Category Archives: Uncategorized

Roulette of life

If I knew then what I know now
Would I take that same road
Would I travel that same path, the one I walked with you

I would take my chances and cut another route
Through the brambles and the thorns
Cutting new scars over vaguely familiar ones
Marred from some other time and place

What I wouldn’t give to try again
To try again with someone new
Surely who I am can’t disgust the second time round
Surely this go-round would spin at another rate and she would grab hold and laugh

And we would stand in the middle, we two
And see in each other’s eyes
Stability and stamina and grit and will

But the go-round is slowing and here I am alone
Hoping the roulette of life will slow enough for me to look up through the dizzying whirl and find her standing there.


Unknown compounds

Chemical reactions are so hard to predict
Especially when the compounds are unknown
It matters not the way you mix them
Before, aft, too little too much

The combination of you and me will always issue clouds
Clouds are little mushrooms throughout our endless days
Size doesn’t seem to matter much when the shockwaves that follow make up for lost time

Chemical reactions only change when the compounds are altered
And so it seems I must die again and again
But the fragments of myself that hinder us
Are the ones that willn’t fade away

Self centered clouds litter the horizon
Of our lives and the ones in the following sea
Bearing on our heading
The wake of our wreck trails behind us
Echoes of our life and the reflection of our soul

What can I say

That might change your mind
Say to change the way we look at this
Tilt your head more to the side
Now squint your eyes and look beyond
And through around and behind us too

The walls are up but they can be razed
Your heart my mind his idea and her display
The walls are up but we won’t be fazed
Your love my thoughts his muse her mainstay

What was it you sayd that shook me to the core
I was so set and sure in my ways
The chips and the chisel and the wheel and the water
The shape thereof and the form therein


Where we were there
Here we are now
so much pain in the change
It’s the difficultest thing to do
Where we are now
There we were then
If we hadn’t closed our eyes
If we hadn’t touched the handle on the plow

For GrahamN
Inspired by your presence at the Berlin Wall

Baptists are from Mars, Presbyterians from Saturn

The great debate about the proper subjects of baptism is hampered by the sin of talking passed one another. One side (hence, the Baptist) says one thing and the other (hence, the Presbyterian) another and neither side is listening. Well, except for me (!). I am listening and what I hear is a lot of arguments against straw men. All of the ins-and-outs of this or that errant teaching on baptism are irrelevant. Don’t bring them up. Don’t bring up Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, or any other faction with which one might disagree. As a reformed Christian who believes the proper subjects of baptism are infants and those more mature, the arguments against Rome and the East won’t do here. Their arguments for baptism are not mine.

Here is the fundamental issue: the nature of the covenant. What one believes about the nature of the covenant is what is at stake. It is an issue of hermeneutics, interpretation, and application of the two. For instance, how does one interpret Jesus’ words in Matthew about his parousia? Jesus does not simply come to the issue for the first time in chapters 23-25. He has been addressing his audience on his parousia from the beginning. When Jesus talks about the sun, moon, and stars in upheaval, to what is he referring? This is an issue of hermeneutics and there is only one right answer.

After hearing my presentation of my hermeneutics on the passage above another might simply disagree with my methodology and that is the same with the baptism issue. It is an issue of definition and terms. History is a helpful guide but she is not the master. What the second or third century generation did and practised is basically irrelevant to the discussion for both parties. Both sides of the debate have quotable authorities from the early church. What of it? Much of what is used in the debate is actually an argument from silence on both sides, so let’s not do that.

Let us argue from the scriptures and by that I do not mean let’s look at the NT and note where it mandates baptizing infants. Don’t even go there. Don’t bring it up. I already concede it’s not there. What is there? Silence. There is silence for both parties. For the Baptist, there is a silence as a mandate for the baptism of infants. For the Presbyterian there is a silence for change in protocol from the application of the covenant sign to infants (that is, the NT does not change what the OT establishes). Both must argue, then, from better cornerstones.

Sidebar: Here I will address a red herring which is often used in arguing for the Baptist position. One of the principles of the Baptist position is to argue for the mode of immersion in baptism. Many Baptists argue that immersion is the biblically mandated mode for believer baptism. When a person is baptized the proper way to perform the rite is immersion. His reasoning is based upon the language of many NT texts which say that both the one baptized and the one performing it “went down into the water.” The conclusion drawn is this. The preposition into denotes the use of more water than merely sprinkling or pouring.

Not denying this, the Presbyterian will answer that into doesn’t have to imply that more water is used than would fit into one’s hand or hands. Yes, both went down into the water but the water was merely applied to the new convert and that not in excess.

Both parties of the debate can argue for their position based upon the language of the text and so, if both arguments can be validated, they negate each other and ought not be used too particularly. On the one hand, the Baptist argument is valid because in the Greek, baptize can denote full immersion. On the other hand, the Presbyterian will argue that this same word can also denote a thing simply being washed and not immersed. Both are true and so neither ought solely to be rested upon.

End of the sidebar.

First, in the arsenal of the Baptist there is an silence of mandatory infant baptism in the New Testament. Much of his hermeneutic is summed up thus: whatever from the Old Testament is repeated in the New is to be observed. So for instance, in the case of the sign of baptism, there is no evidence of its being applied to infants in any of the New Testament writings. Therefore, in this system applying the waters of baptism to infants is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

This however, does not threaten to undo the Presbyterian. In fact, he rejects this hermeneutic per se. From his perspective this way of interpreting the Bible is only one side of the coin. That is, suppose someone were to say, “Well, the New Testament doesn’t repeat the prohibition not to copulate with animals, therefore, it is now allowed.” “No.” the Presbyterian would say, “Even though the NT does not repeat this prohibition, it is still in effect.” Therefore, this principle in theory is rejected. The other side of the coin is this. In principle, whatever the Old Testament establishes is still in effect if it is not prohibited. Therefore, since the principle of applying the covenant sign to infants is not rescinded, it is still in effect.

Here is where the impasse appears. Does either side of the debate agree to or at least understand these principles? If the Presbyterian rejects this argument, the Baptist must go elsewhere. If the Baptist rejects the Presbyterian argument, then the application is the same and so the argument must be based upon other grounds.

So where does one begin? One begins at the beginning.

Why do most Baptists reject paedobaptism? I shall offer only two examples as far as I can tell. One is hermeneutics. In this area the Baptist looks at the NT and reads of men and women (primarily in Acts) converting and receiving baptism. The only record in the NT of the recipients of baptism are those who are able to respond to the message of the Apostles. For the Baptist, then, this is fundamental to his interpretation and application of what he reads. He then surmises that only those who respond in faith receive baptism. In my opinion, this is really the only place for the Baptist to hang his hat.

The other reasons for a Baptist to reject paedobaptism becomes personal, existential, and emotional. That is, the Baptist rejects this position solely because he is reacting emotionally to what he believes is an errant view of baptism. For instance, many Baptists will argue that history shows that many Christians have taught that the waters of baptism automatically and actually remove sin and in effect “save” the recipient; based on this fact, the Baptist will reject this view of baptism. Another reason to reject infant baptism as a Baptist is the historical view that baptism “regenerates” a person or is the cause of making a person spiritually alive from the death of sin. Lastly, the Baptist rejects infant baptism because the infant is not able to decide for himself that he would like to be baptized. The child is baptized, so-to-speak, against his will and this appears to many as tyrannical and despotic and the NT example is that of men and women deciding for themselves.

All of these examples though are personal in essence. That is, the Baptist will reject the idea because it doesn’t fit into his view of what sin, salvation, faith, and people are and not upon the Bible’s view of the nature of the covenant.

