Ephesians 2:8, Comedy and Baptism

In that 1930’s and 40’s classic burlesque routine, “Who’s on First?” Abbot accurately quoted Costello many times. To Costello’s question, “Who’s on first,” Abbot would retort, “That’s what I am saying. Who’s on first?”

Asserting that Ephesians 2:8, dispenses with the necessity of baptism might very well cause us to mimic Abbott in this classic comedy skit. Only this time it is not funny.

Just as Abbot and Costello may have pronounced the exact same words but intended entirely different messages from each other, so too people could parrot Paul while proclaiming their own perspective.

To accurately perceive whether or not we occupy Abbot’s shoes, a willingness must exist to carefully consider how the apostle defined his key words in the statement: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NET).

While Paul certainly understood that a saving faith requires belief (Romans 10:9), he also described this response to the gospel with more robust terms such as the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5;16:26) and obeying the message from one’s heart (Romans 6:17-18). Specifically, he explained that expressing a saving faith in Christ entailed confessing Christ (Romans 10:8-10) and being baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).

For Paul, a person expresses his or her trust in Christ by believing the gospel’s claims about Christ, confessing him and being baptized. Paul’s notion of faith did not eliminate either verbal or physical actions to rely upon Christ.

To avoid the Abbot syndrome, we need to recognize Paul’s understanding of saving faith encompassed more than just relying upon Christ through believing in him.
While it may be that in Ephesians 2:8, Paul spoke about our reliance upon Christ as saving us, there is another possibility which seems even more probable.

In Ephesians 3:12, Paul pops off seemingly out of the blue proclaiming that those in Christ have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faith. Is this statement really so unanticipated? Could it be that he had in mind Christ’s faith when he wrote that we are saved by faith?

Considering that Paul’s actual statement in Ephesians 2:8 is: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,” the possibility that Paul had Christ’s faith in view seems more than just plausible.

In either case whether Paul had in mind Christ’s faith or our faith in Christ, to merely quote Ephesians 2:8 as proof that baptism is not required for someone to respond to Christ echoes Abbot’s, “That’s what I am saying. Who’s on first?” For Abbot to understand Costello, there must be a willingness to consider Costello’s definitions.

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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 have two boys attending university.

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2 thoughts on “Ephesians 2:8, Comedy and Baptism

  1. I love every article but I do have a problem with some of the translations that are used. While some verses in questionable translation probably “clarify” some verses to more modern day language, how do I know that what sounds good in those verses in particular (those in the article above) and then explain why we can’t use it with others (e.g., Psalm 51). Were we born sinners? Of course not, but that is what is taught in the NET, NIV, CEV, et al. Maybe I just need to learn Greek. 😉
    Believe me when I say that I’m not saying this through hateful fingers. Just a concern.
    God Bless.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. My experience continues to verify the words of a professor long ago who said that all translations have their strengths and weaknesses.
    What strategies can help us separate the wheat from the chaff without falling victim to the danger of identifying as wheat what we already happen to accept?
    Here’s a few initial ideas:
    Study from a variety of good translations. And then when they might differ seek to discover why.
    Read the preface of a Bible to discover the translation philosophy, their targeted audience, motivation for creating the translation, etc.
    Translations made by members from diverse Christian traditions tend to have a checks and balances dynamic keeping the translators more honest.
    Become familiar with what theological perspective a publishing house is likely to promote.
    Oh and of course, learning the original languages is a tremendous help. 🙂

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