My thesis took a rather uncharacteristic approach from the usual endeavour, as in mine was generally a survey of the Scriptures concerning what they had to say about the topic at hand, that being what is Baptism, who is the worker, and what benefits does it bring. Typically a thesis will examine a topic in a single manner, such as taking an all encompassing look at Romans 6 itself, in its fullest, thus resulting in a general 70 page Thesis on Romans 6 alone. I, however, felt that a theological survey on the topic to be critical, because we often find when discussing and debating the issues of Baptism both sides, paedobaptisms and anabaptists, etc., quoting verses against each other. Thus I felt it best that in order to make a conclusive end to the issue that all verses regarding Baptism be examined.
The text from Paul’s letter to the Romans reveals to us something very important concerning Baptism. The text reads as follows:
ἢ ἀγνοεῖτε ὅτι ὅσοι ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν εἰς τὸν θάνατον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθημεν; συνετάφημεν οὖν αὐτῷ διὰ τοῦ βαπτίσματος εἰς τὸν θάνατον, ἵνα ὥσπερ ἠγέρθη Χριστὸς ἐκ νεκρῶν διὰ τῆς δόξης τοῦ πατρός, οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐν καινότητι ζωῆς περιπατήσωμεν. εἰ γὰρ σύμφυτοι γεγόναμεν τῷ ὁμοιώματι τοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως ἐσόμεθα. τοῦτο γινώσκοντες ὅτι ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος συνεσταυρώθη, ἵνα καταργηθῇ τὸ σῶμα τῆς ἁμαρτίας, τοῦ μηκέτι δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ 1
It is important to first note that Paul writes, “ὅσοι ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν.” We know from this that Paul is writing to those who have already received Baptism; we know this because ἐβαπτίσθημεν occurs in the aorist indicative passive. This is important to note for two reasons: the first being that Paul expects his readers to already understand what Baptism brought to them; that they would understand what Baptism is and accomplishes for them. His efforts here then, are to remind them of what this Baptism is, that is, to reinforce doctrine.
The second is that, as Michael P. Middendorf writes, the passive here is what is considered to be a divine passive. This passive brings with it the meaning that the Baptism was performed by God, acting through the Pastor.2 Following ἐβαπτίσθημεν is συνετάφημεν, which Middendorf explains is “…aorist indicative passive… it is a divine passive, for God performs the action of burying a person with Christ when that person is baptized…”3 The major point here being that those who were baptized were baptized by God, and that they were passive in receiving this action of God. Middendorf elaborates this point, saying:
Paul does not view faith or Baptism as human accomplishments; neither do they act as an “efficient cause.” Instead, each serves as a passive instrument…“through” which God accomplishes his work. This is illustrated by the preceding passive voice verb συνετάφημεν, “we were buried” by God.4
This places emphasis on God’s work within Baptism, not the choice of the believer to receive it or act within Baptism. God is the one working to bring and apply Baptism to the believer. But what is God bringing in Baptism?
We first see that those who have been baptized have been baptized into Christ. That is to be united to Christ, not merely in a symbolic fashion, but rather in a way that fully applies Christ to the believer in a very real way. This can be seen by the use of the aorist indicative found in ἐβαπτίσθημεν, where the union of the baptized to Christ is a real event in time past, having occurred in Baptism itself, by the working of God.5 This Baptism, having already been applied to the believer, is where they were joined—united—with Christ.6
This union to Christ is clarified and cemented when Paul states that Baptism σύμφυτοι the believer to Christ’s death. This word, coming from σύμφυτος (itself coming from συμφύω, that is to grow along with, or at the same time) brings very strong meaning along with it. Not only does it indicate a sense of being born, therefore indicating that this Baptism is a kind of birth where one is born with and in Christ, it also suggests an intimate union between those being spoken of, that being the baptized and Christ.7 This is to say that σύμφυτοι, on its own, brings with it a true intimate union.
Note, however, ὁμοιώματι, meaning likeness or image. ὁμοιώματι here is connected to σύμφυτοι. Without understanding the context of this term, it could be concluded that the inclusion of ὁμοιώματι equals a symbolic σύμφυτοι to Christ instead of a real union. But within the context, one sees this union is indeed real. This ὁμοιώματι in Romans is akin to the ὁμοιώματι as found in Philippians 2:7, where Christ is said to have been “born in the likeness of men.”8 Middendorf explains this use of ὁμοιώματι, saying it “…expresses equivalence, since Jesus is true man. In the context of 6:3-4, our becoming united ‘with the likeness…’ took place in Baptism.”9 The proper understanding here being that in Baptism one is truly joined to Christ, much in the same way that Christ is truly man. The use of ὁμοιώματι does not then bring any indication that this union should be understood as symbolic. Rather, this union into the likeness of Christ is to understood to be a literal union into all that Christ is and accomplished, including His crucifixion (συνεσταυρώθη), death (θάνατον), burial (υνετάφημεν), and resurrection (ἀναστάσεως).
