Monday, April 4, 2016

Romans 6:3-4: Eisegesis vs Exegesis

Context is very important. It cannot be emphasized enough. Cults, and people with cult-oriented thinking, like to single out verses and take them at face value—out of context—while attempting to tie them together with other singled-out verses. This is one of the reasons I do not agree with the foolishness of having a favourite Bible verse (or even individual verse memorization), because 9 times out of 10 those verses are taken and used entirely out of context. Plus, those verses generally do not speak a single solitary thing to the individual other than what they "feel" it means or what they "think" it is saying. In other words, it is their current choice for favourite verse because of what they want it to say—not because of what it actually says or means.

Everyone who names the name of the Lord needs to be like the noble Bereans and study the Bible thoroughly, paying extremely close attention to what it is they are reading and carefully thinking about what they have read. If you get to a verse that pops out at you and your thinking tells you it is a good verse, ask yourself why it is a good verse. Ask yourself a number of questions about that verse: who, what, when, where, why, and how type questions. If you cannot remember a thing prior to that verse that can tell you what that verse means or how it relates to everything prior, then you have not been paying attention. You have merely glossed over the words as you read. This means you need to go back and start again. If you have to read a passage 10 times over, then do so. Better to have the correct understanding of a passage than for your understanding to epitomize this: Blah blah-blah blah important-for-some-reason blah blah blah-blah blah blah.

Sadly, yes, that is precisely how the majority of people read the Bible. More than likely because they open it and read it without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not like other books. You cannot simply open it and read and expect understanding to come. It is spiritually discerned. If you are not relying on the Spirit to help and guide you as you read, then most of what you read will be like looking through a foggy haze. The bits that stand out as clear will inevitably be out of context. People do this with Romans 6 through 8 all the time: "Chapter 6. Blah blah blah-blah blah blah. Chapter 7. Blah blah-blah blah blah... Oo! My experience 'feels like' verses 14-25. Chapter 8. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, blah blah blah-blah blah." The context has been completely done away with. Even though everything said in chapters 6 and 8 contradict the assumed meaning of 7:14-25, people still run with their feelings and experiences on this. What does all of this have to do with the passage at hand? It is meant to impress the importance of context upon you. With all that said, let us examine our passage.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)
Have you ever stopped to think about what this passage is saying? Have you ever stopped and asked yourself what this passage pertains to? When we read/study the Bible, we cannot simply take Scripture at face value, whether by the words the translators chose to use or by the divisions of chapters and verses (which never existed in the original manuscripts or copies). We must always start with 1:1 and examine the context before and after the current portion of Scripture we are reading/studying. There are three rules I strive to adhere to when I read/study the Bible:
  1. Context, context, context! You need to consider the immediate (surrounding verses), sectional (surrounding chapters), and/or canonical (other passages) contexts, as well as the language, cultural, geographical, and historical gaps (or contexts).
  2. Compare Scripture with Scripture! Even when expositing Scripture verse-by-verse, you need to consult the whole counsel of God's Word, otherwise isolating a passage to the book it is contained in can lead to some very bad interpretations.
  3. Wrestle with and submit to what the text actually says, and conform your beliefs accordingly. When you study Scripture openly and honestly, you are inevitably going to challenge some of your presently held beliefs. You need to be obedient to the Lord and conform your beliefs accordingly, regardless of your emotions. Anything less is disobedience, which is rebellion.
Let me ask you some questions. What were the circumstances of Jesus' burial? He was taken down from the cross and put in a new tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. What was the tomb like? It was carved out of rock. What do the Scriptures say about the burial? His body was carefully laid in the tomb, and a stone was rolled against the door (Mark 15:46). Was Jesus' body, when he was buried, put down into the earth, and when it was resurrected, did it come up out of the earth? Or course not. If you were to have taken Jesus' body, put it in your closet and closed the door, it would have amounted to precisely the same thing as His burial in the tomb. Robert L. Dabney had this to say:
By making baptism the commemoration of Christ's burial, and resurrection, the sacramental analogy (as well as the warrant) is totally lost. This analogy is not in the element to the grace; for in that aspect, there can be no resemblance. Water is not like a tomb, nor like the Holy Ghost, nor like Christ's atoning righteousness. Nor is break like a man's body, nor wine like his blood. The selection of the sacramental element is not founded on a resemblance, but on an analogy. Distinguish. The bread and wine are elements, not because they are like a body and blood, in their qualities: but because there is a parallel in their uses, to nourish and cheer. So the water is an element of a sacrament, because there is a parallel in its uses, to the thing symbolized. The use of water is to cleanse. Where now is any analogy to Christ's burial? Nor is there even a resemblance in the action, not even when the immersionist's mode is granted. Water is not like a Hebrew tomb. The temporary demission of a man into the former, to be instantly raised out of it, is not like a burial. —Systematic Theology, pp. 760-761.
What would you think of a denomination that bases its fundamental position on a passage of Scripture written thirty or forty years after Christ's ascension, when the writer had no intention to teach anything on the subject? Paul referred to baptism only incidentally, to illustrate a point that had no bearing on his main subject whatsoever. We could search through the four Gospels and Acts (or, for that matter, the entire Bible) and not find any other references that imply anything like what the Baptists suggest. In Romans 6:3-4, baptism is being used as an illustration. But what is Paul actually illustrating? Let us examine the immediate context:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinnedfor until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:6-21)
Paul has been saying that where sin increases, grace abounds all the more. Some of his listeners might conclude that since grace is greatest where sin is strongest, we should let sin continue so that grace may abound. But Paul says, "May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" Then he introduces his illustration in verse 3. If being "baptized into Christ Jesus" means to be united with Christ, that is, to be "in Christ" (as it clearly does), then what do you suppose is meant by "baptized into His death"? Jesus is our substitute, so obviously Jesus' death becomes ours. Jesus is our representative. Jesus' death becomes our death through our union with Him. Colossians 2:12 bears out the same truth. How do we secure that union? Through baptism. Being "baptized into Christ Jesus."

