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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
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About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Thursday, August 07, 2008
Ephesians 5:26

Translating this as literally as I know how, I get something like:
"In order that He should sanctify it, cleansing [it] by the washing of the water in the saying" - author's translation
I apologize for the wooden nature of my translation, and even the poverty of it for those who have greater skill. I could certainly have used words that were more flowery, or had more English eloquence, but doing so would come at a cost to my understanding of the text.

There are a few things here that need to be understood:

First, one of the words in the text (λουτρω), while it means bathing (to the extent that one washes as one bathes), it also is used elsewhere in a figurative sense to speak of water baptism. That use, coupled with the mention of water, is enough to embolden those who hold strong opinions about baptism, to hijack this text and try and make it say something about baptism -- even if it is clear from the immediate context that Baptism by no means has anything to do with instructing husbands in how they ought to love their wives.

Secondly, we have that word "ρηματι" which means to make a declaration, or to utter a thing - to say something. In English, because we don't speak so much about the process of speaking, and prefer our references rather be tied to what is said - we would typically, and stylistically chose to translate that as "word" - and any quick glance at parallel translations will show that this is the path the majority of translations follows. It therefore can be charged against me that I am an arrogant translator because my translation does not ape the way the majority translate the text.

I confess here that though I probably -am- arrogant, it doesn't feel that way to me. If anything, like most people, I would prefer to keep my opinions and thoughts in line with the majority - then instead of having to look the fool outside the camp - defending and answer for my opinions, I could instead share in the warm glow of the "high fiving" majority. My preference is, of course, to travel the path of ease where I am not discouraged by the friction my opinion produces in others whose own opinion cannot tolerate even a small challenge.

That as may be, I have chosen the words of my translation on purpose - to avoid certain confusions that may spring up because of habitual, English word associations. I have often pined long into the night about how unfortunate it is that we have inherited a tradition of failing to translate the Greek word "baptize". We instead transliterate it - and in doing so we almost erase the original meaning of the word because the transliterated word has an abundance of baggage that is brought with it every time it is used. Should we smell even a hint of the word - many immediately presume the text is speaking of the moment a Christian is baptized into water.

Likewise - words like "saved" suddenly lose all semantic range and only and ever mean "saved from hell" - or even the word "word" itself, which, because Christ is the "logos" and logos can be translated as "word" - causes some to immediately conclude that whenever an English bible uses the noun "word" it is fair game to mystically capitalize the "W" and presume that it also means Christ.

It is this last unfortunate association that drives me to translate ρηματι as "saying" rather than "word". Since I don't want to introduce an opportunity for those who are inclined to this sort of word association (no pun intended), to bring that baggage to the text.

Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, I translate the preposition "εν" in its most simplest, and literal sense: "in" - even though that is rather clumsy stylistically - most translations pick another English word from the semantic range - either "with" or "by" - since the English flows better using either of those words.

There is therefore, even in many of the translations, the building blocks of bias in the text. If I come here with my eyes full of baptism, guess what? I see baptism in the text. I don't deny that certain words within their figurative use have such meaning elsewhere, but I prefer to see first if the text makes perfect sense without imposing such baggage upon it - and then to check if it makes "better" sense to impose the baggage.

Given all that - the text is saying first, that it is Christ who sanctifies the church. I think this much is plain. The problem is the metaphor that Paul works into the text here - "the washing of the water in the saying (declaration)". But before we even consider the metaphor, we need to answer the question about the word "saying"... What is the declaration? What is the saying? What is this utterance, that in it Christ sanctifies the church??

Here we begin the work of interpretation. We ask of the scriptures, "What is there within your frame that speaks of cleansing, and washing - what utterance causes such things?" Then we pour over the texts of scripture, looking for references to cleansing - what causes it? In the OT it is the sacrifices that cleanse - and so if we stopped there we would use reason to conclude that since Jesus replaces the OT sacrifices, that if the blood of bulls cleansed us in the OT it must be the blood of Jesus who cleanses us in the NT, and this is easily bolstered by the abundance of English translations which translate ρηματι as "word" - since Jesus is the "logos/word" - we can make our mystical inference and feel like we have done a fair job of understanding the text.

The problem there is threefold, first, there are references to cleansing in the NT that we are ignoring to draw that conclusion, and second, we are appealing to a mystical connection that is more coincidental than biblical (ρηματι = saying and therefore, more or less = word which = Jesus), and third, we are building upon the certainty that this refers to Jesus, but since the OT refers to the blood of sacrifices, this must refer to the blood of Jesus - which is sort of a theological "smudging" or hashing of things.

