Baptism as Clothing in Galatians 3:27: A Crucial Insight

Christian Living, The Church, Theology, Worship

[By: Matt Foreman]

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”
– Galatians 3:27

In Galatians 3:27, the Apostle Paul brings up baptism seemingly ‘out of the blue’.  Baptism is not mentioned anywhere else in the book.  He doesn’t expand on the point or give much explanation.  But the short statement he makes, and the context in which he says it – actually reveal a lot.  Galatians 3:27 becomes a very revealing and important verse for understanding baptism.

The Context
The verse occurs as part of one long argument that begins in 3:23 and runs down to 4:7.  And Baptism is actually the ‘pivot point’ of the argument.

Paul’s opponents, the Judaizer false teachers in Galatia, were teaching that the Gentiles were second class citizens, not yet fully part of the people of God.  They were teaching that the Gentiles needed to do more to become truly acceptable to God and truly heirs of God’s covenant promises.  Specifically, they needed to keep the Old Testament ceremonial law – to be circumcised, ritually pure and culturally Jewish.

But Paul argues that those outward Old Covenant signs like circumcision were temporary, anticipatory, and no longer necessary, because a new and better covenant reality had come.  As a result, Paul finally says in vs.26, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.”  Believers are already full sons of God.  Tim Keller writes, “It is not something we are aiming at, it is not a future attainment.  It is something that we have already, in our present state.”1  Believers are not “looking forward” to the date of their adoption, where afterwards they’ll be fully sons.  Paul is saying, You already are sons!

Furthermore, he argues, it’s not something had by virtue of birth.  It’s not something people have naturally – just because they’re born into a believing family.  Paul has argued – only “those of faith are the sons of Abraham” – see 3:7…  Only through faith do we “receive adoption as sons” – ch.4:5. (Notice: If we needed to be adopted, that means we’re not natural sons.  God only has one natural-born son – who is Christ.)  But now, all who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, Paul says, are already fully and completely adopted as sons, and already made to feel the benefits of that adoption through the Spirit sent into their hearts: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father’.”

The Meaning of Baptism
But in the middle of this argument, right after saying, “In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith”, Paul refers to Baptism:  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Obviously, for Paul, baptism is a sign signifying the present spiritual reality of sonship.  The fact of Baptism should be a sign to Christians affirming their identity and relationship to Christ.  For Paul, the Baptism of a Christian was a definitive moment in their life that should have ongoing significance for their life

But why?  What does Baptism add to Paul’s argument?  What exactly does Paul think Baptism means?

The answer is found in the somewhat surprising metaphor Paul uses.  Paul connects Baptism with the imagery of putting on clothes.  He says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [or literally, “clothed yourselves (ἐνεδύσασθε) with Christ].  Where did Paul get this image? And why does he use it?

Three Connections for ‘Clothing’
The first intriguing connection is with the Roman practice of the toga virilis – the garment of manhood.  When a Roman boy reached the age of 15-16, he would finally be allowed through a ceremony to take off the crimson bordered toga praetexta (toga of childhood) and put on the pure white toga of manhood.  It was a coming of age ceremony, a rite of passage.  Interestingly, Paul had just been using the image of Old Testament believers as being like children under a chaperone (see 3:24-25 – “we are no longer under a guardian” – a pedagogue), whereas New Testament believers are spiritually come of age by virtue of faith in Christ.  Therefore, Baptism marks that spiritual coming of age ceremony: putting on the garments of manhood, of spiritual maturity.

A second intriguing source for this imagery of baptism as clothing may have been the early Christian baptismal rite itself.  When the early Christians were baptized (similar to Jewish proselyte baptism), the candidates would take off their outer garments, go into the water to be baptized, and after exiting the water, they would be re-clothed (possibly even in white linen – as a sign of cleanliness and righteousness in Christ).2  So the image connecting baptism with clothing would have been very naturally fixed in the minds of believers.

A third and related source for the imagery of baptism as clothing is actually far older, and is found in the Old Testament ceremony for the consecration of priests (see Exodus 29:4-5).  When a priest entered into his priestly service, he would first be washed with water…and then clothed with the garments of the priesthood, marking his endowment and readiness for service.  In fact, this practice probably provided something of the original background for the development of the baptismal rite.

In other words, Paul didn’t “create” the clothing metaphor for baptism.  It was a conceptual part of the rite itself and extremely relevant and fitting for his argument.  Baptism was a rite of passage, signifying entrance into consecrated service, spiritual maturity and adulthood with the full rights as sons.  Paul was signifying: New Testament believers are not in need of a tutor.  In Christ and with baptism, they are spiritually come of age.

