Sunday, July 24, 2011

Christian Unity and Boundaries in Christian Fellowship, Part 7A

No, I didn't forget this series of posts. It won't go on forever, however much it might feel that way. Getting back to where I left off a couple of weeks ago, what is up with “washings” being referring to as an “elementary doctrine of Christ”?

What washings are elementary doctrines of the Christian faith? The washings the Law of Moses prescribed for restoring ceremonial cleanness? The gathering of the “apostles and elders” at Jerusalem, detailed in Acts chapter 15, distinguished between basic morality (murder, adultery, theft, etc. are wrong) and things ceremonial such as “cleanness”, washings and circumcision. This gathering happened well before the book of Hebrews was written, so the ceremonial washings of the Law are not part of Christian teaching at all, much less elementary Christian teaching.

Could this verse refer to foot washing, which Jesus did in John chapter 13, and commanded His followers to do? I think this possibility can also be eliminated, by looking at the Greek words used in John 13:14 and Hebrews 6:2.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. (John 13:14)

and of instruction about washings,the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)

The verb “wash” used in John 13 is nipto (nipto), meaning to wash, to cleanse. The noun “washings” used in Hebrews 6 is baptismos (baptismos), meaning washing by dipping or immersing. The two Greek words are quite different and unrelated. Foot washing is something believers should do, since Jesus commanded it, but that isn't what Hebrews 6:2 calls an “elementary doctrine of Christ”.

Does that Greek word, “baptismos”, from Hebrews 6 look familiar? I won't speculate as to the reason, but for centuries the convention of English Bible translators has been to transliterate the Greek words for baptism and for baptize (baptizo) into English forms of the Greek words. To be consistent with that convention, baptismos (singular, baptisma, baptisma) would properly be rendered in Hebrews 6:2 as “baptisms”, which is what the translators of the King James Version did.

This is a place where this discussion might get a bit emotional. Technically, a blog is a soliloquy, but I mean “discussion” rhetorically rather than literally. At any rate, some one reading my conclusion in the previous paragraph might ask, “What about Ephesians 4:4-6?”

There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, emphasis added)

That's a very good, and valid, question. For now – this post is getting longish – I'd like to ask readers to consider the possibility that verse 5 in this passage has been misunderstood. In my next post I plan to look at how baptizo and baptisma (baptize and baptism) are used in the New Testament and let those texts show whether Ephesians 4:5 has been misunderstood.

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