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Why Baptism is Important

I found Doug Moo’s comments on Colossians 2:12 helpful and interesting.

Paul’s logic runs like this: you have been spiritually “circumcised.”  This circumcision took place when you were buried with Christ and raised with him.  And this burial and resurrection with Christ happened when you were baptized.  As this paraphrase of Paul’s argument also reveals, the popular explanation that Paul uses baptism as a symbol of our death to the old life (when we are plunged beneath the water) and resurrection to the new life (when we arise out of the water) is also wide of the mark.  Baptism does not symbolize what happened when we were converted; it somehow is integrally involved in that conversion itself.  The best way to account for this and at the same time to do justice to Paul’s constant emphasis on our faith as the key to our coming to Christ (as he does at the end of this very verse, as if to guard against a possible misunderstanding) is again to recognize a broadly attested New Testament theological concept dubbed by James Dunn “conversion-initiation.”  The New Testament connects our coming to Christ (being converted and initiated in the new covenant community) to faith, to repentance, to the gift of the Spirit, and to water baptism, in various combinations.  Any of these, in a kind of metonymy, could be used to connote the whole experience–implying, of course, in each instance, the presence of all the others.  Water baptism, then, as a critical New Testament rite intimately connected to our conversion experience, could be used as shorthand for the whole experience.

Douglas Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, p. 202

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Categories: Baptism, New Testament, Quotes
  1. Jon
    February 4, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    In my former life as a Baptist, it was quite a revelation to begin actually reading the New Testament particularly in this aspect of what baptism is. This quote shows rather clearly that someone with a paedo-baptist view would need to come up with an alternate explanation of Paul’s reasoning, or at least heavily nuance what he is saying.

  2. February 5, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I’m always hesitant when anyone (even Moo) links water baptism too closely with “conversion” (which is the work of the Spirit). He’s sounds a little too much like Doug Wilson here for my tastes.

  3. caryn
    February 10, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    This is a great topic. Here’s my question:
    Having been a “bible thumper” for a good portion of my life already and never having experienced the ‘short-hand’, it seems almost as if it would cheapen either the purpose of baptism or the beginning of the journey and all that has transpired up to now if I were to be baptized at this point. Thoughts?

  4. John Smuts
    March 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    I don’t follow Moo here.

    How is this:

    “Water baptism, then, as a critical New Testament rite intimately connected to our conversion experience, could be used as shorthand for the whole experience.”

    any different from this:

    “Paul uses baptism as a symbol of our death to the old life (when we are plunged beneath the water) and resurrection to the new life (when we arise out of the water)”

    If baptism is shorthand for the conversion experience then why can’t we speak of it as symbolic of conversion?

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