Sunday Morning Greek Blog

August 30, 2012

Obedience (ὑπακοή, ὑπακούω) in Romans

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Immersion/Baptism,New Testament,Romans,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 6:11 am

I can think of a number of reasons Paul’s letter to the Romans wound up at the head of Paul’s writings in the New Testament. His discussion of justification by faith is classic, strengthened by his further treatment of the subject in Galatians. The statement from 1:16 has long been hailed from pulpits to encourage the body of Christ to boldly serve, speak, and act for the cause of the Gospel. I especially like Paul’s treatment of immersion in chapter 6, where he rescues the subject from those who downplay it as a “work of the flesh” by empowering it with the blood of Christ and his resurrection to make it an important and necessary part of our salvation journey. And of course, the Romans Road has long been an effective evangelistic tool for many, although I was never sure why that always took a detour around the heart of chapter 6. But there’s a bigger picture in Romans that often gets overlooked when we focus on verses and individual sections.

An Overlooked Inclusio

In a previous post, I mentioned that Romans 1:5 and its parallel in 16:26 form an inclusio for the entire book of Romans. However, in that post, I focused on the term πιστίς (“faith”/”faithfulness”), especially as Paul builds his initial argument in the first five chapters of Romans. In some contexts (e.g., Romans 1:17), that term refers to the faithfulness of Christ But what I noticed this time through Romans is that seven of the ten occurrences of the words for “obey” (ὑπακούω) and “obedience” (ὑπακοή) in Romans are found in chapters 6 (four times) and 15–16 (three times). The four occurrences of the words in chapter 6 come in the midst of his discussion about the significance of immersion and our being released from the slavery of sin. In fact, the words are tied to the metaphor of slavery in all occurrences there.

Because πιστίς refers to Christ in several key passages, I asked myself if “obedience” might have some Christological implications as well. One of the first passages that comes to mind is Philippians 2:8: “And being found in appearance of a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.” A few verses later (v. 12), Paul commends the Philippians for their obedience and encourages them to “work out [κατεργάζομαι] their salvation with fear and trembling.” That word for “work out” figures very prominently in Romans 7, where Paul speaks of “doing” what he does not want to “do.” What does this mean?

Breaking it Down

First, the discussion of obedience comes between the discussion of the significance of immersion and the popular conclusion to chapter 6 (cited in the Romans Road without the rest of the context of chapter 6): “The compensation for sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here is the irony: obedience or slavery to sin and obedience or slavery to Christ both lead to death. For those who are slaves to sin, they only have eternal death to look forward to, assuming they are looking forward to anything eternally. Obedience to Christ does lead to death, death to self, but there is on the other side the gift of eternal life. What is this obedience? One only need to look back to the first part of chapter 6: obedience to immersion. Just as Christ was obedient to death on a cross, we who believe are called to be obedient to death by immersion. Immersion is our Calvary. Immersion is also our Resurrection. Paul’s conclusion in 6:23 must be viewed in the context of 6:1–10.

Second, this gives new light to the phrase “obedience of faithfulness” found in Romans 1:5 and 16:26. The whole phrase is a euphemism of sorts for the crucifixion of Christ. It’s not just about legalistic obedience or stilted faithfulness. It’s about living this life sacrificially, knowing that we have eternal life as our ultimate reward on the other side of death. Ideally, obedience to immersion is a one-time event for the Christ-follower. But obedience in general is a lifelong commitment. Salvation is not a one-time event: it is a lifelong process we “work out… with fear and trembling.” Don’t get me wrong: we become a part of the kingdom the moment we put our trust in Christ, and we can be sure of the promise of eternal life from that moment on. But we cannot sit back and expect God to do everything for us. Repentance, discipline, study, meditation on God’s Word, and faithful obedience are all part of the “working out” process. We can never become perfect in this life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try (Matthew 5:48, 19:21).


Those of you who are fond of the Romans Road, don’t take a detour around the discussion of immersion in the first part of chapter 6. It is part of the obedience that informs the rest of the discussion in Romans. To add a little more context to Romans 6:23, you might read it this way: “The compensation for slavery to sin is death, but the gift of God for those who are obedient to righteousness is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Immersion is our physical experience and signification of the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s not just a “work” that you can do whenever you think you’re ready. It’s an important component of working out your salvation as you grow in your faith in and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Scott Stocking

Author note: “representation” changed to “signification” in last paragraph at 7:30 pm, 8/30/12.

