Monday, October 7, 2019

What is the Bible?: The Patristic Doctrine of Scripture [Review]

What is the Bible?: The Patristic Doctrine of Scripture.ed. Matthew Baker & Mark Mourachian.(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 224 pp.

With the contemporary shift away from modernist/Enlightenment-influenced exegetical and hermeneutical practices,1 contemporary theologians are revisiting the works of their theological forebears. Studies on the exegetical and hermeneutical practices of the church fathers are numerous, but a definitive look at patristic bibliology is lacking. What is the Bible?: The Patristic Doctrine of Scripture aims to supply substantive information in this area by carefully examining the writings of several eastern patristic authors. What is more, however, the book aims to show the effect that these writers have had on recent theologians. Thus, the book is divided into two parts. The first covers “Approaches [to Bibliology] in the Christ East” dealing with the doctrine of Scripture as it appears in the writings of Origen of Alexandria, the so-called “Desert Fathers,” Ephraim the Syrian, John Chrysostom, Saint Maximus the Confessor, and others. The second part covers “Modern Approaches [to Bibliology] Inspired by the Fathers,” detailing the work of George Florovsky, Justin Popovic, and T.F. Torrance, ending with a brief history of modern biblical criticism.

One of the things that is helpful about this book is the several needed corrections it brings to discussions about the interpretive methods of Origen and Chrysostom, men who are typically set in diametrical opposition to one another as regards their understanding of the nature of Scripture and how it is to be read. Origen is typically painted as a wild-eyed allegorist who has no regard for grammatical-historical exegesis, who sees the Scripture as putty to be made into whatever the interpreter desires. However, this is not the case. Origen did engage in fanciful exegesis, if allegorical interpretation of his kind can justly be called exegesis, but this was only part of his interpretive process. For Origen, the Scriptures were tripartite, mirroring the composition of man and, by implication, the Trinity, being comprised of a body (the grammatical-historical meaning of the text), soul (the ethical/moral meaning of the text), and spirit (the anagogical meaning of the text). Just as the body and the soul and the spirit of man are intended to be in harmony with one another, so too the body and soul and spirit of the Scriptures are to be in harmony with one another.

In contrast to Origen, Chrysostom is often painted as a forerunner to more contemporary methods of grammatical-historical exegesis. However, this is not the case, given that Chrysostom allows for typological, allegorical, and speculative interpretations of the Bible. For Chrysostom, the Scriptures employ the gamut of available literary forms and techniques, being a divinely inspired but historically-humanly written set of texts, to convey their “literal” meaning. Rather than being devoted to a woodenly literal interpretation of the Scripture, in other words, Chrysostom believed that the “literal” interpretation of a text was the meaning which a text was conveying by whatever literary devices it employed.

In addition to clarifying the thinking of such historically important figures in church history, What is the Bible? also grants us insight into how the other patristic authors viewed Scripture. Whereas Origen’s doctrine of Scripture viewed it almost as a tiered ladder from the physical realm into the heavenly throne room where God dwells in unapproachable light, and Chrysostom’s doctrine of Scripture viewed it less mystically and more practically, the desert fathers understood the Scriptures to be an immeasurably deep pool of divine wisdom only the seriously minded devotee could properly draw from. Scripture was not an object to study like any other, but an infinitely meaningful revelation from God that must be approached with ever increasing degrees of reverence.   This understanding stands in contrast to that of Ephraim the Syrian’s view which centers around the two natures of the Scripture, divine and human, which correspond to the two natures in Christ. Just as the two natures in Christ are distinct but inseparably united in the hypostatic union, so too the two natures of the Scripture are inseparably united. Scripture is to be interpreted, therefore, in light of the union and intercommunication of its two natures. For Maximus the Confessor, the Scriptures are to be understood as the transfiguration of Christ is to be understood – namely, as a simultaneous unveiling and veiling of the glory of God in Christ. And for the Philokalia, a collection of mystical reflections on Christian spirituality, the Scriptures are an ineffable Divine Mystery.

Although these various bibliological approaches differ in many respects, they all agree that Scripture is fully divine and full human and, therefore, should be interpreted in that manner. In a post-postmodern setting as our own, this strikes a loud note of discord. The Scriptures are not to be viewed as inescapably bound up with ideologies seeking to establish or demolish institutions of power. The Scriptures are the communication of God to man, whose center is the Eternal Son of God. Scripture is given a high place of reverence in all matters of human life, to the end that human life reflects the person and work of Christ. These views come as a breath of fresh air in an academic context that is stifled by years of irreverent critical scholarship intent on destroying the divinity, humanity, and the unity between the divinity and humanity of the Scriptures.

