New Testament Church Proliferation Digest


Spreading the Gospel via House Churches



NT Church Proliferation Digest Tuesday, October 29 2002 Volume 02 : Number 191

RE: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?
RE: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?
Re: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?
Re: [NTCP] (fwd): Question -- What's the Water?
Re: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?
Re: [NTCP] (fwd): Question -- What's the Water?

Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2002 09:51:56 +0200
From: "Deborah" <deborah.millier * juccampus>
Subject: RE: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?

Scott D. wrote:

> Broaching this topic is often
> like throwing raw meat to the
> bulldog -- a lot of carnage
> ensues. I hope we can continue
> searching for the Truth without
> getting too worked up.

I'm more often dependent on others to inform me of when I may be
coming on too strong than I am on any self-policing mechanism. Simply
because I tend to be a little insensitive at times when interacting with
folks not quite used to the "frontal assault" approach to personal
relations. :-) Please feel free to tell me to "rein it in". Any time.
Unfortunately, my prickly personality better fits the culture of my current
field of service than many other places in the world. Most Israelis relish
a good debate-- complete with irony, sarcasm, AD ABSURDEM. Etc. So do I.
Please forgive me for seeming too pushy and caustic. Your comments above
tell me that I might be approaching a threshold of sorts with you. Thanks
for the gentle nudge toward gentle-ness. A fruit of the Spirit. With God's
help and your patience, I will try to be more sensitive as we explore
together some of the evidence surrounding Joh. 3:5 and the issue of baptism
*for* the remission of sins. Again Scott, thanks.

Mike S. wrote:

> I go with the natural birth and
> spiritual birth interpretation.

I'm willing to hear you out, brother. But you're going to have to do
better than any proposed "unit cohesion" defense that supports a view which
doesn't make syntactic sense. In other words, you'll have to satisfactorly
explain to us how-- against majority opinion-- two anarthrous nouns governed
by one preposition can nevertheless be contrasted with each other.
(For those not used to grammatical meta-language, "anarthrous" simply
means "without a definite article"-- i.e. Joh. 3:5 literally says "born
[out...] of water and spirit," without the word *the* before either "water"
or "spirit")
Furthermore Mike, may I suggest that your discomfort with a "baptism
expla[nation]" might stem from you isolating John's use of "water" in 3:5
from the whole of his Gospel, which, as you must know, is jammed packed with
meaning-pregnant baptism/water specifics and allusions-- a fact that is
noted, by the way, in several of the commentaries. Just a handful of
passages in the surrounding book context should suffice to illustrate my
point:

1) "And they asked him, saying, 'Why then do you BAPTIZE if you are not
the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?' John answered them, saying, 'I
BAPTIZE with WATER, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It
is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am
not worthy to loose.' These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan,
where John was BAPTIZING" (Joh. 1:25-28, emphasis mine)

QUICK COMMENT: Here is the place where Jesus himself was baptised by John
and then directly afterwards declared by the Father and the Spirit to be the
Son of God (1:33, 34). Furthermore, Bethabara [Aramaic for "the house of
the crossing" was the same spot where Joshua brought Israel through the
miraculously dried-up Jordan river into the promised land, during which time
the people piled up stones, both on the banks of the river and in the midst
of the waters, as an everlasting memorial (Jos. 3:1-4:24). Is John perhaps
trying to highlight a "water connection" with this OT event in this section
of his Gospel?

2) "Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the
manner of PURIFICATION of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons
apiece. Jesus said to them, 'Fill the waterpots with WATER' .... When the
master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, .... This
beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory;
and His disciples believed in Him" (Joh. 2:6-11, emphasis mine).

QUICK COMMENT: Mark that word and concept of ritual PURIFICATION.

"After these things [John means *directly* after Jesus' conversation with
Nicodemas!!!-- MICHAEL] Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea,
and there He remained with them and BAPTIZED. Now John also was BAPTIZING in
Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were
BAPTIZED .... Then there arose a dispute between some of John's disciples
and the Jews about PURIFICATION" and they came to John and said to him,
'Rabbi, ... He [Jesus] is BAPTIZING, and all are coming to Him!' " (Joh.
3:22-26, emphasis and bracketed comments mine).

QUICK COMMENT: Note here the natural association between baptism and Jewish
purification rituals involving water.

"Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made
and BAPTIZED more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not BAPTIZE,
but His disciples), ..." (Joh. 4:1-2).

QUICK COMMENT: John goes on in various ways throughout his whole Gospel to
play with these very real thematic devices of water and Spirit, sometimes in
contrast to each other, sometimes in compliment to each other (See also Joh.
4:7-15; 4:46; 5:2-7; 7:38; 13:5-10; 19:34; plus 1 Joh. 5:6-8; Rev. 22:1).
Joh. 3:5 just happens to be one passage in which the Apostle, quoting Jesus,
is using water and Spirit complimentarily.

> The bottom line for me is that
> no where in this whole text is
> baptism explained or how baptism
> fits in. The only way to explain
> how baptism fits is to go outside
> this text and bring THAT explanation TO the text.
> And I'm not comfortable doing that.

I share your concern that we all guard against isogesis, Mike.
However-- and thinking organically-- baptism as such was not a new concept
to Nicodemas. Him (a married Jewish rabbinic academy head and Sanhedrin
member) having to be "born again" was! Remember however, the #1 concern of
every Pharisee of every denomination was *ritual purity*. The practice of
water immersion (among other kinds of washings) was a way of life to all
observant Jews during Jesus' day. And with Pharisees, the more so. Apart
from what we know of the Qumran sect's practices, the Pharisees were the
most conscientious about baptisms. Therefore there needed, on Jesus' part,
to be no detailed explanation of what water meant in his conversation with
this "man of the Pharisees". And John's later Christian audience (c. A.D.
90-95) was likewise well acquainted with what baptism done in faith meant
and effected. The new birth. Nothing outside of the inspired text--
interpreted with a nod toward the worldviews of its characters and
(original) intended audience-- need be brought in. John's gospel simply
*drips* on its own with water and baptism imagery. From start to finish!

MICHAEL
Jerusalem

P.S. In addition, I'd like to hear how you (Mike S.) would explain the
unanimous testimony of the ancient Church that "water" in Joh. 3:5 refers to
baptism.


------- <><><> -------


Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2002 08:58:39 -0600
From: "Scott Dowlen" <scott * dowlen>
Subject: RE: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?

No, not at all -- you have been a model of civility and decorum. I have
just been witness (and party) to this debate more times than I care to count
(on both sides, I suppose). I have seen it happen, and all I intended to
do was warn folks to check their blood pressure before posting.

I personally enjoy true debate that centers on the issues. I like honest
intellectual disagreement and discussion. The vast difference in world
views between Christians and the lost require us all to know how to 'debate'
in the classic scholarly sense. We should be workmen who are not ashamed -
we should know the tools we have been given and how to use them. Rightly
dividing the Word of Truth is what we all want to accomplish here.

Don't hold back for any reason. So long as all the participants are on the
issues and not jugulars, we can disagree and debate till Jesus returns. All
the while sharpening our love for each other and our love for the Word.

Scott D
> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-ntcp * homechurch [mailto:owner-ntcp * homechurch]On
> Behalf Of Deborah
> Sent: Monday, 28 October, 2002 1:52 AM
> To: ntcp * homechurch
> Subject: RE: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?
>
>
> Scott D. wrote:
>
> > Broaching this topic is often
> > like throwing raw meat to the
> > bulldog -- a lot of carnage
> > ensues. I hope we can continue
> > searching for the Truth without
> > getting too worked up.
>
> I'm more often dependent on others to inform me of when I may be
> coming on too strong than I am on any self-policing mechanism. Simply
> because I tend to be a little insensitive at times when
> interacting with
> folks not quite used to the "frontal assault" approach to personal
> relations. :-) Please feel free to tell me to "rein it in".
> Any time.
> Unfortunately, my prickly personality better fits the culture
> of my current
> field of service than many other places in the world. Most
> Israelis relish
> a good debate-- complete with irony, sarcasm, AD ABSURDEM.
> Etc. So do I.
> Please forgive me for seeming too pushy and caustic. Your
> comments above
> tell me that I might be approaching a threshold of sorts with
> you. Thanks
> for the gentle nudge toward gentle-ness. A fruit of the
> Spirit. With God's
> help and your patience, I will try to be more sensitive as we explore
> together some of the evidence surrounding Joh. 3:5 and the
> issue of baptism
> *for* the remission of sins. Again Scott, thanks.
>


------- <><><> -------


Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2002 21:42:22 -0500
From: jferris <jferris154 * mac>
Subject: Re: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?

