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Putting off . . . putting on

A new friend of mine—let’s call him HB—is an accomplished legal mind and great Bible teacher.  Recently, he started using The Voice in some of his teaching.  He posed a question to another friend—let’s call him ML (another accomplished legal mind and amazing Bible teacher)—about how to read Ephesians 4:22-24.  Paul uses two aorist infinitives for “putting off” the old self and “putting on” the new self.  Most Bible commentaries describe the aorist as a one time act.  It is often called punctilliar aspect.  That’s probably telling you a lot more than you want to know.  But the idea would be that we decide once and for all to put off the old self and put on the new.  In other words it refers to a person’s salvation.  But Klyne Snodgrass, a distinguished professor at North Park Theological Seminary, has this to say: “The aorist tense is used for undefined action. Not necessarily ‘point action,’ as has been the traditional way of looking at the aorist tense!”

Now here is how we translated the passage in The Voice.

 baptismal font

22 then you know to take off your former way of life, your crumpled old self—that dark blot of a soul corrupted by deceitful desire and lust— 23 to take a fresh breath and to let God renew your attitude and spirit. 24 Then you are ready to put on your new self, modeled after the very likeness of God: truthful, righteous, and holy.

You may notice words in both regular font and italic font.  The regular font is more of a straight line translation from the original Greek.  The italic is “explanatory paraphrase;” this expresses the idea of the Greek because often it takes more than one word in English to express the nuance and artistry of the original language.

Eventually HB and ML kicked the question to me and here is what I said to them late Saturday night.

You are correct that Paul uses aorist infinitives for “putting off” (the old) and” putting on” (the new).  In between however, he employs a present infinitive to describe ongoing renewal by the Spirit which is to typify the Christian life.

There are times when the aorist points to a one-time event (punctilliar) and times when it is undefined.  After all Greek only has a few tenses to draw from. and it is probably unwise to pound the pulpit every time you see an aorist.  On this occasion, however, I think the punctilliar is warranted because most scholars are convinced that Paul is making use of baptismal language when he talks about putting off and putting on.  Since baptism was supposed to be a one-time act, these aorist forms are appropriate.  Christian baptism–widely understood as initiation into the Christian life–was seen as the decisive turning point when a person denied the old nature once and for all and took on (intentionally) the new nature.  This language about Christian baptism was taken so literally in the first part of the second century AD that the baptismal candidates took off their old clothes, went down into the water naked, and came up from the water to put on a new set of clothes.  That was one reason why the church needed women deacons, to superintend the baptism of women candidates.

That said, however, I think Paul would also agree that we are to always be working out our baptismal vows.  That means we are continually in the process of renewal, which means setting aside/repenting of the old and appropriating the newness of the Spirit. This is why we translated the passage in The Voice the way we did.

Perhaps you’ve gone to a church and noticed a water font at the entrance to the sanctuary.  They are usually small and off to one side.  The purpose of the font is to remind you of your baptism.  You may see people dip their finger in the water and make the sign of the cross.

Why was Jesus baptized?

Epiphany was January 6th.  It marked the end of the Christmas season.  Between Christmas day and Epiphany are the 12 days of Christmas, which most know these days through the English carol.

The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek; it means “manifestation” or “appearance.”  It was used primarily in religious texts to describe the appearance of a god. Essentially, Epiphany as a holy-day is the celebration that God has become a human being in Jesus of Nazareth.  In the west the holiday is commonly associated with the arrival of the wise men to see the baby Jesus. In the east Christians link Epiphany to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Immerser.  You may recall the heavenly voice said as Jesus came up from the water, “This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  In baptism God’s Son is revealed to the world.Jesus' baptism

When you read the Gospels, it is clear that John’s baptism is about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  So the question arises: Why did Jesus need to repent?  Or what sin was Jesus guilty of that he needed to be forgiven?  In Matthew ‘s account of Jesus’ baptism we are told that John finds Jesus’ request to be baptized puzzling for he demurs and says “I need to be cleansed by You.  Why do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:13-14).   But Jesus convinces John to superintend his baptism.

So why was Jesus’ baptized?  The rest of the New Testament and Christian tradition claim that Jesus was without sin so he had no need to repent—in the traditional sense of the word—and be forgiven.