Because of the book’s valorization of Eastern orthodoxy, however, it has several problems. Firstly, it praises the mysticism of the so-called desert fathers, a mysticism that has in the past decade or so been resurrected by none other than the evangelical late-comers to postmodernism called the Emergent Church. The nascent anti-intellectualism of the desert fathers only served to exacerbate the growing trend of anti-intellectualism found among a younger generation of professing Christians. Not only this, but What is the Bible? fails to correctly assess and address Protestant bibliogies which actually have much in common with that of the early Eastern and Western fathers. The book misrepresents Protestants as rationalistic interpreters of Scripture, when this is precisely what Luther and his Reformed progeny sought to fight against. Protestantism is neither rationalistic nor mystical, it is Scriptural. Scripture is not a book like any other, but a divine and human book whose content reveals historical and theological, mundane and supernatural, and utterly transcendent and utterly concrete realities to its readers, all of which center around the person and work of the second person of the Holy Trinity.

Although the interested reader can glean a lot of good historical information from What is the Bible?, and scholarly researchers of the church’s view of Scripture over time would do well to consult its entries on Origen, Chrysostom, and Maximus the Confessor, the average reader may not find this book to be very profitable. Given its narrow range of materials (i.e. dealing only with Eastern authors), its treatment of all of the authors it deals with as if they shared an identical set of theological presuppositions and doctrinal dispositions (a problem one encounters in the works of Romanist authors as well, given as they are committed to their understanding of authoritative church “tradition”), and its valorization of Eastern orthodoxy (which teaches a false Gospel of salvation by faith and works, and denies the foundational doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement), this book is more problematic than it is useful. Beyond scholarly and purely research related reading it is not recommended by the present writer.

1 For an informative introductory look at this developing trend, see Smith, Brandon D. “Church Grammar.” Podcast audio. Craig Carter on the Church Fathers, Premodern Exegesis, and Platonism.
B&H Academic, Christian Standard Bible. June 14, 2019.

Friday, September 27, 2019

On the Logic of the Biblical Counseling Movement & the Question of Accreditation

by Michael R. Burgos

A Holy Insurgency

An insurgent movement seeks to invalidate and dethrone an established occupier. Insurgencies are almost always grassroots; a rebellion by everyday visionaries against systemic wrongdoing. From its inception, the biblical counseling movement has been a theological insurgency. It has sought to restore the church’s understanding of counseling as an intrinsically theological task for which the Scripture is sufficient. The biblical counseling movement has simultaneously sought to refute the psychotherapeutic establishment and integrationist counterinsurgency.

Key to the success of any insurgent movement is the establishment of new institutions which serve to herald and pursue the cause. In the case of the biblical counseling movement, many new institutions have been formed. These include accrediting bodies which have set ethical and theological standards for the practice of biblical counseling. Chief among these accrediting institutions is The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). By design, the certification ACBC offers is not recognized by any governmental agency. There is no sanctioning body which has granted validity to ACBC. Rather, ACBC looks to local churches and other Christian ministries to recognize its credibility. In so doing, ACBC has intentionally bucked the bureaucratic expectations of our culture. It has, upon the basis of the Lordship of King Jesus, set up shop on biblical terms. Whereas Licensed Professional Counselors and Licensed Mental Health Counselors depend upon the state to approve their labor, ACBC and the biblical counseling movement has sought the approval of heaven.

The logic of ACBC (or any other biblical counseling certifying body) as an institution is clear. ACBC has effectively repudiated secular counseling accreditation as even relevant.1 Just as the Lord’s Supper and the public exposition of the Word of God resides within the jurisdiction of the local church, so does the cure of souls. There is neither a need nor a basis for governmental oversight or approval in these matters. Rather, the authority for ministry is bound up in the charter given by Christ to his people.2

Honor the Lord Your FAFSA…

Inasmuch as counseling is the prerogative of God’s people, so is theological education and ministerial training. In our day, most who desire to enter into vocational ministry first attend either a Bible college or seminary (or both). This formalized training comes at a price, as the average MDiv costs upwards of $45,000.3 Fortunately, most conservative seminaries accept federal student loans such that seminarians may become enslaved4 to the federal government just prior to entering the ministry.

Truly, the vast majority of conservative Protestant seminaries would not exist were it not for federal money. Those seminaries who reject Caesar’s cash derive much of their funding from tax exempt local churches—as it should be.5 In order for a Bible college or seminary to lay claim to federal money, that school must become accredited by either a regional or national accreditor that is recognized by either the U. S. Department of Education (DOE) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).6 So too, there are other reasons institutions seek accreditation. For example, recognized accreditation is a form of statist approval, without which, an institution is generally considered illegitimate at best. Jamin Hübner has observed, “Higher-education in the ‘developed’ world, whether religious or not, tends to be arranged to favor education that is validated by a government.”7 Subsequently, “Accreditors generally function as an arm of the state.”8

Accreditation says almost nothing about academic rigor, let alone an institution’s fidelity to Scripture.9 Consider Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York City. UTS has regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, as well as national accreditation from The Association of Theological Schools. While UTS has the most prestigious accreditation possible, the education it affords is a morass of unbelief.

While most equate “accredited” with “legitimate,” achieving accreditation merely reveals a school’s conformity to the administrative and financial expectations of the accreditor, and by extension, the federal government. Recognized accreditation cannot answer the questions most students might ask of a Bible college or seminary: “Is the faculty faithful unto God?,” “Is the curricula effective and God-honoring?,” “Will I receive the best training here?,” or “Will an education at this school prepare me for the mission field?”