‘Putting On Christ’
Even more powerfully, Paul calls it a ‘putting on’ of Christ himself.  Baptized believers “have put on Christ!”  What does he mean?  What does it mean to put on a Person?

Guthrie writes, “This is a favorite metaphor of Paul’s (cf. Rom.13:12; Eph.4:24; Col.3:12).  But here (and in Rom.13:14) is his most daring use of it, in which he likens Christ himself to a garment.  The expression conveys a striking suggestion of the closeness which exists between Christ and the believer.  Those who put on Christ can do no other than act in accordance with the Spirit of Christ…  The metaphor conveys essentially a new kind of life.  Everything is now to be related to Christ.”3  (Thus, for Paul, this imagery of baptism as clothing, though only seeming to appear once, was actually a central and controlling metaphor in Paul’s thought.  When Paul speaks in Colossians 3:9-12 or Ephessians 4:22-24 about “putting off” and “putting on” – this was likely baptismal language!)

Tim Keller calls it a “daring and comprehensive metaphor for a whole new life.”  What does it mean to put on Christ like a garment?  Keller develops the idea by saying, “This idea of clothing ourselves with Christ implies four amazing things: 1) Our primary identity is in Christ.  Our clothing tells people who we are… 2) The closeness of our relationship to Christ.  Your clothes are kept closer to you than any other possession…[It calls] us to moment-by-moment dependence and existential awareness of Christ… 3) The imitation of Christ…We are to ‘dress up like Jesus’… 4) Our acceptability to God…It covers our nakedness…The Lord Jesus has given us His righteousness, His perfection, to wear.”  Keller concludes,“This goes so far beyond the keeping of rules and regulations.  This goes even beyond simple obedience.  This is to be in love with him, bathed in him, awash in him.”4

‘Putting on Christ’ then is so important!  If believers have been baptized “into Christ”, then, through faith in Christ, they are, by definition, sons of God.  Paul wants every believer to know that he or she is already a fully adopted child of God.  It’s a status that is a present reality in their life.  It is a sign of full, conscious sonship by faith. Paul says, ‘You have the spiritual reality; you’ve been adopted as a full son.  You’ve been included in the unconditional covenant promise to Abraham.  You are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise – because you’ve been clothed in the Offspring, the true Offspring, who is Christ.’
Baptism thus encompasses and includes full redemption, adoption, and the experience of sonship through the Spirit (see 4:6).  The whole argument, after all, is connected.  So Paul makes deliberate connection between the sign of baptism and the spiritual baptism of the Spirit.  It’s a present reality in the life of believers that they’ve been baptized in the Spirit as sons; they have the experience of it in their hearts.  Rom.8:9 says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him”.

[In forthcoming articles, I will draw out some implications for paedobaptism, and for baptism as a means of grace…]

——————

Footnotes

1. Keller, Timothy. Galatians For You, p.89-90.  The Good Book Company, 2013.

2. See Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church.

3. Guthrie, Donald.  Galatians, p.110. Eerdmans, 1981.

4. Keller, Timothy. Galatians For You, p.91-92.  The Good Book Company, 2013.

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Ancient Near Eastern Literature (Ninth Post)

Books, Christ in the Old Testament, Christian Education, Church History, Culture, Scripture, Theology, Worship

My last two posts are increasingly so vast in scope that it is in some ways pointless to even attempt what I’m going to do here. Nevertheless, I want to try.

For as long as biblical studies have been done (dating back to at least Philo in the first century), Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature has been used to illumine the Bible. Indeed, it is beyond question that the OT authors themselves read and employed ANE literature for their own polemical purposes (usually to prove that Yahweh, rather than some usurping deity, is God). For example, Daniel 7 has so many parallels with the Baal Cycle that it is impossible that it is coincidental. What Daniel is doing is simultaneously mocking Baal while glorifying the True God and his only begotten son (see chart). Understanding this backdrop adds multiple rich layers to our understanding of the passage, layers that profoundly enrich our knowledge of Jesus Christ (in the chart, note how the “son of man” parallels “Baal” in the polemic), who is the focus and point of all the Scripture.

