Willis: Baptism – Titus

It has been over a month since I published my next piece from my Master’s Thesis on Baptism, so I since I was thinking about it I decided to get to it. Here is my next piece. I will try to have the next one come out a bit quicker next time. I hope this section is educational. Enjoy.

Titus 3:4-7

ὅτε δὲ ἡ χρηστότης καὶ ἡ φιλανθρωπία ἐπεφάνη τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ, οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων τῶν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ ἃ ἐποιήσαμεν ἡμεῖς ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸ αὐτοῦ ἔλεος ἔσωσεν ἡμᾶς διὰ λουτροῦ παλινγενεσίας καὶ ἀνακαινώσεως πνεύματος ἁγίου, οὗ ἐξέχεεν ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς πλουσίως διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν, ἵνα δικαιωθέντες τῇ ἐκείνου χάριτι κληρονόμοι γενηθῶμεν κατ’ ἐλπίδα ζωῆς αἰωνίου.1

It is important to address not only if these verses are a reference to water Baptism, but also if these verses cause conflict with the idea of justification by Faith Alone. Ronald Ward believes the verses to be a reference to the blood of Christ Jesus, not water Baptism, stating, “The washing corresponds to the second part of purification by the blood of Jesus.”2 Ward’s case builds strongly on the idea that it is not water alone which washes, and cites Revelation 7:14, which uses the phrase ἔπλυναν in connection to the αἵματι, that is, washing in blood.3 However, Ward’s real objection with this verse in reference to water Baptism is one of Justification by Faith alone—Sola Fide. Ward states, “…would he [Paul] have said that God saved us4 by means of the washing of regeneration and meant thereby that baptism effects regeneration?”5 and “Why did Paul fight so passionately for justification by faith? Why not justification by faith and Baptism?”6 7

The first issue to address is the connection of this text to water Baptism. Our first clue to this is the presence of the word λουτροῦ, which occurs in only one other section of Scripture, that being Ephesians 5:23-26.8 As also discussed in the section of Ephesians (below), this word has a very clear and close connection to water Baptism. Additionally, Ward’s use of Revelation 7:14 does show that there can be uses of words referencing washing apart from water. But the word’s own definition plus context, as always, determines how we understand the connection or lack of connection with water.

πλύνω is found in the New Testament three times. Outside of Revelation 7:14 (ἔπλυναν), it is found in Luke 5:2 (ἔπλυνον) and Revelation 22:14 (πλύνοντες). Its context in Luke 5:2 is indeed about water, as the fishermen were washing their nets. Revelation 22:14 is in a similar context to 7:14, concerning the washing of robes. So yes, Ward is correct concerning the use of πλύνω, as something that does not strictly bring with it water. But Ward seems to overlook the fact that πλύνω is not the word found in either Titus 3:5 or Ephesians 5:26; it is λουτρόν. Though it seems that πλύνω and λουτρόν share similar definitions, both roughly meaning washing, λουτρόν carries with it a very specific sense of ceremonial washing. λούω, the root word of λουτρόν, additionally carries this ceremonial definition of applying water in a cultic sense.9 This ceremonial cleansing with water refers to being made pure, to eliminate impurity. Admittedly, πλύνω can also carry a similar meaning;10 it is more commonly used in Greek literature to refer to mundane acts of washing as exampled in Luke 5:2.

Even for the sake of argument, if πλύνω did carry with it a primary ceremonial meaning as its main definition, and the context dictated that both πλύνω and λουτρόν mean the same thing, there is no reason to take what is said in Revelation 7:14 as not applicable to Titus 3:5. Because, and this will be elaborated below, Baptism applies to the believer the death of Christ. When the Apostle John tells us that the saints washed their robes in the blood of Christ, there is no reason to remove this from Baptism or remove the blood from Baptism. In fact, it is in Baptism where the believer is clothed in Christ (Galatians 3:27), those clothes being dyed in His blood (Revelation 7:14), for that same Baptism applies all of Christ, His blood included. Thus, it is more appropriate to conclude that the verses in question are indeed referring to water Baptism.

Further evidence on this verse’s connection to water Baptism is found in the works of other scholars. For example, Patrick Fairbairn quoting from Calvin on this issue, “I do not doubt… that he [Paul] at least alludes to baptism; nay, I readily admit that the passage is to be explained of baptism…”11 J.N.D. Kelly writing on the same issue states, “The reference is clearly to baptism, which is also described as a washing (Gk. Loutron: lit. ‘bath’) in Eph. v. 26…”12 Martin Dibelius echos the above statements with, “’Bath’ (λουτρόν) refers to baptism, as in Eph. 5:26…”13 and also “’bath of rebirth’ (λουτροῦ παλινγενεσίας) as a term for baptism was well known and frequently used…”14 These conclusions can only be made because of the definition of λουτρόν, its historical context, and use in the New Testament as discussed above.

