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The Genuineness Of Christ’s Humanity

The Genuineness Of Christ’s Humanity
By Daniel L. Segraves

A hallmark of Oneness Pentecostalism is that we have always believed in and fervently declared the deity of Christ. He is the mighty God and the everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6), Lord and God (John 20:28), and the eternally blessed God (Romans 9:5). All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily (Colossians 2:9). He is God manifested in the flesh (I Timothy 3:16). We are looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:13-14). We join the writer of Psalm 45 and of the Book of Hebrews in saying of Christ, “Thy throne, 0 God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom” (Psalm 45:6; Hebrews 1:8). Like those to whom Peter wrote, we “have obtained like precious faith … by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:1). We join with John in saying of Jesus Christ, “This is the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20).

We also declare that in the mystery of the Incarnation, this great God “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

The first article of faith for the UPCI after the preamble declares that there is one true God who manifests Himself in the Son. The second article of faith declares that the Son is both God and man: “Jesus in His humanity was man; in His deity was and is God…. Jesus on His father’s side was divine, on His mother’s side, human; thus, He was known as the Son of God and also the Son of man, or the God-man.”We must never compromise the deity of Christ, and we must never compromise the humanity of Christ. If we do either, we are in danger of preaching “another Jesus” whom Paul did not preach, and as a consequence we will be preaching “another gospel” and receiving “another spirit” (II Corinthians 11:4).

Heresy has been described as truth out of balance. We must maintain the biblical balance concerning the identity of Jesus Christ: He is at once fully God and fully man.

The evidence we will examine for the humanity of Christ is organized into three categories: (1) direct statements of Scripture, (2) messianic prophecies, and (3) deductions.

Direct Statements

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). The word translated generation (geneseos) indicates that David and Abraham are the origin, source, and productive cause of Jesus Christ.

“And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16). The preposition translation “of” (ek) means “out of” or “from.” The word translated “whom” (hes) is a genitive feminine singular relative pronoun. These words establish a genetic relationship between Mary and Jesus. He was born from or out of her. This is further indicated in that the word translated “born” (gennao) means “to engender,” indicating the biological connection between Mary and Jesus, making Him truly human.
“And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS” (Luke 1:31). Mary could not conceive unless she provided the egg (ovum). The conception did not happen outside of her womb, nor did it happen without any contribution from her. If Mary did not provide the egg, she did not conceive.
“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32). David was Jesus’ father or ancestor. Unless Jesus descended physically from David, He would not be qualified to sit on David’s throne. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that He would set one on his throne who was the fruit of David’s body. (See Psalm 132:11.)

“And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren” (Luke 1:36). Elisabeth “also conceived.” If Elizabeth conceived, so did Mary. Both women provided the egg for conception.

“And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:41-43). Elizabeth spoke under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. She identified Jesus as the fruit of Mary’s womb and as the mother of her Lord.

“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21). Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb. He was not created outside of her womb and implanted into her womb. She was no surrogate mother. Jesus was not conceived by in vitro fertilization.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God…. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-2, 14). Concerning the meaning of “made flesh” (sarx egenoto), John is the best interpreter of John: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us)” (I John 1:1-2). When John wrote that the Word was “made flesh,” he meant the same thing that Paul did when Paul wrote that God was manifested in the flesh (I Timothy 3:16).

“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14). (See also John 2:1, 3, 5, 12; 19:25, 20.) Mary was the mother of Jesus.

“For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt, make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (Acts 2:25-31).

According to Peter, the Messiah is speaking in Psalm 16:8-11. He confesses to having flesh and a soul, both components of humanity. Also according to Peter, the promise God gave to David in Psalm 132:11 guaranteed that the flesh of the Messiah, who was the fruit of David’s loins, would not corrupt. The reason the Messiah’s flesh did not see corruption or decay is not because it was incorruptible, but becauseHe was raised from the dead before it could corrupt. This is the whole point of Peter’s insistence on Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Paul made the same point. (See Acts 13:22-37.)
“Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). Two words here clearly indicate the biological connection between David and Christ: seed (sperma) and flesh (sarx).

“Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Romans 9:5). Jesus obtained His flesh, His human existence, from the fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was the promised seed. (See also Galatians 3:16.)

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4). The Son is made “out of a woman” (ek gynaikos) and “under the law” (hupo nomon). Two different prepositions are related to “woman” and “law.” It is a mistake to think that if He was made out of a woman He was also made out of the law. Jesus’ relationship to Mary is that He was made from or out of her. This is a biological relationship. His relationship to the law is that the law of Moses was in effect when He came.

