BAPTISM, REGENERATION AND THE MOTHERHOOD OF THE CHURCH
© 2008 John H Mattox
This paper is a refutation of three propositions concerning
baptism, regeneration and the church, which were recently called
to my attention.
That water baptism is the prerequisite to
spiritual enlightenment, or opening of
Proof Instances Cited:
- The opening of the eyes of the blind man who was told
to wash in the pool of Siloam. Siloam is a name
derived from the Hebrew verb shalach, to send, and
means sent. It is alleged that this term should be
connected with John, the Baptist, a man sent from God,
and that the washing in the pool was analogous to baptism.
- Paul's regaining of his sight when he was baptized.
continued at top of next column
- Siloam is said by John to be equivalent to the Greek
participle apestalmenos, having been sent forth.
This participle is a form of the verb apostello, to
send forth. This verb is applied to John, the Baptist,
only two times in John's gospel, while it is applied to
Jesus in that same gospel seventeen times. Another verb
meaning to send, pempo, is applied to John, the Baptist,
one time in John's gospel, and to Jesus twenty-five times.
There can be no question, therefore. that Jesus, rather than
John, was preeminently the sent one, and in view of the
facts presented above, it is difficult to understand how the
pool of Siloam can be connected with John, the Baptist,
rather than with Jesus.
Instead of teaching that a person must be baptized in order
to have his spiritual eyes opened, this miracle teaches
rather that a person must identify himself with Christ as
the Sent One in order to be saved; i.e., to have his
spiritual eyes opened.
There can be no symbolic connection between the washing
in the pool of Siloam and baptism for the following reasons:
- Baptism under no circumstances can be considered
as a form of washing, or cleansing. It is a representation
of the judicial aspect of our salvation.
We are saved in the judicial, or legal, sense by
being identified with Christ in his death, burial,
and resurrection. All of this is pictured in the
act of baptism. To try to connect baptism with
washing or cleansing is to pervert its true meaning
See Rom. 6:3-11 and Col. 2:11-13.
Regeneration, not baptism, is connected with the
idea of cleansing or washing in the N.T. See
- When Jesus told the blind man to wash in the pool
of Siloam, the word which he used was nipto.
This verb is used primarily in the sense of washing
a part of the body such as the face, the hands,
or the feet. (See Vine's Expository Dictionary of
New Testament Words, under the entry wash.) For
example, it is the word used to tell of Jesus' washing
the feet of the disciples in John 13. When
Peter stated that Jesus would never wash his feet,
Jesus said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part
with me." Peter then responded, "Not my feet only,
but also my hands and my head." Jesus answered,
"He that is washed (louo - to wash completely -
to bathe) needeth not save to wash his feet."
Jesus evidently meant, by His use of nipto rather
than louo, that the blind man was to wash the clay
from his eyes. Had he meant for the man to immerse
himself, or wash all over, he would have used the
rather than nipto. This latter verb
is used seventeen times in the New Testament, including
the five times it is used in the 9th chapter
It can be seen by inspection that in every other
usage of nipto in the N.T. it is restricted to a
certain part of the body. The passages in which it
is used are: Matt. 6:17, 15:2; Mark 7:3; John 9:7,
11, 15; John 13:5,6,8,10,12,14; I Tim. 5:10. There
is no valid reason for believing that it is not used
in the same limited sense in John 9:7, 11, and 15,
that it is in the other instances of its use in the
- The example of Paul's regaining his sight loses any force
which it might seem to have when it is observed that his
sight was regained, not as a result of being baptized, but
as a result of the imposition of Ananias' hands. According
to Acts 9:18, he was baptized after he had regained his
Note: Paul's conversion was unique and it would be a mistake
to regard it as representative of the conversion of
Christians in general. Paul said of his own conversion
that he was an ektroma - one born before the due time,
an abortion. (I Cor. 15:8) Many commentators take this
statement, along with Rom. 11:1, to mean that Paul's
conversion was representative of the future conversion of
Israel. If they are right, as seems to be the case, we
should exercise caution in drawing upon Paul's experience
as though it were typical of our own.
Baptism, Regeneration (cont)
That the elect are made alive before actual
Proof Instances Cited:
There are several passages in the N.T. which obviously draw an
analogy between the spiritual birth and the physical birth.
To support the above proposition, it is alleged that the analogy
is to be followed in considerable detail. Thus, as life
begins for a child at the moment of conception or fertilization
some 270 days before he is actually born, it is asserted
that the elect are made alive, apart from the word, before
The main text cited in proof of the above position is I Pet. 1:23
in which, it is asserted, the word of God denotes the personal
Word of God, Christ Jesus, rather than the written, or spoken,
The New Testament nowhere makes a distinction between the
begetting or conception, of a believer, and his regeneration.
