The Tyranny of the Paradigm (Part 3)

Read “The Tyranny of the Paradigm (Part 1)

Read “The Tyranny of the Paradigm (Part 2)”


By Jack W. Cottrell

My thesis is that the understanding of the doctrine of salvation in most Protestant groups is captive to the Zwinglian version of the sola fidei paradigm. In the previous article (last week) I showed how this is the case in the way faith is treated as the sole condition for justification, and not just its sole means. It is also seen in the way repentance either is excluded as a condition altogether, or is diminished by being made simply an aspect of faith—which according to the paradigm must be the sole condition.

In this article I will show how the tyranny of the paradigm forces sola fidei adherents to do violence to biblical teaching concerning confession and baptism.

Confusion About Confession

First (and fourth overall), being a slave to the sola fidei paradigm leads to serious confusion regarding how confession is related to salvation, especially as taught in Romans 10:9, 10. A literal rendering of these verses shows that Paul makes confession and faith equivalent conditions for salvation. In verse 9 he says, “If you confess and believe, then you will be saved.” In the Greek there is only one if, and it applies equally to both confession and faith. In verse 10 Paul also says that (a) with the heart one believes UNTO (eis) righteousness, and (b) with the mouth one confesses UNTO (eis) salvation.

In verse 10 the use of the same verbal formula, including the parallel use of the word eis, shows that both faith and confession precede salvation, and that salvation is conditioned on both.

But how is this text treated under the pressure of the sola fidei paradigm? Douglas Moo (in The Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 57) says we should be “cautious about finding great significance in the reference to confession here, as if Paul were making oral confession a second requirement for salvation.” Faith is the crucial requirement. “Confession is the outward manifestation of this critical inner response.” (We should note that in this text Paul is silent about any sort of connection between faith and confession. The only thing he connects with confession is salvation.)

Norman Geisler discusses my treatment of Romans 10:9, 10, and acknowledges that “the Bible speaks of confession unto salvation”; yet he declares in his next breath that the Bible “nowhere lists this as a separate and necessary step to being saved” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3: Sin/Salvation [Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 2004], 494). If faith is indeed the means of salvation, “why should confession be seen as a condition rather than a result of salvation?” (ibid., 495). “Confession is a natural outward concomitant of saving faith, but . . . saving faith alone saves” (495). While open, oral confession is a natural result of salvation, it is nowhere given as a necessary condition of everlasting life” (495).

The tyranny of the paradigm is obvious: “The New Testament lists faith and faith alone as the means of being saved. Accordingly any other conditions (such as confession and baptism) cannot actually be salvific conditions” (494).

Please note: In spite of Paul’s explicit and specific way of relating confession to salvation in Romans 10:9, 10—“confession UNTO salvation”—Geisler ignores this and reverses the order: salvation UNTO confession (i.e., confession is the RESULT of salvation). He is a slave to the paradigm.

Distorting the Purpose of Baptism

Finally, an absolute, a priori commitment to the sola fidei paradigm leads to an irrational distortion of New Testament texts that relate baptism to salvation. Examples are many, but I will cite only two. The first is a rather common twisting of Acts 2:38 under the pressure of the sola fidei paradigm. It is an argument that attempts to separate baptism from forgiveness through a blatantly faulty analysis of the Greek forms in this verse.

For example, Cal Beisner, in a little booklet titled Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?, gives this interlinear translation of the Greek:

Metanoēsate kai baptisthētō hekastos humōn epi to onomati IēsouChristou

You (plural) repent and be baptized each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ

eis aphesin tōn hamartiōn humōn.

for (the) remission (of the) sins of you (plural).

The argument begins with Beisner noting that the verb “repent” is plural, and that the “your” in “for the remission of your sins” is also plural. (Beisner inserts “plural” at these points.) But, he says, the verb “be baptized” is singular: “Let each one [hekastos] be baptized.” Beisner concludes, “This makes it clear that ‘remission of your (plural) sins’ is the result of ‘you (plural) repenting,’ not of ‘each one (singular) being baptized.’”