Any doubt about government control through recognized accreditors should have evaporated when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) implied that Gordon College’s policy on homosexual practice was out of step with its accreditation standards.10 A similar example can be seen in the treatment of the Master’s University by one of its accreditors, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). WASC has sought to enforce ethical standards and practices upon Master’s,11 just as with NEASC and Gordon College. One would expect a Christian institution to form its ethical practices upon the basis of a Christian worldview rather than the transient mores of a regional accreditor.


In the same way that biblical counseling movement usurped the status quo for its certification, rejecting state approval, Bible colleges and seminaries ought to do the same when it comes to the issue of accreditation. To jettison accreditation is, admittedly, to destroy an institution’s credibility in the sight of the secular world. But, our loyalties were never with this world. Not only would renouncing recognized accreditation vastly reduce the costs of operation for most schools, it would also emphasize evaluation upon a different criteria: The education itself. Shouldn’t our desire be for local churches to validate an institution?

There are signs within conservative Protestantism that the stigma associated with an education from an unaccredited seminary or Bible college is fading, especially among Reformed evangelicals. This is due in part to a number of highly regarded teachers and authors who have emerged with training from unaccredited institutions. For example, the late R. C. Sproul, while possessing a variety of degrees from accredited schools, also possessed an earned Ph.D. from Whitefield Theological Seminary.12 George Scipione, one of the founding fathers of the biblical counseling movement, also possesses a Ph.D. from Whitefield.13 James R. White possesses several degrees from conventionally accredited institutions, as well as several advanced degrees from Columbia Evangelical Seminary.14 Elyse Fitzpatrick, known for her work within the biblical counseling movement, has an M.A. in biblical counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary.15 Mark Shaw, an authority on addiction and biblical counseling, possesses a D.Min. from Birmingham Theological Seminary.16 Aside from the institutions mentioned above, there are a variety of other credible and faithful unaccredited seminaries have already been well established. These include Reformation Bible College, Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Forge Theological Seminary, Master’s International School of Divinity, Reformed Baptist Seminary, Reformation International Theological Seminary, and The North American Reformed Seminary.17

Both Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Birmingham Theological Seminary claim accreditation from an unrecognized accreditor, namely, the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries (ARTS). While there are many unrecognized accreditors and accreditation mills which have engage in some obviously spurious practices,18 ARTS is not an accreditation mill. It is a genuine and thought through attempt at a distinctly Christian non-governmental accreditation.

Some have argued that all unrecognized accreditors are necessarily illegitimate, or even “worthless,” as in the case of Rick Walston.19 Walston has argued that if accreditation isn’t recognized, it isn’t real. Such a view gives away the store—subjugating theological institutions to the approval of the state by implication. If through recognized accreditation, the government is the only entity that can genuinely vouch for the credibility and legitimacy of an institution, then the government serves as the gatekeeper of higher education.20 Walston’s view is the statist view: unaccredited seminaries and Bible colleges must be satisfied with no external validation of their education and any attempt to form a Christian accreditor which de-legitimizes the role of the state is immoral. By contrast, if we recognize the division of labor between state and church, there exists no good reason to trust the government to validate theological education and any accreditation should come from the body of Christ. This is the logic of ACBC, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and it is the logic behind ARTS.

Insurgency: A Way Forward

Just as ACBC blazed a trail and established its own certification using biblical parameters, Christian colleges and universities ought to do the same. Key to the de-stigmatization of legitimate Christian Bible colleges and seminaries which lack recognized accreditation is transparency. Unaccredited Christian schools should always reveal their faculty, method of education, and they should clearly and unapologetically reveal their syllabi from the outset. Schools should also make all theses and dissertations available to the public. Unaccredited institutions should not hide the fact that they reject recognized accreditation. Rather, schools should treat their lack of accreditation as a badge of honor. A great way to divulge an institution’s commitment to biblical fidelity is to say, “We reject approval from governmental accreditors and are seeking the approval of Christ through his church.” Further, reciprocity agreements between institutions which share a theological vision will further serve to grant prospective students a real means of evaluation.