That hashing however, is not without some very strong support - consider Hebrews 9:14, "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? ". Here we have a NT reference that has one foot in the OT, and the other in the NT, and concludes that our consciences are cleansed from dead works by the blood of Christ. That has its own interpretational challenges of course. What does it mean to have my conscience cleansed from dead works?

It means, I think. that in the same way a man was defiled in his flesh in the OT (and therefore unfit for temple worship, etc.) by touching a dead thing, and had to be cleansed of that defilement before he was allowed inclusion in "camp" as it were - and that this cleansing involved a blood sacrifice (and the sprinkling of a solution that included the ashes of a red heifer), in the same way, Christ's blood is sufficient to cleanse us from our having touched dead "works" - we are therefore, by virtue of Christ's blood, entitled to inclusion - having been "cleansed" in our flesh by the blood of Christ. In the OT there was no physical change that took place when a person was "cleansed" from defilement - it was symbolic that something had to be done in order to facilitate inclusion - and this something was that Christ had to spill his blood - we who are now the recipients of that spilled blood, not through the symbol, but through the actual - are therefore "cleansed" from the dead works that exclude us, and are able, by that blood, to draw near.

I think that is what is meant in the Hebrews text - that is, the text in Hebrews seems to refer to the blood of Christ's one time sacrifice being applied once to all to cleanse us so that we are included once and for all in the covenant.

The cleansing in Ephesians may well refer to this in part - for Christ has certainly cleansed us - but the text in Ephesians also speaks of Christ making us holy - sanctifying us - not a one timer, but an ongoing thing, which speaks not merely of an inclusive work, but of a progressive work - something that would make sense in the context of a husband loving his wife - it isn't a one time deal, but an ongoing effort to give oneself for one's wife, even as Christ gave himself, and continues to give himself, for the church.

There is another passage in the NT that speaks of cleansing - this time in Acts 15. In fact, it is the exact same Greek word, with an identical parsing - the only other instance of this same parsing in the NT. Here Peter gives an account of how the Gentiles at Cornelius' house were converted, he says in verses 8-9, "And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith." - what did the cleansing here? Faith. Their hearts were cleansed by faith.

Is this what Paul is speaking of - that our hearts are cleansed by something? If so, what do we mean here by hearts? I'll risk this, that hearts here means the same thing as when we say "Let's get to the 'heart' of the matter" - that is, or when we say "with all our heart" - we don't mean the blood pump, nor do we mean merely our emotions, or our mind - but our whole being, or the what is at the core of our selves - that is, what was being cleansed by faith.

Because we drill down a bit - it is good to step back and remember what we are trying to understand here. We are fishing, as it were, for a proper understanding of the word I translated as "saying" - and we are setting about to establish if anything else is cleansed in the NT and if so, what that is, and how it is cleansed in order to gain a better grasp of what this word ought to mean.

If we say that our hearts are cleansed by faith, and if we are open to the idea that this same cleansing is done by Christ - that is recognizing faith not as a power in and of it self, by which cleansing happens, but rather a vehicle through which Christ cleanses - then we may well be open to the notion that Christ is the link between cleansing and faith - and so we recall another link - one pertinent to our verse here in Ephesians, and that link is found in Romans 10:17, "so then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the "saying" of Christ." - I use "saying" again, because it is the same word we find in Ephesians 5:26, - ρηματος.

Faith (and therefore cleansing) comes to us by the declaration of Christ. Even without Ephesians 5:26, we can piece that much together. The thing is, does that knit with Ephesians 5:26, or does it upset it? It seems to me to fit it like a glove.

What is the declaration of Christ? Why it is the declaration of the apostles - it is the gospel, faith comes through it (and thereby justification), likewise sanctification comes through it too. Doesn't this same Paul chastise the Galatians who after having started by faith set about trying to be sanctified by works? Sanctification is by faith - and the message of faith is the gospel message. The same faith that save, when exercised, sanctifies - and if we want to drill down on that - it is really Christ who is sanctifying through the washing of the water in that declaration.

But we have forgotten to unpack the metaphor, haven't we?

The "washing of the water" is a metaphor. Yes, one of the words has a figurative use elsewhere that describes baptism, as I have said previously - but such a notion is foreign to the text, both in the immediate context, and in the surrounding context. The meaning here seems to be a metaphor.

