Willis: Galatians and Colossians – The Water Continues

Here, I continue my examination of the Scriptures and what they have to say regarding Baptism. This time we examine texts from Galatians and Colossians in a longer piece.

Galatians 3:24-27

ὥστε ὁ νόμος παιδαγωγὸς ἡμῶν γέγονεν εἰς Χριστόν, ἵνα ἐκ πίστεως δικαιωθῶμεν ἐλθούσης δὲ τῆς πίστεως οὐκέτι ὑπὸ παιδαγωγόν ἐσμεν. Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστὲ διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. ὅσοι γὰρ εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε1

We must first establish that this verse is actually talking about water Baptism. The context gives us no clues to think of this verse apart from water Baptism. Ronald Fung states this out, saying, “The baptism in view of Gal 3:27 is almost certainly water baptism…”2 Das goes into even more detail concerning this point, writing:

At least one interpreter has doubted whether Paul is referring to water Baptism in 3:27. She [Thus Hunn] connected Gal 3:27 with 1 Cor 12:13 as references to ‘Spirit baptism.’ A reference to ‘Spirit baptism,’ however, is far fetched in 1 Corinthians 12:13 since Paul is revisiting his discussion of Baptism in 1 Cor 1:13-16 and is clarifying that water Baptism… is actually the means by which the Spirit unites believers into a single body…3

Das even further elaborates on this point, stating, “’Baptism’ in the Greek language almost always referred to the application of a liquid. The rare instances which depart from this pattern include clear contextual indications that the ‘Baptism’ should be taken in an unusual metaphorical sense.”4

Again, with this in mind, there is no proper reason to take the Baptism in Galatians 3:27 as meaning anything other than water Baptism.5

Concerning the exegesis, we first see Paul’s statement ἐκ πίστεως δικαιωθῶμεν. Here, Paul is stating plainly that faith (πίστεως) is the thing which justifies (δικαιωθῶμεν). Prior to this, the Law (νόμος) served as the thing which was the moral guide (παιδαγωγὸς). Paul clarifies that because of this faith (πίστεως), we are no longer under (ὑπὸ) the moral guide (παιδαγωγόν),6 which was the Law. For in Christ Jesus, all (Πάντες) are Sons (υἱοὶ) of God. And how? Through Faith (πίστεως) in Christ Jesus. But Paul adds to all of this, saying it is through Baptism (ἐβαπτίσθητε) that one (or as Paul puts it the ὅσοι or many) has Christ put upon them, specifically clothed (ἐνεδύσασθε)7 in Christ.

But what does this mean—to be clothed in Christ—yet it is in Faith that one is made a son of God? Fung, writing on this, first points out that Baptism does not work ex opere operato.8 That is why Paul includes this mention of Baptism within his description of faith. The two are joined in one process. Das also comments on this, saying, “The close connection between 3:26 and 3:27 reflects out inseparably Paul views faith and Baptism.”9 In addition, John Bligh notes that there is no attempt by Paul to distinguish the effects of Faith and Baptism apart from each other. They are a united process working together for the benefit of the believer. According to Bligh, the believer is simply described as being clothed in Christ, being made a son of God, and being freed from the Law.10

Baptism provides something for Faith to cling to, in that it provides concrete promises of God—a process that occurs to oneself—objectively. Thus, Faith clings to what is promised to be given in Baptism. To pit Faith against Baptism is to pit gifts of God against each other. Bligh’s point is important, as Paul clearly did not see the two as separate, and did not see the need to provide distinction between them. They are joined together. As Das states, “Those who have been baptized have put on Christ, and that putting on of Christ in Baptism is the basis (γὰρ) for how believers become Sons of God in Christ Jesus.” Another way to say this is to say that Baptism leads to Faith, that Baptism provides Faith, and that Faith leads to one being made a son of God.

However, Fung is concerned that Faith loses its supremacy. To Fung, when one holds to the concept “…that which baptism symbolizes also actually happens…” and that “…in baptism faith receives the Christ in whom the adoption is effected,” it seems as if these positions “…make faith’s efficacy dependent upon baptism…” and that apart from Baptism one cannot receive Christ.11 Turning to Luther, we find the answer to Fung’s worries. As Luther explains, Faith needs something external and apart from ourselves for which it can cling and hold onto.12 Baptism provides this external promise. Additionally, Luther states that it is Faith which makes one able to receive Baptism; makes them worthy to receive it. That is to say, one should not be Baptized if they do not have faith. This means that without faith, Baptism is of no use or benefit to one who receives it.13 Again, Faith is certainly not dependent on Baptism, rather it is Faith that enables one to receive the benefits of Baptism. In fact, Luther states, “…we insist on faith alone as so necessary that without it nothing can be received or enjoyed.”14

