leave it off. Of course there may be some other cases I’m not aware of or recalling. And many lexicons do give “overwhelm” as one of the borrowed corollaries in the tropical usage of baptizō and baptisma, indicating that in their literal senses such a meaning is at least latent, and may be brought out in various contexts. But to say (or imply such viz. the supposed meaning of the relative terms baptize/baptism) that “whelm” is in fact the most “precise” equivalent for the literal use of baptizō/baptismos, as in Heb. 9:10, is lexically novel, and telling of a divergence in our starting points.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
That view is reminiscently Dale-ish,
Really? I would have thought more Moses Stuart-ish. From your paper:
Proffessor Stuart proffered a relatively detailed account of the etymological relationship between baptō and baptizō that is essentially polar opposite Dale’s thesis:...
"...There are variations from this usual and prevailing signification; i.e., shades of meaning kindred to this.... Baptizō means to overwhelm, literally and figuratively, in a variety of ways."​
Not sure how I end up holding a position that is both "Dale-ish" and, in your own words, "the polar opposite of Dale's."
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I trust we will both listen well, speak plainly, and as such maybe keep learning from each other.
You turned me off of Dale more than a decade ago. At the time, I was quoting J.Adams (and maybe others) who were referencing Dale, while I had only accessed Dale's work briefly in libraries until then.

In one of your quotes of a review article, Jacob Ditzler (p.56) writes that men may be thankful for Dale's research, but must resist the methods and conclusions he marshals. Only recently have I come to possession of reprints of Dale's volumes; I don't expect ever to use him as an authority.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
As a smaller quibble, I think it's kind of putting words into my mouth to represent my position or intent as establishing the "true" mode of baptism.
I doubted myself when I wrote it. I thought it was a low-blow, since it amounts to a characterization of an opponent's position, rather than a clear and convincing quotation. So, I'm prepared for your legitimate push-back.

But to say (or imply such viz. the supposed meaning of the relative terms baptize/baptism) that “whelm” is in fact the most “precise” equivalent for the literal use of baptizō/baptismos, as in Heb. 9:10, is lexically novel, and telling of a divergence in our starting points.
For my part, I'm responding to language that I think is (often) representative of a knee-jerk appeal to the first entry in a lexicon, or to the root-fallacy, when such is used for or in place of a more stringent hermeneutical approach to the text. For your part, you may not intend to say, "this word means such and such," setting the attitude for further nuance, and then pulling and prodding the term into something that appears to be "in focus" for a particular text.

I consider that method (again, not saying it is yours, but the appeal to an essential meaning for this/every term) an abuse of the lexicon. James Barr's https://www.christianbook.com/semantics-of-biblical-language/james-barr/9781592446926/pd/446926 presents a critique of those methods of interpretation that left the field of literary criticism behind, and took refuge in dictionaries--a form of (typically) "conservative" overreaction to the academic-scholarly trends of the previous two centuries (the trends not always healthy for accurate interpretation either).

Brevard Childs stands as something of a counterpart to Barr (both men of the academy themselves), offering a critique of the "liberal" refuge found in anonymous editors, and subjective meaning assigned by readers to texts. Childs resurrected a question once thought fundamental. After all the dissection of the material into alleged sources, he returned as if to a wonderful, new, and unasked question: Objectively speaking, what does the actual, canonical text mean? The text's "final form" meant something specific to its first possessors, a meaning tied to that form, fashioned in its original cultural and temporal context.

Childs seems to turn toward the "traditionalists," while Barr seems to turn away from them. It would be a mistake to think Childs is not a thoroughgoing liberal. It would be just as mistaken to think the liberal Barr's critique of a reductionist tendency common to many conservatives is nothing but a contemptuous slur, deserving of their (ignorant) contempt in-kind.

So, by what I wrote, my intent was to offer whelm as possibly the English term with the best to offer in terms of "semantic overlap," as of the breadth and flexibility of usage of nearly-equal terms (as I gauge it) in both English and Greek--that is, it could be the best second only to the borrowed word baptize, if that term was not the very one about which so much argument is made as to its apt rendering! Plus, "dominant" meanings for terms are mutable, and change over time. My sense of today's scene is that "immersion" has found a more fixed or limited range; therefore whelm, which broadly speaking describes a substance (like water) coming upon an object from any direction, conveys a distinctly fuller range of meaning, all which is found in relation to baptizo (falling, pouring, filling, dipping into, entering, inundating, etc.) most especially for our interests its use in the NT.

