Tag Archives: Romans

By the Washing of Regeneration

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, ESV)

This coming Sunday, I have been asked to provide pulpit supply for my pastor who is taking some time to visit his brand new, and very first, grandson. The text I selected was Titus 3:1-7, and in particular, a section in the middle jumped out at me. One phrase caught my attention.

by the washing of regeneration

Paul, writing to one of his successors Titus, is concluding the letter with some instructions. Immediately before this passage, he exhorted the people to obey the governing authorities, to be ready to do good works, and to be charitable all people. (1-2)

Then he grounds his command in the fact that we were once sinners who also needed God to show us kindness and charity. (3)

That brings us to our passage. While we were still in the state described in verse 3, the loving-kindness of the Father appeared. That loving-kindness was Jesus. (John 3:16, Rom 5:8) Contrary to Roman Catholic thought, the Father saved us “not because of works done by us in righteousness.” (3:5a) Rather he saved us “according to his own mercy. (3:5b)

In the second half of verse 5, we come to the contentious phrase which is the subject of our inquiry today.

by the washing of regeneration

This passage has been interpreted variously throughout Church history. Some see it as an obvious reference to the rite of baptism. They use this passage to demonstrate that the washing (baptism) is effectual to bring about regeneration. They read the phrase as though it said something to the effect of “the regenerating washing.” This position the prevailing view among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and some Anglicans. However, even among early church commentators who affirmed Baptismal Regeneration, this interpretation was not universal.

Strange! How were we drowned in wickedness, so that we could not be purified, but needed a new birth? For this is implied by “Regeneration.” For as when a house is in a ruinous state no one places props under it, nor makes any addition to the old building, but pulls it down to its foundations, and rebuilds it anew; so in our case, God has not repaired us, but has made us anew. For this is “the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” He has made us new men. How? “By His Spirit” (John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. James Tweed and Philip Schaff, vol. 13 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 538.)

It is interesting to note here, that Chrysostom literally says “we were baptized (βεβαπτισμένοι) in wickedness.” It seems like if he was going to make the point that baptism regenerates us, that this would be a perfect intro. We once were baptized in wickedness, and we are now baptized in righteousness. However, he does not do so. Rather, he points out here that we cannot be purified, but rather we must be entirely rebuilt. That certainly does not sound like an infusion of grace that transforms us such that we are inherently just. I digress.

The Baptismal Regeneration reading is not justified. Rather, we should read the passage such that regeneration itself is the washing. Grammatically, the phrase λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας simply does not bear out the adjectival reading above. Rather, the second noun in the construction is better seen as the means or agent of the first. Thus it is better understood as something closer to “the regeneration which washes” or “the washing which comes about because of regeneration.” We see this clearly when we observe the following phrase which is joined with the coordinating conjunction καὶ.

and the renewal of the Holy Spirit

The phrase ἀνακαινώσεως πνεύματος ἁγίου is parallel to λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας and thus we may draw a reasonable conclusion that the construction is also parallel. It is evident that the phrase “Holy Spirit” does not describe the word “renewal.” If we take the Baptismal Regeneration view above, and λουτροῦ παλιγγενεσίας means “regenerative washing,” then this phrase here must mean something like “Holy Spirit inducing renewal.” Now, while it is true that those holding to Baptismal Regeneration would agree that baptism indeed brings about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I am not aware of a single commentator here that uses this passage to support that. Rather they are of one voice in recognizing that this is telling us that the Holy Spirit brings about renewal. However, the same construct used immediately prior, says the Baptismal Regeneration Advocate, says that washing brings about regeneration. Why the discrepancy?

Instead, we ought to read this passage as though identical constructions function identically. In fact, the two constructions are referring to the same thing. The regeneration which washes is, in fact, an act of the Holy Spirit who renews. The washing described in the first phrase is the renewal described in the second.

If “through” (dia) were used before “renewal,” thus rendering “through the washing of rebirth and through renewal of the Holy Spirit,” it would describe two events instead of one. Simply stated, the text indicates that “washing” is an activity of the Holy Spirit and that this washing involves “rebirth” (palingenesias) and “renewal” (anakainoseos). (Thomas Lea and Hayne Griffin, New American Commentary, vol. 34 (Nashville: B&H, 1992), 323.)

What Paul here is describing is the regeneration and conversion of a Christian. He goes on to say that the purpose of the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit by which we were saved is “so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (7) He also notes that the Holy Spirit who brings about this regeneration and renewal is “poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (6) This act is an act of the triune God from start to finish.

I would be remiss if I failed to note that this is not precisely the same as what is advocated by many in the Reformed tradition. Both Matthew Henry and John Calvin associate the phrase “washing of regeneration” with baptism. Henry does so more strongly than Calvin, but it is important to note that both draw the conclusion that the combination of phrases “washing of regeneration” and “renewal of the Holy Spirit” deny Baptismal Regeneration. What they are saying is not all that far off from what I’m saying. Rather than understand this passage as advocating Baptismal Regeneration, instead what we see is that the sign (baptism, here called the washing of regeneration) is here directly associated with that which is signified (regeneration itself here called the renewal of the Holy Spirit). While I disagree with them that baptism is in view here, I fully affirm the theology they are putting forward.