Let me suggest several reasons why Jesus went to John and insisted that the prophet dip him in the Jordan River.  First, Jesus wanted to identify with John.   When Jesus heard what John was doing in the desert—calling  people to change their ways and announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God—the Nazarene wanted to be there, to drink it all in,  for he sensed in his spirit that it may be his time.  Second, Jesus wanted to identify with the women and men who were coming to John in repentance and faith.  These were the “poor in spirit” Jesus would declared “blessed” in his Sermon on the Mount.  Put another way, Jesus wanted to identify with sinners.  Later, as controversies increase around him, he will be criticized for being a friend of sinners.  Third, Jesus’ baptism marks a turning point in his life.  The word translated “repentance” in most Bible translations means “a change of mind” (metanoia).  Now a true change of mind is always accompanied by a corresponding change of behavior.  After his baptism everything changes for Jesus.  He will leave behind the carpenter shop to become an itinerant preacher and healer.  He will leave behind his home in Nazareth to set up his headquarters in Capernaum.  He will leave behind a private life and become a most public person.  Jesus’ baptism is the turning point of his life.  Fourth, Jesus’ baptism foreshadows his coming death, burial, and resurrection.  Now I must admit that this last reason is more speculative, but it is certainly consistent with the story as it unfolds in the Gospel.  When Jesus submits to John’s baptism, because of who he is—God’s Son, the Anointed One–he gives baptism an entirely new focus.  Those who follow Jesus in baptism will do so as an act of initiation into the Christian faith; through baptism they participate in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Roman 6).  For Christ-believers baptism is the start of their new life; it is the turning point of their lives just as it was for Jesus.

There could be no better way to close out the Christmas season than with the baptism of new believers.  I know many churches wait until Easter to baptize, but it makes sense for churches to follow the rhythm of the Church calendar and celebrate Jesus’ baptism and his revelation to the world by participating in the events celebrated at Epiphany.

The Ceremonial Washing of Baptism

We receive a lot of good questions about The Voice translation through this website and our facebook page.  Recently, we received a question from a fellow named Nathan who asked why we used the phrase “the ceremonial washing of baptism” where most Bibles simply have “baptism.”  Here is part of our response to him.

 Dear Nathan,

Let me suggest you take a look at The Story of The Voice (Thomas Nelson, 2013), a brief book which describes our translation philosophy, mission and an explanation of some of our translation decisions.  Perhaps that will explain things more fully. 

Briefly, our goal was to get people who have never read or do not regularly read the Bible started reading.  Many people don’t read the Bible because they find it hard and confusing.  We did this translation for them.  Our goal was not to replace anyone’s favorite translation. If you have a treasured translation, by all means read that.  But there is a growing number of people (hundreds of millions in the USA alone) who do not read the Bible for various reasons.  We wanted to give them a Bible they would understand in order to get them started reading the Bible and hopefully hearing the Voice of the Good Shepherd.baptism-top

As to the question you raised about how we translated the Greek word “baptizein” (verb most often translated “to baptize”) and “baptismata” (noun most often translated “baptism”).  We made a strategic decision in translating The Voice not to simply transliterate key words; we translated them.  For example, the transliteration of the Greek word “baptizein” is “baptize” (simply taking the Greek letters and putting them into a Latin alphabet); but the translation of “baptizein” is “to immerse or dip in water” (taking the meaning of the word from Greek to English).  So transliteration replicates the sound of a word; translation gets at the meaning of a word. Many key words in most Bible translations have simply been transliterated (e.g., Christ, angels, baptism, apostle, etc).  In order to communicate well with new readers we thought it was important to translate.  

Now back to “baptizein” and “baptizmata”.  When people who don’t know anything about the Scriptures read “baptism,” what do they understand?  It is confusing because some Christians immerse, some dip, some pour.  And whom do they immerse, dip or pour?  Sometimes children.  Sometimes teenagers.  Sometimes adults.  And why do they do it?  As a sign of prevenient grace, or as a sacrament to signify their chosenness by God, or to mark a person’s profession of faith.  So there is a lot of imprecision in the word “baptism” for people who know little to nothing of Christian tradition.  So what do we do as translators?

Well we went back to the original context.  The antecedent to Christian baptism is likely the immersion practices of second temple Jews like John the Baptist (John the Immerser).  Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of these immersion pools over the last 200 years.  It is so important that there is a tractate on immersion pools in the Mishnah.  Essentially, the purpose of these immersions involved washing or cleansing.  But the washing was not hygienic—people then knew nothing of germs–it was “ceremonial” or “ritual.”  By this is meant an action taken simply because God required it.  mikvaIf you read the OT carefully, then you realize how often God required people to wash or cleanse themselves and other things.  This is why they built all of these immersion pools around synagogues, the temple and other holy sites. Again, we’ve uncovered hundreds and we have only unearthed about 20% of the archaeological sites. So when we translated “baptizein” and its cognates we rendered it “the ceremonial washing of baptism” or “the ritual cleaning of baptism.”  The point of this translation was to help readers understand the context. Namely, baptism is a washing or cleansing which God required and is done not for and by man but for and by God.  In baptism God acts to cleanse, wash and purify.  Now there is more to the theology of baptism than this (identification with the crucified and risen Jesus, for example) but I don’t think there is less.  If you are a veteran Bible reader, then you probably know all of this.  But most people know little to nothing of this.  We did The Voice to help them. 

I hope after reading this you will understand how seriously we took the original context as well as the context of our modern audience.  That is why we call this a “contextually equivalent” translation.  I assure you it would have been much easier just to do what every Bible translation in English has done before.  But does that help modern readers who are not used to reading the Bible, read it for all its worth?  These decisions were intentional and a number of scholars, pastors, and editors thought through them before we went to print. 

 

 

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