We've all seen arguments made, stating that early translators "should have" chosen a target-language meaning for the Greek word, rather than borrowing the original word as perhaps the best suited ritual term for use in other languages as well. By the introduction of that argument, any ancient translators' wrestlings for the best term, and settlement on baptizo as most ritually satisfactory, is mooted in favor of later "enlightened" opinion.

Anyway, those are some reactions, retractions, clarifications.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Phil D.
That view is reminiscently Dale-ish,
Really? I would have thought more Moses Stuart-ish. From your paper:
Proffessor Stuart proffered a relatively detailed account of the etymological relationship between baptō and baptizō that is essentially polar opposite Dale’s thesis:...
"...There are variations from this usual and prevailing signification; i.e., shades of meaning kindred to this.... Baptizō means to overwhelm, literally and figuratively, in a variety of ways."
Not sure how I end up holding a position that is both "Dale-ish" and, in your own words, "the polar opposite of Dale's."

Well, my point was simply that “whelm” is a rather unconventional and relatively ambiguous term to choose (as were Dale’s), over and against what conventional lexicons most consistently provide (similar to what Dale’s intent with “merse” evidently was). But I’m quite willing to downgrade my appraisal of “whelm” as merely being semi-Dale-esque…

Regarding Stuart disagreeing with Dale, my point is that, as specified, when it comes to “the etymological relationship between baptō and baptizō”, Dale said things like,
“no word can by any possibility mean distinctively to immerse and also mean distinctively to dip”,
and​
“while dip, tingo, and baptō are joined in the closest bonds, immerse is, by nature, widely disjoined from them all.”​
On the other hand, Stuart concluded,
“[both] baptō and baptizō mean to dip, plunge, or immerge, into anything liquid.”​
and​
"It is impossible to doubt that the words baptō and baptizō have, in the Greek classical writers, the sense of dip, plunge, immerge, sink, etc."​
I’d still say that's polar opposite – but if it’s more palatable, we could just say there's a certain polar opposite-ness there…

Finally, while Stuart said "baptizō means to overwhelm, literally and figuratively, in a variety of ways", such was a variation from its "usual and prevailing signification." This doesn't seem to convey that he thought "overwhelm" was the most "precise" definition of baptizō. Still, I'm willing to concede that thinking otherwise could conceivably be described as quasi-StuDale-ish-ness...
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
I doubted myself when I wrote it. I thought it was a low-blow, since it amounts to a characterization of an opponent's position, rather than a clear and convincing quotation. So, I'm prepared for your legitimate push-back.

We'll think no more of it.

You turned me off of Dale more than a decade ago. At the time, I was quoting J.Adams (and maybe others) who were referencing Dale, while I had only accessed Dale's work briefly in libraries until then.

In one of your quotes of a review article, Jacob Ditzler (p.56) writes that men may be thankful for Dale's research, but must resist the methods and conclusions he marshals. Only recently have I come to possession of reprints of Dale's volumes; I don't expect ever to use him as an authority.

So, here’s the short version of my story with regard to Dale.

I first learned of James Dale by lurking here at the PB as a non-member, many years back. I was just newly initiated in Reformed theological concepts, and was trying to sort out some of the differences between the paedo and credo positions. With regard to mode, my cursory reading of Scripture left the impression that immersion have been used, but I wanted to investigate a bit more. I saw a couple of PB threads that were generally complimentary of Dale’s series, and found it was available on Google Books. Awesome - let’s do this!

One of the first things that stood out to me as I started to read Classic Baptism was that Dale’s translation of classical passages often seemed stilted, faltering, and in some cases were basically non-sensical. Yet one of the results of this unicity was that he could effectively lampoon “Baptist” renderings of those passages, which often differed substantially from his own. However, upon further inquiry, it became apparent to me that the Baptist translations almost always corresponded with those of published classical scholars, whether religious or secular. And they actually read naturally and made sense. While Dale often presented his case in a superficially convincing manner, it just didn’t withstand basic common-sense scrutiny.