A similar point can be made regarding Christians who reject the sovereignty of God in salvation. Some believe man is solely responsible for his conversion to Christ and any thought that God alone chooses whom he will or will not save is personally abhorrent to that person. What is the issue here? Is it the Bible? Not primarily. It is one’s personal views on who God is, what he does, and who man is and what he is capable to doing. The Calvinist will point to his interpretation of certain passages and the Arminian will reject that interpretation based upon his existential reaction to the information. He simply does not like this view of God and man. He is a hopeful optimist and the Calvinist position is too pessimistic. His view is not based upon what the Bible says, but upon his own personal feelings. This is the same with the Baptist view of baptism.

The only approach saving the Baptist from losing the argument is two-fold. On the one hand, there is the argument based upon the demonstration of baptism in the New Testament. On the other, is the Baptist’s argument that the nature of the New Covenant is different than that of the Old Covenant. So, finally, all of this debate depends upon the nature of the covenant to which we now turn.

**In the symbolic world of the Bible’s language much of what is said is covenantally analogical. That is, something is said or done as if it were actually true because the action is taking place within the sphere of the covenant. In the case of baptism, one reads in Acts,

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What is to be understood from this passage? Regarding baptism, there are two things one learns. First, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. Second, baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the passage says. Think about this. Were a new Christian to read this passage on his own without knowing anything about church history, what would he conclude? Would he have any presuppositions preventing his taking this passage at face value? Most likely not. Most likely he would read this passage and begin to speak like the Bible speaks.

However, to speak this way about the efficacy of baptism puts many people ill-at-ease. Within the covenant, though, speaking this way is fundamental. In order for a person to have a right relationship with God, his sins must be dealt with. The guilt and death that belongs to a person still in Adam must be removed before entrance into the covenant is effected. This is just one aspect of the symbolism of the rite of circumcision. Access to God’s presence in the OT was mediated by the presence of the tabernacle and in order to be close to God’s presence, sin had to be removed (or covered as the Bible speaks). Symbolically, then, circumcision did this. Not to be circumcised (only for the priestly nation of Israel since Gentiles were saved with a “circumcision made without hands”) was still to be in Adam symbolically and therefore in death and sin. To be circumcised was to be cleansed symbolically from death and sin on the eighth day. For seven days, the son was dead in trespasses and sins, but on the eighth, new day, he was made alive by God.1

Interestingly, the same result is given to the mother in an analogous rite. The circumcision of the male child lessened the time of uncleanness for the mother. When she had a daughter and there was no circumcision ritual, her days of purification were doubled. The doubling of the days of purification, then, seems to function as a symbolic circumcision. For the male, there was actual physical circumcision while for the female the rite was communicated through a different rite. All of this is symbolic covenantal language. The point to be made here is the rituals were symbolic ways of conveying God’s holiness. To have access to God, one’s defilement needed to be covered.

Think back to the Abrahamic covenant. Were we to use today’s vernacular to communicate this story we might say this:

God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. “This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be [baptized]. “And you shall be baptised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. “And every male among you who is eight days old shall be baptised throughout your generations, who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants, who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be baptised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. “But an un-baptised male who is not baptised in the flesh…that person [will be hated by me]; he has broken My covenant.”

The practical application of this is the Baptist will not be able to behave as he would like. He would like to behave by teaching his child that God loves him and that Jesus died for him and to pray and sing to God. But in the Baptist’s theology, he cannot. He must needs bring the child through the rigors of conversion before anything positively can be done toward God by the child. Here is the irony. One would expect the Baptist to behave baptistically. He doesn’t. He can’t. Instead he behaves presbyterianly. He treats his child the same way as the one against whom he is arguing. He is in fact, discipling a child in the way he should go.

This is not mean to sound over simplified and as if a straw man is being constructed to destroy. Is there anyone in the history of Baptist theology who lived consistently with his belief about baptism? If he did, he would discourage his child from praying, singing, or confessing with the family before there is evidence of a true conversion. How can God listen to a sinner who is still in his sins? Isn’t that the point of conversion?

One argument made by Baptists is that faith is the only thing that saves. Without faith there is no salvation. God will not save without faith. If a person dies without faith in Christ, he dies as an enemy and still in his sins. Unless, of course, one is talking about infants. Baptists believe infants are not damned to hell for at least two reasons. One, infants have no original sin. If this is true, then, when an infant dies, there is no sin for which to atone and so God welcomes all infants into glory regardless of the covenant. Second, infants are born sinners but God is merciful and kind and loves his image in them and so based upon his goodness to them, saves them in spite of their sin and, indeed, despite the fact that they have no faith.

The irony in both of these instances is that to some degree, the Baptist believes what the Presbyterian believes; the Baptist presupposes what the Presbyterian does and he doesn’t even know it. The only difference is he doesn’t baptize the infant. The Baptist position is that the New Covenant is only made up of those who truly profess the faith because for him, to be “in covenant” with God is to be truly saved. The question becomes, are infants (regardless of being born to believing parents) in covenant with God? The Baptist will say, No. Pagan child or Christian, the infant cannot be in covenant with God without faith. And yet, he will grant a position in the covenant and salvation to infants who die before being able to even hear the Gospel based upon his view of God’s mercy. The presupposition is that God saves the child without requiring him to exhibit faith.

As the premise of this essay shows, it is the nature of the covenant that answers all of these difficult questions. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are in covenant with God through baptism but that being in covenant with God is not automatically salvific. The Presbyterian position to the above caricature is that infants are Christians through their baptism but being a Christian is not automatically salvific.

Baptism is a sign of being in the covenant wherein there are stipulations for the covenant member. Baptism is a sign of ordination and obligation to serve God faithfully under the threat of death. For the infant who lives out the positive implications of his baptism he is saved not by baptism in and of itself but with his baptism and by faith. For the infant who lives a life of faithlessness contrary to his baptism and dies in unbelief, he baptism will stand against him as witness to his violation of the covenant and his baptism will not save him without faith.

Baptism is a symbolic teaching tool the believer is given to use for his edification and discipline. Peter says in his epistle that baptism is an answer to God for a clean conscience. The Baptist argues that an infant cannot appeal to God for a clean conscience. But Peter does not intend to define baptism so narrowly. Peter’s words are meant to bring assurance to those who being baptized use that baptism as an appeal to God for a clean conscience. Paul’s appeal to the Roman soldier based upon his being born a Roman citizen is an apt analogy. Paul was born into his citizenship and did not understand its import until he was strung up to be beaten without trial. What does he do? He appeals to the governing authority for his deliverance. He says, I am a Roman citizen by birth, therefore, grant me parlay. It is the same with baptism. The mature Christian uses what was given to him as an infant to appeal to God for an audience. Baptism then (contrary to Baptist thought) does provide assurance and that for the infant it is a latent privilege to be used all throughout one’s life.

Baptism does not have to be understood the moment it is applied in order for it to perform its role. In a real sense, baptism is for the parents. Think about it this way. God says to the parents, this is your physical child and I have given him to you for safe guarding and training in the faith. In this rite of baptism, I am claiming your child as my own and ordaining him for service into my kingdom. Your child was dead in sin and trespasses but now he is born from above to walk in newness of life. He is your responsibility. You must instruct him in the way he should go that he might not depart from it. In this sign, I am making all things new. His being in Adam is over and his being in Christ is begun.

The Baptist argues from a false premise from the opposing view that baptism binds God’s hands to act simply because the water is applied. The question for Baptists becomes, does God save everyone who cries out to him for salvation? Is everyone saved who has ever prayed the sinners prayer? Baptist theology is in the same bind here. In both cases, it can be said that God is bound to save anyone who prays for salvation but the fact is, not every one who has done this perseveres in the faith. Saying the sinner’s prayer is no more magical than is baptism. So, he cannot reject the paedopabtist position based on this argument since he must use the same structure for his position.

