Why was Jesus Baptized?

The Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized by John – photo by Wikipedia user Chmee2

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

In the previous article, I spoke about the baptism of John and how it prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus Christ. This form of baptism was all about confessing one’s sins and being made right with God. The question then becomes, why in the world did Jesus need to be baptized? If He had no sins to confess, then what was the point?

This is not just a question that has popped up after the fact. When Jesus showed up at the Jordan River in order to be baptized, John proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” (John 1:29b-30) This is a revealing statement, for in it John identifies Jesus not only as the one who will save the entire world from sin, but also as one who “existed before me”. John knew full well that he was born before Jesus, his cousin. Therefore, what he was really saying was that Jesus had come down from on high.

In light of this statement, we should not be surprised at how John responded to Jesus’s request to be baptized. “But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) John believed that Jesus was greater than him. More to the point, he believed that Jesus had no sins to confess: on the contrary, He was the one who would take away sins. Therefore, John seems to say, “There’s no need for you to be baptized. If anything, you ought to be baptizing me!” Continue reading

The Baptism of John: Purpose, Participants, and Differences from New Covenant Baptism

“Saint John the Baptist Preaching” by Mattia Preti, circa 1665

This is the first in a series of essays on the topic of baptism as outlined in scripture.

Hello friends and thank you for taking the time to visit and read this first article addressing the subject of baptism. In my introductory letter, I hinted that there are at least three and possibly four different forms of baptism described in scripture. Today, I would like to start by examining the first such form: the baptism of John. I will first give some background on who John was and the significance of the baptisms that he administered, then I will differentiate this form of baptism from those that occur under the New Covenant. Continue reading

New Series of Essays on Baptism

Friends,

I am about to begin a series of blog posts on the topic of baptism as it appears in scripture. This is a subject that has provoked not a little controversy among Christians over the years. My purpose in addressing this topic is not to stoke more controversy, but perhaps to get back to basics. So much has been written about baptism, and I am loath to waste words on something that not only was said already, but was probably said better than I could manage.

Therefore, it is my primary intention to focus on an exegesis of those biblical passages that deal with the subject of baptism. I do not intend to carry out an exhaustive examination of how the theology surrounding baptism has developed over the years or how traditions were handed down. Perhaps this will cause some to accuse me of Biblicism, which I assure you would not be a compliment coming from them. However, please rest assured that I mean no disrespect to the many eminent theologians over the centuries who have wrestled with these issues and whose interpretations of the text have no doubt influenced my own. I am not suggesting that we should ignore all of that when considering baptism. I simply cannot do everything, and in any case, my only academic training that is at all pertinent is in the field of biblical literature, not historic theology. I will thus attempt to do what it is I do best, or at least what I should do best. Continue reading

On Sin

A knight prepares to do battle with the seven deadly sins in the “Treatise on the Vices” by William Peraldus, circa 13th century

In order to understand the world, it is essential to understand sin. Without a proper appreciation of sin, all anthropology is destined to fail.

Let me start out by establishing two very important truths. First, sin is not a theological buzzword. It is not something that exists merely in the realm of theory – an abstract concept latched onto by those seeking to comprehend the world around them. It is not just some word that religious fundamentalists use to describe people unlike themselves, things that scare them, and actions they find distasteful. This is not the true meaning of sin, however much some individuals might attempt to co-opt the concept. Sin is the deadly enemy of the human race. It is killing us every day – claiming us for its own.

Second, sin is not just a single action or series of actions. From a human perspective, it can certainly seem so, and that is how we usually address the topic. You tell a lie, you sin. You steal something, you sin. You punch someone in the face, you sin. All of this is true, but if that is the only way we think about sin, then we are missing the point. We are underestimating the problem in a way that is bound to lead us into all kinds of difficulties. It is more useful to think about sin as a state of being, a worldview, or a modus operandi. Sin is not just what a person does: it is part of their essence. The Bible calls this the sinful nature.