John MacArthur agrees that this is a proper interpretation. “Support for that interpretation comes from the fact that ‘repent’ and ‘your’ are plural, while ‘be baptized’ is singular, thus setting it off from the rest of the sentence [as parenthetical]. If that interpretation is correct, the verse would read ‘Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins.’ Forgiveness is thus connected with repentance, not baptism” (in a letter from MacArthur shared with me by Don Wallace, spring 2001).

Those who use this argument seem to deliberately ignore the fact that the singular verb “be baptized” is emphatically pluralized by the immediately following words, hekastos humōn, “each one OF YOU” (plural). True, the verb “be baptized” is grammatically singular because its immediate subject is “each one” (hekastos), but the addition of the plural “of you” (humōn) clearly shows that the application of this verb is intended to be plural. It is the exact same plural word used in the phrase “remission of your (plural) sins.” Beisner, of course, chooses not to insert “(plural)” after the first humōn, because this would just call attention to the weakness of this argument. (See John 7:53 for a similar combination of a plural verb with a singular hekastos.) The only reason for ignoring the obvious is the tyranny of the sola fidei paradigm.

Another example of irrational treatment of baptismal texts as dictated by the sola fidei paradigm is Ephesians 4:5, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” What do sola fidei defenders do with this verse? Uncharacteristically, Geisler (ibid., 502) says the one baptism is water baptism, which is rather strange in view of his conviction that baptism as an outward act is no more than a work and thus cannot be a condition for salvation (497). This raises a serious question: Why should such a relatively insignificant act as one of the works of the Christian life (water baptism) be included in the same list with one body (the church), one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one hope, and one God and Father?

Most sola fidei folks take the other view, that the “one baptism” is Holy Spirit baptism, which at least is seen as a divine salvific act and is more compatible (in significance) with the other six items listed here. (Examples are numerous; see Cottrell, Power from on High [Joplin: College Press, 2007], 328.)

The problem here is that most Protestants (except Quakers and radical dispensationalists) still continue to distinguish TWO baptisms in Christian experience: Spirit baptism and water baptism as two separate and distinct events. This allows them to grant that some New Testament texts connect baptism with salvation, but these are automatically interpreted as referring to Spirit baptism since water baptism is excluded by the sola fidei paradigm. (My Westminster Seminary professor, Jay Adams, avowed in class, “There’s not a drop of water in Romans 6!”)

But this leaves Ephesians 4:5 just “hanging in the wind,” so to speak (cf. Ephesians 4:14). How can Paul say there is just ONE baptism, if indeed there are TWO? If Paul says emphatically that there is indeed just one baptism, what drives our faith-only friends to contradict Paul by distinguishing two separate baptisms? The tyranny of the sola fidei paradigm, of course. But when we allow ourselves to be set free from the power of this paradigm, we can affirm that there is indeed ONE baptism, which combines immersion in water AND immersion in the Holy Spirit in a single event.

My prayer is that we can all agree with Paul and with Martin Luther in understanding sola fidei as an affirmation that faith is the only means by which justification is received. To say that it refers to faith as the only condition for justification requires us to do violence to both Scripture and reason.

Jack Cottrell is professor of theology at Cincinnati (Ohio) Bible Seminary. His 20th book, Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace, was published in 2009 by College Press.

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  1. Avatar
    December 18, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Jack Cottrell points out well that faith alone is dead just as James earlier reported. But he misses the mark in claiming that baptism by the Spirit is always done when proclaimers of the gospel baptize converts in water. Baptism by the Spirit is not baptism in water. These are two separated actions. One is performed by humans. The other is not. They are separate actions if indeed there is a baptism performed by the Holy Spirit. But where is there any mention of such an event except in the mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 12:13? The baptism Paul speaks of in that verse is one which all Christians have experienced, and that Paul knew they knew they had experienced. Paul would no more have claimed that immersion was performed by the Holy Spirit than he would have denied that Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. The translators use a phrase often translated as in one spirit and turn it into “BY one Spirit.” Is there any mention of a baptism by the Spirit in inspired writings? No. The baptism commanded by Jesus is performed by proclaimers of the gospel. It’s in water. It’s a burial and a resurrection into NEW LIFE. The Spirit is promised as a gift to those who repent and ARE baptized in water in recognition of the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. The inspired writers know nothing of a baptism by the Holy Spirit. Not once. Never.