Addressing Ward’s idea that it is a washing of Christ’s blood and not mere water, this is not entirely without merit. Because, as mentioned above, Baptism applies the death of Christ to the believer15 in a real and efficacious sense; the believer is indeed washed with the blood of Christ when the water is applied to them in Baptism. There is no need to remove either the water or the blood from what is occurring in Christian Baptism. To see Baptism apart from the applied and shed blood of Christ is to no longer see Baptism for what it is, that being the application of Christ to the believer. A union with Him and all that He accomplished.

To address Ward’s concerns regarding Sola Fide, we must now fully exegete the verses here in question. We see that God is shown as the actor here. It is not works done by us, but rather it is in His mercy (αὐτοῦ in Genitive Masculine Third Person, ἔλεος in the Accusative Neuter Singular) that He saved (ἔσωσεν in Aorist Indicative Active 3rd Person Singular) us (ἡμᾶς, accusative First Person Plural). This is supported by Mark Love, who writes on this issue, “Paul uses a grammatical form that shows possession (regeneration is a genitive). This means that God’s work of ‘regeneration’ belongs to the ‘bath’ or ‘washing.’”16

An additional response to Ward’s concern regarding Sola Fide is found in Luther’s work. As noted in the section on Galatians above, Luther places Faith as so necessary as to eliminate any salvatory benefit of Baptism if Faith is lacking. As Luther states “…faith alone makes the person worthy to receive the saving, divine water profitably.”17 and also “…faith alone [is] so necessary that without it nothing can be received or enjoyed.”18 It is by Faith that one receives the benefits of Baptism, and it is upon Baptism that Faith clings to the objective promises of God.19

How did God accomplish this saving? διὰ (through) the λουτροῦ (washing, genitive neuter singular) of regeneration or new birth, and the renewal (παλιγγενεσία, genitive feminine singular) of the Holy Spirit. Love, writing on Titus, would add to this writing, “[It] might be better said, ‘washing effecting regeneration.’”20 This is of course due to the fact that it is this very same washing that God uses to cause regeneration. Love’s above translation would also avoid confusion concerning the entire verse, and adhere closer to the overall meaning and context.

Concerning the renewal of the Holy Spirit, Kelly writes, “From the grammatical point of view it would be equally possible to take renewal as dependent on the preposition by means of (Gk. Dia: lit ‘through’) and parallel to washing.”21 This is to say that the renewal occurs within the same washing of regeneration, which is Baptism. Kelly elaborates on this, stating:

The translation… which takes the renewal in close conjunction with the washing, preserves the balance of the sentence… and the fact that Pauline, and early Christian thought generally, connect the Spirit closely with baptism is decisive in its favour.22

Kelly’s conclusions are supported by C.K. Barrett, who prefers the translation, “the water of rebirth and of renewal by the Holy Spirit.”23 Barrett states, “’rebirth’… [and] also ‘renewal by the Holy Spirit’ [are in this translation] directly connected with baptism.”24 He then supports this translation, stating:

This is in fact not only linguistically, but also theologically more probable, for it would be difficult to assign distinct meanings to the rebirth and the renewal. Not washing in itself, but the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause in baptism.25

This, of course, is not surprising, as the water alone is never said to be powerful or capable of working anything apart from God and His Work. Barrett is also correct to point the connection linguistically, as there is no additional διὰ that separates the two events, those being the λουτροῦ and ἀνακαινώσεως.26 The two are connected in direct relationship by the καὶ, and as previously noted, possessed as in the genitive by God who is the actor.