See “Statement on Licensure,” Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, (2019):
Matt. 28:19.
3According to the Association of Theological Schools, the preeminent national accreditor for seminaries, the average tuition cost for MDiv students per year was $15,442 in 2018-19. Conventional MDiv programs are three years of graduate study (i.e., 90 credit hours). Association of Theological Schools Commission on Accrediting, “2018 - 2019 Annual Data Tables,” (2019): 4.1.
Prov. 22:7.
e.g., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
There are other reasons institutions seek recognized accreditation, including the illegality in some states of operating an unaccredited institution of post-secondary education. For instance, in my home state of CT, there is not a religious exemption clause for a degree-granting non-accredited Bible institute or seminary.
Jamin Hübner, “Obstacles to Change: Overcoming Hurdles of the State Apparatus in Higher Education,” in Journal of Religious Leadership, 16.1, (2017): 21. Walston wrote similarly, “Quite simply, accreditation is validation.” Rick Walston, Walston’s Guide to Christian Distance Learning, 5th Ed. (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2007), 64. See also Susan D. Phillips, Kevin Kinser eds., Accreditation on the Edge: Challenging Quality Assurance in Higher Education (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2018), 233-4.
Hübner, “Obstacles to Change,” 22.
This is true even of what is arguably the most evangelical of recognized accreditors, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
10 David French, “Gordon College Keeps Its Faith and Its Accreditation,” National Review, (2015):
12 “Dr. R. C. Sproul,” Ligonier Ministries,
13 “Dr. George Scipione,” Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary,
14 “James R. White,” Columbia Evangelical Seminary,
15 “About,” Elyse Fitzpatrick,
16 “Mark E. Shaw,” Truth in Love Ministries, 
17 Two of the listed institutions, namely, the North American Reformed Seminary and Forge Theological Seminary do not charge for tuition. 
18 e.g., the Accrediting Commission International (ACI), which is the recapitulation of the now defunct International Accrediting Commission, which was shut down for fraud by the Attorney General of Missouri in 1989. See Walson, 87. ACI “accredits” Bible colleges and seminaries even if they teach cultic doctrine. For example, ACI accredits Atlanta Bible College, the undergraduate institution of a non-trinitarian restorationist cult. 
19 Walston, 66.
20 See Blumenstyk’s statement, “Accreditors are hugely powerful gatekeepers,” in Hübner, “Obstacles to Change,” 22.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Montoya's Return: A Consideration of Acts 2:38 and Oneness Pentecostalism

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Most adults who were reared in the 1980s recognize that line from the novel come cult classic, The Princess Bride (1987). Inigo Montoya’s humble rebuke of Vizzini’s misuse of the term “inconceivable” gained traction in living rooms across America and consequently secured a memorable place in pop culture history.

In light of the emphasis placed upon Acts 2:38 by Oneness Pentecostals, I am compelled to invoke Montoya’s reply. Oneness interpreters harmonize Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 by interpreting the ὄνομα of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the ὄνομα of Jesus.1On the Oneness view, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the name of Jesus. This harmonization is what sparked the Oneness movement under the guise of a “revelation,”2 and it continues to be a crucial and universal interpretive principle within Oneness theology, christology, and soteriology.

A second consideration related to Acts 2:38 is whether water baptism is necessary in order to receive the forgiveness of sins. Although not universal among all Oneness adherents, the largest denominational expression of Oneness Pentecostalism3 holds that Acts 2:38 is the salvific plan of God en toto, and that baptism and the subsequent reception of the Spirit with the evidence of tongues is necessary for salvation. However, this view, as well as the Oneness understanding of baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ,” runs into severe exegetical, logical, and theological problems. In order to address these concerns, I have provided an exegesis of Acts 2:38 and a consideration of Oneness Pentecostal teaching on this text.

And Peter said to them: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)4
Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε φησὶν καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦεἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος· (Πραθεις Αποστολων 2:38)5
Peter’s Spirit-empowered sermon convicted his listeners such that they were “pierced through the heart.”6 After hearing about their involvement in the crucifixion of Christ and his subsequent resurrection from the dead, the crowd asked, “What shall we do brothers?” Peter’s reply is the concise imperative: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” Luke placed the verb “repent” prior to φησὶν,7 giving emphasis not upon baptism, but repentance. The two verbs μετανοήσατε and βαπτισθήτω are joined by the conjunction, but do not grammatically accord since βαπτισθήτω is singular and μετανοήσατε is plural. Some interpreters have sought to capitalize on this abnormality, suggesting that “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” is a parenthetical command that does not result in the forgiveness of sins.8 In this way, interpreters have attempted to neutralize any ground for believing that baptism is necessary to obtain the forgiveness of sins. The difficulty with this view is that it ignores the function of the pronominal adjective ἕκαστος as it is joined to the plural genitive ὑμῶν. So too, the plural pronoun in “for the forgiveness of your sins” indicates that there is a group under consideration.9 Thus, while βαπτισθήτω is grammatically singular, both verbs are intended to be understood as plural in force.

The preposition ἐπὶ takes the dative, giving the familiar “in the name of Jesus Christ..”10 The preposition can easily take the meaning “in,” but Acts 2:38 is the only place ἐπὶ occurs within the “in the name of…” construction in the NT.11 Since the two verbs are joined by a conjunction, it is possible to take “in the name of Jesus Christ” as modifying both repentance and baptism. That is, Peter may not have told his audience to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ only, but also to repent in the name of Jesus Christ. This alone would divulge that a baptismal invocation or formula is not in view. One doesn’t say “Vacuum and take out the trash, each one of you, in the morning,” if what one means is that the floors can be left dirty until the afternoon.