  2. Avatar
    December 20, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Mr. Downen,
    Sorry for my ignorance, but I am unsure as to what you mean when you say, “But he misses the mark in claiming that baptism by the Spirit is always done when proclaimers of the gospel baptize converts in water. Baptism by the Spirit is not baptism in water.”
    Cottrell is one of my favorite authors. I often use his book, “The Faith Once For All,” for reference. He is the most knowledgeable man I have read concerning the Scriptures.
    I don’t know that I disagree with what you have written, although I only read the excerpt from your book “Raised Into New Life.” I just need a little clarification.
    A. Reed

  3. Avatar
    February 2, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Mr. Downen:

    The whole point of the articles on “The Tyranny of the Paradigm” is to point out how our paradigms affect our beliefs. The sola fidei paradigm specifically creates a false belief wherein baptism cannot be part of the salvation plan because it supposedly adds to faith, in violation of Ephesians 2:8. Likewise, this leads to the errant assumption that there must be two kinds of baptisms, one in water (Acts 2:38) and one in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), but this in violation of Ephesians 4:5. which tells us there is only “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.”

    You say there is a baptism in water that is “a burial and a resurrection into NEW LIFE.” And, you say there is a “baptism by the Spirit [which] is not baptism in water.” So, here we have two baptisms, one by the Spirit, excluding water, and one in water. But, how is it the one in water can offer a “resurrection into NEW LIFE,” without the accompanying gift of the Holy Spirit? New life only comes after the Spirit is given. Thus, if the Spirit is not given in water baptism, as Acts 2:38 clearly states, then there can be no resurrection at the point of water baptism “into NEW LIFE.”

    You also contend we are baptized “in the Spirit” but not also “by the Spirit,” referencing the supposed mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 which says, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (NIV). I have done a check of a few other translations — KJV, Phillips, RSV, Today’s English Bible, as well as the NIV, and they all reference “by [one] Spirit into one body.” There are about 110 English translations in existence and I am sure many or most of these also translate the Greek in the same way. Thousands of scholars have been involved in making these translations. So, where is your rebuttal of their translations with regard to this verse? Are they all wrong?

    There is only one baptism — the baptism of repentance, in water, wherein we both receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized “BY the Spirit.”

    Allan Payne

  4. Avatar
    February 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I appreciate the questions directed to me. I am surprised that it’s claimed I said there is a baptism by the Spirit. I didn’t say that at all. I affirmed there is ONE baptism for us who enter the Way. I point out that the translators are wrong in claiming in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that there IS a baptism by the Spirit. No such baptism is ever promised in inspired writings. No such baptism is ever spoken of as having been performed. The only mention of such a second baptism is in the WRONG translation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 where Paul is thought by the translators to be contradicting himself about there being only ONE baptism. The gift which God gives to each new Christian is the Spirit to live and walk with the Christian. This is not a baptism BY the Spirit. Peter speaks of it correctly and clearly as being a “gift OF the Spirit.” If he had meant to call this gift a baptism, he could surely have done so. He knew the words. But he does NOT call it a baptism BY the Spirit, but instead promises a gift OF the Spirit. The baptism is by human hands. It’s an immersion in water, from which the sinner is raised up into new life with Christ, who through His Spirit lives now within the cleansed sinner.