“But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). The likeness (homoiomati) of humanity was a genuine likeness, not the phantom humanity of Docetism. Though homoiomati is a reference to the external appearance, it does not inherently exclude internal reality. He is a man, but He is more than a man. As Chrysostom said, “We are soul and body, but he is God and soul and body.” In this case, the emphasis is simply on what was visible to those who observed Jesus in His incarnation. They could not see within Him to behold His complete human nature; they could, however, observe from external appearance that He was a man.

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (I Timothy 3:16). Some translations render this “who was manifested in the flesh” rather than “God.” There is a textual variant here, but the variant does not call into question the genuineness of the Incarnation. The Majority Text, the second-and third-century church writers, the early translations dating from the second century, and the lectionaries all support the reading “God was manifested in the flesh.” To say that He was manifest in the flesh means that He was manifested in genuine human existence.

“Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Hebrews 1:9). “Fellows” (metochos) indicates that Jesus shares in and partakes of humanity with us. As it pertains to His human existence, we are His peers, His fellows.

“Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands…. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:7, 9). To be made a little lower than the angels means to be made human (Psalm
8:4-5).

“For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee…. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:11-12, 14-17).

Jesus’ high priesthood depends on the fact that He stands in solidarity with us, having been made like us in all things that are essential to human nature. A high priest must be one of those whom He represents to God.

“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus’ prayers indicate the genuineness of His human nature. They were real prayers that were offered to God, and they were heard.

“For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood” (Hebrews 7:13-14). Jesus would not have qualified for priesthood under the law of Moses, for those priests had to be from the tribe of Levi. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. His priesthood was Melchizedekian, not Levitical. But He had to be human to
be a priest. His humanity was derived from Judah.

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (I John 4:1-3). I John is written to oppose Docetism, an incipient form of Gnosticism that denied the reality of Christ’s humanity. The Docetists taught that Jesus’ humanity was only an appearance; if you tried to pat Jesus on the back, your hand would pass through Him. On the contrary, John said, their hands, had handled Him, (I John 1:1). (See also II John 1:7.) A denial of the Incarnation is antichrist, or anti-Messiah, because by definition the Messiah is God incarnate.

“And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Revelation 5:5). The word “root” (hridza) indicates the genetic and biological relationship between Jesus and David. It describes anything that grows from a root like a stem.

“I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in  the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star” (Revelation 22;16). Jesus is both the root (hridza) and offspring (genos) of David. Both words indicate genetic, biological relationship and confirm that Jesus received His human nature from David.

Messianic Prophecies

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). In the first phrase, there is enmity between the serpent and the woman. In the second phrase, there is enmity between the serpent’s seed (offspring) and the woman’s seed (offspring). But in the third phrase, the focus is on a specific offspring of the woman, a male (hu’), who will bruise the head of the serpent himself, not his seed, and whose heel will be bruised by the serpent himself, not by the serpent’s seed. In other words, the final consequence of the serpent’s deception is that he will be destroyed by a male descendant of Eve, a male descendant whose heel the serpent will bruise. Who could this be but Jesus? (See Hebrews 2:14; I John 3:8.)

Concerning seed, the Hebrew zerah and the Greek sperma are used for both men and woman in Scripture to designate their offspring. In the language of the Bible, a woman’s descendant is her seed, her offspring, connected biologically with her by means of the egg.”And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18). The ultimate seed
or descendant of Abraham is Christ. (See Galatians 3:16.)

“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth
white with milk” (Genesis 49:10-12). The word transliterated “Shiloh” means “He to whom it belongs.” The scepter belongs to the Messiah, the ultimate lawgiver, who springs from Judah. (See Hebrews 7:13-14.)

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The Messiah was conceived by a virgin; He received His human existence from her. (See Matthew 1:22-23).

Deductions

“Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:21). At the Rapture, our bodies will be transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body. This change will involve corruption (ability to decay) putting on incorruption (inability to decay) and mortality (ability to die) putting on immortality (inability to die). We know this from ICorinthians 15:53: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”

Here is the deduction: (1) We will be changed into a body like Jesus has. (2) We will be changed into an incorruptible, immortal body. (3) Jesus has an incorruptible, immortal body. (4) Therefore, before His resurrection, Jesus had a corruptible, immortal body, like we now have. If this is not true, Jesus always had a body that was incorruptible (unable to decay) and immortal (unable to die). This would contradict the Scriptures that declare the corruptibility of His body and His death on the cross. In other words, in the final analysis, any teaching that denies that Jesus’ humanity before His resurrection was like our humanity ultimately denies

His death and the Atonement.

