Definition Gate Keepers

by Barry Newton

“As long as Darwinists control the definitions of the key terms, their system is unbeatable regardless of the evidence.”/1 The principle about axioms which lies behind this memorable quote is equally true in Biblical studies.

As long as “sinner’s prayer” proponents control the definitions of key terms like faith and works, for them their dogmatic system will be unbeatable regardless of what the biblical text teaches. Sure cherry picking will occur and certain biblical texts will become difficult to understand. The editors of IVP’s “Hard Sayings of the Bible” felt compelled to include Acts 2:38 as a difficult text because it connects baptism with the forgiveness of sins.

So where should definitions come from? A student should inductively learn what an author means by a word primarily through the author’s usage and then secondarily through the author’s contemporary context. When a student imposes his or her own understanding upon a biblical word, whatever message he or she might proclaim could contain biblical words, but it will not be completely biblical.

The following definitions might appear novel to some. I would suggest they represent biblical usage. To move from what may be more obvious to the sublime, we have:
Baptism (with water) – The plunging and immersion achieved by causing a burial followed by a raising up. This stands in contrast to the practices of sprinkling or pouring.
Works (when used negatively by Paul) – Self-reliance in seeking to obey God’s Law given through Moses. This is different than the broader category of “doing something.”
Faith – Active trust and confidence.

Examples of usage: When the object of faith involved God extending an unconditional promise, trust blossomed into being when Abraham merely believed.
When Christ is the object of faith for salvation, trust erupts into existence when we respond to Christ in baptism. This differs from the unsubstantiated claim that inviting Jesus into our heart through the sinner’s prayer or signing a decision card constitutes biblical faith in Christ.

To the credit of the editors of “Hard Sayings of the Bible,” they acknowledged that in the New Testament baptism “is how one expresses faith.”/2 They also acknowledged, “The reason that Peter’s statement in Acts seems so strange to us is that in the modern church we sometimes do things differently.”/3

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1/ Johnson, “Objections Sustained” (IVP: 1998), p. 19.

2/ Kaiser, Davids, Bruce, Brauch, “Hard Sayings of the Bible” (IVP:1996), p. 514.

3/ Kaiser, p. 515.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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