Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Pitfalls of Verse Against Verse Hermeneutics

I ran across an article the other day on a website called The particular article centered on a question regarding whether the church of Christ is a “good” biblical church. The answer dealt with several different aspects that the author thought were important to the question, but one in particular caught my eye. The third issue identified by the author as being worthy of consideration when it comes to the church of Christ, dealt with baptism and its place in the church.

The article began dealing with this issue by saying, “A third and very important issue is the Church of Christ’s emphasis on baptism as being necessary for salvation. Church of Christ advocates point to Scriptures such as Acts 2:38, John 3:5, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, and Acts 22:16 as biblical evidence that baptism is required for salvation.” So far so good, you will say. The problem comes as the author goes about trying to refute the idea that baptism is part of the gospel and initial entrance into the church. As with so many people who deny the essential nature of baptism and its place within the church, this individual attempted to dismiss the scriptures just cited by setting them against a number of others that seem to indicate that baptism is not part of the initial salvation experience. 

But, before he does that, he makes a rather amazing statement. “There is no denying that baptism is very important. Baptism is intended to be an initial act of obedience to Christ, an illustration of Christ’s death and resurrection, a public declaration of faith in Christ, a step of identification with Him, and a proclamation of desire to follow Him. In the minds of the apostles and early Christians, baptism was so inextricably linked with salvation that the two were viewed as inseparable. The idea that a person could receive Christ as Savior and not be baptized was completely foreign to the early church.” Why do I say this is an amazing statement? For two primary reasons. First, it will come as a surprise to those of us who understand the true function of baptism to hear someone who is not a member of the church of Christ make such a statement. And secondly, and more importantly, because of what is to follow. Notice the outlined portion of the statement; the author acknowledges that receiving Christ without being baptized would be “completely foreign to the early church.” After saying that, however, he will now contradict himself in the very next breath.

With that said, however, baptism is not required for salvation.” Isn’t that unbelievable? Read that statement again in case you think your eyes are deceiving you. He has just told us that receiving Christ without being baptized was unknown to the early church (by the way, he is completely correct, not only scripturally, but historically as well). And yet, he turns right around (and these two sentences follow each other in the article, by the way) and tells us that baptism is not necessary to salvation—and I may add, that if it’s not necessary to salvation then it’s not necessary at all! He goes on to tell us that there are “plausible” ways to interpret the scriptures he cited. Of course there are “plausible” ways to get around them. There are always plausible ways to get around them if that’s your intent. When it comes to the Scriptures, however, the truth is found in its totality and its context. Not in a few isolated scriptures here and there.

What truly is disturbing and disheartening is what follows. "There are many Scriptures that declare salvation to be received by faith / believing, with no mention of baptism or any other requirement (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). If baptism is necessary for salvation, these Scriptures are in error and the Bible is contradictory.” Here’s an individual who presumably is a Christian and who professes to know the truth, basically handling the Word of Truth in a shoddy and haphazard manner. You would expect such a thing from an unbeliever who is out to “prove” that the Bible contradicts itself. But you would not expect it from someone who supposedly knows the truth. That is one of the reasons the internet is such a dangerous place. You have all kinds of uninformed people speaking as with authority about matters of which they have very little knowledge.

If the scriptures mentioned in the paragraph above contradict the ones he mentioned before, then we all might as well put the whole thing in the trash and give up our faith. We’re not ready to do so, however, because this is a complete and utter fallacy that speaks about the lack of knowledge of the article’s author and not to the lack of veracity of the Bible. God’s revelation was given in stages. Thus, all doctrinal issues are not treated in every letter or gospel; and, obviously, not every verse. If that were the case, then there would not be a need to have the 27 books we do have. Unless we take the New Testament as a whole, then we’ll be setting one scripture against another and we’ll never be able to make heads or tails of anything in the revelation of God. Just to mention but one problem with this individual’s approach: the scriptures he mentions do not address repentance. Yet, I’m sure he will not accept anyone claiming they do not need to repent to be saved (many today are of such a mind; we call them “free gracers”).

Thus, the moral of the story is that we need to take the Bible as whole, in the way that God intended it to be taken. If He had wanted us to have one single letter or gospel, He would have given us one single letter or gospel. But the fact is that He gave us 27 books and that each of those books adds something to the body of doctrine that was “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). May God bless us as we seek to learn his revelation and be faithful to it.


  1. Thanks, Mike! I seem to recall having run across this article before, too, and like you was very surprised to see the author write this: "In the minds of the apostles and early Christians, baptism was so inextricably linked with salvation that the two were viewed as inseparable. The idea that a person could receive Christ as Savior and not be baptized was completely foreign to the early church" and then turn around and completely contradict himself. It is amazing what logic people will resort to in an effort to extricate themselves from doctrines they simply do not like.

    1. Mark,
      It really boggles the mind when people do this. You're left to wonder if they really were reading what they were writing as they wrote it. Sometimes our traditions and ideas about what we think the Bible says, are stronger than our exegesis of what it actually says. It seems to me that so many go to tremendous lengths to try and refute what the Bible says, that they end up using more energy doing so than if they just believed it in the first place. This is, as with the Jews of the Old Testament, a cautionary tale for us. Thanks for your comments.