“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds” (I Corinthians 15:39). Here is the deduction: (1) There is one kind of flesh of men (humans). (2) Jesus was a man (Son of man). (3) Therefore, Jesus had the same kind of flesh as all men.

Conclusions

The only way Jesus differed from us in His humanity is that He did not possess the sin nature. By the miracle of the virgin birth and by the fact that He was begotten by the Holy Spirit, He was spared the sin nature. But this does not make Him any less human than us, for the sin nature is not inherent to human nature. Both Adam and Eve were complete human beings before they sinned, and thus before they possessed the sin nature. The sin nature is actually a mar on human nature.

Some may question how Jesus could have possessed a genuine human nature if He had no human father. But Adam had no human father, and he was a genuine human being. For that matter, neither did Eve have a human father. Jesus had a human mother and therefore must be a genuine and complete human being. His deity was contributed by the Holy Spirit. How this could be is a mystery because it is a miracle. The human mind cannot explain any miracle, much less the greatest miracle ever to occur. We accept by faith what Scripture says about Jesus: He is God, and He is man. When we have exhausted everything we can say about Him, we leave the rest with God. It is the privilege of the Sovereign Lord to do what He wishes without consulting with or explaining it to human beings.

Mary had her own questions about how she could give birth to a human son without the participation of a human father: “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). Gabriel’s answer to Mary should be sufficient for us: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

It may seem impossible to us that Mary could conceive without a human husband, but with God nothing shall be impossible.

It may seem impossible to us that Mary could actually contribute the human nature to Jesus without Jesus sharing in the sin nature, but with God nothing shall be impossible.

It may seem impossible to us that Jesus could have been fully human without a human father, but with God nothing shall be impossible.It may seem impossible to us that Jesus could be fully God and fully man in one integrated person, but with God nothing shall be impossible.

If Christ ere anything other than truly human, we would have no intercessor, no kinsman redeemer, no high priest, and no atonement
We must always boldly proclaim with the apostles that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, and we must always agree with Jesus that He is the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star.

Daniel L. Segraves is the president of Christian Life College, Stockton, California, an adjunct faculty member at the Urshan Graduate School of Theology, and the author of several books on biblical and theological issues. His book God in Flesh explores the genuineness of Christ’s humanity more fully.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE FORWARD, WINTER 2001, PAGES 2-5, 11. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY &
RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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Know the Word The Deity of Christ in II Peter

Know the Word The Deity of Christ in II Peter
By Daniel L. Segraves,
Executive Vice-President, Christian Life College

The phrase translated “of God and our Savior Jesus Christ” in II Peter 1:1 is more precisely translated “of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (NKJV). The reason for this is that in the Greek text the definite article appears before the word “God,” but not before the word “Savior.” When two nouns (in this case, “God” and “Savior”) of the same case and number, as here, are joined by the conjunctive kai (“and”), and the first is preceded by the definite article but the second is not, they refer to the same person or thing. In this case, Jesus Christ is identified as both God and Savior.

This is one of a number of places in the epistles where Jesus is clearly identified as God. Paul wrote that “Christ… is over all, the eternally blessed God” (Romans 9:5, NKJV). To Titus, Paul wrote that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2: 13, NKJV). The writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 45:6-7 to declare that the Son is God (Hebrews 1:8). John wrote that Jesus Christ “is the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20, NKJV). (See also Colossians 2:9; I Timothy 3:16.)

This is the only place in the New Testament where we read of “the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” Everywhere else the righteousness is attributed to God. But throughout II Peter, Christ is identified as God. The numerous references to Jesus Christ as “Lord” in II Peter underscore Peter’s conviction that Jesus Christ is God. Douglas Moo asserts that “while it would be a gross anachronism to attribute to the apostle at this point a fully worked-out Trinitarian understanding of God, what he says here, along with other similar verses in the New Testament, provides the building blocks for the later elaboration of that central Christian doctrine.”

It has become increasingly common for Trinitarian theologians to confess that the doctrine of the trinity is not explicit in the New Testament, but to insist that it is implicit. The idea is that it took later generations of Christians to work out the implications of the scriptural claims concerning the nature of God. The understanding of God as three persons is claimed to be a “central Christian doctrine,” although it is not explicated in Scripture.

Thus, since it is admitted that no New Testament writer understood God as three persons, the unintentional implication is that the inspired writers of Scripture had an inferior view of God, which, if they lived today, would disqualify them from being identified as orthodox Christians. Surely this is an untenable suggestion. If Peter, and the rest of the writers of the New Testament, could be genuinely Christian without “a fully worked-out Trinitarian understanding of God,” surely today there could be genuine Christians without such an understanding, whose understanding of God is based on the same source as that available to first century believers: the Holy Scriptures.