It is important to point out the word ἐξέχεεν. This word actually carries a powerful and extreme meaning, often used to refer to the shedding of blood.27 In context, we understand this is not the intended meaning, but the symbolic meaning is not lost. Just as Christ’s blood was shed/poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28), so too here is Christ poured out for the one who receives Baptism. In fact, this word points back to several other events as found in Scripture. Barrett points this out, writing, “’sent down’ is more accurately rendered ‘poured out’ (ἐξέχεεν). It is important to note that the word, because it points back through Acts 2:17 to Joel 2:28, the promise of the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit…”28 The completion of the outpouring of the Spirit occurs within Baptism itself, and was fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection.29

Expanding on eschatological meanings, Kelly writes the act of Baptism is connected closely to eschatology—that this renewal is a complete process, and transformation, where the Christian becomes an entirely new creation, as in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Kelly also notes the act of Baptism is seen clearly through the lens of God’s Mercy (Titus 3:5) and Grace (Titus 3:7), allowing one to conclude that Baptism is God’s Work. The Holy Spirit is the actor, where not only is new birth occurring but by the giving of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, God also applies justification, which provides to us the promise of eternal life.30

And it is in Kelly’s writing that we find our more direct answer to Ward’s concerns regarding Sola Fide. Kelly concludes that all of this found in Baptism is not to remove faith from being that which saves. Instead, it is to say that God graciously applies all of these gifts: justification, renewal, rebirth, the Holy Spirit, in Baptism, and that the faith He has likewise given to us, clings to His promises and His word which tells us what He gives. If faith were to be removed, those gifts remain, but the unbeliever rejects them and likewise rejects God.31

The idea of rebirth, or regeneration, as found in Baptism is not unique to Titus. It is found throughout Scripture. Kelly points this out:

Although Paul does not employ [παλινγενεσίας] elsewhere, the conception of baptism as a new birth was taught explicitly by other N.T. Writers (cf Jn iii. 3-8; 1 Peter I. 3; 23), and he himself speaks of Christians dying and rising to life again with Christ in baptism (Rom vi.4) and henceforth being sons of God (ib viii.14).32

Dibelius writes much in the same way, “The understanding of baptism as rebirth expressed in Tit. 3:5 is similar to that of Rom 6:4 and Jn 3:3, 5; cf. also 1 Peter 1:3, 23.”33 This is all to say that the themes of Scripture unite together. In light of this we understand that Titus 3 does not stand apart from other verses on the subject of Baptism.

To conclude, it is perhaps best to quote Love again, who summarizes the text here in Titus:

As each person is saved… by the mercies of God in Jesus Christ, so also in Baptism, God the Holy Spirit unites each person to Christ in all that He is. As a result, all that belongs to us God unites to Christ, and all that belongs to the resurrected Christ is given to us, so that we might be born again and walk in newness of life.34

Upon all of the above, we can conclude that the verses in Titus clearly communicate that Baptism is a washing of regeneration; a new birth, where the believer is joined to Christ, by the Work of God upon the believer.

1 Nestle and Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 559.

2 Ronald A. Ward, Commentary On 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Waco, TX: Word Books Publishers, 1982) 270.

3 Ibid, 270.

4 Ward’s emphasis.

5 Ward, Commentary, 271.

6 Ibid.

7 Ward goes on to cite several examples of Scripture: such as those who received the Spirit prior to Baptism, those who did not receive the Spirit at Baptism, and the Thief on the cross, all as examples of how water Baptism is not essential and cannot be seen as something that effects salvation and regeneration. Concerning Ward’s examples from Acts, these are dealt with below in their own respective sections. Concerning the Thief on the cross, this example is a red herring as it is an example which occurs prior to the institution of Christian Baptism as found in Matthew 28:19. Ward, 270-271.

8 Anthony Tyrrell Hanson, The Pastoral Letters Commentary on the First and Second Letters to Timothy and Titus (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1966) 119-120.

9 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 603-604.

10 Ibid, 832.

11 Patrick Fairbairn, Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles: I and II Timothy, Titus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1956) 294.

12 J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles: I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus (New York, NY: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963) 252.

13 Martin Dibelius and Hans Conzelmann, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1972) 148.

14 Ibid.

15 Example: Romans 6:1-6. Additional focus should be paid to the refutation of O’brien’s claim in the section on Colossians above, pages 29-30.

16 Mark W. Love, Pastoral Epistles: 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2015) 185.

17 Luther, “Large Catechism”, 460.

18 Luther, “Large Catechism”, 461.

19 Ibid, 460.

20 Love, Titus, 186

21 Kelly, A Commentary, 252. Bold text Kelly’s emphasis.

22 Ibid.

23 C.K. Barrett, The Pastoral Epistles In The New English Bible (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1963) 142.

24 Barrett, The Pastoral Epistles, 142.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Bauer and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 312.

28 Barrett, Pastoral Epistles, 143.

29 Ibid.

30 Kelly, A Commentary, 252-253.

31 Ibid.

32 Kelly, A Commentary, 252.

33 Dibelius, Commentary on Pastoral Epistles, 148.

34 Love, Titus, 186.

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