July 26, 2012

The Mystery of Immersion (Baptism)

Filed under: Ecclesiology,Immersion/Baptism,New Testament,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 5:59 am

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through the Greek NT again this year. I am constantly blown away by the truths God is revealing to me on at least a weekly basis, if not daily at times. On the one hand, my faith has been strengthened immensely by the journey, but on the other hand, after I think I’ve got some topic all figured out, God throws me a curve ball by raising new questions in my mind about what I believe and understand. None of these questions have ever raised any doubt in my mind about the lordship of Christ or the existence of God, but they do compel me to dig deeper to discover more profound truths. Lest I be misunderstood, don’t think that I’m onto some new teaching the church has never seen before: I think Paul and the other apostles knew much more about God and Jesus than any one man could ever uncover in a lifetime of study, although some have come close.

Some Questions about Immersion

One area that I have striven to understand is that of “immersion,” my translation of the Greek word βάπτισμα, which translators usually render “baptism.” The word itself comes from the Greek verb βάπτω plus an intensifying verbal suffix –ιζω. The intensifying suffix in my mind is something that should not be overlooked in understanding the word. Βάπτω means “I dip”, but the intensifier adds an important nuance: βαπτίζω = “I dip all the way” or “I immerse.” I was christened as an infant in the Presbyterian church, and I find value in that practice inasmuch as it serves as a dedication to the parents and the rest of the Christian community to help raise a child in the way of the Lord. But the infant still has to grow and make his or her own choices, so I don’t see it in any way as a guarantee of salvation or inclusion in the eternal kingdom of God.

That is precisely the concept about immersion that I have wrestled with over the years: Is it an absolute guarantee of salvation just because you willingly submit to it as an adult who understands the sacrament? Is there no other means by which we can enter the kingdom of heaven other than immersion? I’ve worked through many of these questions in other posts, and I’m convinced of the efficacy of immersion as an act of obedience at the minimum, but as I continue to reflect on the subject, new questions come to mind:

  • If, as some of my colleagues would say, immersion is absolutely essential, a sine qua non experience to be considered part of the body of Christ, then have we not limited God’s ability to save whom he wants to save?
  • If immersion is absolutely essential for the forgiveness of sins and entry into the kingdom, then is there some mystical transubstantiation of the water into the blood of Christ, since “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins”?

Putting God in Box

Whenever we make one act binding on a person who wants to become a Christ follower, we run the risk of becoming overly legalistic about it in the first place. Second, we also by default deemphasize other aspects of Christian faith which are equally important. Someone might say, “I’m a Christian because I got immersed at camp when I was a kid,” yet he cusses like a sailor, cheats on his wife, and drinks to excess every night. On the other hand, a man might study Scripture, come to Christ according to his own understanding, and lead others to Christ as well, but has only ever known a tradition of infant christening. If I were to say “Immersion is absolutely essential for salvation,” I would feel like I was putting God in a box and denying his power to “show mercy on whom [he] will show mercy.” If God can reverse the physical laws of nature by causing the earth to change its rotation, if God can suspend the law of Moses to allow David and his men to eat the grain dedicated to the priests, then God can welcome unimmersed believers into his eternal heavenly kingdom.

Requiring immersion as an absolute essential presents another problem in my mind: It implies that we have a perfect knowledge of the Scriptural teachings on salvation at least, and by default implies that perfect knowledge and praxis of a doctrine is required for salvation. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that we know in part and prophesy in part. We don’t have perfect knowledge. Some things about God and how he operates in the world just cannot be known, and this leads into my second question: Just what is the mystery that is immersion?

Objective Truth or Subjective Mystery?

(Let me preface this section with this caveat: by “mystery,” I mean something something that cannot be known or explained by merely human reason, not necessarily a conundrum to solve. I’m using the term more like the modern day Orthodox church uses it, and as Paul used it in Ephesians.)

Here are some things I know for sure about immersion. Translations will be somewhat literal to stay close to the Greek.

Acts 2:38: Repent, and let each one of you be immersed in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah into the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness is a huge part of the experience of immersion. But there are other ways to experience forgiveness that are not directly linked to immersion, so immersion cannot be the only way to receive forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 6:12–15; Hebrews 9:11–28, esp. v. 22; 1 John 1:9).

Romans 6:3–4: Or don’t you know that we who have been immersed into Messiah Jesus have been been immersed into his death? We were therefore buried together with him through this immersion into death, in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, likewise we also will walk in newness of life.

So the experience of immersion in Paul’s view in Romans is that it is linked to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. But Paul never mentions “forgiveness” in that chapter. The emphasis is on cleansing and purity.

