There is also an antitype which now saves us - baptism (not the removal
of the filth of the flesh, but the answer ['eperotema'] of a good conscience
toward God)..." (1 Peter 3:21).
Baptismal regenerationists translate 'eperotema' as 'plea,' not 'answer.' Understandably so, given that there's only one
way to a "good conscience," through the blood: "...how much
more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered
Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to
serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14). If the believer already has
a "good conscience" from which to 'answer' God, the blood has
already been applied.
eperôt-êma , Ion. epeir- , atos, to, question, Hdt. 6.67, Th.3.53,68, Epicur.Sent.Vat.71.
2. answer to inquiry put to higher authority: hence, sanction, kata to
e. tôn Areopagitôn SIG 856.6 (ii A.D.), cf. 1008.4 (iii A.D.).
3. = Lat. stipulatio, PCair. Preis.1.16 (ii A.D.), Cod.Just.126.96.36.199 (pl.): hence prob., pledge, suneidêseôs agathês e. eis
theon 1 Ep.Pet.3.21 . (Middle Liddell & Scott, Perseus Project).
New Lives for Old
Those who have seen God change a human life understand what it means to
be born again. Go into a Bible-believing church and listen to the testimonies.
You'll hear of lives transformed, turned around 180 degrees. In fact, these
'restarts' of a wasted life are so remarkable one might almost call them
'new births.' Just as the prodigal was dead, but is alive: "It was
meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead,
and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." (Luke 15:32),- so
modern-day prodigals begin anew and live again as new creatures in Christ.
This transformation is so remarkable one could very well describe it as
a new birth, a new life.
Is it possible that the 'new birth' means something quite different: baptism,
say? Since the phrase 'new birth' fits so naturally with the transformation
described above, it's not obvious why one would borrow the phrase to apply
to something not naturally so described. Baptism, after all, is undergone
by believers who have already repented and committed themselves to following the Lord Jesus Christ.
They've answered God's interrogation from a "good conscience,"
and the answer is 'Yes, Lord.' What complete transformation is called for
in a life which is already going God's way?
Is it credible that this radical turn-about in the sinner's life is not the new birth? According to baptismal regenerationists,
the new birth doesn't occur until after the believer emerges from the waters of baptism.
Since this 180-degree turn-about in the sinner's life is so remarkable,
let's coin a phrase to describe it. 'New birth,' say the baptismal regenerationists,
is already 'taken,' used to describe events subsequent to this radical transformation in a sinner's life. What available
phrase might naturally fit the phenomenon we wish to describe, then? New life? Starting over? A complete turn-around? New
creation? Funny...they all sound kind of similar to 'new birth,' don't they? If only that phrase weren't already 'taken,' we could
use it very naturally to describe the phenomenon we wish to describe: the sinner's turning away from this world and the god of this
world and turning toward God, His translation from one kingdom to another. It would 'fit' like a key to a lock! Hmmm...just what
exactly is the 'evidence' that 'new birth' is supposed to mean 'baptism,' again?
Why not allow this Bible phrase to describe the very real, observable transformation
it most naturally 'fits'?
Heart of Flesh
The psalmist prays for a new heart: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me."
(Psalm 51:10). God promised that He would give His people a new heart, so that they could obey Him:
"And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart
out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do
them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
Notice that, in the order as set forth by God, the new heart comes first, then the walking in His statutes: "That they may
walk in my statutes..." In 36:26 Ezekiel goes so far as to schedule the heart replacement therapy before repentence: "I
will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart
of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them...Then
you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your
iniquities and your abominations." (Ezekiel 36:26-31).
Who are the people who obey God, according to the Bible? Are they regenerate,
or unregenerate? According to the baptismal regenerationists, the people
who obey God's commandment of baptism are unregenerate, because, according
to this doctrine, it's only once believers emerge from the water that they're
born again. That's what happens when you identify the new birth of John
3 with water baptism.
Does the Bible say that unregenerate people obey God? Doesn't it say, rather, that they are at enmity with God: "Because the
carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, those who are in the
flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7). Who are those in the flesh? Those who
are not yet born again: "That which is born of the flesh if flesh,
and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6).
So doesn't it seem more natural to identify the new birth with that radical
transformation in a sinner's orientation which turned him around from following
the god of this world and toward following Jesus? It's this 180 degree
turn-around which led him to the waters of baptism, because it is believers
who are baptized, not unbelievers (Acts 8:37)
But if believers are already born again when they first ease a toe into
the water, and can prove it by this very evidence: their willingness to
follow God and obey His commands,- then how can water baptism be identified
with the new birth (Alexander Campbell) or made its trigger (Roman Catholicism)?