1 Corinthians 6:11 uses “in the name of…” in this manner:
καὶ ταῦτα τίνες ἦτε· ἀλλὰ ἀπελούσασθε ἀλλὰ ἡγιάσθητε ἀλλὰ ἐδικαιώθητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν. (Α Κορ. 6:11)  
And this is how some of you were; but you were washed, but you were made holy, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11)
Paul intended his readers to understand that the entirety of the work that comprised their salvation was done in the name of Jesus and in the Spirit. Weighing against taking “in the name of Jesus Christ” as modifying the two verbs are the other baptism “in the name of Jesus” texts in Acts.12 

Oneness interpreters merely assume that Peter is telling his audience under what oral invocation they ought to be baptized. Such a view is unlikely because the passive βαπτισθήτω indicates that the baptizands were commanded to receive baptism rather than baptize themselves. While it is possible that Peter is telling his hearers to invoke the name of Jesus during repentance and baptism as in Acts 22:16 (“Rise up, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling his name”), a formal invocation by the baptizer is not intended here. One may call upon the name of the Lord without speaking a word. Oneness Pentecostal baptizands don’t invoke the name of Jesus in their own baptism. Rather, the invocation comes from the lips of the baptizer.

If not a baptismal formula, then what does Peter mean by “in the name of Jesus Christ”? At times, when Luke describes an imperative such as Acts 2:38, the phrase “in the name of Jesus” is intended to modify the command and not the commanded action. That is, when the phrase “in the name of Jesus” or any variation thereof is utilized in a description that has imperatival force, the phrase often modifies the command being given and not the action ordered. Take for example Peter’s healing of the lame beggar in Acts 3:1-10. Peter commanded, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (v. 6). Similarly, in Acts 10:48 Luke records Peter’s response to the Spirit-filled Gentiles: “And he commanded them in the name of Jesus Christ to be baptized.”13 When Paul encounters the possessed slave girl in Acts 16, he exorcised the demon saying: “I command you in the name of Jesus come out from her!”14 It is possible that Peter is issuing the command to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. However, given the other uses of this phrase in baptism texts, it is also possible that it modifies βαπτίζω and thus indicates the kind or quality of baptism that ought to have taken place.

The “in/into the name of…” expression occurs outside of baptism texts in the NT and has a considerable background within the Septuagint.15 There are many places within the Septuagint that describe doing something “in the name of the Lord” without any sense of an actual oral invocation in the action itself.16 Outside of an explicit oracle, prophecy, or prayer,17 there is no reason to believe that any action “in the name of” the Lord requires the actor to orally invoke God’s name. Rather, the expression “in the name of the Lord” is intended to identify the nature of the action and the one who established it. For instance, when a Levite is described as ministering “in the name of Yahweh,”18 he isn’t invoking the name Yahweh every other moment. When the psalmist declares his trust “in the name of Yahweh our God,”19 he is not suggesting that his trust consists of an actual oral invocation of the name. Instead, the name of Yahweh is a circumlocution for his person, work, and at times, the presence of Yahweh:
May Yahweh answer you in the day of trouble. May the name of Jacob’s God defend you. (Psa. 20:7) 
Look! The name of Yahweh comes from afar, burning with his anger… (Isa. 30:27)
To do something “in the name of Jesus Christ,” isn’t merely to invoke his name, but to engage in an activity which derives from the acknowledgement of his Lordship and person. Such an understanding is the only means unto explaining the broad uses of the phrase in the NT. When John writes his gospel so that you might believe and “have life in his name,”20 he is writing so that your life may subsist in the substance of the Lordship of Christ and what he has accomplished for you. When the Sanhedrin prohibits Peter and John from speaking or teaching “in the name of Jesus,”21 they were outlawing any teaching about his person and work. Therefore, to be baptized in the name of Jesus is not merely to have the name of Jesus invoked while one is immersed. Instead, it is to submit to the command of Christ,22 recognizing that it is by his person and work any peace with God is achieved.