1 And I will say this. Baptism as much as circumcision is God’s action. He commanded it and so, he determines its meaning. If God says a certain thing is to be done and when it is done it is a “done deal,” there should be no quibble. Circumcision’s symbolism was priestly. There were four “horns” which were “circumcised” for priestly service: the right thumb, the right toe, the right ear, and the penis. Circumcision was a maledictory oath meaning this. For the right ear, having it “pierced” open to hear God’s command one could either listen or not. Positively, the piercing meant the priest would listen to God; negatively, it meant were he not to submit to God’s law, his ear would be severed off by God in judgement. The same symbolism stands for all the other “horns.”

The benefits of paedocommunion

The Christian life is pedagogical. From infancy this is much more primary but it is just as true of an adult coming to faith and beginning the journey. So, Christian parents raise their children in the Christian faith by teaching them the rituals of biblical faith. Only a reformed and presbyterian position makes sense of all of this however. This is the case because only the reformed position of the Bible’s view of sin, man, covenant, and the sacraments are consistent and so the covenant child is taught the truths of scripture as a disciple. A child of a non-reformed family cannot be a disciple until faith is professed but will be raised as a disciple nonetheless. Both families want their child to benefit from the communication of grace and both begin to do this as the child grows from infancy. Participation in the life of the church avails direction and tutelage for all; however, in both Baptist and Presbyterian circles they limit the participation in grace found in bread and the wine. They do this because they believe this rite is only a right of the mature. It is the purpose of this essay to argue that all of the Church’s rituals (regardless of age) belong to each and every one of God’s people and as such are of great benefit for those who have been baptised into the Name.

Jesus had a very, very strong reaction to his closest disciples who forcefully kept children from bothering their Master. He rebuked them severely and warned them not to keep the little ones from touching him, or being with him. This is the same reaction he would have today were he to see his pastors directly keeping children away from the table of bread and wine: “Do not hinder them from coming to me.”

There is no need to use time and space to argue or show how profitable it is to teach a child how to pray or sing, or worship God. Lessons learned in one’s infancy, toddledom, elementary years, and further on are always done with an eye to the future. That is, while the lessons learned will not always be fully understood and practiced well in youth, the expectation is that a person will grow in his ability to live out the things learned. And this is deemed most natural and matter of course. “Of course, Johnny will know more as he matures and grows up. We are planting seeds that will come to fruit much later.” All of this is Gospel centered which is to say, the truths of scripture that exalt Jesus as King and Saviour of his people are at the center of these instructions.

What is learned when a child learns to pray? He learns the Gospel. He learns of sin, and death, and God’s wrath and mercy. What happens when a child is taught to hymn to God? He learns the Gospel and how to sing prayers to God. What happens when a child (or adult for that matter) learns to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear his word preached? He learns the Gospel. The reader knows where this is going. When a child is kept from the table of Jesus, from what is he kept? He is kept from the Gospel which was freely given to him in his baptism.

Consistency demands that children who are not allowed to the table until a mature confession before men is made would not be allowed to participate in any of the rituals of the church. Indeed, his (latent) theology demands it. His active covenant theology opposes it, and, so, this makes him the foil of a good Baptist. But he doesn’t live this way. He lives contrary to his theology and so is as un-reformed as his Baptist brethren. This is so, because from a non-reformed position salvation is always cognitive. A person must have a certain understanding of x before y and z can be done. How much must a child understand in order to pray? Almost nothing. If anything, teaching a child to pray is the precursor to eating at the table: it’s all do as I say aping. The child apes his parent in prayer without really understanding what is going on. If the parent eats, but not the child, the child should then conclude, “Then why pray? If I am good enough for the one, then why am I not allowed the other?”

Here is the irony: the Baptist acts like a Presbyterian by teaching his child to worship before he is converted. The Baptist has no theology to teach him this, so he borrows from the Presbyterian. Therefore, a non-reformed parent who teaches his two year old how to repent and ask God for forgiveness (before he is “saved”) is actually acting like a reformed believer all-the-while denying the power thereof. However, the Presbyterian acts like a Baptist by requiring his child to jump through a hoop Jesus isn’t even holding.

Children ape their parents. A parent who sings has a child who sings. A parent who prays has a child who prays. A parent who celebrates the supper… The child instinctively apes his parent and this is the way God orchestrated it. But when the plate comes around with food and drink and the child reaches for it because that is what Mom and Dad are doing, he is barred. This places a disconnect in the social dynamic. Do I belong or don’t I? The sin of unintended consequence it this: that which the child naturally does and wants (which is to belong) begins to change and diminish. He eagerly, joyously wanted to participate but soon he stops reaching to belong because he has been shown that he does not.  This results in now having to argue and persuade her to want to participate at a later point in life. What used to be natural has now become a battlefield of faith.

The benefit of communion is this: eating is belonging. What Jesus began in baptism, he maintains in communion. Paedobaptism introduces the child into the life of faith and he is tutored all along the way. Paedocommunion as much as baptism means the same thing for adult as child: eating is believing; eating is belonging.

Again, “On baptism” 2

Does the Bible teach that baptism is for disciples only? In the following exchange, I will be arguing the affirmative for a number of reasons, namely, the positive institution of baptism, the revealed participants in biblical examples of baptism, the specific Scriptural meaning of baptism, and biblical covenant theology.1

Matthew 28 records the institution of New Covenant baptism: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” I agree with Wallace that “baptizing” and “teaching” are two participles of means, so that the way by which Jesus’ followers were to make disciples was to baptize and to teach.2 Obviously, the paedobaptist wants to put a wall between these two so that somehow, baptism is to be given to those who cannot be taught Jesus’ commands, such as a 2-week old baby.

But that wall does not stand. From this Great Commission, Jesus’ followers immediately went out making disciples by teaching and baptizing those who could respond to the gospel call. At Pentecost in Acts 2 3,000 responded to Peter’s preaching and were baptized. Notice what Peter says in verse 38-39, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Paedobaptists often appeal to this text to support infant baptism because the phrase “to you and your children” supposedly re-establishes an Old Covenant principle of either household faith or entrance into a covenant through physical descent. But, the context is not re-affirming a principle of the Old Covenant, but is actually the demonstration of New Covenant blessings and the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.3 Consequently, paedobaptists usually ignore at least three things.

First, verse 41, says “so those who received his word were baptized.” It doesn’t say “so those who received his word and their children were baptized,” as if someone else’s profession of faith merits the baptism of any person. Only those who responded to the call of the gospel were baptized. Second, it is very clear that the promise in verse 39 is neither the Abrahamic covenant nor the covenant of grace, but the specific promise of the Holy Spirit that was prophesied in Joel 2, which is quoted in verses 17-21. Third, notice Peter’s command in verse 38. The command “repent” is second person plural, matching “of you,” while the command “be baptized” is third person singular, matching “each one of you.” So a literal rendering is, “You all repent and each one of you all – that is, the ones repenting – be baptized.” There is no question that in Peter’s perspective, the ones to be baptized are the same ones who repent.

This concept of believer’s baptism continues throughout the NT. Acts 8:12 recounts, “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized.” After Peter sees the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 10:47 he says “can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit?”

Even the household baptisms in Scripture demonstrate the baptism of disciples. This is ironic because household baptisms supposedly support infant baptism. But, this argument fails firstly because no infants are said to be in any of these households. Secondly, in almost all of these cases the members of these households cannot be infants. The family of the Philippian Jailer was baptized after Peter preached “the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house.” Verse 34 also says “he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God” (Acts 16:34). How is it possible for a two-month old baby to rejoice because the father converted to Christianity? And why would anyone in the household rejoice at their father’s conversion while they remain in their sins and in rejection of the very same word that was spoken to them? The fact is, this is household faith, just like we read earlier in John 4:53 with the Roman official, “And he himself believed, and all his household.”