The insistence that to be considered a genuine Christian one must understand God in terms of the post-biblical, non-inspired creeds adopted as various church councils in the fourth and fifth centuries seems at least to border on a belief in authoritative extra-biblical revelation. To this concern it is commonly objected that the creeds can be considered authoritative if they accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture, even if they do so in nonbiblical language. But it is precisely here that the problem arises. If the “fully worked out
Trinitarian understanding of God” goes beyond what even an inspired biblical writer would understand, it is doubtful that it can be claimed convincingly that the post-biblical creeds accurately represent the meaning of the words written by those inspired writers.

For Peter, it was enough to declare Jesus Christ to be God. He did not speculate on the nature of any distinction of persons in the Godhead. Indeed, Green points out that identifying Jesus as Savior, “Peter is in fact boldly taking the Old Testament name for Yahweh and applying it to Jesus, just as he did in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:21).”

II Peter refers to Jesus Christ as Savior five times. (See 1:11; 2:20; 3:2, 18.) This is significant in view of the fact that elsewhere in the New Testament the word “Savior” appears only nineteen times. In eleven of these instances Jesus Christ is identified as the Savior. (See Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20; II Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6; I John 4:14.)In the other eight, God is identified as Savior. (See Luke 1:47; I Timothy 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10: 3:4; Jude 25.)

As Green points out, “Savior is one of the great names of God in the Old Testament.” In Isaiah 43:1 1, Yahweh identified Himself as the only Savior. (See also Isaiah 45:21; 49:26; 60:16; Hosea 13:4.) The word “Savior” translates the Hebrew yasha’, the basic idea of which is deliverance of some kind. A form of yasha’ finds its way into the name of the Messiah in the transliteration of the final letters as “sus” (from the Greek SOWS). This gives rise to the meaning of the name of “Jesus” as “Yahweh is Salvation.” (See Matthew 1:21.)

Peter, a devout Jew, believed the only true God was the God who revealed Himself to the people of Israel as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. (See Deuteronomy 6:4.) He also believed this God was the only Savior. Thus, when he identified Jesus Christ as God and Savior, he identified Him as the same God who covenanted with his people Israel, the God who had now made Himself known in the person of Jesus Christ.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY APOSTOLIC ACCENT, OCTOBER 1999, PAGE 11. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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Saved by Water

Saved by Water
By Daniel L. Segraves

One of the most interesting references to water baptism is found in I Peter 3:20, 21. Peter compared the role of water in saving Noah’s family with the role of water baptism in the church.

Specifically, the eight people in Noah’s family “were saved by water.” The same water that was the agent of destruction for unbelievers was the agent of salvation for Noah and his family; the water caused the ark to float above the world-wide destruction.

It might be protested that it was actually the ark that saved Noah and his family, but Peter’s emphasis was on water for the precise reason that he wished to draw a parallel between the salvation of Noah’s family and the significance of water baptism in the New Covenant.

The word translated “figure” by the KJV indicates that baptism is a fulfillment of what was typified by the role of water in saving Noah’s family. Obviously, this does not negate faith’s role in salvation. (See Ephesians 2:8-9.) It was Noah’s faith in God which caused him to obey God’s command to build the ark (Hebrews 11:7). Likewise, it is the New Testament believer’s faith which prompts him to obey the command of Christ to be baptized. (See Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16.)

It is difficult for those who see water baptism as merely an outward symbol of an inner reality to accept at face value Peter’s statement that “baptism cloth also now save us.” For example, Grudem offers a paraphrase: “Baptism now saves you–not the outward physical ceremony of baptism but the inward spiritual reality which baptism represents” (Wayne Grudem, I Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 17 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 163). This, he says, “guards against any ‘magical’ view of baptism which would attribute saving power to the physical ceremony itself” (Grudem, 163).

McKnight pointed out that this text has generated considerable discussion in the history of the church. What Peter apparently does is connect the “water delivery” of the ark with the “water delivery” of baptism. What is fundamental to understanding the early church’s attitude toward baptism is (1) that early Christians were much more ritualistic than most moderns, and (2) that all early Christians were baptized. Thus, there was no such thing as an “unbaptized believer” in Peter’s day. This approach to the rite permits Peter to say things about baptism that many modern Christians would not want to say (Scot McKnight, I Peter, The NIV Application commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 215, n. 8.).

