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“We must agree to differ,” is the sentiment which is commonly expressed by those who most desire to maintain peace and love with all their brethren. Nothing can be more proper than this, as a rule of conduct, but it need not, and it should not, be taken as the measure of hope. If the church of Christ acted in accordance with the apostolic precept, “Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing,”—then might we expect the fulfilment of the associated promise, “ If in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” It is not thought necessary, in any branch of science, to rest contented with the
progress already made, or to wait for the appearance of some one of extraordinary ability to extend the boundaries of knowledge. Men of ordinary minds can now soar to truths which the genius of Newton could not reach. It is by the successive labours of men of common stature, rather than by the achievements of a few of gigantic size, that science generally advances, and that every thing great and good is accomplished in our world.
If, as it has been observed by one of the first men of the age, “the character of the true philosopher is to hope all things not impossible, and to believe all things not unreasonable,” much more should this be the character of the Christian. It is not impossible that Christians should be brought to hold the same opinions concerning the manner of Christian baptism. Therefore we will hope for it. It is not unreasonable to suppose, that the meaning of one of our Lord's precepts and ordinances should be clearly understood, and that the truth on this subject should be universally acknowledged. We believe it will be so. Every one who can do a little for the furtherance of an object so desirable, is bound to do that little. Without pretending to be abler or better than those who have preceded, we may expect to be more fully informed—to be wiser in this matter, both through what has been rightly, and through what has been wrongly, reasoned, and written, by those who have gone before us.
The subject we propose to investigate, is, the manner in which the baptisms mentioned in the New Testament were performed.
The question with regard to the primitive mode of baptism depends chiefly on the meaning of the words βαπτίζω, βαπτιστής, βάπτισμα, Battlouós. Other considerations must decide what ought to be the present mode of administration, but the signification of these words will, in a great measure, determine what was the nature of the fact described, and of the duty commanded by them. If to dip, a dipper, a dipping, be the signification of these words in the New Testament, then unquestionably baptism was performed in this manner : if these words have some other signification, then it remains to be considered, whether, from any other source, we can learn how this ordinance was originally administered,
It would seem sufficiently obvious, that in conducting an inquiry into the meaning of a word occurring in any foreign book, or into the nature of a fact there recorded, it is of the utmost importance, first to ascertain, and then to keep steadily in view, the principles proper to such an investigation. It is also most clear, that, in judging of any subject, where there are many and conflicting arguments, not the value of one part merely, but the combined worth of the whole, should be regarded, and that alternative should be adopted which has most evidence in its favour, and which is liable to the least objection. These simple principles have been too often disregarded. The published investigations of the meaning and manner of baptism have been nearly all controversial both in form and spirit. Many of the authors have appeared too eager to engage in the fight, previously to examining the ground they had taken, or the weapons they were to use. On the one side we have had etymological lore, roots and lexicons, quotations from heathen poets, physicians, and historians ; on the other side, references to the character of Jesus, the genius of the gospel, the circumstances of the Scripture narrative. The early Christian church has been appealed to by one party; and the early Jewish church has been appealed to by another. It has been thought enough, by the advocates of dipping, to show, that there is nothing in the Bible to make this sense of the disputed term impossible, and their opponents have been satisfied with proving that in heathen literature another sense is possible. The contest has been carried on without a due reference to any fixed principles, and the natural result in many cases has been only irritation and uncharitableness. If men do not understand the arguments of their antagonists, they are likely to judge their opinions to be inconsistent with Christian sincerity, and therefore to excommunicate them. If they cannot expose the fallacy of what they deem false, because it leads to an adverse conclusion, they are very naturally vexed and annoyed, and then, by the grosser element of heat, they seek to effect violently, what the pure element of light, if they could but direct its beams, would quietly accomplish for them.
The principle which has been assumed by those who assert that baptism means dipping, which has been sometimes, though not always asserted, but which has received little if any support from fact or reason is this,—That the signification of the root of a word, or its signification in classic Greek, is most probably its signification in the New Testament; most probably, to such a degree, that no turning from the radical or classic meaning should be allowed, except when these are plainly impossible. Accordingly, in discussing the signification of Bantićw, &c., they first look to the root, and to classic usage, and then, having fixed in their judgment what is the meaning of the word in heathen writers, they take that meaning to the Bible, and because it is not absolutely impossible that the word should have the same meaning there, they declare that it certainly has that meaning, and none beside. Some use is made of two or three passages in the New Testament, but none will deny that it is not on this evidence, but on that furnished by the radical meaning, and by classic usage, that the interpretation of dipping mainly depends. On the other side, it has been assumed, not perhaps fully stated nor adequately maintained,
- That the signification of words in the New Testament often greatly varies from the radical meaning, and from classic usage ; so that it is not at all improbable, that many words should there have a peculiar meaning; that therefore we may turn from the signification presented by the root, and other writings, whenever another signification appears much more suitable; and that it is consequently to the New Testament itself, and to the Septuagint version of the Old, which accords with it, rather than to roots and pagan writers, that we should look for the meaning of New Testament words. In conformity with this principle, these writers refer, in the first place, to the New Testament, and finding, as they think, sufficient proof that Barriţw does not there mean to dip, and that dipping was not the mode in which the baptisms there mentioned were performed, they are satisfied with showing that there is sufficient accordance betweeen the meaning which best suits the word in the New Testament, and that which best suits it in the books of other countries and other ages, plausibly to account for the change of signification which would appear to have taken place. Some use may also be made of heathen writers ; but it must be admitted, that the chief considerations which are adduced in support of some other sense than dipping or overwhelming, are derived only from the Scrip
The propriety of these two modes of investigation, and the truth of the conclusions to which they conduct, depend entirely on the correctness or incorrectness of the principles which have been assumed.