One case I found to be especially ridiculous was in regard to several classical passages that use phrases like hydati baptizō in the context of ancient metallurgy and blacksmithing. According to Dale, in these instances baptizō has no reference to the modal interaction between iron and water, but only refers to the resultant state of the iron becoming tempered. And that is how his translations in fact read. This, despite the fact that other classical descriptions of the same process use bapto, which Dale elsewhere admitted usually means to dip, or terms like katadusis (plunge under), and wherein Latin authors typically use terms like demersimus or phrases like in aquam descendit.

I certainly encountered what I consider to be other philological peculiarities and sophistical intrigues as I progressed through Dale’s series, some of which are brought out is my article, which anyone so inclined can evaluate for themselves. Anyway, after reading much of Dale’s first three volumes, my overall impression was basically, wow, this guy’s a bit of a crackpot. I mean, really, the verb baptizō never conveys [clarifying edit: form of] action? And, accordingly, every Greek scholar in history has simply gotten it wrong? Whatever.

Nonetheless, spurred on by a slightly morbid curiosity, I went ahead and started to read through Christic Baptism. My reaction soon changed from a shrug and an eye-roll, to my blood starting to run a little cold. Applying the basic tenets of his theory to the Great Commission, Dale insisted it had no reference at all to water baptism. And as a necessary result, the church has erred in its determination that water baptism is to be administered in the name of the Holy Trinity.

At that point, I began to recall certain, sometimes subtle things Dale had said in his other volumes, which made it seem like he had been conditioning his audience and building up to this moment. It was the great reveal. His crowning achievement. Indeed, more than 100 pages worth of ink would be spilt in Christic Baptism to announce and propagate this revolutionary contribution to church history.

OK, that’s being a bit overly-dramatic… But the fact that Dale would also go on to focus on this particular issue in his only subsequent book does seem to further indicate its importance to him.

A subsidiary issue I was compelled to ponder is, how did it come about that so many paedo church leaders of sound record and good reputation in Dale’s era would give unqualified endorsements to his work? And why, in some quarters, does this enthusiastic approval continue yet to this day, even to the point of twice republishing Dale's series in recent decades? I have my own theory, but only those involved and God really know, so I’ll not publicly speculate. Not that I'm opposed to people studying various viewpoints, including Dale's, so long as it is done with care and discernment. But from my perspective, people do need to be made more aware of some of the serious problems there are with Dale’s theory. Hence...

I generally don’t like to speak extensively of people without at least trying to say something positive about them. The best I can come up with respect to Dale is that his research and writing, in terms of sheer volume, is impressive. Yet in all candor, it also has to be said that virtually all of the Greek citations he used had already been marshalled and published by the Baptist scholar Thomas J. Conant, several years prior to Dale’s first writing. In fact, Conant is the primary Baptist foil in Dale’s first volume. So, unfortunately, I have to qualify even that compliment. Maybe I should also make note of his tenacity. He was truly indafatigable.

...

There's still plenty else to consider, and then respond to accordingly in several of your posts, which I intend to do moving forward.
 
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Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Since I deny the premise that the mode of NT baptism is specified in the term, and deny a second premise that baptism "literally mean(s) immersion" (the closest Eng. precise lexical equivalent is whelm), I evidently have no issue with the term in Heb.9:10 being in some sense synecdochtal; in that I regard the term itself by the time of writing of the NT is already broadened to definitionally (per context) include: ritual washings in general, mode unspecified.

The claim I made is supported by the context, in which forms of OT baptism mentioned are specifically sprinking by mode. One must rule that reading inadmissable a priori (because the mode in that view is specified in the term) in order to have the author Hebrews first make a synecdoche of the exclusive term; then go on to describe purifications that could not be strictly described by that term. Why choose baptismois in that case at all?

(Much of what I’ll say here is adapted from my article. Also, in looking back at some of my previous posts I’m not entirely happy with the tone and tenor I’ve used sometimes – too glib or aloof. My apologies, and I’ll try to do better moving forward.)

I think your saying that baptismos here is “in some sense” synecdochal brings up a good point. The exact forms and functions of synecdoche is debated by philologists, with some even denying any distinction from metonymy. That doesn’t mean the general concept isn’t valid, and I think it is in fact often very helpful in understanding language. As you indicated, you are preferring that baptismos in Heb. 9:10 is, per context, synecdochal in a largely definitional sense, whereas I would see the synecdoche as taxonomic, and used in a categorical sense.