In order to see the metaphor, let's replace it with other metaphors, and forgo the clumsy "saying" and use the noun "word" - without mysticizing a captital "W" into the text:

In order that He should sanctify it, cleansing [it] by that getting-the-job-done-power that is in the word

In order that He should sanctify it, cleansing [it] by the "washing of regeneration" that is in the word

In order that He should sanctify it, cleansing [it] by the pruning power in the word


Do you see that the washing of water in the declaration means only that the declaration carries with it a cleansing ability that is likened to the washing of water? That is, I think all that ought to be read into the text.

Now, why bother here. I mean, why spend all this time nit picking the text - why bother translating it with such literal force? Is the truth encapsulated there so important? Can't we just translate it into a more flowing oratory form of English, and interpret it with no more thought than we might give to a nursery rhyme?

The text is speaking of a profound truth, profound, I say, to anyone who has ever struggled against sin. Do you not here it - Christ is sanctifying His church, and He is doing so through the gospel. He isn't just building His church through the gospel, He is building up His church through the gospel - and there is meat here for those who are starving. For those who are floundering in their faith - wondering how they should "be" Christians - what should they do, what does a right Christian walk look like? How should they conduct themselves?

The answer is bundled here for all to see, if we have eyes and ears for it. Listen: We walk by faith - not because doing so merits something with God - for even if we lived sinlessly we would merit absolutely nothing - we walk by faith because that is the path by which Christ Himself makes us holy.

There is nothing "holy" about an atheist who lives according to perfect "godly" morals - even if he is more moral than every Christian who has ever lived, there is nothing sanctimonious about his morality - since it is not founded upon faith, it does not produce in him anything that makes him fit to be in God's presence. If we want to ascend God's holy hill - that is, if we want to experience real fellowship in the Spirit with God, I am convinced that we must hands that have been cleansed by Christ Himself through our faith. It is not that we do good and our goodness makes us holy - it is that by surrendering our lives to Christ in faith we draw near to Him, and in doing so we partake more of His nature - and like the shining face of Moses, that nearer glimpse of glory stays with us, works in us to draw us closer, and deeper.

In the context, therefore, husbands ought to love their wives in the same way that Christ loves the church - giving Himself for her - by always building her up so that she may be all she is called to be. Paul uses the image of Christ building us up to instruct husbands in how they are to love their wife - there is, in my opinion, no room to inject an argument for the mode of baptism into this text, as some do.

Anyway - that's my brief look at the text. I am a laymen, I am no Greek scholar, nor am I a celebrated thinker - I am just a guy who reads and believes, and tries not to paint new meaning into a text just because I really like the new meaning.

My encouragement to you, dear reader, is that you guard yourself against being a doctrinal fop. You know, someone who can't have an opinion unless your hero has it first - don't adorn your faith in fashionable doctrine just because it is fashionable, and don't always embrace the majority view just because it is the majority view. On judgment day you will have to answer for how you understood scripture, and saying, "well, I believed thus because someone else did, and I thought he was wiser than me" - is not going to cut it with a God who promises to give wisdom directly to anyone and everyone who asks for it personally. So be critical as you read the opinions of others - don't be a fop.


posted by Daniel @ 10:41 AM  
  • At 2:04 PM, August 07, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    I gave up on trying to get rid of all that white space at the top. I don't know why its there - though I suspect blogger is messing with the table definitions.

  • At 8:24 PM, August 07, 2008, Blogger David said…

    <table valign="top">

  • At 7:24 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Nope, that's not it. If I get too bent out of shape I will just redo without the table...

  • At 9:29 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger David said…

    I used to have that problem all the time with Blogger. That always fixed it. Maybe there is hidden sin in your life that you're not confessing.

  • At 9:43 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    If it is hidden, then how can I know about it to confess it? This spiritual stuff is so complex and far reaching...

  • At 9:43 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Unless that white space -is- the hidden sin... or at least the place where the sin was hid... hmm....

  • At 10:18 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger David said…

    You know about it because you're the one hiding it. Your evasiveness suggests guilt. Just come clean, Daniel.

    Maybe you need to add margin attributes.

  • At 10:38 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    As I find myself with a few moments, I shall fiddle...

  • At 10:51 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    There we go.

    For future reference, blogger, in its soul-less, scripted way, attempt to format our "sloppy" html by converting line breaks according to its own dark algorithms.

