The Saare-Turner Debate

Part One

Proposition: “The New Testament Scriptures teach that, for the penitent believer, water baptism is for, unto, or in order to the remission of sins.” Allan Turner affirms; Keith Saare denies.

Saare’s First Negative (posted 07/02/06): My interest to engage Mr. Turner in this discussion was sparked when I read his invitation for feedback regarding his Re:Thinking online magazine. From reading Mr. Turner’s articles, in my opinion, there is no better candidate to affirm this proposition than him. He is very knowledgeable in the subject matter and demonstrates the qualities of a fine author with his eloquent writing style. My gratitude goes out to him for his polite tone in defending his view and for doing a fine job at taking the lead in organizing the format of our debate.  

The Grammatico-Historical Method

As I perceive our differences regarding baptism and salvation, the source of our disagreement is not the Scriptures. As a Baptist I was baptized “for the remission of sins.” I was forgiven the moment I believed (Acts 10:43), and for that reason, I was baptized per Acts 2:38 (a verse distinctly owned by Baptists). It was a beautiful symbol of my salvation as described in 1 Peter 3:21, and it signified the previous cleansing of my sins in the same manner demanded by Acts 22:16. As I shall demonstrate within the course of our debate, my baptism was nothing more than an outward expression of an inward reality, hence an antitype.

The fact is that Mr. Turner and I both claim the same verses as supporting our doctrine. Our differences, therefore, are hermeneutical in nature. To make sense out of the Scriptures that I will be discussing, I will seek to employ the consistent use of the grammatico-historical method of interpretation. Also known as “literal interpretation,” this method focuses on matters of grammar and syntax in relation to a passage’s respective historical and cultural contexts. Although it recognizes the biblical use of figures of speech and takes them into consideration to discover literal truth, it does not allegorize that which is meant to be literal. My opponent, however, has demonstrated in his first affirmative that he has not been schooled in this time-honored method (or at least that he does not seek to employ it with consistency). As I shall cite specific cases during our discussions and explain more in my critique of Mr. Turner’s position, a sample from some of his exegetical fallacies (thus discarding literal interpretation) is as follows:

1.      Appeal to selective evidence: Citing a portion of Scripture in one’s favor, but with the illegitimate exclusion of evidence contrary to one’s viewpoint.

2.      Double meaning: Scripture may have two contradictory and yet “correct” interpretations—literal interpretation only affirms one true meaning.

3.      The figurative fallacy: Figurative language is confused for literal language, and/or vice versa.

4.      The obvious fallacy: The difficult task of exegesis is discarded and substituted instead with words like obviously, clearly, undoubtedly, certainly, any thinking person could see that, etc.

5.      Collapsing contexts: Two or more verses, which have little in common or no parallel at all, are juxtaposed as if one were a commentary on the other.

6.      Abuse of the “analogy of faith” principle. The principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture” should be the last step, not the first, in the exegetical process as a checking device to avoid contradictions—it most certainly is not a license to build a chain of unrelated texts to form a doctrine.

Mr. Turner’s Proposition

When viewed through a biblical lens, his proposition is self-refuting. Biblically, a “penitent believer” is one who already has the remission of sins. He does not need baptism in order to obtain this remission. Acts 10:43 bears this truth in which Peter stated:

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (all Scripture quotations from the NAU unless otherwise noted).

I highlight Peter’s use of “everyone” in “everyone who believes.” This reference most certainly includes those who believe and may be baptized, and it definitely includes those who believe but may not be baptized. One may believe with or without water baptism. [In fact, ministers within the Restoration Movement are fond of outlining the sequence of events leading up to salvation as: (1) hear, (2) believe, (3) repent, (4) confess, (5) baptism. In this scheme, believing is three steps prior to final baptism.] Either way (with or without baptism), the believer—one who believes—receives the remission of sins. Unfortunately, Mr. Turner’s proposition is at odds with the logic of Peter’s proclamation; it naturally prohibits the remission of sins for those who believe but are not baptized. Understanding this literally (i.e., grammatico-historical hermeneutics) without squeezing in baptism will just not fit Mr. Turner’s system.

As the reader will take note, it is necessary for my opponent to defend a proposition containing a couple of modifiers for the preposition “for” when used in relation to water baptism and the remission of sins. That is, “for” means “unto” or “in order to” as stated by his proposition. It is quite insufficient for him to defend “for the remission of sins” without additional modifiers since—as he has admitted—the English word “for” can also mean because of. Therefore, by virtue of these modifiers, Mr. Turner must add his own degree of interpretation to baptism “for the remission of sins.” We both must do this. As a Baptist, I will affirm that baptism is “for the remission of sins.” But I must deny that baptism is “in order to” obtain the remission of sins because of a literal interpretation of John 5:24, for there my Lord stated:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

In John 5:24 Jesus prefaced His explanation of how one receives eternal life with the two words “truly, truly.” The Greek amēn, amēn is that which accompanies a solemn affirmation. In other words, Jesus was making an emphatic exclamation to draw attention to what he was about to say. If He had said one amēn, it would have been enough. But he repeated another amēn as if to say, “Hey, all of you listen up! What I’m about to say is very, very important, so you better not miss this.”