Colossians 2:9–15: There are two allusions to blood in this passage that form an inclusio: circumcision and the cross. Immersion and forgiveness are tied together in the middle of the passage, along with the “cancelling” of the charge against us.

1 Peter 3:18–22: This is the trickiest of all passages. On the surface, it sounds like it is not the act itself that is important (“not the removal of dirt from the body”). But you still have to get immersed to make the “pledge.” Just as marriage vows have no weight without the wedding and marriage themselves, so the pledge is empty unless you demonstrate the faith to go through the water.

Here are the horns of the dilemma I find myself up against as I think about these things: On the one hand, if we are to ascribe to immersion an absolute salvific power, what is it about the act that gives it that power? If there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, and Paul says we are immersed into Christ’s death, then is there a transubstantiation of the waters of immersion into the blood of Christ, much like the Catholics believe about the eucharistic elements? Is the mystery of becoming one with Christ that our bodies are somehow in the waters of immersion transubtantiated into Christ’s body so that we have truly experienced both his death and resurrection? If immersion is more than just a symbol of our unity with Christ, but an actual salvific event, then there is truly a mystery and a greater power at work that our human minds may never be able to comprehend fully or explain adequately.

On the other hand, if the mystery of a salvific immersion lies in the transubstantiation of the water into blood or some other mysterious power, then I cannot in good conscience deny a similar power to the eucharistic elements, the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Table. After all, Jesus said, “This is my body…. This is my blood.” Jesus never said they were “symbols” as many in the Restoration Movement (my own affiliation) have purported. We have said they were symbols because we didn’t want to be too Catholic about it. I prefer to take Jesus’s words at face value. If he and the early church instituted weekly communion as Acts seems to suggest, then like salvific immersion, there is something more powerful to the act and the elements than just symbolism, wheat, and grapes.

As I grapple these “horns,” I am coming to the conclusion that to ascribe salvific power to immersion, which is the death and resurrection of Christ, while denying salvific power (by calling it a symbol) to the Lord’s Table, which is the body and blood of Christ, is a gross theological inconsistency. Either immersion and the Lord’s Table both have a mysterious salvific power, or they are both symbols that represent spiritual truths but do not effect them (and yes, I am using “effect” correctly as a verb there).

To Transubstantiate or Not to Transubstantiate

Now I do not believe that Christ is recrucified every time I partake of the of the bread and the cup. Yet I cannot escape the very direct statements of Jesus about the bread and the cup being his body and blood, respectively. I understand that the statements could be metaphorical at least, but the reality behind that seems too profound and has too much ultimate significance to abandon to the realm of metaphor. So while I do not think the bread or the cup transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ, I do prefer to consider there is some suprametaphorical mystery in the act of taking the bread and cup that transcends the physical elements. At the very least, the presence of the risen Lord at the Table whenever you remember the Lord’s sacrifice should put to rest that the elements are merely symbols. And if the Lord is present at the Table, those who partake may call on him for whatever needs are burdening their hearts. Even those who have been on the fence about being a Christ follower, if they recognize this deeper signification in the Lord’s Table, may partake and call upon the Lord for their own salvation.

Nor do I believe the waters of immersion transubstantiate into the blood of Christ. However, given the importance of immersion in the Scriptures, I do think it’s possible that another kind of transubstantiation takes place that I alluded to earlier. In identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in immersion, we experience the mystery of becoming one with Christ. I think I could fully embrace the concept that we are transubstantiated into the physical body of Christ on the one hand, experiencing his death, burial, and resurrection “in the heavenly realms” as it were. But when we are immersed, we also make the public signification that we are in fact Christ followers and part of the body of Christ universal, the fellowship of all the saints. If you’re not convinced of the latter, I’m not implying any judgment here. If you’re a Christ follower who has not been immersed, I for one am in no position to say that your salvation is in question. God knows your heart; he knows the journey you’ve taken with him; and I trust that he will lead you and me into all truth as we continue to follow Christ’s leading in our lives and study his Word diligently.


Salvation is not merely a point in time when we say we want to be a Christ follower, whether that is in the waters of immersion, at the mourner’s bench, or raising your hand with your head bowed in the pew. Salvation is a process that happens in our lives. If it were not a process, why would Paul say “With fear and trembling fulfill (κατεργάζομαι) your own salvation, for God, who is working in you, also wills and accomplishes good things” (Philippians 2:12b–13)? Our obedience allows God to accomplish his good will in our lives. That is another great mystery that I will perhaps explore at another time. For now…



December 4, 2011

Immersion (Baptism) that Saves: 1 Peter 3:18–22

I have a couple notes for blog readers before I get into the main post today.