It should also be noted that the union is evidenced prior to Paul’s use of σύμφυτοι. When Paul writes “ὅσοι ἐβαπτίσθημεν εἰς Χριστὸν,” the εἰς here indicates a sense of motion—to enter into.10 εἰς does not normally bring with it any metaphorical meaning or representation, especially when used with a noun. Rather, it means to literally move into something.11 This is to say that εἰς, being literal in use here, tells us that via Baptism, one moves into Christ Himself. Middendorf writes “…our ‘death to sin’ in Baptism is extraordinary because ‘we were baptized into his death’… Paul explicitly says our death to sin in Baptism connects us with, and plugs us into, the death of Christ.”12 This is to say that the εἰς in context does not suggest any metaphor, but brings with it a reality, something when put together with the other points described above make it clear that Baptism is a literal reality, not a metaphorical symbol.13
On the one hand, it can be concluded that the Baptism being discussed here is a literal reality, but on the other, one could question if the use of Baptism here refers to the application of water, or rather a spiritual sort of Baptism. Middendorf acknowledges that several scholars, such as Dunn, Moo, and Lloyd-Jones seemingly reject the idea, that Paul is speaking of water Baptism.14 The proper response to these critics, as modeled by Middendorf, is to first acknowledge there is always a possibility that a text using Baptism can indeed be an example of metaphor. Middendorf uses Mark 10:38-39 as an example where Baptism does not mean water, but in this case means one of blood, or specifically Christ’s death on the cross.15 However, even though there are indeed such examples, this does not mean that all other verses which speak of Baptism should be viewed along the same lines. Rather, each verse must be taken within their given context. Concerning the whole of Romans 6:3-6, there is no reason to remove the water from the use of Baptism.16 Again, nothing in the immediate context gives the reader any indication that the Baptism which is being discussed should be read without the application of water.17
From Middendorf’s discussion of the text, one can gather that there are those who would perhaps see Romans 6:5 and 6:6 as separate events, where 6:6 occurs apart from Baptism. Those being the union to Christ’s death and being crucified with Christ respectively. However, Middendorf answers this potential issue, stating:
A number of contextual factors… [concerning] “united together with” in 6:5 establish that the compound…verb “Crucified with” in 6:6 is also a reference to Baptism… The plain sense of 6:6 is that the occasion when our old self was “crucified with” Christ also was when we were Baptized.18
It can be concluded, then, that these texts are all written to explain what Baptism brings to the one who receives it.
We can thus conclude that from the text of Romans, Baptism is to be understood as God’s Work, something which He gives and does to the baptized, where God the Father applies to them all of Christ’s Work, i.e. His crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. It can also be concluded that when taken in context, Paul is specifically talking about Baptism in the form of water Baptism.
1 Nestle and Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 418-419.
2 Michael P. Middendorf, Romans 1-8, Concordia Commentary: A Theological Exposition of Sacred Scripture (Saint Louis, MS: Concordia Publishing House, 2013) 444.
3 Middendorf, Romans, 444.
4 Middendorf, Romans, 444-445.
5 Ibid, 454.
7 James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009) 68.
8 Middendorf, Romans, 447.
10 Walter Bauer, Frederick William Danker eds. revs., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000) 288.
11 Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 288.
12 Middendorf, Romans, 454.
13 “…it would be an utter misinterpretation if… one were to characterize Paul’s view on baptism as ‘symbolical’… For, according to Paul, in baptism we have to do with realities, not merely symbolic representations. That which baptism symbolizes also actually happens, and precisely through [B]aptism.”
Anders Nygren, Carl C. Rasmussen trans., Commentary on Romans (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenbury Press, 1949) 233.
14 Middendorf, Romans, 468.
16 Middendorf even quotes Moo, where Moo admits that the primary subject must be water Baptism.
17 It could be suggested that those seeking to remove water from Paul’s mention of Baptism here in the verses in question is due to a desire not to have the work of men become that which applies Christ to the believer. Those who would hold to this would believe that water Baptism was a work performed by the believer. Middendorf’s exegesis as described above disproves this, as it is God who is at work in Baptism. Additionally, God’s Work in Baptism applies Christ in a very literal fashion, also described above. With all of this in mind there is no ground upon which one can stand and dehydrate Baptism.
18 Middendorf, Romans, 463.