Deborah wrote:

>If we're going to muddy the waters for verse 5 then we might as well
>do so for the 3rd verse too and admit to another possible route, other than
>being born again, for experiencing ("see[ing]") the kingdom of God. And
>then of course, the question: "What might such an alternate route(s) be?"
>
Dear Michael,

It is fairly clear that "born from above" is a more faithful translation
of the original than "born again".

If the reiteration is not so much a contrast between a first and second
birth as it is an elaboration on the birth from above, then it is a
little easier to appreciate that both the water of the Word, and the
overshadowing of the Spirit are necessary preconditions of the
conception required for the birth from above. The Word of God is also
the Divine Seed of God, and the Spirit is the agent of that Seed.

"Out of his belly will flow rivers of living water..." This was said of
the Spirit which had not yet been given because Jesus was not yet
glorified. John 7:38,39 Clearly, Jesus was talking about a "holy Spirit"
that had not yet been given. My understanding is that this is the
"spirit" that is referenced in Corinthians "... the last Adam was made
a quickening spirit."! Cor 15:45 Presumably, the Seed of a God who
Himself is Spirit, is also Spirit, and from the beginning can be seen,
not only upon the face of the waters, but represented by the waters.

This is not to minimize the importance of the "pledge of a good
conscience toward God", but it does avoid the hard nosed adherence to
"baptismal regeneration" while, at the same time underscore both the
centrality of Christ, and the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Again,
"... That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by
the word," Ephesians 5:26 also comes to mind.

Yours in Christ,

Jay


------- <><><> -------


Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 08:40:45 +0200
From: "Deborah" <deborah.millier * juccampus>
Subject: Re: [NTCP] (fwd): Question -- What's the Water?

Dear NTCP list members,
We've looked indepth at Jn. 3:5 since it is stated in absolute terms.
But, you might say, what if this verse isn't even referring to baptism? I
mean, why should we believe those Ante-Nicene guys anyway? Their writings
aren't inspired! And my reply: why don't we grill them then as "regular
guy" witnesses in a trial for the truth? And see how they fare.

"HEAR YE! HEAR YE! ANTE-NICENE WRITERS MAY ENTER THE COURTROOM FOR
SCRUTINY."

Your Honor, if I may be permitted at this time to speak on behalf of the
witnesses ...? One objection I've heard to the unanimous testimony of the
Ante-Nicene writers that "water" in Jn. 3:5...

Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water
and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God".

... refers to baptism, and that baptism really is for the remission of sins,
is the following:

"The early church fathers were about as inspired in their views as you or
me, and yet with a whole lot less biblical training, not to mention 2,000
years of church history & experience".

