BAPTISM, REGENERATION AND THE MOTHERHOOD OF THE CHURCH
© 2008 John H Mattox

   This paper is a refutation of three propositions concerning baptism, regeneration and the church, which were recently called to my attention.
 
I. PROPOSITION:
That water baptism is the prerequisite to spiritual enlightenment, or opening of the eyes.
 
 Proof Instances Cited:

  1. The opening of the eyes of the blind man who was told to wash in the pool of Siloam. Siloam is a name derived from the Hebrew verb shalach, to send, and means sent. It is alleged that this term should be connected with John, the Baptist, a man sent from God, and that the washing in the pool was analogous to baptism.
  2. Paul's regaining of his sight when he was baptized.
  Refutation:
  1. Siloam is said by John to be equivalent to the Greek participle apestalmenos, having been sent forth. This participle is a form of the verb apostello, to send forth. This verb is applied to John, the Baptist, only two times in John's gospel, while it is applied to Jesus in that same gospel seventeen times. Another verb meaning to send, pempo, is applied to John, the Baptist, one time in John's gospel, and to Jesus twenty-five times. There can be no question, therefore. that Jesus, rather than John, was preeminently the sent one, and in view of the facts presented above, it is difficult to understand how the pool of Siloam can be connected with John, the Baptist, rather than with Jesus.
     
    Instead of teaching that a person must be baptized in order to have his spiritual eyes opened, this miracle teaches rather that a person must identify himself with Christ as the Sent One in order to be saved; i.e., to have his spiritual eyes opened. There can be no symbolic connection between the washing in the pool of Siloam and baptism for the following reasons:
    1. Baptism under no circumstances can be considered as a form of washing, or cleansing. It is a representation of the judicial aspect of our salvation. We are saved in the judicial, or legal, sense by being identified with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. All of this is pictured in the act of baptism. To try to connect baptism with washing or cleansing is to pervert its true meaning See Rom. 6:3-11 and Col. 2:11-13. Regeneration, not baptism, is connected with the idea of cleansing or washing in the N.T. See Titus 3:5.
    2. When Jesus told the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam, the word which he used was nipto. This verb is used primarily in the sense of washing a part of the body such as the face, the hands, or the feet. (See Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, under the entry wash.) For example, it is the word used to tell of Jesus' washing the feet of the disciples in John 13. When Peter stated that Jesus would never wash his feet, Jesus said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." Peter then responded, "Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head." Jesus answered, "He that is washed (louo - to wash completely - to bathe) needeth not save to wash his feet." Jesus evidently meant, by His use of nipto rather than louo, that the blind man was to wash the clay from his eyes. Had he meant for the man to immerse himself, or wash all over, he would have used the word louo rather than nipto. This latter verb is used seventeen times in the New Testament, including the five times it is used in the 9th chapter of John. It can be seen by inspection that in every other usage of nipto in the N.T. it is restricted to a certain part of the body. The passages in which it is used are: Matt. 6:17, 15:2; Mark 7:3; John 9:7, 11, 15; John 13:5,6,8,10,12,14; I Tim. 5:10. There is no valid reason for believing that it is not used in the same limited sense in John 9:7, 11, and 15, that it is in the other instances of its use in the N.T.
  2. The example of Paul's regaining his sight loses any force which it might seem to have when it is observed that his sight was regained, not as a result of being baptized, but as a result of the imposition of Ananias' hands. According to Acts 9:18, he was baptized after he had regained his sight.
     
    Note: Paul's conversion was unique and it would be a mistake to regard it as representative of the conversion of Christians in general. Paul said of his own conversion that he was an ektroma - one born before the due time, an abortion. (I Cor. 15:8) Many commentators take this statement, along with Rom. 11:1, to mean that Paul's conversion was representative of the future conversion of Israel. If they are right, as seems to be the case, we should exercise caution in drawing upon Paul's experience as though it were typical of our own.
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Baptism, Regeneration (cont)

II PROPOSITION:
That the elect are made alive before actual regeneration.
 
Proof Instances Cited:

There are several passages in the N.T. which obviously draw an analogy between the spiritual birth and the physical birth. To support the above proposition, it is alleged that the analogy is to be followed in considerable detail. Thus, as life begins for a child at the moment of conception or fertilization some 270 days before he is actually born, it is asserted that the elect are made alive, apart from the word, before actual regeneration.
 