I recently heard a very interesting idea: the most effective prison is one where the prisoner actually wants to stay. How could such a situation occur? When the prisoner comes to believe that black is white and night is day – that is, rather than being the source of their torment, the prison is in fact their source of protection and even liberation. Through a series of lies, they become convinced that leaving the prison is too risky and what they need is in the hands of those who hold them captive. It’s not so much that they lose the desire to be free, but rather that they are mistaken as to where true freedom can be found. Sin is completely this way. Continue reading

Britain Delivers Another Surprising Vote, which shouldn’t really Surprise Anyone

Theresa May speaks at her first Prime Minister’s Questions system last year. She may not get another one. UK Parliament Photo

When a UK general election comes around, you can normally expect me to be blogging about it. British politics is, in certain ways, far more compelling than its American counterpart. The scale is smaller, but it feels so darn Shakespearean, I cannot help but be fascinated. However, when Prime Minister Theresa May (only the second female in British history to hold that position) called for an early election a few weeks back, I let the news pass me by for the most part.

There were three reasons for this. First, I have been dealing with illness for almost the entirely of this year that has rendered me only partially functional. Second, the constant stream of stories related to the Trump administration and the presidential election in France grabbed more of my attention, rightly or wrongly. Third, none of the party leaders in this British election inspire anything like confidence or even grudging admiration in me. I long for the bad old days of the Blair/Brown feud, coalition politics, and the like. Things were so much more fun back then, even if they were falling to pieces.

Nevertheless, this British election was important. Ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union last year, there has been significant disagreement over how that process should take place. The party that leads the country going forward will have enormous influence over that transition, which is surely important not only for British citizens, but also Europeans in general. Second, the rise in terrorist actions in the UK is a major source of concern, and the country needs a government that will be effective in countering the hydra-like threat of ISIS and all its ilk. Third, there is the eternal question of whether the government should spend more on social programs, as favored by the liberal parties, or continue on with austerity. Continue reading

What We Can Learn about Biblical Authority from Jane Eyre

Jane saying her evening prayers, from an 1847 illustration by F.H. Townsend

I love Jane Eyre. It’s one of the few novels that I have revisited after completing the final pages. Whether it is a landmark achievement in the history of feminism or a subtle attempt to reinforce Victorian marital ideals, I cannot say, though I am more inclined toward the former. In any case, what I find most interesting about Charlotte Brontë’s lone novel of note is its spiritual content. This is ironic, since many of the critics in her own day called it an affront to religion. Yet while it may have been an affront to bad religion, I do not think we can say that about religion in general.

There are important lessons to be drawn from the pages of Jane Eyre in regard to personal guilt, sexual morality, forgiveness, and cultural Christianity vs. true Christianity. It is not a book that simply condemns religion or trumpets it unthinkingly. There are four main villains in this work, if you don’t count the crazy woman in the attic, who in any case couldn’t really help herself. The first is Jane’s aunt, Mrs. Reed, whose religion is nominal at best. Then there is Mr. Brocklehurst, a fervently religious man who is all law and no gospel. Next, we have Blanche Ingraham, Jane’s romantic rival, who worships nothing but herself. The last villain is often not seen as a villain: St. John Rivers, the cleric who is hell-bent on saving souls but has walled off his own emotions to the point that he could hardly know much about Christ.

The heroes of Jane Eyre also have a variety of religious beliefs. The most obviously good person in the story is Jane’s childhood friend, Helen, who is raised up as a model of true Christianity, showing compassion to those around her while also treasuring the Bible. Jane herself has a strong moral core, no doubt influenced by her Christian upbringing. Even so, you are unlikely to hear her spouting complex doctrines. She is more interested to see how those around her, who nearly all espouse Christian beliefs, actually put those beliefs into practice. Then there is the anti-hero Mr. Rochester, who has committed numerous sins and yet acknowledges his sinfulness and longs for redemption. In this, the novel seems to suggest that he is more Christian than many of the “Christians”. Continue reading