True religion is spiritual religion: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in
truth." (John 4:24). God has always looked at the heart, not at outward observance: "For thou desirest not sacrifice; else
would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O
God, thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17).
It is difficult to imagine the prophets of Israel insisting so strongly
that by outward ceremony one cannot please God if it turns out in the New
Testament that salvation is achieved by...an outward ceremony.
"We hold that persons are not saved by baptism, for we think, first
of all that it seems out of character with the spiritual religion which
Christ came to teach, that he should make salvation depend upon mere ceremony.
Judaism might possibly absorb the ceremony by way of type into her ordinances
essential to eternal life; for it was religion of types and shadows. The
false religions of the heathen might inculcate salvation by a physical
process, but Jesus Christ claims for his faith that it is purely spiritual,
and how could he connect regeneration with a peculiar application of aqueous
fluid? I cannot see how it would be a spiritual gospel, but I can see how
it would be mechanical, if I were sent forth to teach that the mere dropping
of so many drops upon the brow, or even the plunging a person in water
could save the soul. This seems to me to be the most mechanical religion
now existing, and to be on a par with the praying windmills of Thibet,
or the climbing up and down of Pilate's staircase to which Luther subjected
himself in the days of his darkness." (C. H. Spurgeon, Sermon, Baptismal
Isn't it more likely that the function of this outward observance is the
same function for which God has always designed His ordinances: to point
to spiritual realities, not to substitute for them. Thus, baptism depicts
the new birth, and those who seize hold, in faith, of the reality which
baptism depicts, are born again. Why elevate the symbol above the substance?
The Bible has a lot to say about those who are born again. It says that
those who are born of God overcome the world: "For whatsoever ['pas,' all] is born of God overcometh the world: and this is
the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4). The Bible doesn't
say that some of those who are born of God overcome the world; the Bible
says that all of those who are born of God overcome the world. So if the
conjecture that the new birth of John 3 is water baptism were correct,
1 John 5:4 would read, 'For whatsover is baptized overcometh the world...'
Yet many are baptized who do not overcome the world, but rather are overcome
by it. So this conjecture is flat out wrong.
The new birth is a spiritual reality, it's a work of God, not of man: "But
as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor
of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John
1:12-13). Baptism signifies this birth from above, it doesn't make it happen.
Born again believers are to be baptized. And born again believers are saved,
because all who believe are saved: "As it is written, Behold, I lay
in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on
him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:33). They believed before they
were baptized, not as a result of baptism. So their baptism serves as seal
and testimony to their salvation, not its cause.
"Ver. 5. Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee,....
Explaining somewhat more clearly, what he before said:
"except a man be born of water and of the Spirit: these are, ...,
"two words", which express the same thing, as Kimchi observes
in many places in his commentaries, and signify the grace of the Spirit
of God. The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions read, "the Holy Spirit",
and so Nonnus; and who doubtless is intended: by "water", is
not meant material water, or baptismal water; for water baptism is never
expressed by water only, without some additional word, which shows, that
the ordinance of water baptism is intended: nor has baptism any regenerating
influence in it; a person may be baptized, as Simon Magus was, and yet
not born again; and it is so far from having any such virtue, that a person
ought to be born again, before he is admitted to that ordinance: and though
submission to it is necessary, in order to a person's entrance into a Gospel
church state; yet it is not necessary to the kingdom of heaven, or to eternal
life and salvation: such a mistaken sense of this text, seems to have given
the first birth and rise to infant baptism in the African churches; who
taking the words in this bad sense, concluded their children must be baptized,
or they could not be saved; whereas by "water" is meant, in a
figurative and metaphorical sense, the grace of God, as it is elsewhere;
see Eze 36:25. Which is the moving cause of this new birth, and according
to which God begets men again to, a lively hope, and that by which it is
effected; for it is by the grace of God, and not by the power of man's
free will, that any are regenerated, or made new creatures: and if Nicodemus
was an officer in the temple, that took care to provide water at the feasts,
as Dr. Lightfoot thinks, and as it should seem Nicodemon ben Gorion was,
by the story before related of him; See Gill on "Joh 3:1"; very
pertinently does our Lord make mention of water, it being his own element:
regeneration is sometimes ascribed to God the Father, as in 1Pe 1:3, and
sometimes to the Son, 1Jo 2:29 and here to the Spirit, as in Tit 3:5, who
convinces of sin, sanctifies, renews, works faith, and every other grace;
begins and carries on the work of grace, unto perfection;..." (John
Gill, Exposition of the Bible, John 3:5).