To this point, therefore, our inquiry should be directed in the first place. We must ascertain-if it be improbable that words in the New Testament have a signification different from that which their roots possessed, and from that which is common in heathen writers—whether this improbability, if found to exist, applies to all kinds of words, or only to some—and what is its degree, whether it is such as to make a deviation proper only when absolutely necessary, or such as other probabilities of an opposite kind, may often exceed.
It might be supposed, from the way in which some persons reason concerning words, that they were almost unalterable in their signification, that they were perhaps the most immutable things met with in this changing world. And yet there are but few things subject to greater vicissitude. In as much as the objects of which men have to speak are far more in number than the words of the most copious language, it naturally happens, that not unfrequently the same word is used in various significations. When a word was first applied to a class of objects, it might convey but a few of the ideas connected with them, but other ideas would afterwards be associated with the few which formed the primary meaning of the word, and become part of its signification. Of these ideas now together suggested by the use of the term, some would be more important than others, and be more frequently referred to when the term was used. In consequence, those other ideas, to which little reference was made, would cease after a time to be constantly suggested by a word, which, it may be, at first expressed them only. Then with the class of objects first combined others would be associated, which agreed in what had become one of the significations of the word, though they had nothing of what was its original meaning, and to them also the word is applied. These are operations of mind, of which, by a little reflection, all may be made conscious; and the result is the fact, which, however accounted for, cannot be denied, that the same terms are frequently used to represent not merely objects closely allied, but also those which have no kind of resemblance, and no direct connection. It is however by a reference to facts, rather than by a priori reasoning, that the changes in the meaning of words in general, in the meaning of the words of the New Testament, and in the meaning of this particular word, must be established. The following observations tend to afford this kind of proof.
1. There is not any language in which words have always kept their radical signification, or in which words in general (excepting those which belong to natural objects, as sun, moon, river, trees, man, &c.) have kept to any one signification. If we turn to any lexicons, or dictionaries of ancient or modern languages, we shall find a very large number of words not only capable of being applied to various classes of objects, but having also various significations. This is so obvious to any one at all versed in the study of languages, that it is only surprising how it could ver have been overlooked. That the various significations of words have one or more bonds of union, and that all changes in meaning take place regularly, is not doubted : though these bonds are sometimes so slight as to be with difficulty discerned ; and there are many changes which cannot be
any law of mind. The following are instances, taken as specimens from Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English books. The peculiar conjugations of verbs are not noted, these being immaterial to the argument, but commonly the words are used in these various significations, without any peculiarity of form. np, denotes to try, to choose, to love ; 723, to kneel, to worship, to bless, to curse; 557 to be bright, to be proud, to be stupid ; 527, to wound, to open, to profane ; pm, to be smooth, to divide, to spoil; wan, to fashion, to plough. to be deaf ; 127, to be heavy, to be honourable, to be troublesome. 'Ayvoéw denotes not to know, to sin knowingly; äyvapos, not carded, new; iyevńs, without race, mean with no regard to race ;
aŭdévins, murderer, a ruler though not a murderer ; dépw, to skin, to beat or abuse without skinning; koláčw, to mutilate, to punish without any reference to limbs ; Kóttw, to beat, to lament without beating; delToupyía, work for the people, service which is not for the people ; apóopatos, lately slain, new without any reference to killing; apoxerpišoval, to hand forward, to choose without any reference to the hand; xopoyéw, to lead a chorus, to supply, without any allusion to a chorus ; xoptáčw, to give grass, to feed as on bread; rukopavtéw, to show figs, to slander, and to defraud, without reference to figs. Appeto, means to desire, to snatch at, to assault; arceo, to drive away, to bind, to save ; ardeo, to shine, to be tormented; colo, to till, to adorn, to inhabit, to worship; condo, to bury, to hide, to build, to write. To affront, is used for to meet without offence, and to offend without meeting ; bans, for curses, or for notice of marriage; church, for a building of stone, or for a society of men; rich, for abundance of money, fruitfulness, fatness; comfort, for lessening sorrow, and for giving help when there is no sorrow; let means both to allow and to hinder; conversation, either discourse or manner of life; pitiful, denotes either compassionate or contemptible ; faithful, one who trusts, one who is to be trusted; prevent, to go before, without hindering, to hinder, without going before ; spring, a piece of steel, a fountain of water, a season of the year, a violent movement of the body.
These instances are adduced as illustrations, rather than as proofs. To bring forward cases enough to show to how great an extent language is liable to change, would be to copy a large portion of the works of lexicographers of all ages. While, therefore, it is admitted, that when one signification has been established, another is not to be introduced without some reason; it appears, both from a consideration of the operations of mind, and a survey of language in general, that there is no such antecedent improbability of change, as to make it proper to suppose a change only when absolutely necessary. Changes of meaning are so common, that when there are reasons for supposing a change, another signification is to be assigned to the word, though these reasons have only some probability. Such is the principle of interpretation that is, we may say, universally adopted in all philological investigations which are purely critical.
II. The consideration of language in general shows there is little improbability in the supposition, that a word has deviated from what was its former meaning. An examination of the language of the New Testament shows, that there is less improbability in the supposition that a word there, has a signification different from that which it bears in classic Greek. Many are accustomed to speak of Greek as though it were a language so uniform in its character, that the Greek of one book must always be exactly like the Greek of another. It should, however, be remembered, that, having been spoken for a thousand