The word translated “hear” is from acouō and implies more than just a mere audible perception of sound. It is that hearing with understanding which penetrates deep within the heart. An examination of other verses in John’s gospel brings this out where I have emphasized this word as used again by Jesus:

John 8:43: Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word.”

John 10:27: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

Connected with the act of hearing in John 5:24 is the essential condition of believing (from the Greek pisteuō). This word pisteuō is a very important concept in John’s gospel indeed. Matthew and Mark use the verb ten times, and Luke uses it nine, but John a staggering ninety-nine times! To miss the message of pisteuō is to miss the message of eternal life in John’s gospel (cf. John 20:30-31). It is the act of believing, understanding in the heart, placing one’s confidence in, and trusting the Lord. The corresponding noun pistis, whence we get “faith,” is shown in James 2:14-26 to be such that is accompanied by good works. True faith always produces good works—they are the natural outcome of a saving relationship according to Ephesians 2:8-10. However, these good works are done because one is saved, not in order to make one saved. (Can a child of the devil really do good works that please God?) Perhaps another survey to demonstrate the force of pisteuō  is appropriate:

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).

John 6:40:For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

Because of the special Greek construction in John 5:24, the Granville Sharp rule applies in which only one individual is being specified by Jesus. The person who hears is the one who believes, and vice versa. So when I speak about one who believes below, I do not mean to exclude hearing as an integral part.

Detrimental to my opponent’s proposition is the fact that one who believes, according to John 5:24, “has eternal life.” Again I focus attention on the Greek grammar underlying the English translation, for the verb “has” is the present active indicative from echō. This brings back sweet memories from that first night of beginning Greek class many years ago! I recall sweet Dr. Ware (an old time Southern Baptist) explaining from Machen’s grammar about the parsing of the verb echō. In John 5:24 the tense of echei (the third person, singular conjugation from echō) is present, the progressive present to be exact and not a habitual present. Jesus was not talking about an event to occur in the future, nor one in the past, but rather He was speaking about the “right now!...and on a continuing basis.” The voice of the verb is active, meaning the subject is doing the action. And, finally, the mood is indicative, a statement of reality or fact. It is not wishful thinking or volition that Jesus was discussing. When put altogether, it simply means…has!

Not meaning to skip ahead to our third proposition to debate eternal security, the fact is, however, eternal life is a present possession of the one who exercises faith alone. Though my opponent may identify other portions of Scripture that speak about eternal life as a future blessing, John 5:24 describes it as a PRESENT possession for the one believes. Eternal life is a quality of life that emanates from the Son (vide 1 John 5:11-12 ). Its duration is forever and ever, never coming to an end (this is what “eternal” means). And by virtue of the present active indicative verb, since believing comes before baptism, eternal life also comes before baptism. There cannot be a lapse of time from the moment one believes until the moment he receives eternal life, which coincides with the remission of sins. If Mr. Turner still wishes to press this issue, then he does so for reasons that are non-grammatical, and he may wish to review the third chapter of Machen regarding verbs of the present active indicative. (To his credit though, he did a fine job exegeting the participles in Matthew 28:19-20.)

The Present Active Indicative in John 5:24

Saare Illustration

The Crucial Gospel

Just what is the gospel? is the essential question that we are asking in this debate. Biblically, one’s view and response to the answer of this question means the difference between an eternity in Heaven with joyful bliss, or an agonizing eternity in the lake of fire. This is not a laughing matter that we are trying to settle here. My love for Mr. Turner and for our reading audience compels me to proclaim what I believe the Bible teaches in this regard. It behooves us all to examine ourselves to see if we really walk in the truth. Galatians 1:6-9 gives the terrifying warning:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

The most alarming statement from Mr. Turner’s first response regarding the gospel is this: “...there is absolutely no reason to doubt that the gospel Philip preached to the eunuch was…namely, that one needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ ‘for the remission of sins.’ ” I am afraid that Mr. Turner has called down the curse of God upon himself by believing such heresy. I caution the reader from holding his view no matter how eloquent his writing style or how convincing he may seem. Several reasons come to mind to which I now turn my attention.

First, the proper response to the gospel, according to Romans 1:16, is belief. Belief is what Romans 1:16 and Mark 16:16 share in common. According to the Apostle: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Since belief comes before baptism, the power of God for salvation must also come before baptism (like John 5:24, there is another present indicative verb in this verse). Notice also that it is “everyone who believes,”  not “only those who believe and are baptized” (Mr. Turner’s doctrine).