The above interpretation is further demonstrated within Acts 19:1-5. Within that pericope, Paul and Apollos cut through the backcountry of Corinth and came upon some disciples in Ephesus (v. 1). Paul questioned these disciples, asking if that had received the Spirit of God, and they hadn’t (v. 2). Paul then asked, “Into what were you baptized?” (v. 3).23 The disciples responded, “Into the baptism of John.”24 After explaining the nature of John’s baptism, Paul and Apollos baptized these disciples “Into the name of Jesus Christ” (v. 5). As a baptism for repentance, John’s baptism was a preparatory type of the coming salvation in the resurrected Lord. To be baptized into Jesus then, is not to invoke the name of Christ, but to be united with him in his death, burial, and resurrection. This is precisely the manner in which Paul thinks about baptism within Romans 6:3-8. Baptism is the work of God through the body of Christ (i.e., the baptizer), wherein God receives the baptizand into union with Christ—hence the phrase “in Christ” as it appears within the Pauline corpus.25 Since one receives baptism by a member of the church, it is an action by Christ through the means of his body. Bavinck concluded,
The expression “in the name of Jesus” is not meant as a formula but a description of the character of Christian baptism. Upon their departure into Egypt, the Israelites let themselves be baptized—in the cloud and in the sea—“into Moses,” in relation to Moses, so that they recognized him as their savior and redeemer, placed their trust in him, and let themselves be guided by him. The disciples at Ephesus were baptized “into John’s baptism” and by it had joined the community of John the Baptist. So also Christian baptism is and is called baptism in or into the name of Jesus because he adopts believers into his fellowship and directs them to put all their trust in him alone.26
Repentance and baptism is εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν. There has been considerable debate regarding the relationship of the imperatives “repent” and “be baptized” and “for the forgiveness of sins.”27 As it relates to Oneness Pentecostals (and sacramentalists), the question is whether εἰς functions consecutively (having the force of “in order to receive” or “for obtaining” the forgiveness of sins), or if it is to be understood as referential (having the force of “on account of” or “because of”).28 The Oneness Pentecostal viewpoint has historically been titled “baptismal regeneration,” but this title is a misnomer when applied to Oneness Pentecostals since they believe not only in baptismal regeneration, but baptismal justification as well, when joined with the reception of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of tongues:
Since justification comes through faith, it occurs when a person fully exercises saving faith… Therefore, the full work of justification comes by faith as one repents, is water baptized in Jesus’ name, and receives the Holy Spirit.29
Much of the argumentation on the relationship of these verbs to the forgiveness of sins, however, seeks to provide a solution where a problem doesn’t exist. First, the operative verb in this verse is repentance. Consider the statement, “Whoever believes and is baptized will have the forgiveness of sins.”30 This sort of statement says nothing about the necessity of baptism, only the outcome of faith and baptism. Similarly, that Peter commands both repentance and baptism does not necessarily mean that baptism itself affects the forgiveness of sins, but that baptism and repentance result in the receipt of forgiveness. Such a claim is the unanimous affirmation of catholic Christianity. That is, because repentance and baptism are linked in this verse, it cannot be said upon the basis of Acts 2:38 that baptism is a requirement for salvation. Moreover, repentance (and faith in Christ by implication) is shown to be essential for salvation in Scripture ad infinitum.31 Therefore, since repentance is salvific, baptism doesn’t need to be in order for εἰς to mean “in order to receive.” Whether one takes εἰς as “in order to receive” or “on account of,” there is no grammatical or theological reason to believe baptism is a requirement for salvation. Rather, only one of the verbs needs to be salvific for εἰς to mean “in order to receive.”32

Second, βαπτισθήτω is passive, indicating that one doesn’t baptize himself, but that one receives baptism from an agent of the church. Thus, to insist that one must be baptized to be saved is a bit like saying they must be employee of the month in order to receive their paycheck. Whether one is baptized is up to the agent doing the baptizing, as well as other environmental factors (e.g., the presence of water sufficient for baptism). Clearly, there are texts within the NT which identify the salvation of persons outside of baptism, both before the institution of the ordinance by Christ33 and after.34

Third, Acts 2:38 is a narrative. While there can be didactic portions of a narrative and certainly didactic implications, the main teaching on a principle doctrine like soteriology ought to come from a didactic text and not a narrative. This is especially true if the reading of that narrative conflicts with the balance of Scripture’s didactic teaching on a particular doctrine. Paul’s exposition of the doctrine of salvation in Romans leaves baptism until the sixth chapter, after his discussion of saving faith in chapters 3-5.35 One must ask, if Acts 2:38 is the gospel, then why doesn’t it appear in the explicit didactic sections of the NT at least once? The analogia Scriptura precludes the Oneness reading of Acts 2:38.

Bernard, a leading Oneness writer, has argued that such a reliance on didactic texts is to the expense of the narrative passages:
Again because of their experiential orientation, Pentecostals are willing to give equal value to historical narratives in Scripture as to other portions, for, after all, narratives compose the majority of the inspired texts. By contrast, Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, gravitate toward propositional statements and explicit argument, such as we find in the writings of Paul, to the near exclusion of the theological implications of historical accounts such as the Book of Acts.36
Bernard’s assertions confuse the issues. Evangelicals give equal value and worth to narrative and didactic texts since all Scripture is God-breathed.37 The question is not of value or worth, but whether explicit didactic texts should bear greater weight in instructing the church’s doctrine when compared to narrative texts which are placed within a specific historical context. Bernard has projected Oneness Pentecostalism’s functional rejection of Pauline soteriology in favor of a two-dimensional reading of Acts 2:38. The issue is one of purpose. Luke’s intent was to describe the events of primitive church history, including Peter’s sermon. Acts 2:38, then, is a singular command within a narrative that is predicated upon a specific Sitz im Leben. It is not a systematic summary of the plan of salvation any more than Paul’s response to the Philippian jailer.38 Moreover, Bernard doesn’t hold his ‘Pentecostal hermeneutic’ consistently. Does he pass around handkerchiefs in order to heal people as in Acts 19:12?