  1. For all readers: Instead of customizing the hyperlinks or providing transliterations and pronunciations, I am going to start hyperlinking the first occurrence of each Greek and Hebrew word in my blog to the entry in That Bible study site has numerous resources available, including a link to hear the Greek or Hebrew word pronounced and the option to get a complete concordance listing of all occurrences of the Greek or Hebrew word. If you’re not already familiar with the site, I trust you will find it useful and engaging. (I am not being compensated for promoting BlueLetterBible at this time.)
  2. For those readers who use the sentence diagrams: At least once a week, it seems like the search engine feature in WordPress lets me know that someone hit on my site by looking for a diagram of a particular verse. I am pleasantly surprised to find I’m not the only one who has an interest in diagramming, in spite of how much I griped about it in junior high. For those of you who use the diagrams, I would appreciate knowing what your interest is in them so that I can get a sense if I need to do anything different with them or provide a different kind of diagram. Are you just curious? Are you a student looking for help on an assignment? (If the latter, I trust you aren’t passing off my work as yours!) Are you a preacher looking to better explain the passage? Whatever your interest, please drop me a short note in the comments. There’s obviously some interest in them, and I’m happy to share the fruit of my labor with you.


Growing up as a sprinkled Presbyterian, I was understandably intrigued when I came to understand my need for a personal relationship with Christ and discovered the concept of “believer’s baptism.” It was a completely new concept to me, as I had never been exposed to it before my high school years. In college, when I got involved with the restoration movement, I still had many questions about the practice when I went to that first meeting at 1633 Q Street (now a parking lot) just off the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. That night, just a little over 30 years ago, I got shuffled off to the pastor’s office, where I met Terry & Kris Christlieb. I had several questions about baptism, and they answered them to my satisfaction that night, so much so that we invaded Capitol City Christian Church at 9 p.m., where I got immersed. I was sold from that point on.

I’ve had my ups and downs on immersion theology through the years. Is it an absolute necessity? Is it just a “work of the flesh”? When is the right time? Just what is the “effectiveness” of immersion when it comes to salvation? But when I ran across such passages as Romans 6 and 1 Peter 3:18–22, it was hard for me to diminish the importance of immersion in the life of a Christ-follower. And when I discovered the connection between Acts 2:38 and Matthew’s Last Supper account, I was convinced of the efficacy of immersion as part of the salvation and maturing experience of the Christ-follower.

1 Peter 3:18–22

Of all the passages on immersion, or baptism as many call it (βάπτισμα, βαπτίζω), 1 Peter 3:21 is the only one that comes out and says directly that immersion saves. Yet this gets overlooked so much, because those who are not convinced of the efficacy of immersion seem to think it means something other than what is plainly written on the page. But what is the author trying to communicate by connecting it to the Noahic flood? Is the flood what saves us, or the ark? The verse diagram in Figure 1 below places 1 Peter 3:21 in its larger context so that you can see what the connections are.

I want to jump down to 20b, where Peter says (my translation): “In the ark, a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.” In this case, the water was destructive (see 2 Peter 2:5), but it had the power to save Noah by supporting the ark on its year-and-a-half voyage. The flood destroyed all living creatures except those on the ark and those that could already live in water, but the ark was the vessel that protected Noah, his family, and the other living creatures “through the water.”

Now for verse 21: The word for ark (κιβωτός) is feminine, but the relative pronoun that begins verse 21 is neuter, so it can’t refer to the ark. The most immediate antecedent to the relative pronoun is “water” (ὕδωρ; genitive is ὕδατος), which is neuter, so Peter is referring to the waters of the flood with this pronoun. So in verse 21, Peter says, “This water corresponds to immersion.” The word “corresponds to” (ἀντίτυπος) is actually an adjective in Greek that modifies βάπτισμα, so the phrase might be more accurately rendered, “This water is functional baptism” or more literally, “This water is typical baptism.”

Peter goes on to say that this baptismal water “now also saves you.” The “now also” is relative to the previous verse. Not only does the ark, then, typify salvation, but water does as well. Water is what destroyed sinful humanity, which is exactly what happens when someone is immersed into Christ. Romans 6:3–4 says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death? We were therefore buried with him through immersion into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

What I found interesting is that the part that follows “now also saves you” has two nominative case nouns. “Removal” (ἀπόθεσις) and “appeal” (ἐπερώτημα) are both nominative case, agreeing with the nominative case of βάπτισμα, so they are essentially appositives to βάπτισμα. Here’s how a literal translation might look: “This immersion now saves you, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion.” But this rendition is missing the most important part of the verse, the final phrase.