The word most used in reference to being born again is gennao.
This verb can mean to beget, when the subject is a male; or
to bear (a child) when the subject is a female. In both cases
however, the reference is to the actual birth, and not to the
The word used in I Peter 1:23, is anagennao, a compound formed
of ana- again,
and gennao- to beget or bear.
The word as used in this passage is a perfect passive participle
and may be translated having been born again, or having been
regenerated. Marshall's Interlinear Greek-English N.T. gives
the latter translation. Neither this nor any other passage can
be fairly interpreted as making a distinction between conception
and being born again. The irresistible conclusion is that
the N.T. makes no attempt to present an elaborate analogy between
the birth of the flesh and the birth of the Spirit. The
only real point of similarity lies in the fact of the birth
itself. No further analogy is either expressed or implied.
The assertion that the word of God in I Peter 1:23 refers to
Christ, and that it speaks of a pre-regeneration quickening,
is rejected for the following reasons:
continued at top of next column
- The passage in question reads in part, in the KJV, "Being
born again, ...by the word of God." The use of the preposition
by in the KJV gives the false impression that
the word of God is the agent who brings about the birth.
It is a false impression because the Greek preposition is
dia, with the genitive, which primarily means through
and is used to indicate the intermediate agent through
whom an action is produced rather than the agent who
performs the action. While we could accept Christ as the
agent of the birth mentioned, it would be difficult to
conceive of him as merely the intermediate agency used
by someone else.
- The word logos (word) in this passage is anarthrous--
not preceded by the article in the Greek. While this fact
may be of little moment to those unacquainted with Greek
syntax, it is of great significance in the exegesis of the
passage. If logos were preceded by the article, the
reference could conceivably be to Christ. However, without
the article there can be only one choice - the verbal
word of God. The Greek expression is dia logou Theou, and
it can be translated as the word of God as long as it
is understood that the article the is supplied only to
make a smooth idiomatic English translation, and that no
importance is to be attached to it in the interpretation.
However, the expression can be translated more exactly in
at least two other ways--through a word of God or through
No recognized commentator trained in Greek syntax would
assert that Christ is primarily the word referred to in
I Peter 1:23, and I will unhesitatingly affirm that no
such commentator can be found.
- That the word in I Peter 1:23 refers to the verbal word
of God is consistent with the fact that in the 25th verse,
word is not logos
but rhema in the Greek. Logos
can mean not only word, but can include the idea or concept
behind it. Rhema on the other hand strictly denotes
a vocal utterance, a saying, and is never used of Christ as
the Word of God.
Baptism, Regeneration (cont)
That as God is the Father of the believer, so
the church is the mother.
Proof Instances Cited:
The main line of proof followed seems to be that while God
certainly is the one who begets the believer, or performs
the masculine function in our regeneration, the mother's
role must be played by the church because of the fact that the
church is pictured as a woman, and no other female entity
seems to be a possibility for the role.
There is certainly no controversy as to the Fatherhood of God
in our salvation. However, when we begin to look for another
personage who fills the mother role, we are pressing the
analogy between the physical and the spiritual births to an
The truth is that God is the only person or personage who
plays any part in our actual regeneration, and both the
masculine and feminine functions are ascribed to him. Several
passages which speak of our being born of God can be understood
as being begotten of him. However, in James 1:18 God
is said to have begotten us with the word of truth. The verb
used is apekuesen,
from apokeuo, which means to give birth
to, to bear. The same word is used in verse 15 where it is
translated, bringeth forth. This word denotes the part played
by the female in the production of offspring. It is clear,
therefore, that God is the only personage involved in our
regeneration and that there is no other entity who performs the
female role. Thus there is no warrant in the N.T. for the
notion that the church is our mother. Furthermore it is
difficult to perceive how the church can, at a future date,
be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, after she has given
birth to millions of children. The church is an assembly of
baptized believers. It is not an entity separable from its
membership, and having existence independent of them. To assert
that the church is the mother of the believers that compose its
membership is equivalent to saying that the members of a family
collectively, make up the mother of the family.
A pertinent question in this respect is, who came first, the
mother or the children? Or, to put it another way, who was
the mother of the apostles who were certainly saved before
they became the first church? Or, is it possible that the
first church was composed of unregenerate members?
John H Mattox
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