Daniel 7 and Baal

Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

In modern times, the 19th and 20th centuries saw several amazing discoveries of ANE literature that brought to the table texts not available to the Fathers, the Medievals, or the Reformers (we have already seen the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library). Two other incredible discoveries of the last 200 years must be included in this post. The first discovery was made late in 1849 in ancient Nineveh in the Royal Palace of king Sennacherib (705–681 BC), with whom Hezekiah had dealings (cf. Isa 36:1ff). Three years later, a vast collection–thousands of clay tablets and fragments—were unearthed just a few yards away. This became known as the now famous Library of Ashurbanipal (he is called “the great and honorable Osnappar” or “Asenappar” in Ezra 4:10). The find contained myriads of texts and genres collected by the great king in the 7th century B.C., but telling about history for more than a thousand years before that. The find included the Babylonian creation story the Enuma Elish and their Flood story the Epic of Gilgamesh, both of which share much in common with the biblical stories (as well as much that is not in common).

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

Mt Aqraa (ancient Mt. Saphon) towering over the ruins of Ugarit.

The other discovery took place in 1929 in a dig in the beautiful Syrian port city on the Mediterranean call Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), some 26 miles south of the astounding Mt. Zaphon (Isa 14:13 NRS), which rises over a mile straight out of the Great Sea. Zaphon was Baal’s mountain, and the tablets at Ugarit provided for the first time in over 3,000 years ancient stories of Baal, El, and other religious deities that are so intimately tied to the OT. In fact, the Scripture calls God “El” many times. As cited in the first post of this series, Dr. Michael Heiser has written an excellent article showing why Ugarit is so important to biblical studies.

ANE Literature is basically divided into five geographical categories:

Ugarit (see above).

Hittite. The Hittites empire was established in Anatolia around 1600 BC. It reached its height during the mid-14th century B.C., when it included most of Asia Minor as well as parts of the northern Levant (today’s western Syria, Jordan, and Israel). These people are mentioned often in the early parts of the Old Testament.

Akkadian (see above). The Akkadian Empire reached father east and much longer back in time than the Hittites, reaching its peak in the 24th and 22nd centuries B.C.

Sumerian. Sumer is one of the most ancient civilizations known, reaching much of modern-day southern Iraq, as far as 3,500, 4,000, perhaps even 5,000 B.C. The Dynastic period begins c. 2900 B.C. and includes such legendary figures as Gilgamesh—who is supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens c. 2700 BCE.

Egyptian. Egypt is well known to most people. Its empire is world famous, especially because of its colossus pyramids and sphinx that still stand to this day.

The kinds of literature we have from these places include Canonical Texts (including myths, prayers, rituals, incantations, epics, historiography, biography, oracles, proverbs, wisdom, and instructions), Monumental Inscriptions (royal inscriptions, mortuary inscriptions, building and dedication inscriptions, temple hymns), and Archival Documents (letters, contracts, accounts, court cases, wills). As you can see from this list, the literature is vast. There is much here to learn for the eager person that is interested.

Again, because there is a certain hostility that conservative Christians have towards ANE literature, a final word should be said. If the reader keeps in mind that Scripture is God’s word, then it is quite easy to read the other writings of the ANE without feeling like you are compromising something essential. Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and even Moses didn’t feel like they were. So why should I? Rather, they understood that the nations’ beliefs about anything from the gods to morality were rooted in truth, but had become badly distorted to the point of spiritual darkness and enslavment. Holy Scripture sometimes uses their own material against the nations, subverting their narratives, and replacing them with truth that reveals the glory and goodness of the God of gods and his only begotten Son.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

Singing As A Means of Grace: Singing With Grace In Our Hearts

Music, Worship

4) We Need to Sing with Grace in Our Hearts

Finally, Colossians 3:16 says, we need to sing “with grace in our hearts…

In the New Testament, grace is practically a “thing”.  Paul says repeatedly in his letters, “Grace to you…”  Grace is God’s undeserved, unmerited love and favor.   To draw an important distinction between mercy and grace:  Mercy is God forgiving you, wiping the slate clean, canceling your debt.  If you’ve got a big debt to God, mercy is a good thing; you want your debt cancelled.  But if your debts are just cancelled, you still have a problem: you’re still broke, you’re just not in debt anymore.  Grace is not just God canceling your debt; grace is God giving you his riches and favor.  He doesn’t just wipe the slate clean; he invites you into his adopted family as a prince of the kingdom, makes you his son and daughter, covers you with robes of righteousness, adopts you.  That’s grace!