Over and over again, Oneness writers proclaim ‘Acts 2:38 is the gospel,’39 without tempering such a claim with the balance of the NT. If Oneness Pentecostals tempered their interpretation of Acts 2:38 with the balance of NT teaching on soteriology, their legalistic insistence upon baptism with the oral invocation of Jesus’ name would evaporate. Instead of the sufficiency of Scripture as it relates to soteriology, Oneness Pentecostals affirm the sufficiency and exclusivity of Acts 2:38. The Oneness hermeneutic effectively obliterates the Pauline doctrine of sola fide, and puts Pauline anthropology on its head. How can justification be by faith “without works” (Rom. 4:6) if obedience to Christ’s command of baptism is required? Bernard’s soteriology negates Paul’s claim that “Those in the flesh do not have the ability to please God” (Rom. 8:6). If unbelievers are incapable of pleasing God, then how might they engage in obedience to the command of Christ prior to the regenerative work of the Spirit of God?40

The reception of “the gift of the Holy Spirit” after repentance and baptism is the typical, but not universal, pattern in Acts. The future λήμψεσθε implies that participation in repentance and baptism would result in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Whereas Oneness Pentecostalism views the receipt of the gifts of the Spirit as necessarily accompanied with glossolalia,41 the common manifestation of the Spirit was not glossolalia but xenoglossy (i.e., the use of preexisting human languages as in Acts 2:8-11). If one does not create an ordo salutis by atomizing and isolating Lucan “tongues” texts through the lens of twentieth century Pentecostalism, there is no good reason to hold such a view. In 1 Corinthians 12:10 Paul indicated that tongues were one of many spiritual gifts that are not universally given to all believers. Paul’s rhetorical question in 1 Corinthians 12:30 ably demonstrates that the speaking of tongues (i.e., languages) is not a necessity for salvation or entrance into the covenant community: Μὴ πάντες γλώσσαις λαλοῦσιν; The particle μὴ requires a negative answer, indicating that the gift of tongues was never intended to be a gift given to all people in the church.42 This is another issue wherein the viewpoint of Oneness Pentecostalism is based solely upon a historical narrative to the exclusion of didactic literature which specifically addresses salvation and its evidence. Additionally, understanding the receipt of the Holy Spirit as a second “baptism” that is required for salvation is impossible given Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. Every person who is within the church has the indwelling Spirit of God. There is no class of Spirit-less Christian.


Baptism is an integral and immensely important part of Christian piety. It is important that every Christian be baptized, as baptism is something that Christ does signifying his union with the baptizand. The modern “Baptism is about me going public with my faith” mentality is flawed, unbiblical, and removes the substance of the ordinance. However, while union with Christ is salvific, baptism is not. Salvation and even baptism are doctrines owed to systematic theology; a pan-canonical discipline which accounts for all of what the Scriptures teach regarding how men may receive peace with God.

The Oneness Pentecostal insistence regarding the necessity of baptism, the invocation of the name of Jesus, and the evidence of speaking in tongues is misguided and is at its root, hermeneutical isolationism. The apostolic utilization of the phrase “In the name of Jesus” did not occur in a vacuum. Rather, the “in/into the name of…” expression has a rich history within the Septuagint, serving as a circumlocution for the person and work of Yahweh. Thus, in Acts, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ is not the invocation of the baptizand, but an expression which means being identified with his Lordship, his person, and his accomplishment at Golgotha and the empty tomb. To be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ is to enter into union with his person; in life, death, resurrection, and Sonship.