Paedobaptists also often quote I Corinthians 1:16 where the household of Stephanus was baptized. But they fail to mention 16:15 where we read that “the household of Stephanus were the first converts in Achaia.” Again, household faith. Acts 18:8 says, “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” Again, the whole household is not just being baptized, but they’re believing as well. Acts chapter 10 records the conversion of Cornelius and his household. But notice what these baptized people were doing. They are described as: having heard the word (10:44); having received the Holy Spirit (10:44-47; 11:15-17); having spoken in tongues (10:46) as at Pentecost (11:15); as believers (implied in 11:17); and having repented (11:18).4 So since infants cannot hear the word, speak in tongues, believe, and repent, it is evident that Luke does not intend for his readers to assume that infants were involved in the baptism mentioned here (10:48). The household of Lydia in Acts 16:14-15 doesn’t give much information. But given the pattern we’ve observed of the early church, there is simply no basis to conclude that this was anything other than household faith and baptism. It would be a radical departure for the church to start baptizing unrepentant individuals like infants and to have household baptisms without household faith.

In this brief survey we’ve seen how the institution of baptism and the fulfillment of that institution in the early church are in favor of the baptism of disciples alone. Infant baptism is neither instituted, nor recounted in the early church, nor even mentioned anywhere in Scripture. And since I agree with the Westminster (21.1) and London Baptist Confession that an ordinance of the church must be positively instituted by Scripture itself, no argument from silence is sufficient to allow the baptism of infants.5 So if you hear my opponent demanding a verse that specifically excludes infants from a covenant or church membership, you can be sure that he’s missing the point and making a poor argument.

The meaning of baptism also contradicts paedobaptism. Scripture teaches that baptism signifies new life and union with Christ in the one being baptized. The authors of Scripture always assume that those who have been baptized have also personally trusted Christ and experienced salvation. Galatians 3:27 says “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” He does not say “some of you who were baptized have put on Christ,” or “As many infants have put on Christ.” The Apostle assumes, practices, and teaches the baptism of disciples alone.

Romans 6:3-4 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.” Paul could not have said “all infants who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death,” unless you believe in regenerative baptism. This text teaches that baptism signifies both the death and resurrection of Christ for the one being baptized. One is reminded of Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:38-39 where “they both went down into the water” and then “came up out of the water.” Colossians 2:12 says the same thing: “you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Baptism does not signify being potentially buried and raised with Christ, as if infants are baptized into “future repentance and faith,”6 but baptism is meant to signify actually being buried and raised with Christ.

Most paedobaptists and credobaptists agree that baptism is a sign or initiatory rite of entering into the New Covenant. But what is this New Covenant?

I again agree with the Westminster and Baptist Confession of Faith when they assert that we must go to the places of Scripture that speak most clearly on any given issue (1.9). And I would argue that the nature of the New Covenant is most clearly addressed in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8. I also believe in a consistent, Reformed hermeneutic that gives primacy to the New Testament interpretation of the Old. All of this means that we must pay special attention to how the author of Hebrews understands the New Covenant promise in Jeremiah 31 since he directly quotes and explains it for the church.7

Hebrews 8 of course, is a defense of the superiority of Christ and the “covenant in his blood.”8 And what’s interesting and challenging to many paedobaptists is that the focus is on discontinuity, not the continuity between the Old and New Covenant. In fact, the author says the Old Covenant is “obsolete” and fading away (8:13). So, how is the New Covenant so radically different? Verse 8-11 says,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

Most paedobaptist and credobaptists agree that the knowledge in verses 10-11 is a saving, internal knowledge of God. There were many in the Old Covenant who didn’t have this. One thinks of Eli’s sons who were priests in the Old Covenant. They knew about the Lord. But I Samuel 2:12 says they did not “know the Lord.” Their knowledge was merely external, no less external than their circumcision. One could list countless others who bore the covenant sign of circumcision but weren’t true believers like Esau and Ishmael.

According to Hebrews 8, those days are over with the coming of Christ. The New Covenant people of God consists of true believers – covenant members are the true “Israel of God.”9 It is a covenant in Christ’s blood, where all who are in it have their sins forgiven.10 While the Old Covenant was a breakable and mixed covenant consisting of elect and non-elect, believers and unbelievers, the gathering of God’s people in the New Covenant is the gathering of those who profess Jesus Christ. Ezekiel 36:25-27 speaks of the same New Covenant age when it talks about how God will remove their hearts of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Romans 11 provides another picture of the New Covenant, where unbelieving Jews were a branch broken off the tree of Israel, and believing Gentiles are grafted in so that the end result is a single tree, a unified people of God who all know the Lord. Paul provides an additional picture of a “new man” in Ephesians 2:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two. (Eph 2:11-15)

In short, the members of the New Covenant are all of God’s elect; there is no remnant in the New Covenant like there was under Abraham, under Moses, and under all the pre-Christ covenantal administrations. For that reason, the New Covenant is the fullest expression of the Covenant of Grace, since only God’s elect are members.11 The mediator of the New Covenant is not Moses or any priest, but Christ Himself, our high priest.12

So the New Covenant is not merely an expansion or renewal of the Old Covenant. It is better qualitatively, not quantitatively.13 Classic Reformed theologians such as John Owen have masterfully argued this point.14 If this is true, and if the sign of a covenant corresponds to the nature of a covenant and the participants of that covenant, then baptism should be given only to those who are in the New Covenant, that is, to those who know the Lord. The same obviously applies to the other New Covenant ordinance of the Lord’s Table.

Presbyterians shore up a number of defenses for paeodobaptism, including the assertion that baptism is the NT equivalent of OT circumcision and that this is taught in Colossians 2:11-14. But this text says nothing of physical circumcision at all; a parallel is being made between regeneration (“circumcision made without hands”) and baptism.15 We must also remember that the nature of a covenant determines the sign of that covenant, and baptism and circumcision signify two different covenants and thus different realities. Circumcision marked out a male line of descent from Abraham to David to Christ, served as a physical sign to mark out a nation and to distinguish them as people who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and was part and parcel of Mosaic law.16 None of this is true for baptism.

But, didn’t circumcision point to new life like baptism does?17 Yes, but there’s a difference between looking forward to something and looking back to something after Christ has accomplished his work. As Sam Waldron puts it, “Baptism, therefore, professes what circumcision demanded. Circumcision did demand a new heart, indeed, but it did not profess a new heart. Baptism professes a new heart.”18

This is the teaching of the NT. Romans 2:28-29 says “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” Colossians 2:11-14 says “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh.” Clearly, those in the New Covenant in Christ are those who are believers. Faith, and not physical descent, is what determines who are covenant members. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 9:6 and 8, “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel…it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Galatians 4 asserts something similar in talking of two sons of Abraham. Verse 28-29, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.” Clearly, the children of the promise that are counted as Abraham’s offspring are born of the Spirit, not those born of the flesh. That’s why Paul said earlier in chapter 3, “the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe,” and then in verse 27 and 29, “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

The paedobaptist confuses all of this. They suggest that because infants were circumcised according to their physical posterity in the Old Covenant, infants should be baptized just the same in the New Covenant. But this conflates the spiritual seed of Abraham with the physical seed, so that the church is actually supposed to baptize the physical seed (infants) of the spiritual seed (believing parents). This teaching isn’t found anywhere in Scripture, and it ignores the fact that members of the New Covenant are spiritual children (those born of God) not physical children (those born of the flesh).19

Of course, one may try to appeal to other texts that mention children, like when Jesus said about children in Luke 18, “for such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” But none of these texts are speaking of infants, none mention or contain baptism, and none identify the parents of these children as believers. Appealing to these kinds of texts to support infant baptism is desperate argumentation.

As for historical theology, we have no record of infant baptisms until about a hundred years after the writing of the NT, and even then, infant baptisms were given for reasons other than those offered by my opponent such as to regenerate infants or remove original sin.20 In fact, some of the earliest historical references such as Justin Martyr, the Didache, and the Apology of Aristides lend support to the baptism of disciples.21

Space has run out, but I think it has been made clear that baptism should be given to believers, those who confess faith, disciples of Jesus Christ alone. I thank Pastor Finley for participating in this exchange, and pray that it is edifying to the church.