The last phrase of verse 21 parallels the “through water” at the end of verse 20. “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” is the qualifier that gives the water its power to save. Just as the ark saved Noah and his family through the flood waters, the resurrection is what carries us through the act of immersion. Again, I refer you back to Romans 6:3–4, where this is made abundantly clear. So if I complete my literal translation with that phrase, it would look something like this: “This immersion now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the body-dirt removal immersion, but the clear-conscience-pledge to God immersion” (emphasis mine).

So immersion is really a two-way street to God. If we just get immersed for show (the “body-dirt removal immersion”), immersion is ineffective. God is not into rituals without substance. But if we come to the waters of immersion pledging ourselves to live for him with a clear conscience, he effects the power of the resurrection in immersion and destroys the old self. He renews us and rescues us from the wages of sin.

A quick note on βαπτίζω

Some have tried to argue that βαπτίζω does not mean “completely immerse,” because that is what the related word βάπτω means. But the –ίζω ending on βαπτίζω is an intensifier. It is quite similar, in sound and function, to the difference between the musical directions forte (loud) and fortissimo (very loud). So βαπτίζω is an intense form of dipping, or immersion. I don’t have to time to list the many verbs in Greek that indicate a similar pattern, but I assure you, they are quite common in the NT.


So immersion is certainly not just a work of the flesh. Just as the ark supported and sustained Noah and his family through the flood, so too the resurrection sustains us through the act of immersion. But beware of the “dunk ’em and ditch ’em” philosophy. Noah and his family certainly did not sit idly by on the ark for a year and a half. They worked hard daily to keep the animals and themselves fed and healthy. Immersion is not a terminal point in the life of a Christ-follower. On the contrary, it is a watershed moment (pun intended) where we tell God, “I’m sold out for you.”


Scott Stocking

Figure 1: Diagram for 1 Peter 3:18–22 (Greek and English)

November 23, 2011

Hebrews 6:4–6 Sentence Diagram

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Hebrews,New Testament,Repentance,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 5:31 pm

Did I mention how much I like doing sentence diagrams?

November 22, 2011

Hebrews 6:4–6: Wrapping It Up

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Hebrews,New Testament,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 9:40 pm

For those of you who didn’t follow the comment thread on the latest SMGB post, I wanted to sum things up. My friend Eric Weiss and I tossed around a few ideas on the passage, and my cousin-in-law Micheal added some comments about context and audience.

I had always looked at that passage as primarily having to do with the threat of losing your salvation. I have never held to a “once-saved-always-saved” theology, and I still don’t. But after diving into this passage and some fruitful discussion, I see that the passage isn’t about the danger of losing your salvation, but about the futility of trying to be a mature Christian when all you ever dine on is milk and baby food. The author (the “I” of 13:22–23; I think it is Luke, but no one knows for sure) has a steady argument building from the opening chapter of the epistle, but it takes on a full head of steam beginning in 5:11. It is the flow of that argument that is key to understanding the author’s intention in the broader context of Hebrews 5–10.

The immediate passage of 5:11 through 6:12 is bracketed by the author’s warning about laziness. In vs. 11, he says (my translations) “You have become lazy listeners”, but in 6:11–12, he exhorts them to diligence, “in order that you do not become lazy.” He says in 5:12 that instead of the Hebrews being teachers, “you are needing someone to teach you continually the word of God all over again” (note verb tense is present continuous). Then he switches to the perfect tense: “You have become needful of milk.”

In 6:1, the author says that “repentance from acts that lead to death” (TNIV), among other things, is milk. He wants them to move on. But here is where the present tense infinitive of 6:4 becomes significant: “If you want to move onto maturity, don’t repeatedly go back to repentance thinking that that is all you need. You moved past that, because you were enlightened and you tasted the heavenly gift, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit. But then you fell away. So repentance won’t cut it now. It’s time for you to get back to a meat-and-potatoes diet by diligently persevering in the faith” (see 5:14 “constant use” and 6:11 “show this same diligence”).

So the “falling away” is not an irrevocable apostasy. It suggests in this context that the readers have backslidden and need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get down to the business of being sold out for Christ. The author goes on in the rest of Hebrews 6 to assure the believers of God’s promise, “this hope as an anchor for the soul” (6:19).


Scott Stocking

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