There are many reasons to quote an author; some of the old commentators
express themselves with such clarity, one could not do better. In this
case, I'm quoting John Gill because he's an old-time Baptist and some in
the 'Church of Christ' will tell you, contrary to fact, that Baptists of
his day shared Alexander Campbell's devotion to baptismal regeneration.
What quoting a commentator does not do is 'prove' what a passage means. Chase after the new religious movements'
misleading citations of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Gill et al, all
of whom they claim for their own camp, and you'll hear in response...'Why
is the Bible never enough for you?'
In fact, the Bible is the only authority in this field. The proper name
for the argument, 'experts agree that 'x' is true, therefore 'x' is true,'
is the argumentum ad verecundiam. It is properly classed as a fallacy:
"The first is to allege the opinions of men whose parts, learning, eminency, power, or some other cause has
gained a name and settled their reputation in the common esteem with some kind of authority. When men are established in any kind
of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in
possession of it. This is apt to be censured as carrying with it too much of pride, when a man does not readily yield to the determination
of approved authors which is wont to be received with respect and submission by others; and it is looked upon as insolence for a man to
set up and adhere to his own opinion against the current stream of antiquity, or to put it in the balance against that of some learned
doctor or otherwise approved writer. Whoever backs his tenets with such authorities thinks he ought thereby to carry the cause, and is
ready to style it impudence in anyone who shall stand out against them. This I think may be called argumentum ad verecundiam." (John
Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Volume Two, Book IV, Chapter XVII, 19.
Born of God
"Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God..."
(1 John 5:1).
Who are those who are born again, according to the Bible? The baptized?
No, "Whosoever believes..."
Regeneration, or rebirth, makes what was dead to be alive: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;.
. ." (Ephesians 2:1). It is
following upon faith. Who has the competence to restore life? One one:
"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand."
The new birth is a divine act performed by the sole actor competent to
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
. ." (1 Peter 1:3).
The crudest and most egregious teaching of baptismal regeneration one can
find is in the writings of Alexander Campbell:
"Hence it came to pass, that all the ancients (as fully proved in our
first Extra on Remission) used the word regeneration as
synonymous in signification with immersion. In addition to
the numerous quotations made in our Essay on Remission,
from the creeds and liturgies of Protestant churches, we
shall add another from the Common Prayer of the Church of
England, showing unequivocally that the learned Doctors of
that church used the words regeneration and baptism as synonymous." (Alexander
Campbell, Bath of Regeneration)
That "regeneration" and "immersion" cannot "synonymous" is readily shown by scriptures like, "Whoever
has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." (1 John 3:9).
If the birth from above is "synonymous" with "immersion," then this means, '...he cannot sin, because he has been
immersed!' Alexander Campbell proposes a naming scheme according to which 'Seven Lords a-Leaping' can
expand, accordion-style, to encompass 'Seven Lords a-Leaping' all the way
down to 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree'...then collapse back down to 'Seven
Lords a-Leaping,' as needed. Better to propose plausible definitions for
Bible terms in the first place.
Nature of Sin
It's been said that all works done before justification have the "nature of sin":
"All truly good works (to use the words of our Church) follow after
justification; and they are therefore good and acceptable to God in Christ,
because they spring out of a true and living faith. By a parity of reason,
all works done before justification are not good, in the Christian sense,
forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; (though from some
kind of faith in God they may spring;) yea, rather, for that they are not
done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not (how
strange soever it may appear to some) but they have the nature of sin."
(John Wesley, Sermon 5, Justification by Faith).
Baptism is an abolute command of the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19). It may seem paradoxical that only born again children
of God can obey His commands, but that's what the Bible says: "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who
practices righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:29).
The obedience God is looking for is not grudging, but from the heart. By
God's way of accounting, he who obeys without enthusiasm is already a law-breaker:
"But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has
already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28).
Looking, not touching, this man was marked down as a law-breaker, because
outward compliance is not what God seeks. The law is expressed as follows:
"And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of
faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Romans 14:23).
As this principle relates to baptism, God commanded, and His children obey.
Baptismal regenerationists invert that order: they say, children of the
devil obey God's command, receiving their reward by becoming His children
in the water. According to the Bible, they've got it backwards.