Works Cited

1 For fair arguments in favor of believer’s baptism, see Shawn Wright and Thomas Schreiner, eds. Believer’s Baptism (Nashville: B&H, 2006) and Fred Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism (Cape Coral: Founder’s Press, 2007).

2 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 645.

3 See Jamin Hübner. “Acts 2:39 in Its Context: An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism (Part I)” and “Acts 2:39 in Its Context: Case Studies in Paedobaptist Interpretations of Acts 2:39 (Part II),” Reformed Baptist Theological Review, 8:1 (2012).

4 See Robert Stein, “Baptism in Luke-Acts” in Believer’s Baptism, 62-64.

5 See W. Gary Crampton, From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism: A Critique of the Westminster Standards on the Subjects of Baptism (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2010).

6 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.16.20.

7 See chapter 4 of Samuel Waldron and Richard Barcellos, A Reformed Baptist Manifesto: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2004).

8 See Lk 22:20.

9 In Gal 6:16 Paul uses this phrase to describe the church. See G. K. Beale, “Peace and Mercy Upon the Israel of God: The Old Testament Background of Galatians 6:16b,” Biblica 80 (1999): 204-23.

10 See Part 2 of Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptistic Perspective (Birmingham: Solid Ground, 2011).

11 See Part 1 of Nichols, Covenant Theology.

12 See Heb. 7.

13 See both segments of James White’s series, “The Newness of the New Covenant,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 1:2 (2004) and 4:1 (2005).

14 See John Owen and Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2006).

15 See Richard Barcellos, “An Exegetical Appraisal of Colossians 2:11-12.” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 2 (2005): 5; Martin Salter. “Does Baptism Replace Circumcision? An Examination of the Relationship between Circumcision and Baptism in Colossians 2:11-12.” Themelios 35.1 (2010): 15:-29.

16 Lev 12:1-5, Josh 5:1-9, John 7:22-23, Rom. 2:25.

17 See, for example, Dt 30:6 and Jer 4:4.

18 Samuel Waldron, The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Webster: Evangelical Press, 2005), 351.

19 Remember the important distinction Jesus drew in John 1:12-13, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Cf. Heb 2:13, Is 53:10, and the Lord’s “offspring” and Jesus in Lk 8:19-21 and Mt 12:50. See Alan Conner, Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual? (Owensboro: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2007).

20 See Part 1 of J.V. Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).

21 See Steven McKinion, “Baptism in the Patristic Writings,” in Believer’s Baptism.

What are words for?

What are words for?

Beginning Greek

Berea fancied himself a budding Bible student. He enjoyed listening to the technicalities of a deep expository sermon. He shared his hopes with his grandfather who, being an avid puzzle builder and Sudoku solver, asked him what he would need to begin this venture.

“Well, I would need a Greek New Testament and grammar book, a notebook and some flash cards for vocabulary words.”

“When you find what you need, just let me know and I will take care of the purchases.”

Berea recalled that he had come across a Greek New Testament in a used book store in town one day whilst perusing for Calvin and Hobbes tomes. Having returned to ensure it remained unsold, he told his grandfather who made good on his word and procured the United Bible Societies text with dictionary. Berea liked this one much more than the one he saw his pastor use whose book only had a paper binding. This one was had a plastic cover which gave him more a sense of nostalgia.

So, where to begin? He first memorized the Greek alphabet and to his amazement he learned that the English word alphabet was a contraction of the first two Greek letters alpha and beta. Word origins tickled his fancy, too. He was always curios about from where idioms and colloquialisms originated. As sometimes was the case when studying other subjects, Berea made himself a mnemonic diddy he thought quite clever:

Alpha, beta, gamma, delta; say that again and I’m gonna belt ya!

Epsilon, zeta, eta, theta; wouldn’t wanna meet Darth Veta!

Iota, kappa, lamda, mu; now you can sing along too!

Nu, xi, omicron, pi; you’re the apple of my eye!

Rho, sigma, tau, upsilon; I don’t know what rhymes with upsilon!

Phi, xi, psi, omega; learn this song and you’ll never be a begga!

Berea often visited one of his church’s members in the local nursing home about his endeavors. On his most recent visit Granny Smith told him of her interest in angels since she was a child and he told her he would make that his first word-study. It seemed to fall nicely in line with his etymological leanings as well. He soon discovered a new word for himself: transliteration. Angel it turns out is not an English word for the Greek aggelos, but simply an adapted phonetic spelling of the Greek into English. The double “gg” in Greek contract to form the sound “ng” rendering ἄγγελος (ahn-ge-loss) into “angel” (eighn-jel). Berea knew his Granny Smith would find this very interesting. (Which she did.)

You say angels, I say messengers

What Berea also found interesting was the conflict of interest he felt was at stake. Transliterating a word from Greek to English only seemed to add one more step to the process of exegesis.

“God bless you.”

“Huh? No, Granny, exegesis is the discipline of establishing what the Bible means by what it says.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, what the Bible says and what the Bible means by what it says are not the same thing.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Sure. While I was studying the word ἄγγελος I looked up a number of verses that contained the word. Remember I told you that the word’s precise meaning is messenger? Well, that is the translation from Greek to English of the word; so, the English word for ἄγγελος is messenger. So, every time the Greek word ἄγγελος is translated, it ought to read messenger. For instance, Mark 1 quotes from the prophet Malachi where the expectation of a new messenger from God originates. When the Greek translates the Hebrew word messenger it uses ἄγγελος.

“That seems pretty straight-forward.”

“Sometimes, yes. But remember I also told you that in places where ἄγγελος is translated angel it is because the messenger is believed to be an actual “angel.” So, we’ve now moved from simple translation to interpretation.

“I don’t get it.”

“Ok. Think about Mary and Joseph’s finding out about Mary’s pregnancy. Who came to them and announced what God was doing?”
“Gabriel the angel.”

“Yes and no. Strictly speaking it was Gabriel the messenger. Instead of translating the Greek and allowing the reader to determine what kind of messenger Gabriel was, the translators interpreted for us what they think the Bible meant by ἄγγελος. Interpreting the Bible means the reader is supposed to determine what the Bible means by messenger, whether it is human or heavenly. In this passage the issue is not very dire. But the effect is that whenever one reads angel he doesn’t readily think of a human messenger, but a spirit being with wings and a halo.”

“So, is there a place where this translation has more weight to it?”
“Yes. There is a section of scripture where I think it is a mistake to translate ἄγγελος

as angel rather than messenger. In the first chapter of Revelation, we read

In his right hand he held seven stars….He placed his right hand on me and said, …the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches…

So, what do you think angels means here?”

“Well, like you said. When I hear the word angel I think of a spirit being.”

“Yes, and unfortunately, I think this is not the meaning of the passage. That’s where I get my turn-of-phrase all translation is interpretation. Instead of translating the word for us and allowing us to determine its meaning, the translators overstep their bounds and with their transliteration interpret for us what they think the word refers to. So, we end up talking about what it means for a church to have its own angel. We end up wondering, further, whether or not this is what it means for present-day churches as well.”

“So what you are saying is that in English from the Greek, the sentence ought to read the seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches? And that from there the reader is supposed to determine who the messengers are?”

“Right. So if our translations read messengers, of whom might you think?”

“Well, if there is a messenger of a church, I guess I would think it would be the one who speaks to the church.”

“Ok. So, you can see that the word can refer either to a human messenger or an “angelic” one and the context ought to lead the reader in the right direction. In this case, what I would like to see it this. ἄγγελος means messenger; that’s not it’s nuance or connotation, that is what it means. I’d like to see a translation where we read much of what the Bible itself says, with the reader being influenced by the context alone and regarding this word; messenger should be the translation in every place.