  5. Avatar
    February 13, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    It is suggested that I contend we are baptized “in the Spirit.” I said no such thing. What Paul by inspiration said in reference to our need for unity is that we ALL are baptized “in one spirit.” The emphasis is on unity. Every convert is humbly obeying a command of the Lord Jesus by submitting to baptism. The spirit which unites us is HUMBLE OBEDIENCE to Jesus. Since we were EACH baptized in obedience to Jesus as Lord, we should remain in unity, says the apostle. He surely was not basing his appeal for unity on a baptism no one knew anything about unless he now told them they had been baptized a second time, this time by the Spirit. The correct translation of what Paul wrote is that we were ALL baptized in ONE spirit, which is the same one spirit now pointing us to unity in serving the ONE LORD. The apostle makes clear that we were also all “made to drink of the one Spirit,” for each upon baptism in water has received the gift of the HOLY SPIRIT who is sent to dwell within the new Christian. The verse should harmonize with Acts 2:38 rather than contradicting it!

  6. Avatar
    February 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    A brother suggests additional sources of information about baptism into Christ. He wrote:
    Here are some interesting links concerning the subject of baptism:

    The Tyranny of the Paradigm (Part 3) [There are three comments on this article by Jack Cottrell.]

    What Is the “One Baptism” in Ephesians 4:5?

    By God’s WORD we’re begotten to NEW LIFE! (HS-B02) [by Ray Downen on his web site]

    Is Baptism a Work?

    The Fullness of Baptism [There is an interesting list at the end of this article on Page 14 of Suggested Reading.]
    I suggest that the gift of the Spirit FOLLOWS the new birth of water and spirit, which Peter defines as repenting and being baptized. Both remission of sins AND the gift of the Spirit are promised as results of action by the sinner and His Lord.

  7. Avatar
    February 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Of all the things that could have been chosen for discussion from my articles on “Tyranny of the Paradigm,” it is ironic that anyone would choose the brief reference to baptism in the Spirit as a subject for argument. My point was not to present a defense of my view on the subject; I have already done that in my book on the Holy Spirit, “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, 2007). There, on pp. 289-333, I have examined this issue thoroughly and have shown that the best understanding is that ALL CHRISTIANS have been baptized in/by the Holy Spirit (in this phrase the Greek preposition is always the same), and that this is equivalent to being baptized with fire, to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to drinking the living water of the Holy Spirit. These are just different ways of saying the same thing. Anyone is free to disagree, but to do so without taking account of the Biblical evidence and Biblical reasoning presented in that chapter should leave one feeling quite unsatisfied.

  8. Avatar
    February 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I studied logic under Seth Wilson at Ozark Bible College many years ago. Logic is helpful in understanding any topic. Jack Cottrell uses strange logic, it seems to me. He defends the importance of baptism in water, but claims that a baptism by the Spirit is equivalent to being baptized with fire (being thrown into Hell), to receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (receiving the Spirit is the same as being baptized BY the Spirit?) and drinking of (receiving the gift of) the Spirit. Do I understand? Baptism BY the Spirit is not a second baptism, according to this teacher. But the baptism commanded by Jesus is to be performed by humans, isn’t it? So if a person also receives a baptism by the Spirit, what keeps that from being a second baptism? Where is the logic that says two baptisms are really one baptism? Have I believed wrongly all these years that two is NOT the same as one? Was Peter wrong in saying that those who repented and were baptized (in water) would then have sin remitted and would then receive the “gift of the Holy Spirit”? Was John the Baptist wrong in prophesying that baptism IN the Spirit would be performed by Jesus? Do “in” and “by” mean the same? Christians through the centuries have believed that THEY (or their priest) should perform baptism. Was it really supposed to be performed by the Spirit? I think logic takes a pass on the theory that baptism by the Spirit is exactly equivalent to drinking of the Spirit and receiving the gift of the Spirit. If there is in fact a baptism BY the Spirit, why would the apostle claim there is only ONE baptism for us in this Christian age? And whyever in the world would the apostle later claim there was a second baptism that all converts had received without knowing anything about it? And then base his appeal for unity on this unknown second baptism?

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