This objection is right about the Church Fathers' inspiration. The
biblical training thing is debatable, but let's assume for the sake of
argument that this too is true. So we're left with ordinary men who, if
taken to a court of law today, would at least be considered credible
witnesses.
They had character-- it's evident from their writings. All of them
suffered for their faith. (Remember the VAST majority lived and wrote well
*before* the Roman empire's "wedding" with Christianity.) Many of them died
tortuous deaths on behalf of Christ. So, let's simply consider them to have
been influential Christian men of character. In a trial related to the
topic at hand that would have some weight.
Now let's consider their proximity to the time and events recorded in
the NT. Much closer than you, me, or those from whom we have learned the
Bible, right? A few lived in Israel-- by then called Palestine-- not long
after the ministry of Christ and his disciples. One was from Samaria. All
lived in the Mediterranean region. They all worshipped in churches
established early on, some which had been planted or presided over by a
Jesus-seeing Apostle(s). A couple were in positions to hear John, or at the
very least his immediate disciples, on the particular passage of Scripture
we've been scrutinizing (Jn. 3:5). Most were native Greek speakers and
readers.
Compare that to modern Evangelical interpretations possibly obscurred
by time, culture, language, and geographic distance. Not to mention
prejudice.
Now, let's consider their unanimous witness to the baptismal
application of Jn. 3:5, or the whole issue of baptism for the remission of
sins. If they had all collaborated on their stories that might be cause for
suspicion. But most of these guys never saw each other. Or corresponded
together. The common denominator was that they each had inherited a single
tradition of what the words in Jn. 3:5 meant ... and what it meant to be
baptised with faith in Christ. Born again. Where did that tradition come
from? How likely is it that they *ALL* inherited a single interpretation
that was *completely* wrong, with all other factors considered?
On the other hand it seems more plausible to me that the
interpretation to which many Evangelicals subscribe ("water" = "physical
birth") which NEVER made its appearance until well AFTER the Protestant
Reformation (Btw, Luther also believed "water in Jn. 3:5 meant water
baptism)-- over 1600 years from the facts recorded in the NT-- though
baptism was discussed extensively in the ancient Church (unlike, for
instance, some aspects of eschatology), and is likely the result of certain
cultural factors introduced in reaction to medieval Catholicism's doctrine
of "baptismal regeneration" (something to which I don't subscribe), in
Northern Europe under conditions culturally, linguistically, geographically,
and personally far removed from the writings of John the Apostle. Or the
others.
If all the above were true (and to the best of my studied opinion, it
is), and yet the grammar of, for example, Jn. 3:5 did not lend itself to a
baptismal interpretation, then I would still be on the standard Evangelical
train chugging away. After all, the Gospel of John is what is inspired, not
the patristic writings. Right? Yet we find upon close examination that the
popular Evangelical explanation is syntactically untenable, and the
Ante-Nicene evidence (at the very least) in line with the grammar. There
are other ways to shape the grammatical evidence, it's true, but at least
the application of the ancient Church is congruent with the basic linguistic
evidence.
So let's re-hash: (1.) Witnesses of character, (2.) Close to the
time, culture, language, and geography of the events/ideas under scrutiny in
the N.T.-- with a couple possibly having inside information on Jn. 3:5,
(3.) And the syntax of the passage in question does not contradict their
tradition, but actually adds weight to it.
In a court of law, I'm inclined to believe these men would have
substantial testimony worth listening to. And a lawyer or judge in the
courtroom who completely ignored their testimony, or poo-pooed when he/she
heard it, might be accused of extreme bias and thereby forfeit his/her right
to credibly preside in the case.
So, while agreeing with the objection that the Ante-Nicene writers (to
whom we owe so much-- REALLY) were fallible like you and me, and were not
authoritative in the absolute sense of the word, their testimony nonetheless
is not to be completely cast out because (of all things) their close
proximity in time and space to the events recorded in Jn. 3:5 and the NT--
as if WE, living when and where we do, had/have greater insight into the
Apostles' teachings than THEY. But rather, they should be heard all the
more by anyone who is striving to utilize all the available tools to arrive
at a proper interpretation of divinely inspired Scripture.

Michael
Jerusalem


------- <><><> -------


Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 08:41:20 +0200
From: "Deborah" <deborah.millier * juccampus>
Subject: Re: [NTCP]: Question -- What's the Water?

Jim S. asked:

> Why would Nicodemus immediately
> go to the idea of a gentile being
> purified by water, when John the
> Baptist was out there calling all
> israel to repent and be baptized,
> and even the Lord Jesus was
> having people baptized? Was not
> the call to Israel to avoid the
> judgment to come -- which did
> certainly come on Jerusalem?

I guess I reach that conclusion based on the phrase "born again" and
from Nicodemus' incredulous response to Jesus' initial challenge to him.
John's baptism-- a baptism of repentence-- was related to Jesus' but also
distinguished from it in some way (Act. 19:1-5). And card-carrying
Pharisees in general were not flocking out to get baptised by either one.
They didn't see the need. Pharisees ritually immersed themselves several
times a week. The more scrupulous, once or more daily.
Now back to Nicodemus: let's face it, you didn't get to be on the
Jewish Supreme Court by being a dummy. Or "the teacher of Israel" either.
I mean, a lot of us read his response to Jesus and think "dense, ... dense".
But we are wrong. Truth is he was a remarkably intelligent man who knew the
Scriptures better than most of us on this list could ever dream. But
Nicodemus had exhausted his options for how he thought *he*, a married
Jewish rabbinic academy head who was also on the Sanhedrin, would need to be
"born again" That's why he resorts to AD ABSURDEM: "How can a man be born
when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be
born?" (Joh. 3:4). An honest question clothed in sarcasm.