Secondly, the gospel explicitly EXCLUDES water baptism. Paul wrote, “ I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius…. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:14-17a). I could not imagine Mr. Turner making such a bold statement! The logic goes like this: Paul was sent to do A; he was not sent to do B. Therefore, B is not a part of A. Paul was sent to preach the gospel; he was not sent to baptize. Therefore, contra Mr. Turner, baptism is not a part of the gospel. Paul did not minimize the beautiful symbol of baptism, but neither did he elevate it to a position above its rightful, God-honoring significance.

Finally, the gospel is defined in 1 Corinthians 15, and there we do not see baptism in God’s plan for obtaining salvation (although we do see belief):

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:1-5).

To add baptism to the gospel is to make a blatant attempt to distort it. To say that baptism is the gospel is to tell a lie. Let me quote Mr. Turner again, “...there is absolutely no reason to doubt that the gospel Philip preached to the eunuch was…namely, that one needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ ‘for the remission of sins.’ ” Whatever Philip preached to the eunuch, we know that his gospel was not baptism, but rather it centered on the work of Christ. Paul did not include baptism in his list of facts stated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, and neither should we.

May God grant Mr. Turner the repentance that leads to life (cf. Acts 11:18).

Eis Aphesin Hamartiōn, Part I

Yet, to be fair to Mr. Turner, he did attempt to make an argument in favor of his proposition from the Scriptures (and in my follow up responses, I hope to cover each of these in worthy detail). But we are reminded that Peter who spoke Acts 2:38 also warned in his second epistle that the “untaught and unstable” would distort the Scriptures to their own destruction. False teachers can do amazing things with Scripture; even the devil demonstrated that he was somewhat of a Bible scholar in Matthew 4. In regard to such Scripture twisting, I shall expose one such example now from how Mr. Turner handles Acts 2:38.

First, it should be evident to all that he is very fond of abusing this wonderful verse that is cleaved to by every single Baptist. Based upon his understanding of “for [in order to] the remission of sins,” he uses it over and over again as a starting point or grid through which the rest of the Bible is to be interpreted. (His fallacy here is an abuse of the analogy of faith.) Every other verse in his method must conform to make baptism a prerequisite to salvation because of Acts 2:38. (The grammatico-historical method, however, aims to let each verse of the Bible stand on its own merits and with equal weight.) For example, even though Cornelius was baptized by the Holy Spirit, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, believed the gospel, had his spiritual gift and was a member of the body of Christ (only members of Christ’s body receive spiritual gifts, vide 1 Corinthians 12), he was unsaved until his water baptism. Why? Well, you see, as Mr. Turner explains, he needed to be water baptized “for [in order to] the remission of sins.” So even though he had all of the spiritual blessings that only New Testament Christians receive, he was not saved.

Could it be, Mr. Turner, that you should have remained with the context of Acts 10 for a little while longer before jumping to conclusions with a false understanding of Acts 2:38? Were you not aware that Peter also made reference to how one receives the remission of sins in the same context dealing with Cornelius? Let me refresh your memory—Acts 10:43: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” I know why Cornelius spoke in tongues before he was water baptized. He understood how to get saved and believed the gospel before Peter had a chance to baptize him! Mr. Turner’s fallacy in handling the case of Cornelius is the appeal to selective evidence and he purposely ignores evidence contrary to his proposition by the blatant exclusion of Acts 10:43.

Since Mr. Turner uses Acts 2:38 as a foundation to build an upside-down pyramid for his sacramental theology, all we need to do is debunk his understanding of eis aphesin hamartiōn and his pyramid begins to crumble. His exegetical fallacy in pointing to Matthew 26:28 as justification for his understanding of Acts 2:38 is twofold: (1) assuming that the same prepositional phrase eis aphesin hamartiōn must mean the same thing in different contexts, (2) and collapsing contexts—namely, using Matthew 26:28 and Acts 2:38 together, two verses that have vastly different contexts.

First we deal with the assumption that eis aphesin hamartiōn in Acts 2:38 must mean “in order to obtain forgiveness of sins” because of the meaning determined in Matthew 26:28. There is a very good reason why A.T. Robertson was wise to make a distinction between the different functions of eis aphesin when used in different contexts (Large Grammar, 595). From just spending two hours on BibleWorks with a spreadsheet, I was able to document dozens of verses using eis in synonymous prepositional phrases, and yet I found that the meanings for eis may be entirely different based upon different contexts. To illustrate this frequent New Testament phenomenon, two English sentences suffice:

·        The pupil studied hard for his good grades.

·        The pupil was rewarded for his good grades.