“And so we are back where we started when you said there is a difference between what the Bible says and what it means by what it says. You are saying that the way translations go, I have been programmed to interpret a passage not by the scriptures alone, but with a little help from my friends.

“Right. I am of the mind that much of what we believe the Bible to mean has been influenced by the translations we use. Now, that’s not to say that our translations are wrong; taking one language into another is a challenge and so there has to be a bit of nuance when choosing this way of speaking over that. I just happen to think that the reader is robbed of spiritual, mental, and biblical exercise when he is told what a passage means by the translation. And sometimes, I think the choice of translating a word or phrase a certain way can be entirely wrong.”

“Like “the angels of the churches?”

“Yes. I think it was a poor choice to transliterate the Greek there. But hold on, I just had an epiphone.”


“Thanks. No, really. I just thought of another word that I have come across that has given me pause to think. Am I boring you with this? We can stop if you’d like.”

“No. I don’t mind. In fact, I am interested in your next revelation.”

What in the world?

“Funny you should say that. I am fully convinced that translation is important; so much so, that I would say the authors of scripture chose their words intentionally and with great care. What I think this entails is the reality that if an author of scripture could say something one way and he chooses to say it another, then there is a reason for that choice and we need to understand it. So, my next word study involved the word world.

“Oh, I remember Pastor Meyers talking about that word once. He said the Greek word for world is where we get our word for cosmetics. I always found that interesting.”

“I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh? And do you remember what the Greek word was?”

“I believe he said it was kos…something or other. He also said its where we get our word cosmic.

“That’s right. The Greek word is κόσμος and it basically means “harmonious arrangement” but its nuance can refer to the inhabitants of the world. So, what do you think of when you hear or come across that word in the Bible? Like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”

“Oh, that’s one of my favorites. Reminds me that God’s salvation is bigger than just me; that God loves everyone.”

“Well, we can discuss that one later, but notice how you are interpreting the word world. How did you interpret it? Did you interpret it literally? As in God loves the physical orb upon which we live? Because if we do that, then all it means is that God loves the ground, water, and molten magma at the earth’s core.”

“Oh! So you want me to see that the Bible says world, but what does that mean?”

“Exactly. So does world mean this physical orb or does it mean the “people” on it? And does that meaning carry over into every other time it is used?”

“Can you think of another place where the Bible uses the word world but does not mean any of the above?”

“I can. Does this sound familiar to you? Do not love the world nor the things of the world?

“Yes, that’s in I John.”

“Right. So let’s put our thinking caps on and ask What do most people think this passage means by world?”

“Well, if I am most people, I have always been taught that it means just, the world, the things of the world that are against God’s ways. Like it says in the next verse, for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the father, but is from the world which is passing away…”

“Well, look who knows so much!”

“So are you going to tell me that world does not mean world there?”

“Yes. I could be wrong but I believe that to be consistent with the whole New Testament’s message, world in that context (and even in John 1) means the apostate nation of Israel.”

“What do you mean by John 1?”

“In John 1 we read this:

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God; he was in the beginning with God and nothing came into being that has been… He was in the world and though the world was made through him it did not know him. He came to his own and his own did not receive him.

So, to make a long story short: there is a parallel idea here between world and “his own” so that they are the same reference. You might switch them up if you like: he was among his own and though he made his own they did not know him. He came to the world and the world did not receive him.

“Wow. That totally changes the meaning of the word! Which rocks my world! Ha! Get it?”

“Please don’t do that again, Granny. It’s weird. But yeah. So, here’s a bit more of my point. I believe the whole New Testament is about the end of the Old Covenant with Israel and the beginning of the New Covenant with the church (which is actually another word study I looked into). So, going back to I John, if the world is the apostate world of Judaism, that is the conflict about which John is writing. Most if not all the NT authors are arguing against Judaism and turning to Christianity and that is what John is talking about.”

But that’s only ½ of what I wanted to show you.”

“Oh? What’s the other half?”

“The word world that we looked at is what cosmos means and so I have no quibbles with that translation. But there is another Greek word that is translated world in certain places that ends up making interpretation confusing.”

“You said, ‘In certain places.’ “

“Yes. The word I am talking about is οἰκουμένη and it means “inhabited land.” When Jesus was born, in order to tax his empire, Caesar Augustus took a census of the οἰκουμένη and in my Bible it doesn’t say “world” it says inhabited earth. But in many other places it is translated world. I find this irresponsible and inexplicably unconscionable on the part of the translators because they are imposing their interpretation of the word and not simply translating it. I mean, why do that in Luke 4 but not in Matthew 24? I believe they do not do so because of their commitment to a theological system that has predisposed them to reading the Bible a certain way.”

“And you think I have been taught to read the Bible with the same view point because of how my pastor has taught me?”

“Well, in a way, yes I do.”

“Hmmmm. I am inclined to be persuaded by your argument and I’d like to hear more.”

All translation is interpretation

“Before we do that Granny Smith, let me restate a bit of my point. What I would like to see is this. Translations need to do less interpretation of texts and more straight translation. They need to expose the reader to what the words are, not what they are for. That is our job. They should give us a sentence (the what) without giving us the why (the meaning). Nuance and connotation are a part of interpretation rather than strictly translation. So, I say, give me the word and let me interpret its meaning.”

“So, what is our next stop, Captain Kirk of the Scripture Trekkies?”

“Hmmmmmm. Well, there is a word that I have come across that is not consistently translated in my opinion and the significance of this word is very great. Let me start by saying that in every concordance and lexicon I have consulted—even the dictionary in my Greek NT—the very first definition of the word is the same, but in every translation of the word, the nuance has been given to the reader and in many places it is not consistent. What this means is this. If I were a budding Bible student studying the Greek, I would be led by all the major study helps to conclude that the first meaning of the word is what the word itself means.

“The word in Greek is μέλλω and it is a verb. As far as I can tell its primary meaning is to be about to do something or by implication to intend to do something. So, if I am to stick by my guns and say that the responsibility of the translator is to give the meaning of the word and not its nuanced interpretation, then every time this word occurs…”

“It has to be about to.


“Ok, so? What’s the problem?”

“If I am right, everything we thought we knew about the New Testament is about to change. But let me ask you to assist me here. Let me show you demonstrably what I have found and you tell me what you think. To begin with, let’s say that I only have my UBS text and the Editrice Pontinfico Inistituto Biblico…


“Oh, you’re funny. So here we go! First is the UBS dictionary:

  1. Pg. 113 of the dictionary under the word μέλλω (following an infinitive)is
      1. Be going to
      2. Be about to
      3. Intend to
      4. Must
      5. Be destined
  2. Second, from the EPIB under List of words occurring more than 60 times in the NewTestament, pg xxxii, μέλλω with an infinitive
      1. Be about to
      2. Be destined to
      3. Intend to remain
      4. stay

Now, since I do not have access to anything else, I do some work on the web and find these lexical helps. First is

  1. Thayer
      1. Be about
      2. On the point of suffering
      3. To intend or have in mind
  2. Strong

to intend to, that is, be about to be, do, or suffer something (of persons or things, especially events; in the sense of purpose, duty, necessity, probability, possibility, or hesitation): – about, after that, be (almost), (that which is, things, + which was for) to come, intend, was to (be), mean, mind, be at the point, (be) ready, + return, shall (begin), (which, that) should (after, afterward, hereafter) tarry, which was for, will, would, be yet.

  1. Louw-Nida


be about to

Free your mind

“So, what do you think?”

“Well, based on what you’ve said heretofore, I’d say you would want to hear this. A word has one primary meaning and it is that meaning which the translation ought to convey. Once we know what the word means however, we need to interpret it within the context of the passage. So, for instance: what does world in John 3:16 mean? What does inhabited earth in Luke 4:5 mean? Right?”

“So far, so good. What I would add is this. A word’s meaning is not necessarily also its nuance or denotation, or to say it another way, interpreting the intended nuance of the author’s intention is not necessarily synonymous with the word’s meaning.