As a result, assuming I understand your position correctly, you are essentially saying sprinklings (among other things) = baptisms.

In my reading of Heb. 9:10, baptismos is categorically representative of all the purificatory aspects of the main clause, [Levitical] regulations for the body, under which of course a wide variety of specified procedures and actions would be comprehended—bathing in water, sprinkling various sacrificial elements, pouring oil, etc. But in this convention the various individual actions comprehended under baptismos, as an umbrella term, are still literally separate and distinguishable from it, both grammatically and practically.

As a comparison for my position, I think all would agree that the Ten Commandments are given as a series of categorical synecdoches. In the case of Ex. 20:13, “thou shalt not murder,” the word murder and the physical act it literally and precisely denotes are then representative of many other sins which they categorically subsume —

WLC Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?​
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are […] all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.​

Yet we surely wouldn’t say things like passion, gluttony, oppression, quarreling and wounding—even when, as here, those individual constituents go on to be cited under the categorical umbrella of murder—are by literal or precise definition, themselves, murder. It seems to me part of the utility and genius of this type of synecdoche is that despite the incredible range of things that can be comprehended by the representative term, its definition nonetheless remains constant and literal.

Again (though tell me if I’m wrong), I believe hermeneutically speaking we would both concur with the maxim, “It is agreed by all that one should never depart from the literal and native signification of words, except for the most pressing and urgent reasons.” – (F. Turretin). As such, another underlying issue regarding how we each understand baptismos in Heb. 9:10 is how we perceive the historical milieu surrounding the Old Testament Levitical cleansing procedures that it’s referring to, and how such best informs its literal/most-precise meaning. You’ve already given some indication of your take on that, which is what I intend to further consider and respond to next. Pax.
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
As a result, assuming I understand your position correctly, you are essentially saying sprinklings (among other things) = baptisms.
True. It seems very clear to me (a subjective value) that the biblical author already regards baptism as used in religious context as a terminus technicus, as a word naturally taken on a broader signification than that of a bare description. The meaning of the word has been expanded so that it both retains a narrow definition where precisely applied according to mode; and also possesses a broader definition due to the nature of evolving language arts, whence synechdocal usage--or shorthand reference--becomes a typical expression, established within a community of use. At that point, which meaning of the word is active in a given sentence must be determined by the context. Here, not only the term baptismois, but also the qualifier διαφόροις indicates great breadth.

According to the most natural of linguistic habits, religiously ritual ablutions in general (of which there were a variety in the OT Law, and several authorized modes) came to be denominated by the word baptizo. Such regard for the word in Heb.9:10, makes sense contextually. Whereas, (again it seems to me) frankly incongruous for the author to somewhat randomly choose one mode of the OT ritual ablutions (if none of them have a general meaning) in a "catch all" descriptive verse, and then go on to describe (vv13&19) ritual ablutions performed by a most different mode not to be confused with the previous mode specified. If word choice in v10 was to be regarded initially as narrowly descriptive, but also synechdocally; why not employ the same word rhantizo, about to be deployed in named instances? Unless, as some do say, the latter vv have no setup connection to v10.

I should think rejection of the notion that the author is, in fact, using any sort of broad definition in v10 with subsequent descriptions in the following vv--or even a synechdoce in v10--is reflected in comments by the like of Gill,
and divers washings or "baptisms": the doctrine of which, the apostle would not have laid again, Heb.6:2 these were the washings of the priests and of the Israelites, and of sacrifices, and of garments, and of vessels and other things; and which, because they were performed by immersion, they are called "baptisms."
Here is the uncompromising view, that rejects out of hand any allowance that the word baptismois could have any comprehensive meaning. For Gill, there is no species of the genus about to be referred to. He completely cuts off the cleansings that follow in the passage from inclusion in the cleansings of v10.

I don't think there's any evasion respecting "literal/native signification" of the word in the contrary view, if the word as it stands ought in the appropriate context be taken as comprehensively descriptive. In that situation, the meaning of the word is one of general reference and the mode is non-specific. What Gill and others would delimit, I find artificial. And if baptismois in Heb.9:10 proves a general reference, then WCF.28:3 is supported, "Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary...."
 
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