We now return to what it means to put on Christ. To put on Christ is to be joined to Him, to be identified with Him completely and fully. Das explains that in the ancient world, men and women were identified by their dress and accessories. A person’s social status, career, wealth, and even where they were born were often the main and primary means of knowing everything about a person. Das concludes that to be clothed in Christ is to be fully united and seen as that same person themselves.15 Ragnar Bring supports Das’ conclusions, saying:

When Paul says that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, he uses the verb enduo, ‘to put on.’ This verb means also ‘to cover oneself with,’ ‘to submerge oneself in,’ ‘to dive into.’ The baptized person… become[s] completely united with Christ and one with him.16

Unity with Christ is clearly Paul’s focus here, to be Baptized is to be seen as Christ. Therefore, to put on Christ in terms of garb, is to be identified with Him fully.

We also find here the use of the divine passive in ἐβαπτίσθητε, which indicates the one who is at work in this Baptism is God. One is baptized, that is, they receive it upon them from God Himself. Das reinforces this stating:

An individual ‘is baptized’ into Christ. ‘To be baptized’ is likely another instance of… the divine passive… that Paul is using throughout the letter. In view of 3:1-5,14, 4:1-7, God’s own Spirit is… the active agent in the birthing of God’s children through Baptism.17

Das also makes note that God’s actions in the previous verses concerning the Law, citing 3:19 (προσετέθη) and 3:21 (ἐδόθη). Das demonstrates that these words occur in the same passive, that being the divine passive, meaning that in 3:19 and 3:21, it is God who is performing the actions. The divine passive occurs here in Galatians 3:27, found in the word ἐβαπτίσθητε, meaning the baptized individuals “were baptized” by God.18 

Lenski provides support here, stating, “Paul says: By being baptized in Christ all you baptized… ‘did put on Christ,’ or as the middle may be rendered, ‘did allow yourselves to be clothed with Christ.’ The verb does not mean ‘to play a role,’ like actors…”19 This is to say that those baptized were not the actors in their Baptism, rather they were passive recipients. God is the one who provides the clothing and who puts the clothing upon the baptized. Much as a parent provides clothing and likewise dresses their child, so too does God provide for us and dresses us in Christ.

We can thus conclude that the text from Galatians reveals to us that Baptism clothes an individual in Christ, allowing them to be seen fully in and with Christ, and that it is God who performs the action of Baptism, that is to say that God Baptizes the individual and seals, clothes them, and unites them to Christ Jesus.

Colossians 2:11-14

ἐν ᾧ καὶ περιετμήθητε περιτομῇ ἀχειροποιήτῳ ἐν τῇ ἀπεκδύσει τοῦ σώματος τῆς σαρκός, ἐν τῇ περιτομῇ τοῦ χριστοῦ, συνταφέντες αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ βαπτισμῷ, ἐν ᾧ καὶ συνηγέρθητε διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς ἐνεργείας τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν·καὶ ὑμᾶς νεκροὺς ὄντας τοῖς παραπτώμασιν καὶ τῇ ἀκροβυστίᾳ τῆς σαρκὸς ὑμῶν, συνεζωοποίησεν ὑμᾶς σὺν αὐτῷ· χαρισάμενος ἡμῖν πάντα τὰ παραπτώματα, ἐξαλείψας τὸ καθ’ ἡμῶν χειρόγραφον τοῖς δόγμασιν ὃ ἦν ὑπεναντίον ἡμῖν, καὶ αὐτὸ ἦρκεν ἐκ τοῦ μέσου προσηλώσας αὐτὸ τῷ σταυρῷ·20

Paul, after explaining to his readers that they have παρελάβετε (received) Christ (Col. 2:6) and that they have been πεπληρωμένοι (completed) by Christ (Col. 2:10), explains that in Him, they have been περιετμήθητε (Col. 2:11). This περιτομῇ is ἀχειροποίητος, that is, without hands, built not by man.21 This word ἀχειροποίητος is found in Mark 14:58 and 2 Corinthians 5:1, where it carries the action of God constructing a ναὸν (Mark 14:58) and an οἰκία (2 Corinthians 5:1). Here, the word carries the same function, in that God is the one who works the περιτομῇ. Paul explains that this περιτομῇ indeed puts off the σαρκός (flesh). This is to say that in the περιτομῇ, one no longer truly belongs to the flesh—that is, sin—but rather live in Christ. Paul reinforces that this περιτομῇ is not done by man, but God by saying, περιτομῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ. This very same περιτομῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ occurs in the act of having been συνταφέντες (buried) with Him in βαπτισμῷ. It is within βαπτισμός that the believer is περιτομῇ, and both are worked by God (ἀχειροποίητος).22