So, Paul says, We’re to sing with grace in our hearts!  Our singing is meant to be a response and a meditation of all of God’s grace poured out on us through the blood of Christ.  In Colossians 3:12, Paul had said, “Put on as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…”  He was saying: Live in light of the riches of grace.  Remember that you are chosen and dearly loved.  Live in light of that grace you have received.  He then said in 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”  It’s a Word about Christ, about the grace of Christ: That’s why we sing!

It’s why we sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  To hear the “sweetness” of the sound, sometimes we need to sing it!

Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people…”  Titus 3:4-7 echoes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Grace from God “appeared” in history in the Person of Jesus Christ.  But then Jesus “appears” to us by the Spirit through the ministry of the Word (2 Cor. 4:6, 2 Tim.1:9-11).

Has grace “appeared” to you?  It disappears from our minds all the time.  That’s one reason why you need to sing! —to have grace appear, to remind yourself: the goodness and lovingkindness of God has appeared!  When we meditate on that, we should start to sing.  There should be a movement in our heart to sing that!

At great moments of redemption, people sang.  When the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and reached on the other side – they sang!  When God did great things for David – he sang!  When God did great things for Hannah – she sang…for Mary – she sang…for Zechariah – he sang.  Has God done great things for you?  Have you started to sing?

Psalm 40:1-3 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”  Did you catch that last part?  “Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord”…when I sing of what he’s done for me.

My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.
I hear the real, though far-off hymn, that hails a new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife, I hear its music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear, and hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near, how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile our thoughts to them are winging.
When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Savior liveth.
And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Author Unknown

(By: Matt Foreman)

Singing As A Means of Grace: Different Types of Songs

Music, Worship

3) We Need to Sing Different Types of Songs

Col.3:16 tells us we need to sing different types of songs – “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”.  Some people in history have tried to make very specific definitions of those three words – asserting that these were different divisions of the psalter.  There is very little historical evidence for that view.  I think he’s just saying – sing different kinds of songs.

Obviously, the Psalms were meant to be sung.  Jesus and the disciples, growing up in Jewish society, sang Psalms regularly as part of their worship.  We need to glean from and sing the Psalms.

But when Paul says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing with grace in your hearts”, I believe that implies singing songs also in light of Christ and the grace revealed in the Gospel.  In fact, there are examples in the New Testament of verses with a metrical flavor that may have actually been early Christian hymns.  (Scholars point to 1 Tim.3:16, 1 Tim.6:15-16, 2 Tim.2:11-13, and Philippians 2:6-11 as the most likely.  But the list also may include Col.1:15-20, Titus 3:4-7, and Heb.1:3-4.  Certainly, there are examples in the book of Revelation.)  Also, there are clear examples in the early church of hymns based on the New Testament work of Christ.  The Christians were writing and singing new songs as part of their worship.

But “different types of songs” should also include the content of the songs, the mood and expression of the songs.  If we need to be taught the whole counsel of God in his Word, we need to sing the entire range of songs needed by God’s people.  So our repertoire needs to be more nuanced than some of the ‘happy-clappy’ songs that are sometimes the staple in churches today.  Dr. Carl Trueman wrote a (now famous) article several years ago entitled, “What Do Sad Christians Sing?” – pointing out that many popular Christians songs don’t express the kinds of lamentations you sometimes see in Scripture and that believers can certainly experience.  The Psalms are sometimes very raw and honest.  Believers need those types of songs, that express truths about our experience in this fallen world.

Sometimes this diversity is best reflected in the liturgy itself.  ‘Liturgy’ just means the order of your service.  Christian churches for centuries have often practiced a liturgy that follows a certain order of thought – such as: Adoration (beginning with praise to God), Confession (confession of sin, confession of need for God), Assurance (detailing the promises of the Gospel, objectively what God has done to forgive us of our sins), Commitment (exhortations to live lives pleasing to God).  This order can be reflected and practiced in the songs that are sung.  Another way of thinking about it is that Christian liturgy has often been a recapitulation of Biblical history: of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  God created the world (we praise him), man fell (we confess our sins), Christ brought redemption (through the Gospel), and now we try to live our lives pleasing to him.  Our worship services, I believe, both in the readings and the songs we sing, should follow something of that order, as a re-expression of the Gospel every week – and expressing the diversity that Christians need.  We need to adore him, we need to confess our sins and weaknesses and griefs and sorrows, we need to assure ourselves of his love in Christ, and we need to compel ourselves to live for him.