In the first sentence, the meaning of the prepositional phrase “for his good grades” indicates purpose or goal (“in order to obtain good grades”). In the second, it is causal (meaning “because of”) explaining why he was rewarded. Although synonymous in vocabulary, it is an absurdity to assume the meaning of the prepositional phrase in the first sentence means the same thing in the second. The same holds true for Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28. The New Testament provides many such examples:

·        Eis hierosoluma, “unto Jerusalem,” indicates a grounds or basis in Matthew 5:35, motion to a location in 16:21, and rest in a location in Acts 25:15.

·        Eis tēn oikian means “into the house” in Matthew 2:11, but in Mark 10:10 it means “in the house.”

·        Eis gēn means “into the land” in Matthew 2:20, “for the soil” in Luke 14:35, “to the ground” in Luke 24:5, “on the ground” in John 8:6, and “in the land” in Hebrews 11:9.

·        Eis merē indicates motion to a location in Matthew 2:22, but in Revelation 16:19 it indicates a dividing action.

·        Eis tēn basileian tou theou means “into the kingdom of God” in John 3:5, but in Colossians 4:11 it means “for the kingdom of God.”

·        Eis eme means “to/for me” in Matthew 26:10, but in Matthew 18:21 it means “against me.”

·        Eis ton huion tou anthrōpou means “against the Son of Man” in Luke 12:10, but in John 9:35 it means “in the Son of Man.”

This is just a sample of the results I found in my research. I only looked at a small fraction of the occurrences of eis in the New Testament; the preposition appears some 1,800 times altogether. Who knows what I could have found if I had looked at every occurrence or even other prepositions! But I think the point is well made to refute Mr. Turner’s assumption and to vindicate A.T. Robertson’s wisdom. Eis aphesin hamartiōn does not need to mean the same thing in Matthew 26:28 and Acts 2:38. It is customary for eis to take on different meanings in different contexts, even where the vocabulary of the prepositional phrase is synonymous. This fact leads me now to refute his second error by bringing attention to the contexts of Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28.

Fortunately for Mr. Turner, it is true that there is a similarity between Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28. The similarity is in vocabulary. But that’s all folks.

The differences are tremendous. In Matthew 26:28 Jesus is instituting the Lord’s Supper, but Acts 2:38 is the implementation of a different Christian ordinance (baptism). Matthew 26:28 literally states eis aphesin hamartiōn, but Acts 2:38 adds a few more modifiers: eis aphesin tōn hamartiōn humōn (this is a textual matter, but likely the best choice because of older manuscripts). Acts 2:38 has baptism for the remission of sins, but Matthew 26:28 speaks about Christ’s blood and all the richness that this concept entails from the Levitical sacrificial system and Hebrews 10 (in other words, Matthew 26:28 has a different basis for the forgiveness of sins than Acts 2:38). Matthew 26:28 points to the atoning work of Christ, but Acts 2:38 to a human deed of obedience. (Is it possible for man to atone for his own sins?) Matthew 26:28 records the words of Jesus, Acts 2:38 the words of Peter—as everyone knows, different speakers have their own peculiarities. Matthew 26:28 was before the cross, Acts 2:38 after the cross (in case the word “dispensation” conjures up too many negative emotions).

With all of these conspicuous differences, is it safe to assume eis must mean the same thing in each context with no differences? Mr. Turner seems to believe so.

Mr. Turner is guilty of comparing “apples and oranges” in which he concludes that, since both are fruits, they must be the same thing. By comparing Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28 he concludes that, since both mention eis aphesin hamartiōn, they must mean the same thing. Since he does not understand that prepositional phrases are to be interpreted foremost by their immediate context, he should have at least understood that he was pitting Acts 2:38 against John 5:24 and sought to find a more harmonious conclusion.

Clearly, Acts 2:38 and Matthew 26:28 are not a very good parallel on which to settle for one meaning that can fit in every context for eis aphesin hamartiōn. There is virtually no correspondence. Oh, I suppose Mr. Turner could add another similarity and mention that they both are in the New Testament—this is grasping at straws to find correspondence—but the evidence points out that he has only a dogmatic assertion for using Matthew 26:28 in conjunction with Acts 2:38. This is the fallacy of collapsing contexts and demonstrates his disregard for literal interpretation.

Looking Ahead

Since my duty in relation to the proposition is to deny that water baptism is in order to obtain the remission of sins, I am not necessarily obligated to answer Mr. Turner point by point. I will address his arguments when they suit my purposes, but my mission right now is to make a case against works as a means to obtaining salvation. With the next two opportunities that I have to deny this proposition, I intend to exegete the other relevant passages he has presented and to finish my discussion on what the actual interpretation of eis aphesin hamartiōn should be in Acts 2:38. Because of the amount of exegetical detail I am accustomed to presenting, space obviously constrains me from focusing on more issues right now, so the reader is therefore encouraged to be patient as we progress through this discussion.

Allan Turner has two weeks to post his response. As soon as he does, a link to it will be posted here.

Go To Turner’s Second Affirmative

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