“Ok. So, what’s so special about this word? You said everything would change. I am dying to know what would change.”

“Ok. Let me begin by asking you what you believe the Bible teaches about when Jesus will return.”

“Well, I’ve always been taught that Jesus could come back at any time and that when he does, all of the prophecies about the last judgement and the tribulation and the end of the world will be fulfilled. Does that sound right?”

“It doesn’t have to sound right; I just want to know what you believe about it all.”
“Well, I guess that’s what I believe.”

“Are you ready for this? I used to believe what you just described…”

“Used to? What do you mean?”

“What I mean is I no longer believe Jesus will return at any moment, but that his future return is perhaps 1000s of years in the future. What I mean is I no longer believe that the tribulation is future. What I mean is I no longer believe that what Jesus described as the sun, moon, and stars coming undone has anything whatsoever to do with our future. It has already happened.”

“So, you believe the resurrection has already happened and that Jesus is not coming back?”

“In a way, yes; and, in a way no. Now, I do not have all the answers to this new way of seeing things, but what I do have is just about as wild as if the Matrix were real. Everything is about to change. Freeing your mind from the misguided way of seeing the Bible will take some time and you will very often feel like Neo retching from the stress of understanding that what he thought was real is not.

“Now, most people are hesitant to go where I am going to show you, but I think it’s the right way. Let me now show you a bit more by putting together what we have seen above for you.”

Choosing the red pill or the blue

“The verb μέλλω means “about to” and within the New Testament it is linked with a coming judgement that many people think refers to something that is still future and sometimes that combination also happens with the Greek noun οἰκουμένη. Let me say it this way by quoting from what Luke records in the Acts. When Paul was preaching to the Athenians in the areopagus he said something profound. Let me quote from the New American Standard and then my translation.

“First, because he has fixed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead.

Now mine, because he has fixed a day in which he is about to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead. What is the difference between the two translations?”

“Well, the first one seems to imply what I believe will happen at the end of time and the second one, yours, seems to imply that the judgement is sooner, but I’m not sure what to understand by inhabited earth because it could still mean the whole world. But that’s not what you believe?”

“No, that’s not what I believe and it would take a really long time to show you why that is, but let me just say this. I believe οἰκουμένη is best understood within the first century’s context and that it ought to be interpreted as empire or that inhabited earth is meant to be understood that way because of its use in Luke 4 when Caesar Augustus taxed his οἰκουμένη. Remember, Luke could have used cosmos, but he didn’t. He chose a different word for a reason.”

“But what does it mean that God is about to judge the οἰκουμένη?”

“Remember that I said that it would take a long time to explain that? Let me say that the Old Testament is full of passages wherein God judges all the nations based upon their relationship to Israel—how they treated God’s people. The term οἰκουμένη has to be interpreted theologically and theologically this term refers to the system of government established by God during the exile. It is in the book of Daniel where God introduces a new world to his people—a world wherein they are under the rule of the nations. But it is a world wherein God’s people are housed much like they were when the temple was intact.”

“I am not following you.”

“Ok. Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue?”

“Yes. Each portion of the statue referred to a different period of time when other nations would be in power, right?”

“Right. But how do you interpret what the Bible says about the parts of the statue? What does each element mean?”

“Hmmmmm. You are really trying my retention of the sermons I have heard about this, but from what I can recall I think that each element represents the quality of each government. One was gold; another was silver; another bronze and the other terracotta. I was always told that each was different because each is of a different value, so it moves from the best to the least. Am I right?”

“Yes. I was taught that as well.”

“But you don’t believe that anymore?”

“No. It seems best to me to be as theologically consistent as possible, so that the Bible uses symbols consistently leading the reader to understand one passage based on another.”

“Ok. I follow you.”

“So, can you think of anywhere in the Bible where we read about gold, silver, and bronze?

“Well, the only place I can recall that combination is in the tabernacle and temple.”

“Exactamundo! That is exactly where I think we ought to go when interpreting this dream. So, what now?”

“I’m not sure. Can’t you just say what you think and I’ll go from there?”

“Sure. The tabernacle was God’s presence with his people. It was proof that God dwelt in the midst of his people. The statue was made up of the same materials and each material represented a different kingdom in the future. God was telling his people that the new tabernacle would be the ruling nations. God would still be with his people even though they were out of the land and his presence would be with them even though they were under the control of Gentile nations. See, most people think that Rome was the enemy of Israel in the New Testament.”

“But it wasn’t?”

“No. Rome wasn ‘t the enemy. Israel was her own worst enemy because she was bucking the system that God established back in Daniel. And Jeremiah rebuked the leaders of Israel warning them to pray for the peace of the nation which ruled over them. He didn’t want them to rebel against Rome. Think about this. Whom did Rome persecute in the Acts?”

“Well, I want to say the church, but I can guess you would say no.”

“Right. Consistently in Acts we see Rome punishing the Jews who rejected Paul’s message. You see, God set up a newer version of the Abrahamic covenant in the exile. The Gospel message in the exile was: those who bless you I will bless; those who curse you I will curse. There were consecutive emperors who blessed Israel and there were some who cursed them. I believe Nebuchadnezzar, Darius (who was Esther’s husband, Ahasuerus, the Great King), and Cyrus were converted Gentiles. As long as the ruling empire favoured God’s people, all was well. When the new covenant comes along, so does a new people.”

“So, you don’t believe the Jews are God’s people any longer?”

“No, I don’t. And neither does the Bible.”

“But what about what Paul says when he says that someday the Jews will become jealous to the point of turning to the gospel?”

“I believe that already happened. When Paul wrote that he was still in the infant stage of the church and through his ministry he was looking to make the Jews jealous now to seek God through Jesus alone. Today’s Jews are nowhere near what the Jews were in the decades following Jesus and they are not jealous of us as they were in the beginning of the church. In fact, there is no longer Jew or Gentile. The new man is christian. There is too much at stake not to say this. To assert that the Jews will one day again be the people of God is to deny Christ himself. To assert that someday in the future the Jews will once again be God’s people is to completely deny the whole New Testament. Just read (at least) Hebrews, Galatians, and Revelation.”

“But isn’t Revelation about the end of the world?”

“It is, but not the end of the world as we know it. Consistently in Revelation, οἰκουμένη is used in relation to the war which the kings wage against the church (Rev. 16:14). And in the beginning of the Revelation, Jesus warns one of the churches about an about to coming hour of testing upon the whole οἰκουμένη. “

“So that leads me to a question.”


“What does that mean? What does the οἰκουμένη have to do with being tested or judged?”

“Ah. Very good, young Skywalker. Ask the right question you have. Remember that the theology of the Bible is just as (if not more) important as the translation. The New Testament is not only about Jesus putting an end to the sacrificial system and dying for the sins of man. It’s also about the end of the οἰκουμένη and the end of old heavens and the earth. It’s also, then, about the new heavens and earth one in which there is a new world order with a new emperor on the throne. The old οἰκουμένη is judged by her response to the gospel (Matthew 25) and this is what Paul and Silas were singing in prison and what Paul preaches to Felix and to Festus and Agrippa .”

“But aren’t the new heavens and earth about eternity?”

“Most people think so, but the immediate reference is to the new world Jesus institutes. The original term “new heavens and earth” (which John uses in Revelation) is a reference to Israel from Isaiah 65, not a literal new heavens and earth. Here’s the passage the way I see it.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness.

There are many parallelisms in this passage. Note their symmetry here:

A Because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My sight!

B “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

A’ And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.

C “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;

B’ For behold, I create Jerusalem

C’ for rejoicing and her people for gladness.

