Hebrews 10:22 and the Necessity of Baptism
[Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from AP’s book Baptism & the Greek Made Simple.]
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:19-23).
In addition to the host of passages that explicitly affirm the essentiality of water baptism for salvation, the grammar of Hebrews 10:22 provides additional verification. “Let us draw near,” or as Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest renders it, “let us keep on drawing near,”1 is a present middle/passive subjunctive verb used for exhortation—a “hortatory subjective.”2 This drawing nearer to God is to be accompanied by “a true heart in full assurance of faith.” The term rendered “full assurance” refers to a “state of complete certainty, full assurance, certainty.”3 The recipients of the book already possessed faith (when they became Christians), but they now needed to mature their faith and bring it to a more complete state of assurance, conviction, and certainty (particularly since they were tending to revert back to their Jewish conceptions).4 This admonition is followed by two Perfect passive participles.5 The Perfect tense in Greek connotes “completed action with a resulting state of being.” Perfect passive participles describe action that is either coincident with or antecedent to the principal verb.6 Hence, the actions of “having been sprinkled” and “having been washed” occurred before the admonition to “keep on drawing near to God.” As Marcus Dods explains: “These participles express not conditions of approach to God which are yet to be achieved, but conditions already possessed.”7 Mounce conveys the thrust of the perfect passive participle even more forcefully: “since our hearts have been….”8 The following two participles, therefore, refer back to the point in time of their conversion—when they accessed the “blood of Jesus” (vs. 19). As Carl Moll noted in his comments on verse 22: “We thus refer the language, not to sanctification, but to justification on the ground of a propitiation.”9
The first participle speaks of “having had our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.”10 In keeping with the subject matter of Hebrews, the notion of “sprinkled” undoubtedly harks back to and echoes the Law of Moses practice of sprinkling people and objects with various liquids (including water as well as blood) for purification purposes. However, it is a physical impossibility for one literally to sprinkle his heart, mind, and conscience. Hence, the writer is using figurative language. But how/when did they “sprinkle their hearts”? The answer lies in the fact that before one can become a Christian, one must alter his heart and mind, i.e., repent (Luke 13:3,5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; et al.). The Greek term for “repentance” literally means “a change of mind.”11 So the author and recipients of the book of Hebrews came to faith in Christ, and then repented of their sins. If, instead, the “sprinkling” here refers to the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, the design of baptism remains the same, since the two participles indicate coincident (with each other) actions. The former possible meaning is inviting since Romans 6 distinguishes between the “death” to sin that occurs in the mind of the prospective convert at the point of repentance which precedes the spiritual death or termination of sin which occurs in the mind of God at the point of burial in water.
The next participle, which describes action that occurred coincident with the sprinkling, adds “having had our body washed with pure water” (again, Wuest’s literal rendering). Observe that the use of the term “body” (singular-soma), not sarx (“flesh”) indicates a literal washing of the physical body with H2O—unlike the figurative use of sprinkling in the previous participle.12 The only activity associated with Christianity that involves water applied to the body is baptism. Lenski insisted that “the New Testament knows of only one washing, namely baptism.”13 Writing in the 19th century, Robert Milligan noted: “Indeed, nearly all eminent expositors are now agreed that there is here a manifest reference to the ordinance of Christian baptism.”14 To summarize, in Hebrews 10:22, the inspired writer urges his Christian audience to continue to draw closer to God, even as they had commenced that approach when they first believed, repented of their sins, and were baptized.
One other observation that merits consideration: in the very next verse, the writer admonishes his readers to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” The term “confession” is the noun form (homologian) of the verb that means to confess. The New Testament plainly declares that one of the prerequisites to initial salvation/forgiveness—in addition to faith, repentance, and baptism—is oral confession with the mouth (Romans 10:9-10). Macknight rightly notes: “The apostle in this exhortation referred to that confession of their hope of salvation through Christ, which the primitive Christians made at baptism.”15 If that is the confession that the writer has in mind in verse 23, then the writer alludes to all four prerequisites to salvation in two verses: faith, repentance, confession, and baptism.
1 Kenneth Wuest (2002 reprint), The New Testament: An Expanded Translation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), p. 529; Also R.C.H. Lenski (2001 reprint), The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), p. 347.
2 William Davis (1923), Beginner’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Harper & Row), p. 76; H.E. Dana and Julius Mantey (1955), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: Macmillan), p. 171; Ray Summers (1950), Essentials of New Testament Greek (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press), p. 108).
3 Frederick Danker, rev. and ed. (2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press), p. 827.
4 See the meaning in Colossian 2:2 and Hebrews 6:11, as well as the verb form used in Romans 4:21, Colossians 4:12, and Romans 14:5.
5 Summers, p. 103; Davis, p. 156.
6 Davis, p. 157.
7 Marcus Dods (no date), “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 4:346-347, emp. added.
8 Robert Mounce and William Mounce (2011), The Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), emp. added. See also NCV and ISV.
9 Carl Moll (1870), The Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Charles Scribner), p. 175, italics in orig.
10 Translated by Wuest, p. 529.
11 Danker, p. 640.
12 See Henry Alford (1874), Alford’s Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980 reprint), 4:196.
13 p. 350.
14 Robert Milligan (1950), The New Testament Commentary: Epistle to the Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate), 9:282-283.
15 James MacKnight (no date), A New Literal Translation, from the Original Greek of all the Apostolical Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), p. 556, emp. added.
Baptism and the Greek Made Simple
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