Verse 4 uses the word "therefore," which means we should ask the question, "What is it there for?" The word "buried" is tied to the overall topic by the word "therefore," indicating that it results from something previously stated. "Buried with," translated from the Greek word sunthapto (συνθαπτω), literally means "buried together with." Burial with Christ refers to participating in His death by virtue of union with Him. Both burials (Jesus and His people) were one—they were buried together. How are we buried with Him? By "baptism into death." This cannot mean anything different than the previously-discovered fact from verse 3.

Where is water mentioned in this passage? Where is there a reference to the mode of baptism in this passage? Based on what we have just discussed, no one can draw the ridiculous conclusion that water baptism itself is what unites us to Christ. Baptists interpret this passage eisegetically, seeing in it what they want to get out of it, thereby imposing on the text something that simply is not there. If Jesus' burial had been exactly like a typical burial, would immersion be the proper way to symbolize it? Of course. But that is not how Jesus was buried, and baptism has nothing to do with His death, burial and resurrection. In fact, Jesus' burial had nothing to do with His work in saving sinners!

Let me ask you some more questions. What would have been different if, after dying at about the ninth hour, Jesus' body had been left on the cross until Sunday morning, and then He had come back to life and come down from the cross? Nothing. Is burial essential in order to prove His death? No. Is the essential part of His resurrection the point of His coming out of the tomb, or simply His coming back to life? Quite obviously His coming back to life, which He could have done even if He had not been buried. Ergo, Jesus' burial had nothing to do with His work in saving sinners. Observe a few words from R. L. Dabney:
If we may judge by the two sacraments of the old dispensation, and by the supper, sacraments (always few) are only adopted by God to be commemorative of the most cardinal transactions of redemption. Christ's burial was not such. Christ's burial is nowhere proposed to us as an essential object of faith. His death and the Spirit's work are. His death and resurrection are; the former already commemorated in the other sacrament. And besides; it would seem strange that the essential work of the Holy Ghost should be commemorated by no sacrament, while that of Christ is commemorated by two! In the old dispensation the altar and the laver stood side by side. And here would be a two-fold covenant, with two seals to one of its promises, and none to the other! —Systematic Theology, p. 761.
If circumcision were still the rite of initiation into the church and signified our union with Christ, Romans 6:3-4 would read, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been circumcised into Christ Jesus have been circumcised into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through circumcision into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." In similar fashion, Matthew Henry made this application in Romans 2:28-29: "For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly; neither is baptism that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and baptism is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." In these two passages, you can interchange the words and they teach the exact same truths. Both circumcision and baptism are signs and seals of the covenant of grace—one past, one present. Both circumcision and baptism are symbols of the Spirit's work. Both circumcision and baptism represent the cleansing of the heart.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)
Is there anyone who, upon reading this passage, understands "baptized into Moses" as speaking of actual baptism, of water baptism? No? Good! So answer me this: Why do so many Christians, including Reformers and Puritans, falsely understand "baptized into Christ" and "baptized into His death" as speaking of our actual baptism, of our water baptism? Seriously! These men were good, godly Christians, men I can only aspire to be like, but come on! When they made interpretational errors of this magnitude, it is no wonder the modern church is making the same interpretational errors. Especially when men and women let traditions and experiences guide them rather than Scripture. What was the most notable thing about the Bereans? "They received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether [the things that the Apostle Paul taught them] were so" (Acts 17:11). Scripture must be held higher than traditions, experiences, etc. Everything else must be subjected to and judged by Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 10:2, baptism is being used to show identification. It is the exact same with Romans 6:3-4. There is no mode of baptism in view here. There is no water baptism in view here. It is an illustration used incidentally. Do you see now why context is so important? We either see a particular verse or set of verses in connection with the surrounding context with complete clarity, or we see a particular verse or set of verses in connection with the surrounding context with a foggy haze. The verse or set of verses by themselves are completely useless if we do not see the surrounding context with complete clarity. If the surrounding context is a foggy haze to us, then we can make that verse or set of verses say and mean pretty much whatever we want. We all know this is precisely what has been done with verses like John 3:16.

Take the Bible seriously. Read and study it with all seriousness, first praying and asking for the Holy Spirit's guidance before you open it. Be like the noble Bereans who checked to see if what the Apostle Paul was telling them was true or not. May God be with you all as you search and study His Word.