1 David S. Norris, I Am: A Oneness Pentecostal Theology (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2009), Kindle, loc. 4218. David K. Bernard, Essentials of Oneness Theology (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1995), Kindle, loc. 323-355.
2 Thomas A. Fudge, Christianity Without the Cross: A History of Salvation in Oneness Pentecostalism (Parkland, FL: Universal Pub., 2003), 45-7; 112-19. David K. Bernard, A History of Christian Doctrine, Vol. 3 (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame, 1999), 65. Cf. David A. Reed, “In Jesus Name:” The History and Beliefs of Oneness Pentecostals (Blandford Forum, UK: Deo Pub., 2008), 126-35.
3 The United Pentecostal Church International is the largest denomination, along with its international expressions.
4 All English translations by the author.
5 All GNT citations from the Tyndale House Greek New Testament.
6 Acts 2:38. Cf. Isa. 6:5; Psa. 108:16 LXX for more uses of the NT hapax κατανύσσομαι. 
7 There are a several variant readings of Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε φησὶν. While the majority of witness include the verb φησὶν, some omit it altogether (B, 218) or replace it with ἔφη (Ε, Ψ, 323 [εἶπεν: 42 et al.]), and others place the verb prior to μετανοήσατε (D). While the various options could be taken to support the notion that scribes felt uncomfortable with only an implied verb, there is early and robust support for the reading provided in the THGNT (p74, א, A, C). 
8 Luther B. McIntyre Jr., Jan-March 1996, “Baptism and Forgiveness in Acts 2:38,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, 153, 53-62. E. Calvin Beisner, Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements: “Jesus Only” Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 58.
9 cf. Acts 3:26. Ashby L. Camp, 1997, “Reexaming the Rule of Concord in Acts 2:38,” in Restoration Quarterly, 39.1, 37-42. The majority reading reflects the fact that several uncial MSS (e.g., D, C, E, Ψ) and a number of late minuscules (e.g., 33, 323, 1241) omit the second occurrence of ὑμῶν. However, the pronoun occurs early and frequently (p74, א, A, B, C, 81, 181). While shorter readings tend to be preferred, the presence of the pronoun is the harder reading since it is likely that scribes dropped the pronoun in order to conform the phrase to how it appears in the gospels (e.g., Matt. 26:28). Further, McIntyre has pointed out that, “In every case in Luke-Acts the articular ‘sins’ also has a personal pronoun in the genitive.” “Baptism and Forgiveness in Acts 2:38,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 56. See also Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1971), 301.
10 While ἐπὶ can easily mean “in” (e.g., Luke 1:47; 9:48; Acts 4:18; 5:28), a few uncials (B, D) and a some minuscules (945, 1739) have ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ instead of the ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ. It is likely that the variant is an example of scribal harmonization since the typical Lucan preposition used in this construction is ἐν (cf. Acts 3:6; 4:10; 10:48; 16:18).
11 cf. Deut. 17:12; 18:5, vv. 19-20, 22; 21:5. 
12 Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5. 
13 Προσέταξεν δὲ αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ βαπτισθῆναι. (Πραθεις 10:48).
14 Παραγγέλλω σοι ἐν ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ ἐξελθεῖν ἀπ᾽ αὐτῆς. (Πραθεις 16:18).
15 Lars Hartman, ‘Into the Name of the Lord Jesus’: Baptism in the Early Church (Edinburch, SCT: T & T Clark, 1997), 37-44.
16 e.g., Psa. 32:21; 43:6, v. 9; 53:3; 62:5; 88:13, v. 25, 104:3; Zec. 10:12 LXX.
17 e.g., Exod. 34:5; Zec. 10:12; Jer. 36:23, Dan. 9:6 LXX.
18 Deut. 18:6-7.
19 Psa. 20:7.
20 John 20:31.
21 Acts 4:18.
22 Matt. 28:19.
23 εἰς τί οὖν ἐβαπτίσθητε. 
24 εἰς τὸ Ἰωάννου βάπτισμα. 
25 e.g., Rom. 8:1; 16:10; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 12:2; Gal. 2:17.
26 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 504.
27 For a summary see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 369-71 and R. Bruce Compton, 1999, “Water Baptism and the Forgiveness of Sins in Acts 2:38,” in DBSJ, 3-32.
28 Murray J. Harris, Prepositions and Theology: In the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 227.
29 Bernard, The New Birth, 327. 
30 cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:18. Albeit textually questionable, Mark 16:16 records Jesus saying, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Note that the condemnable action is a failure to believe, and not a failure to be baptized. 
31 e.g., Matt. 4:17; Luke 15:17; Acts 3:19; 2 Tim. 225.
32 cf. Luke 3:3. 
33 Luke 23:43.
34 Acts 10:44-48. Notably, the Gentiles are described as having received the Holy Spirit, thus indicating regeneration and likely justification, prior to baptism. 
35 The Oneness objection that Romans was to Christians and therefore didn’t teach the necessity of baptism and tongues for salvation is a canard since Romans is a inspired and detailed exposition of what saves a person. Moreover, that Paul utilizes two OT saints as his examples of NT justification (i.e., Abraham and David in Rom. 4:1-8) demonstrates further that faith in Christ (and by implication repentance) has always been the sole instrumental means unto salvation.
36 David K. Bernard, Understanding God's Word (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 2005), Kindle, loc. 1045-1050. 
37 2 Tim. 3:16-17. “Faithful discipleship to Christ must be held to involve conscientious acceptance of all that Scripture teaches, whether in the indicative or the imperative mood…” The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, 43.
38 Acts 16:30-31.
39 Kulwant Singh Boora, Baptism in the Name of Jesus (Acts 2:38) From Jerusalem to Great Britain (Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2011), 30. David K. Bernard, Pentecostal Theology Volume 2: The New Birth (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame, 1997), 23-4, 71-3, 97. R. Brent Graves, The God of Two Testaments (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame, 2000), Kindle, loc. 3014. James D. Hogsten, Oneness Pentecostal Thematic Studies: Hebraic Foundations of Oneness Pentecostalism, Vol. 1 (Charlottesville, NC: Createspace, 2013), 143, 228-9. Ken Raggio, The Greatest Doctrines Of The Bible: The Oneness of God and the New Birth (Charlottesville, NC: Createspace, 2016), 63-4. Joseph M. Streeval, The Oneness Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries (Morrisville, NC: Lulu, 2018), 3, 253, 266. Samuel Sams, Oneness Pentecostal Doctrine (Charlottesville, NC: Createspace, 2014), 15-16, 141-2. 
40 See also Michael R. Burgos, Against Oneness Pentecostalism, 2nd Ed. (Winchester, CT: Church Militant, 2017), 186-8.
41 e.g., Bernard, The New Birth, 227-36.
42 Bernard takes the tack that Paul, in 1 Cor. 12:30, is referring to the continued use of the gift of tongues, and not the original utterance. The New Birth, 242. Such a position is entirely circular in nature, and effectively ignores the key soteriological texts in the NT (e.g., where does Paul require tongues in Romans or Galatians?).