The idea of “different types of songs” can also impact the style of songs.  Sometimes people struggle with the idea that style is attuned to cultural preferences and traditions that are not strictly Biblical.  But musicologists can demonstrate how musical style develops over regions and over time and can be compared to ‘different musical dialects’.  The music that was sung in the New Testament era and in the early church would have sounded very different and alien to our ears.  The music that has been sung by Christians over the centuries has been as diverse as the cultures that have been impacted by the Gospel.  It can be appropriate then to think about the musical ‘vernacular’ of our church and culture (as a ‘circumstance of worship’).  It can also be appropriate to express some musical diversity in our corporate singing, especially if our churches begin to reflect the ethnic diversity of the body of Christ, which we long to be expressed.

(By: Matt Foreman)

Singing As A Means of Grace: Singing Corporately

Music, Uncategorized, Worship

2) We Need to Sing Corporately

Colossians 3:16 also encourages us to sing corporately – “Let the Word of Christ dwell in y’all richly, in all wisdom as you teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Singing can be a private activity and a private means of grace.  But Colossians 3:16 emphasizes singing as a public activity and a corporate means of grace, a corporate means of ministering the Word to “one another”.  Singing is an outflow of the grace of the Word in the lives of God’s people and particularly to one another.

As Richard Lovelace notes,

“Protestant doctrine defined the ‘means of grace’ as the Word, prayer and the sacraments, and these were usually understood as channels leading directly to the individual Christian, not as streams of grace which necessarily linked him to others.  But every one of us can remember times when other believers served as essential channels of grace in delivering us from some agonizing spiritual problem which would never have been handled by our individual use of Scripture and prayer… [The Bible asserts] that grace is conveyed through the body of Christ along horizontal channels as well as through the vertical relationship of each believer to God.”

Singing then is one aspect of this corporate ministry of grace.  In a Sunday service, you could be tempted to think that the singing is about ‘you and God’.  It’s not just about ‘you and God’.  It’s about ‘you and God and one another’.  The reason you should sing – is not just to stir your own heart to God, but to stir other people’s hearts to God.

Mike Cosper writes, One “way the Word dwells richly among us is by our teaching and admonishing one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs.”  Again, “Singing itself is creational gift with formational effects.  When people sing together, they literally unite their breath. They unite their words. In certain situations, they’ll unite their physical gestures too—clapping and raising hands.”

You come to corporate worship on Sundays ‘to be sung to’.  But you come ‘to sing to others’ as well.

That freaks some people out – the thought that they are ‘singing to others’.  People who are self-conscious about their singing can think – that’s not a good thing; people don’t want to hear that from me!  But the Bible implies – people do want to hear that!

I had a friend years ago who literally was tone deaf – couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.  But he didn’t care.  I remember I used to hear him go and sit on the front step and have private devotion time and he would sing…and it was awful!  But he was making a joyful noise and it ministered to my heart.  No matter how bad it was, it was beautiful.  His heart was full and it ministered to me.

The collective corporate singing of the congregation is a powerful ministry to one another.  Alternatively, it is discouraging to be in corporate worship and people around you aren’t singing.  Corporate singing is not a time to ‘hear the band’.  It’s not a time to only listen to the good singers.  It’s time to join your voices and your hearts together in singing truth to one another for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 talks about an unbeliever entering the corporate worship of the church, where “he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”  That’s what we want in our corporate worship – for people to be struck with the presence and reality of God.  When does this happen?  One of the things Paul goes on to talk about in the very next verse is the church coming together and people having “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation” (14:26).  Singing is one of the corporate activities of the church where people can be exposed to God!  The corporate singing of the church is one of the ways people can be ‘convicted, called to account, having the secrets of their hearts exposed, and sense that God is really present in the worship of the people.’  That happened to me!

So it’s crucial for Christians to sing.  “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings.  It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings.  When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again a season of pure shining to cheer it after rain.”

As a side note: it’s important to teach and model spiritual singing to our children.  If singing is a powerful means of grace, a way to hide the word in the heart, and a way to minister to one another – our children need to be taught to sing.  In fact, even children can minister corporately in song.  There is nothing more encouraging than hearing children singing in the worship service.  Isn’t that a beautiful thing, when you sing a song in worship that the children know – to see them and hear them singing at the top of their little voices?   When my son was in pre-school, he had certain favorite hymns.  I remember one time in particular, we sang one of his favorite songs on a Sunday morning, and he began to belt it out at the top of his lungs (he didn’t have a very good indoor voice).  You could actually hear him above the whole congregation.  It gave everyone a good laugh, but it was also a joy and ministry to the congregation.

We need to make a joyful noise and sing corporately to one another.