A Clarifying Moment

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With the possible exception of Matthew, Mark and John, the books of the New Testament were all written by a Christian, for Christian audiences.  (Solid arguments can be made that the same is true of those three books, too.)  Realizing that is very helpful for Bible students.

Let me illustrate my point by using a more modern book.  For the last ten-plus years Williard Harley’s book, His Needs, Her Needs, has been highly recommended to married couples.  I’ve found it to be very beneficial to encourage people I know to read the book.  The folks that I think can be helped greatly by reading it are couples with whom I’m doing pre-marital counseling.  But I always have to point out to them who the author is and the audience for whom he wrote the book.

Harley is a marriage counselor.  The book draws on years of practice working with couples at or near the point of divorce.  By the time these couples come to him, most of their relationships are seriously damaged.  Many of Harley’s chapters sound fatalistic because he’s dealing with near fatalities.  With that reality in mind, adults who are about to marry can learn without being overwhelmed by fear that their marriage is doomed to the failures Harley itemizes.

When we approach the New Testament we need to realize that many of our questions are not the ones its author was addressing.  Consider for example the issue of baptism.  With the exception of Peter’s response in Acts 2, the biblical texts on this subject were written or spoken by a believer for an audience of believers.  If we are going to apply those texts to the situation of someone who is not a Christian, then we have to factor that context into our investigation.

With this context in mind, there are some things that come out of passages like Romans 6 and Ephesians 4.  For a Christian, reflecting on his/her baptism should be a clarifying consideration.  Paul reminds the Ephesians that it is one of the seven givens we all hold in common.  For the Romans he can refer back to that experience as a time when our future trajectory was set.  While Paul didn’t write these for non-Christians, those are things one can anticipate as he/she ponders the effect being baptized could have.  It should be a clarifying moment.

John Kenneth King

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