    As I tend to lay out my tables thus:

    rather than thus:
    <table>  <tr>    <td></td>    <td><td>  <tr><table>

    all those nice, formatted carriage returns were "optimized" by the blogger juggernaut by having them removed from the clutter of my table, and nicely included as vacant line breaks above it.

  • At 11:18 AM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Bryan said…

    I guess blogger is so accustomed to having people who are not programmers write HTML on it that it doesn't know what to do when it sees something properly formatted.

    Anyways, when I get back from my camping trip this weekend I'll write a post on my blog about why I'm not a fop following after heroes on the subject of Baptism. ;)

  • At 12:48 PM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Until then I will regard your fopp-i-ness as standing in jeopardy. ;)

  • At 1:35 PM, August 08, 2008, Blogger David said…

    Right, I forgot about that. You can set your formatting to not convert line breaks, but then you have to manually <br /> them, and that formatting will apply to all posts, so all your previous posts will lose their line breaks.

  • At 1:43 PM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Yeah, I just went in and made it look ugly in the code so that it would look nice in the post, less hassle, but annoying nonetheless.

    Either way, does my handling of the text seem overly biased or arrogant?

  • At 3:21 PM, August 08, 2008, Blogger David said…

    What? Oh, sorry, I didn't actually read the post.

  • At 3:25 PM, August 08, 2008, Blogger David said…

    Just kidding. I don't think so. I don't really feel qualified to say.

  • At 3:35 PM, August 08, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    When I read the text, I confess, I am not trying to be a baptist, or bring in any credobaptist presumptions - I simply see nothing about baptism in the text - it seems so alien to the whole point that is being made, and more still, if one understands the metaphor, one wonders how one could ignore that and impose anything about baptism into the text?

    See here for context...

    It is an intramural discussion really - I have known Byran for years, and he is truly a brilliant young fellow, though something of a doctrinal fop (hehehe Bryan!), while some men are great thinkers, others are good at aping. Bryan may well be both, though he has only ever stood out as the latter. Because I know him personally, I am especially caustic but there is no ill will in it, just in case my ribbing sounds over the top - it is intentionally so. We are both, after all, fans of Luther.

  • At 7:23 PM, August 08, 2008, Blogger David said…

    I don't see baptism in there, either. And, being raised Lutheran, I've been trained to see baptism in every drop of water.

    I was amused to read, after nearly 3000 words, "that's my brief look at the text," knowing you meant it. You crack me up like that.

  • At 10:17 AM, August 10, 2008, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    "In the context, therefore, husbands ought to love their wives in the same way that Christ loves the church - giving Himself for her - by always building her up so that she may be all she is called to be. Paul uses the image of Christ building us up to instruct husbands in how they are to love their wife - there is, in my opinion, no room to inject an argument for the mode of baptism into this text, as some do."

    Actually, I don't think that is what is being said. I agree that water baptism is not in the text. And I would agree that building up is the charge of not only the church but more particularly those in direct lines of authority. But, I would look to what Jesus said in John. He told the disciples that they were sanctified by the word that he spoke to them and prayed likewise. Also, the emphasis is not on the wife but the husband. And not how he treats her, but how he treats himself. When you mentioned Hebrews you began to touch on the issue. Jesus as high priest sanctified himself, such that Ephesians is calling men to sanctify themselves as Jesus so loved his bride. In doing so, the declaration of the word is not merely in word, but also in deed. We as the "high priests" of our own household first "lay down our lives". But, in the case of Jesus he laid down his life in love of the Father, subjugating himself to him, and that is how he loved his wife. In this way the two great commandments are fulfilled, love of God first and love of neighbor flowing from it. Recheck the text, it is on submission to authority, Jesus not being exempt subjected himself to the Word decreed by his Father and proclaiming it sanctified his wife first by santifying himself in his own blood and that is how the blood is applied to us. So too, we as husbands must subjugate ourselves to the Word for our sanctification thus declaring it sanctifies our wives.

  • At 12:55 PM, August 10, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Strong Tower, I don't think I would disagree with any of what you said. If anything I think you understand it correctly and have fleshed out the "how" that I rather poorly passed over. Thanks for that.

  • At 1:16 PM, August 10, 2008, Blogger Strong Tower said…

    By the way, I enjoyed your piece. It gave my wife and I a chance to talk about authority stuff and we didn't even disagree for a change.

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