This idea, that the βαπτισμός and περιτομῇ occur in one event, is supported by Paul Deterding who writes, “The aorist tense of περιετμήθητε, ‘you were circumcised’ points to a one-time event which the apostle’s readers have already experienced… this one-time event is their Baptism into Christ.”23 Deterding additionally writes, “…The use of a past (aorist) tense verb as the next main verb (‘you were raised’ συνηγέρθητε, Col. 2:12) after ‘you were circumcised’ (2:11) indicates that the baptized are already now partakers of eternal life [in this same Baptism].”24 He connects the language Paul uses here to Galatians 3:27, writing, “The description of this event as the ‘putting off of the body of flesh calls to mind the Baptismal language of putting on Christ (Gal. 3:27) and the dialectic of putting off the old and putting on the new…”25 And also, “The use here of verbs compounded with the preposition σὺν reinforces that the baptized person is buried and raised ‘with’ Christ…”26

There is an objection that the union with Christ is limited here, and that in Baptism the believer is not joined to the death of Jesus but rather only His burial and resurrection. This perspective would state that Baptism is not something which applies the atoning sacrifice to the believer, but that this occurs elsewhere. Peter O’Brien writes on this point, “…baptism is not linked with the death of Jesus… At best baptism would refer to only two of a total three elements, that is, Christ’s burial and resurrection, but not his death.”27 But this cannot be accurate purely because of the text προσηλώσας αὐτὸ τῷ σταυρῷ. Here, Paul connects what is occurring in βαπτισμός (and therefore the περιτομῇ ἀχειροποιήτῳ) to the σταυρός, that is, the cross of Jesus.

By stating that all men were ὄντας τοῖς παραπτώμασιν and the ἀκροβυστίᾳ τῆς σαρκὸς (Col. 2:13), but that they have now been συνεζωοποίησεν (made alive by God), Paul points back to the realities he has already described. Those realities being that the believer has received a new body, not of flesh, a circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:11), and that this occurred in Baptism which joined the believer not only to the raising of Christ (Col. 2:12), but also to the same forgiving atonement which occurred on the cross, where God nailed all debts to the cross (Col. 2:13-14). Paul here directly points to Christ’s death on the cross in connection to this same event which he is describing to have taken place in Baptism. The two are not separated events. Deterding makes a similar point when describing this event:

By the repeated expression of ‘with him [Christ]’ (2:11-13), Paul designates that what takes place in Baptism… is not merely analogous to the redemptive work of our Lord, but involves the incorporation of the baptized into Christ’s entire work28 of salvation… ‘with Christ’ indicates… the baptized being made present with Christ as a beneficiary of each of his saving acts: death by crucifixion, burial, vivification, resurrection…29

Deterding also states the language is so inclusive and closely associated that it cannot be misunderstood, that what is taking place in Baptism is a full participation and incorporation into Christ and all that Christ is and has achieved.30

Some may wish to reject that nothing is truly taking place within this Baptism being described but rather the language is symbolic and that the water is merely there for visual effect. For example, W.R. Nicholson writes that it is, “Not baptism with water, surely? For as circumcision is spiritual, so baptism must be spiritual.”31 Nicholson is supported by Robert Bratcher who addresses the same theme, recording, “This verse explains what Paul means by ‘Christian circumcision’: it is the spiritual transformation depicted in the Christian rite of Baptism.”32

What is attempted by these comments is to take any saving efficacy from the actual act of Baptism, essentially saying that nothing really occurs in the washing of water and the Word, separating the act of Baptism from any real change, and making Baptism out to simply be a sign of symbol “depicting” that which happens inward. It should first be noted that there is no disagreement here, in that there is a great spiritual change that occurs in Baptism. Grace, forgiveness, salvation, union with Christ, etc. are things that cannot be seen by the naked eye. So, yes, there is agreement that a great spiritual change is indeed occurring and is indeed what Paul is talking about.

Where the agreement ends is the denial that water Baptism is the thing which accomplishes this. First, as noted above, there is no warrant to remove water from mentions of Baptism unless there is a contextual need to do so. Therefore, with this in mind, when Paul here speaks of Baptism, is there any contextual clue that permits the removal of water from the rite? No. There is no contextual emphasis to do so. Even the presence of ἀχειροποίητος does not permit this, as if to suggest that because this washing is done without hands, that it cannot be water Baptism, because that sort of washing does indeed include hands, those of the Pastor or Priest. But as noted above, ἀχειροποίητος designates that it is God who is the true actor in Baptism, not the Pastor, and certainly not the one being baptized. God uses the hands of the Pastor to do His work. This is both God acting in reality and concurrently through the Office of the Ministry, which He established. The Pastor applying water and the Word to the one being Baptized is ultimately God acting. Therefore, there is no contextual reason to remove water from Baptism here.