We currently have no parallels in Jewish literature from or near the
time of Jesus for this *exact* phrase ("born again" or "born from above"--
Joh. 3:3; 3:7), but the *concept* of becoming like a "newborn baby" upon
rising from the baptismal water is found in relation to gentiles converting
to Judaism-- through, of course, circumcision, offering a temple sacrifice,
and ... by being ritually immersed (e.g. Yevamot 48b; 62a; there are plenty
more but I'm pressed for time right now).

In addition, according to ancient sources one became like a newborn
baby by getting married, by becoming a rabbi, by heading a rabbinic academy,
and ... by getting coronated as a king. Maybe that last one didn't interest
Nicodemus.

But being immersed to become "newborn" was not a new concept to Jews
of the 1st century. Certainly not for Nicodemus. However, for a person who
was already everything mentioned above-- save a king-- it was all old hat.
"Been there, done that" ... until he was informed by a man that he
recognised, along with a growing number of others with whom he associated
("we"-- Joh. 3:2), as having come from God-- a miracle worker-- that *he
(Nicodemus) too still needed to be "born again".
Jesus seems to obliquely allude to a few things in his discourse with
Nicodemus that "the teacher of Israel" should have known "off the bat":

1) the fact that members of the original Sanhedrin (seventy elders) were
characterized by the Holy Spirit (Num. 11:25). An experience beyond
Nicodemus'.
2) the fact that Israel's national redemption was dependent upon a
supernatural work of God Himself creating within them a new heart utilizing
the Holy Spirit as the medium, within the imagery of ritual purification via
water (Eze. 36:23-27).
3) the fact that "water" and "Spirit" are associated together, throughout
Scripture (Gen 1:3; Isa. 44:3; Joe. 2:28; ...), in relation to Israel's
national renaissance.

So while Nicodemus had no doubt heard of John, and certainly of Jesus,
he may not have seen their baptisms in preparation for the coming kingdom of
God as being particularly pertinent to him-- a ritually pure, but
*spiritually bankrupt* "leader of the Jews".

MICHAEL
Jerusalem

P.S. An interesting (to me) observation given to me by a Jewish brother just
last week. By the end of the story, we see Nicodemus helping to remove
Jesus' *dead* body (Joh. 19:38-40). The #1 cause of ritual impurity was
(and is!) "corpse defilement," i.e. contact with a dead human being. It was
avoided at almost all costs by Pharisees. But here is Nicodemus touching
Jesus to get him down and prepare him for burial. He must have either
"chunked" his Pharisaism wholesale (unlikely in light of evidence from the
early church and Paul) or he must have determined that the one whose body he
was removing and preparing for burial was not a source for transferring
uncleanness. The most likely scenario to my (and this Jewish brother's)
mind.


------- <><><> -------


Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 11:52:17 +0000
From: goodwordusa * att
Subject: Re: [NTCP] (fwd): Question -- What's the Water?

Hi, Michael.

I tend to agree with where you're going, so far.

I certainly agree with you that the Ante-Nicene writers are much closer to the
original take on the NT Scriptures. The idea was not yet (I would think) an
issue.

The idea in the first century of water purifications was a common one -- among
the Jews in Judea. Mark makes mention of this:

Mark 7:1-4 says:
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Him, they noticed that some of His disciples were eating with
defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees -- and all
the Jews -- do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing
the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market
unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they
observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

So the mention of water would probably not have seemed a strange comment at all
to the very first disciples -- or to the early church. (At least this seems so
to me.)

Only after the fires of a living faith grow cold, in the absence of the
preaching of the Word of God (the true message of the Gospel), would cold, dead
religion begin to settle into the church, and an ignorance of what God was even
doing in the world through Jesus Christ.

Even today -- so far removed from that first century -- whoever is alive in
Christ -- truly alive -- is more apt to immediately spring to a right
understanding when simply reading the Scriptures (because they are alive to the
very Presence and power of God, being led of the Spirit) than one who is merely
steeped in religious education. Not that true believers cannot be misled, for
we find them being misled everyday. But if they would trust God over the
smooth words of ambitious leaders...

Whoever walks with God seems to have a clearer view of the possibilities
offered us in Scripture. Whoever is dead in their sins, not having the Spirit,
seems never to be able to get close to the truth, even though they study
theology for decades, examining and turning every word over and over.

At least has been my observation so far. What do you think? Did persecution,
for instance, help the Ante-Nicene writers stay true to God, helping them to
rely more on Him?

Jim


End of New Testament Church Planting Digest V2 #191

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