Note primarily, what God creates: he says he creates a new heavens and earth. Is this literal? No. Why should the reader draw this conclusion? He must draw another conclusion based on the clear parallel God himself makes: God calls the city Jerusalem the new heavens and earth. The parallel is clear and not forced. God says, “I create new heavens and a new earth…be glad and rejoice I create Jerusalem for rejoicing…and gladness.” Israel is to expect a make over, a renewal by the grace of God. God’s calling Jerusalem “new heavens and earth” is a politically symbolic reference going all the way back to Genesis 1, 7-9, and 37.

This hermeneutic must not be rejected out of hand and yet that is what many indeed do. Many reject this interpretation for fear of its precluding a more full future fulfillment when Jesus returns at the close of the final festal age. But this need not be the case. It need not be the case that one reject this symbolic interpretation for fear that it means losing a future fulfillment at some remote time.

As was stated above, some reject this hermeneutic because of its application to the words of Jesus in the Revelation when he talks about the new heavens and earth in the latter part of the vision (ch.21). It is my presupposition that the Revelation is the judgement of God against Israel as a body politic for her adultery against her covenant Master and murder his Messiah (Psalm 2). Adultery because she rejected the new Bridegroom (Matt. 25) and murder because she persecuted the new Bride (Matt. 23-25; Acts; Hebrews; the Epistles). Further, when Jesus talks about the new heavens and earth, he is talking about a new body politic (Matt.28.18)—a new bride, a new city (Rev 21, 22).

Following the structure seen before in Isaiah, note the parallels here in Revelation:

Rev. 20:11

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.

Rev. 21:1

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer a sea.

The association to make here is connected to Isaiah. Jerusalem is the former heavens and earth which is fleeing from the presence of God and which passes away like an old garment (Psalm 102). The new heavens and earth which are created is seen in the following verses. Note the parallels made between the Bride and the City as they are one and the same. The Bride is the City and were Paul to have written a commentary here he would say and the City is the Body and who is the Body and Bride and City of Christ but his people, the Church, the New Israel.”

Whew! Now, that was a mouthful! You’ve given me enough to chew on for quite a while. And look at the time! It’s going to be a night of fits and starts. I’ll probably dream about this!”

Good night, Granny Smith. I look forward to our next get-together.”

Friendly fire

“So, Berea, how have your studies been going? Still working on our last topic.”

“Yes, but I have run into a bit of a snag.”

“Oh, why is that?”

“Well, I have an acquaintance with whom I have previously talked shop and when I shared with him my findings about μέλλω he was very concerned.”

“What made him so?”

“Well, ultimately he was concerned because there is a certain flavor of preterism that…”

“Preterism?  What’s that?”

“Oh, we haven’t had that talk yet?”

“I don’t believe so.”

“Well, in a nutshell, preterism is the point of view that interprets the New Testament exclusively within its historical context and time. But what ended up happening for me was this: certain passages that everyone think haven’t happened yet, actually have. And reworking the way I read the Bible finds a lot of hiccups along the way because passages that I used to think are yet to happen, already have.

“Mainline evangelical churches do not believe that the book of Revelation is about past events, but future. So, things we associate with Revelation like the beast, false prophet, 666 and the tribulation are all past. That’s actually what the term preter means: past. In addition to this, the key events of the New Testament all coincide.  The resurrection, ascension and current adjudication of Christ are all validated by his prophetic words in Matthew 24 and 25. This has an enormous impact on almost every text in the New Testament because certain events (both historical and theological) are not in the future for you and me because they were exclusively first century events and in order to be honest, they have to be interpreted within that context.”

“Sounds pretty responsible to me.”

“Yes and no. There are goodies and baddies here. The goodies still hold to an historical hope of physical resurrection.  The baddies say the resurrection that the New Testament looks for has already happened.”

“How can they say that?  I thought the resurrection was at the end of time when Jesus returns and makes things right.”

“Yes, that’s the historical view.  But my work with μέλλω is related to this errant view of the resurrection because μέλλω is linked to verses where the resurrection is mentioned.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Remember what μέλλω means?”

“It means about to.”

“Right.  So, if there are verses where μέλλω and the resurrection are side-by-side, what conclusion might you draw?”

“Oh, I see; that the resurrection is about to happen.”

“Right. And that’s a big no-no.”

“Yes, but how do you reconcile the resurrection with μέλλω?  If μέλλω means about to and it is referring to the resurrection, how can that not lead one to conclude what the baddies do?”

“Greek syntax.”


“Great, we’ve got a running gag. Seriously, Greek syntax is different than English and remember our talk about how difficult translation is, well, Greek syntax is the governing rule for how to best translate the Greek into English.”

“Is this where I have to get out my primer?”

“Do you have one?!”

“No. I was just being spry.”

“Listen, we don’t have to talk about this stuff if it’s too taxing on your time.  Would you like to do something else?”

“Absolutely not.  I enjoy these treatsies [pun on treatises].  Besides, do you have anyone else with whom to discuss this?”

“No. Not really.  My pastor won’t touch this with a 10-foot pole.”

“See?  So let’s do this!”

“Even though my friend demands that μέλλω does not “about to”, my point still stands that all my basic lexical work shows that μέλλω means just that. There is no way to avoid that conclusion.”

“So, how can your friend challenge this evidence?”

“Again, syntax and grammar. μέλλω does mean “about to” but its nuance changes when it is used with different parts of speech. So, for instance, there is a primary lexicon called BAGD for short and it not only defines words, but also acts like a grammar to define words according to their word associations. My friend is challenging my thesis based on what BAGD presents regarding μέλλω. Here we go. First of all, it is interesting to note that BAGD does not define μέλλω nor does it parse it.”


“Yes. Parsing a verb shows its person, action, and tense. And BAGD doesn’t do this like it usually does with other words–something I find very interestingly peculiar. Anyway, here is what BAGD says about μέλλω:

1.  when it is used with an infinitive following

a.  rarely used with future infinitive: denotes certainty of a future event; that is, will certainly take place or happen

b. aorist infinitive: denotes imminence

i. be on the point, be about to

ii. be destined or inevitable

c. present infinitive: denotes imminence or possibility

i.  be about to, on the point of

ii. will or shall

iii. to have intention or purpose

iv. certainty of an action

2.  when it appears as a participle

translates as future or will come/ to come

 “I am still not sure I can connect the dots you want me to.”

“Okay.  So, everything we just looked at from a reputable lexicon shows that μέλλω is used with other verbs and with different tenses like past, present, and future.”


“So, when μέλλω is used with the past and present it most assuredly should be translated as ‘about to.’ For instance, consider Galatians 3:23 for the use of the aorist or undefined tense (that is, it can be a finished action in any point in time):

Λογίζομαι γὰρ ὅτι οὐκ ἄξια τὰ παθήματα τοῦ νῦν καιροῦ πρὸς τὴν μέλλουσαν δόξαν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι εἰς ἡμᾶς.

 Here we have an example of what I mentioned above regarding preterism.  Here is how the text reads in my Bible,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Now, before I was preterist, I interpreted this as still future for all of us because in my theological paradigm, the glory that is to be revealed hadn’t and wouldn’t happen until Jesus came back. But notice how the NAS leaves μέλλω untranslated which makes it basically open-ended as to its fulfillment. But referring to BAGD, we see that the lexical work shows that with an aorist infinitive μέλλω is to be translated ‘about to’ and yet, NAS does not do this. The ramifications for this are paramount.  I mean, think about the difference between what the NAS has above and this,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

 “Yes, I can see what you mean.  The first meaning is ‘whenever this will happen in the future’ and the other is more imminent.”

“Correct. And that happens all the time.  But think about this, if BAGD shows how to translate μέλλω with an aorist infinitive…”

“Then why didn’t your translation do so?”

“Exactly.  Which leads me to ask, why refer to a lexicon to find out how best to translate when even our translations do what they wish when translating? I mean, if they do not translate μέλλω as ‘about to’ because it would alter a text’s meaning, isn’t that dishonest?”