The main text cited in proof of the above position is I Pet. 1:23 in which, it is asserted, the word of God denotes the personal Word of God, Christ Jesus, rather than the written, or spoken, word.
 
Refutation:
 
The New Testament nowhere makes a distinction between the begetting or conception, of a believer, and his regeneration. The word most used in reference to being born again is gennao. This verb can mean to beget, when the subject is a male; or to bear (a child) when the subject is a female. In both cases however, the reference is to the actual birth, and not to the preceding conception.
 
The word used in I Peter 1:23, is anagennao, a compound formed of ana- again, and gennao- to beget or bear. The word as used in this passage is a perfect passive participle and may be translated having been born again, or having been regenerated. Marshall's Interlinear Greek-English N.T. gives the latter translation. Neither this nor any other passage can be fairly interpreted as making a distinction between conception and being born again. The irresistible conclusion is that the N.T. makes no attempt to present an elaborate analogy between the birth of the flesh and the birth of the Spirit. The only real point of similarity lies in the fact of the birth itself. No further analogy is either expressed or implied. The assertion that the word of God in I Peter 1:23 refers to Christ, and that it speaks of a pre-regeneration quickening, is rejected for the following reasons:

  1. The passage in question reads in part, in the KJV, "Being born again, ...by the word of God." The use of the preposition by in the KJV gives the false impression that the word of God is the agent who brings about the birth. It is a false impression because the Greek preposition is dia, with the genitive, which primarily means through and is used to indicate the intermediate agent through whom an action is produced rather than the agent who performs the action. While we could accept Christ as the agent of the birth mentioned, it would be difficult to conceive of him as merely the intermediate agency used by someone else.
  2. The word logos (word) in this passage is anarthrous-- not preceded by the article in the Greek. While this fact may be of little moment to those unacquainted with Greek syntax, it is of great significance in the exegesis of the passage. If logos were preceded by the article, the reference could conceivably be to Christ. However, without the article there can be only one choice - the verbal word of God. The Greek expression is dia logou Theou, and it can be translated as the word of God as long as it is understood that the article the is supplied only to make a smooth idiomatic English translation, and that no importance is to be attached to it in the interpretation. However, the expression can be translated more exactly in at least two other ways--through a word of God or through God's word.
     
    No recognized commentator trained in Greek syntax would assert that Christ is primarily the word referred to in I Peter 1:23, and I will unhesitatingly affirm that no such commentator can be found.
  3. That the word in I Peter 1:23 refers to the verbal word of God is consistent with the fact that in the 25th verse, word is not logos but rhema in the Greek. Logos can mean not only word, but can include the idea or concept behind it. Rhema on the other hand strictly denotes a vocal utterance, a saying, and is never used of Christ as the Word of God.
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Baptism, Regeneration (cont)

III. PROPOSITION:
That as God is the Father of the believer, so the church is the mother.
 
Proof Instances Cited:
 
The main line of proof followed seems to be that while God certainly is the one who begets the believer, or performs the masculine function in our regeneration, the mother's role must be played by the church because of the fact that the church is pictured as a woman, and no other female entity seems to be a possibility for the role.
 
Refutation:
 
There is certainly no controversy as to the Fatherhood of God in our salvation. However, when we begin to look for another personage who fills the mother role, we are pressing the analogy between the physical and the spiritual births to an unscriptural extreme.
 
The truth is that God is the only person or personage who plays any part in our actual regeneration, and both the masculine and feminine functions are ascribed to him. Several passages which speak of our being born of God can be understood as being begotten of him. However, in James 1:18 God is said to have begotten us with the word of truth. The verb used is apekuesen, from apokeuo, which means to give birth to, to bear. The same word is used in verse 15 where it is translated, bringeth forth. This word denotes the part played by the female in the production of offspring. It is clear, therefore, that God is the only personage involved in our regeneration and that there is no other entity who performs the female role. Thus there is no warrant in the N.T. for the notion that the church is our mother. Furthermore it is difficult to perceive how the church can, at a future date, be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, after she has given birth to millions of children. The church is an assembly of baptized believers. It is not an entity separable from its membership, and having existence independent of them. To assert that the church is the mother of the believers that compose its membership is equivalent to saying that the members of a family collectively, make up the mother of the family.
 
A pertinent question in this respect is, who came first, the mother or the children? Or, to put it another way, who was the mother of the apostles who were certainly saved before they became the first church? Or, is it possible that the first church was composed of unregenerate members?

John H Mattox

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