With this in mind, we also see this Baptism is said to achieve real things. It is not said to merely be a sign or symbol of an inward change apart from itself, but rather it is Baptism that works that inward change. As noted above, it is Baptism that unites the baptized to Christ and His work. There is nothing in the text that suggests otherwise. Deterding emphasizes this by writing:

Both terms (“raised,” “made alive”) are applied to baptized Christians when compounded with the preposition σὺν (“raised with him,” 2:12; “made alive with him,” 2:13) to designate that by way of the completed past event of [their] Baptism, the believer was made a participant with Christ in everything… accomplished through Christ’s resurrection…33

This point, along with the points made above, make it clear that this same Baptism accomplishes everything that Paul clearly states it accomplishes; that being united with Christ, and all that Christ accomplished.34


1 Nestle and Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 498.

2 Ronald Y.K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1988) 173.

3 A. Andrew Das, Concordia Commentary: Galatians (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014) 379.

4 Das, Galatians, 379.

5 There are some who challenge this, though they can be discounted. For example, Wuest states in his commentary on Galatians that βαπτίζω means, “to put or place into.” Kenneth Wuest, Galatians in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1944) 111.

By this, Wuest would attempt to refute water Baptism in all of Scripture. However, this claim is without basis both according to the Greek and the specific context here in Galatians. For example, BDAG provides multiple definitions: Wash ceremonially, to use water in a rite, to plunge, to cleanse. (See Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 164.) Strong’s Lexicon defines βαπτίζω: to make whelmed, ceremonial ablution, wash. (See James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in The Greek Testament and the Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 18. There is little to no evidence, therefore, to take Wuest’s claims seriously.

6 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 748.

7 Ibid, 333.

8 Fung, Galatians, 173.

9 Das, Galatians, 379.

10 John Bligh, Galatians: A discussion of St. Paul’s Epistle (London, England: St. Paul Publications, 1969) 323.

Though he seems to comfortably hold that faith and Baptism work together, Bligh does note that there seems to be an odd process here, in that if faith and/or Baptism does the same thing, what need is there for the other? Bligh notes that there is perhaps a gap that cannot be filled with an answer.

11 Fung, Galatians, 173-174.

12 Martin Luther, “Large Catechism,” in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000) 460.

13 Luther, “Large Catechism”, 460.

This is not to say that Baptism is not efficacious on its own, but rather to say that the individual does not benefit from the specific gifts found in Baptism apart from faith.

14 Ibid, 461.

15 Das, Galatians, 379.

16 Ragnar Bring, Commentary on Galatians (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenberg Press, 1961) 181.

17 Ibid, 382.

18 Das, Galatians, 382 footnote.

19 R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians (Peabody, MA: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961) 187.

20 Nestle and Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 526-527.

21 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 159-160.

22 This is in keeping with the divine act of Baptism as discussed in the sections above, i.e. the discussion of the divine passive on page 6.

23 Paul E. Deterding, Concordia Commentary: Colossians (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2003), 103.

24 Deterding, Colossians, 104-105.

25 Deterding, Colossians, 104-105.

26 Ibid, 104.

27 Peter T. O’brien, Word Biblical Commentary: Colossians, Philemon (Waco, TX: Word Books Publishers, 1982) 118.

28 My emphasis added.

29 Deterding, Colossians, 107.

30 Ibid.

31 Bishop W.R. Nicholson, Popular Studies in Colossians: Oneness with Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1903) 195. Nicholson even seems to think there is no water Baptism. But rather, all mentions of baptism are speaking of a spiritual washing.

32 Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, A Translators Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon, (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1977) 57.

33 Deterding, Colossians, 107.

34 One thing to note is that Deterding notes the connection with this text to the circumcision to infants, and in turn connects this to the Baptism of infants. Deterding states: “The apostle’s description of ‘Baptism’ as ‘the circumcision of Christ’ also points to the Baptism of infants as a normal…” Deterding expands saying: For some two millenia, God had directed his people to perform the circumcision of males at the age of eight days… [thus] Paul would take for granted the circumcision of infants… By the same token, he would assume the necessity of the administration of ‘the circumcision of Christ’ to infants just as to adult converts. Deterding, Colossians, 104.

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