McKnight’s observation is significant. There can be no question as far as the actual text is concerned that the genuineness of the saving effect of the water for Noah’s family is compared to the genuineness of the saving effect of baptism for the church. In other words, any attempt to make baptism an option is resisted by the fact that the water of Noah’s flood was not an option in the saving of his family. The fact that Noah’s family went into the ark certainly was evidence of their faith, just as baptism is evidence of our faith, but is was also an essential act of obedience if they hoped to survive the flood. All of the faith in the world would not have saved Noah and his family from the flood if they had refused to enter the ark. This does not mean the ark had “magical” powers; neither does baptism. Grudem’s reference to a “magical” view of baptism implies sacramentalism, the idea that the grace of God is imparted through the sacraments apart from or prior to faith. This, the Bible does not teach. Any act of obedience is validated only by faith. For Noah and his family, the ark was God’s means of delivering them from the flood, and they built and entered the ark as a consequence of their faith. For the church, baptism is God’s means of delivering believers from an unbelieving world very similar to the world in Noah’s day, and believers submit to baptism as a consequence of their faith in God.

The Early Christian View of Baptism McKnight’s comment that “early Christians were much more ritualistic than most moderns” and that “all early Christians were baptized” is important in that it reflects the understanding of first century Christians. As he points out, “there was no such thing as an “unbaptized believer” in Peter’s day.” The significance of this for our day is found in the question as to whether those closest to the origin of the church had a clearer understanding of baptism than those who look at the commands of Scripture from the distance of two thousand years. If, as McKnight suggests, the first century “approach to the rite permits Peter to say things about baptism that many modern Christians would not want to say,” it seems appropriate for modern Christians to reassess their perspective on baptism. In other words, any modern Christian should be able to wholeheartedly join Peter in his view of the significance of baptism.

It was, after all, Peter who responded to the queries of those who heard his sermon on Pentecost with the command, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). It was Peter who, at Cornelius’ house, “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48).

What Baptism Does Not Do

Baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” Most commentators seem to understand that this means that the purpose of baptism is not to cleanse a person physically. Some, however, suppose that this is a reference to “moral defilement.” The latter view, of course, strips from baptism any actual connection to salvation. This is contextually problematic because it would imply that there was no real connection between the water of Noah’s flood and the salvation of his family. It is also problematic in that “moral defilement” is not a matter of the flesh only, but of the “flesh and spirit” (II Corinthians 7:1).

It may be that Peter’s declaration that the purpose of baptism was not to deal with the filth of the flesh was to respond to any idea that baptism was merely a ritual that cleansed a person from external defilement. This could have been the case, especially if I Peter was originally written to a primarily Jewish audience. Ritual washing was practiced widely in Judaism, as is attested by the mikvahs found in first century Jewish homes. Devout Jews immersed themselves daily to be cleansed from defilement. Many other ritual washings were inherent to Judaism. (See Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:4, 8; John 2:6; 11:55; Hebrews 9:10, 13.) Christian baptism was not in that category, however. The ritual washings of Judaism accomplished nothing; they were mere ceremonies which resulted in external cleansing.

What Baptism Does Do

Baptism is not merely an external ritual, but it is “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” When Noah entered the ark, it was evidence that his conscience was clear with God. He did what he did because of his faith in God; nothing stood between him and obedience to God’s command. Likewise, when a person comes to God in faith, turning away from sin, his baptism testifies to the fact that he is holding nothing in reserve; he is making a clean break with the past. In I Peter 1:22, Peter connected the purification of the soul with obedience to the truth. Only those whose conscience is not clear with God would have any reason to refuse baptism.

The statement “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God” is parenthetical. To discover the basis upon which baptism “saves us,” we must read directly from the first phrase to the last as follows: “The like figure whereunto even baptism cloth also now save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” This connects the significance of baptism with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (See also Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11, 12.) Michaels points out that “Peter speaks of water baptism in a way that recalls his reference to the new birth in (I Peter) 1:3. Both are said to take place ‘through the raising of Jesus Christ”‘ (J. Ramsey Michaels, I Peter, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 49 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1988), 221).

The meaning of Christian baptism is wide-ranging. By means of baptism, we are united with Christ (Galatians 3:27) in His death, burial (Romans 6:35) and resurrection. We are baptized into Christ because He was crucified for us (I Corinthians 1:13). Baptism is the New Covenant counterpart of Old covenant circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). It was a primary response everywhere first century people turned to Christ. (See Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 13, 16, 36, 38; 9: 18; 10:47, 48; 16: 15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 22: 16.) The doctrine of Baptisms is one of the principles of the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 6:2).

Daniel L. Segraves is the Executive Vice-President and Chairman of the Department of Theology of Christian Life College. This article is adapted from his forthcoming commentary on I Peter, which will be published in 1998 by Word Aflame Press.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY APOSTOLIC ACCENT, APRIL 1998, PAGES 4,5,11. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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