The English language is a notoriously difficult one. As a matter of fact, some have said that the only true rule in English is that there is an exception to every rule. Others have argued that if one can learn the English language, nearly any other language is simple by comparison. We can say one word in our language and have it mean five completely different things. In our time, we have misused the language to the point that people look at you as odd if you actually utilize it correctly.
Therefore, we should all be eternally grateful that the New Testament was not originally written in English, but in Greek. Because, as imprecise as English is, the Greek is equally precise. If the Bible had originated in English, it would be truly confusing because of the myriad meanings we have placed within some of the simplest terms. However, in the Greek such confusion is not found. Yes, even in the Greek there are passages that are difficult to apply within the context; but the problems of grasping the actual statement of the passage is generally rather simple.
Let me give you an example. There are a number of religious groups who teach that the rendering of Peter’s statement: “for the remission of sins,” in Acts 2:38 means, “because of the remission of sins.” They argue that the word “for” can mean “because of,” or “in order to,” and thus they choose to render it as an order from Peter to baptize because those hearing have already been saved.
However, this is where the clarity of the Greek language becomes invaluable. If the Scriptures were given in English, the aforementioned interpreters would be correct, the interpretation could go either way; but they were not. In the original language, the term that is used in Acts 2:38 is the Greek word eis. It is a preposition that is universally understood to have only one meaning or usage. It means: “into,” “toward,” “to,” or “for” (in order to). It is a directional preposition pointing toward or into something else. Therefore, Peter’s statement cannot mean “because of” the remission of sins. Instead it has to mean, from the original language, that those to whom he was preaching had to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ “into” the remission of sins.
Additionally, it is interesting to note that if he had wanted to communicate that their sins had already been forgiven, it would have been quite simple. All he would have had to do is use the preposition dia. In its accusative form it means, quite simply, “because of” and it is utilized in such a manner in passages such as Mark 15:10 and many others. Therefore, it is impossible for the interpretation given by some to be the one Peter utilized or intended. The Scriptures are clear.
It is for this reason, and many other examples like it, that many preachers stress a knowledge and understanding of the principles of the Greek language. Where English muddies the waters, Greek gives clarity. This does not mean that one has to know Greek to be saved, or that one cannot understand the Bible without knowing Greek. Nevertheless, it does mean that a rudimentary knowledge of precise attributes of the Greek language can keep one from falling into the pits of misunderstanding that so many in the religious world have found.
God be thanked that the Scriptures did not originate in English, but were given in a language that was precise and clear; giving us a means to be able to state with confidence what God wants us to do and the reasons for it.
Using the Hermeneutic Method, many pastors/teachers of the Church of Christ state that the biggest “false teaching” of Denominational Churches is on Baptism. The charge is that initial conversion must include baptism. In the Methodist Church, I was taught the 3 pillars of salvation: (1) initial conversion; (2) baptism; (3) actions of obedience throughout my life (2nd Corinthians 5:10, Matthew 7:21). In Methodist teachings, baptism is absolutely required but falls into the above 3rd category of obedience (like the Ethiopian did in Acts). Can you provide insight on this disagreement over Baptism between the Church of Christ and Denominational Churches (e.g., Baptist, Methodist)?
That is an excellent question, and I will try to be concise, yet thorough in response.
The Methodists, most Baptists, and many others teach that Baptism may be “necessary” but is not essential for salvation. They often use such statements as the ones listed in the article to argue that one is saved first through “accepting Christ” (you called it “initial conversion”) and then does these other things.
However, the term “conversion” means to change sides, to switch, or to come over to the other side. Therefore, when one is converted from sin, they have left the side of sin for the side of salvation in Christ.
Notice how baptism is described in the New Testament: it is what brings us “into” remission of sins (Acts 2:38); it washes away our sins (Acts 22:16); it saves us (1 Pet. 3:21); it brings us into newness of life by putting to death the old man of sin (Rom. 6:3-6).
Can I be “converted” to the side of Christ before my sins have been removed; before the old man of sin has been destroyed; or before I have been saved? In other words, can I be converted before I have been converted?
Instead of conversion and then baptism, the Bible teaches that baptism into the remission of sins is the method by which we are converted.
Let me in return ask you a couple of questions to consider: 1) If one can be converted and saved without baptism, why is it necessary, and would I be saved without ever being baptized? If so, is it really necessary? 2) You listed the three “pillars of salvation” as the Methodists call them; why is baptism a pillar to itself if it is actually a part of the third category? If all it involves is an action of obedience, why set it apart from every other action?
Thanks again for your question!
Salvation as taught to me in the Methodist Church is a “total” package deal of all 3 pillars as taught to us throughout the NT — one can not selectively pick and choose. As such, I disagree with your statement that Methodists do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Baptism is critical because Christ instructed us to do it. To understand “why” baptism is absolutely necessary (significance of blood, water, and sin) would require for us to have knowledge of this part of God’s Universal laws — something that no man can ever do. Fully understanding God’s Mind isn’t required for salvation. I like the Nike logo of “Just Do It!” which Methodists do. Personally, I believe the greatest “false teaching” today is that a person can get their “ticket punched” to Heaven simply through salvation defined as initial conversion and baptism. As Paul constantly stated, our actions of obedience really do matter in our salvation.
Forgive me if I misstated what you were taught. I do not know in what branch of Methodism you were brought up. But I do know that the United Methodist Church says specifically on their website in answer to the question “Do I have to be baptized in order to be saved?” “No, but baptism is a gift of God’s grace to be received as part of the journey of salvation.” That tells me that Methodists (at least the ones with which I am familiar) believe that baptism is necessary but that one can be saved without it (which is what I was trying to say, and the Scriptures I cited contradict).
Let me also state that I agree with you completely that the idea of one getting their “ticket punched” just by being baptized is a fallacy and a dangerous one. I do not hold necessarily to one false teaching being greater than another, because they all taint God’s Word and one’s ability to be acceptable to him.
The Bible is full of statements showing the necessity of continued living in accordance with his will in order to be saved: Philippians 3:13-14 and Revelation 2:10 not being least among them. Therefore, the Bible is clear that the life of a child of God is one that requires continuous service because it is possible to be overtaken once again in worldliness and lose all that we have gained (Gal. 6:1; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). However, baptism is the means by which we enter into the body of Christ and become cleansed of our sins. Our actions after that then must keep us walking in the light (1 John 1:7).
I would be more than happy to continue this discussion with you, but a private forum may be better. Please let me know if you are interested.
Oh, I think we’ve respectfully discussed this subject enough. While I’m no theologian, I do know that “discipline” is huge in UMC teachings. Maybe this is why a distinction is made on the 3 pillars — emphasizing that salvation is not just a one time event to get one’s “ticket punched” but a life-long journey of obedience that will bring joy. If a person thinks it isn’t necessary to do the very first thing that Christ commanded of us to be baptised, how in the world could they be saved? Thanks again for your blog, it helps me in my spiritual growth.