An Open Letter to Donald J Trump

Dear Mr. President,

Today you took the oath of office. Upon taking that oath, you became the 45th man to hold the highest executive office of these United States of America. During your campaign, you made many claims as to what you intended to accomplish during your time as our President. You have many people who have and will give you advice.

Among those people, you have surrounded yourself with “spiritual advisers.” Some of them are Christians, some of them are not. Some of them who claim to be Christians, are not. However, I would be surprised if any of those Christian advisers have told you what God has to say about you. Did you know that the Bible talks about you?

I’m not talking about some nonsense reading of Isaiah 45, or a misuse of a particular translation which says “the trump will sound.” Instead, Paul tells Christians about the role of authorities:

For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Rom 13:1b-2, ESV)

You see, no one before your election could have known that you were God’s candidate. Those who claim to have known that are self-deluded liars. However, we now know that the secret will of the Lord was to bring you to power. We know that because you won the election. And as Paul tells us, anyone in a position of authority was placed there by God. The reason may be to bless a nation, as we see with King David in the Old Testament nation of Israel. Or it may be to punish a country for their arrogance, as we see with King Saul. Although it is true that God uses means, and he used your particular personality (as flawed as it is) to bring you to the office, you must never forget that it was God who placed you there. We see from the unfortunate arrogance of Belshazzar of Babylon (Dan 5) or Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:20-23) that God does not look kindly on those who refuse to recognize that their authority ultimately comes from him.

Nevertheless, Paul has more to say:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:3-4, ESV)

You see, God expects you to rule as an agent of justice. One who upholds the moral law which God wrote on each of our hearts. He expects you to advocate for the cause of the widows and orphans, and those who are impoverished. He expects you to punish evil doers. This Judeo-Christian ethic, which not only our nation but all of western civilization is predicated upon, is enshrined in much of our laws. It is the foundation of our constitution and our democracy, which you swore to “preserve, protect, and defend.”

Among these injustices are the suppression of the free exercise of religion promised in our bill of rights, the restrictions that have begun to encroach on our freedom of expression and association, and many other things that challenge the founding ideals of liberty and justice for all persons under God. Chief among these —and the main reason you garnered the evangelical vote— is the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent children who you so aptly described as being ripped apart in their mother’s wombs. You promised us that you would do everything possible to end the barbaric and self-interested practice of infanticide, and we expect you to follow through. If you act according to God’s laws in ruling our country, we not only desire to be loyal to you, but we are obligated.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Rom 13:5-7, ESV)

You see, it is true that Paul commands us to submit to our governing authorities, but that instruction is contingent upon those governing authorities fulfilling their obligation to be a terror to those who do evil, but not to those who do good. Those who do wrong should rightly fear your exercise of the sword. Those who do good should have nothing to fear from you. However, for far too long our government has been a terror to those who do good and has called what is wicked to be righteous. If you follow in this pattern, it is not us who will overthrow you, but God himself. Just as he brought you to power in the providence of his secret will, he will likewise cast you from that same office.

Mr. President, I want to close this letter by offering you my sincere congratulations, and affirming my commitment to pray for you. Of course, I will pray for wisdom and prudence as you shoulder a tremendous burden. However, more than that I will pray for your salvation. I know you claim to be a Christian, but you sir, are not. You have said you do not seek God’s forgiveness because you do not need it. That could not be further from the truth. You have surrounded yourself with spiritual yes men, and Paula White is the worst. I will pray that God will convict you of your sins and that he will regenerate your heart. After all, Paul did not only command us to obey you but to pray for you as well.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4, ESV)

With that closing thought, may God bless you personally with a regenerate heart, may God bless your presidency with prosperity and honor, and may God bless these United States of America with liberty and justice for all.

SBLGNT, Robinson/Pierpont, and the Majority Text

One thing that I commonly hear repeated in discussions between Textus Receptus and Critical Text advocates is the idea that modern text critics always, or nearly always, favor the readings found in the oldest manuscripts as opposed to the readings found in the majority text.

Now, it’s not an exact study, but this generally means that the Robinson/Pierpont text represents the majority text while Critical Texts represent a different reading.

I contacted Michael Holmes, who is arguably an heir of Bruce Metzger, and the publisher of the recent Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament. He is also a friend and was my Greek professor in college.

The SBLGNT apparatus is slightly different from other critical apparatuses in that rather than explain which manuscripts contain which readings, it instead shows which major Critical Texts contain which readings. The four major Critical Texts he compares are Westcott-Hort, Tregelles, NA28/27, and Robinson/Pierpont. Generally speaking the RP favors the majority/Byzantine text type. The WH, Treg, and NA28/27 tend to favor the Alexandrian text type. For this reason the RP tends to be closer to the TR, while the other three usually depart from the TR.

Back to the original claim. The original claim is that modern Text Critics always, or nearly always, favor the oldest texts. This is the case, so says the TR advocate, even when there is a vast majority of readings in the manuscript traditions which differ.

However, as is always the case with sweeping statements, a single exception disproves a universal claim. While it is true that the careful TR advocate will not claim this as a universal fact, I have far too often interacted with TR advocates who are not quite so careful.

Back to Dr Holmes and the SBLGNT. Because of his unique apparatus, it is quite easy to see instances where Holmes chooses the same reading as the Robinson/Pierpont do, as opposed to WH, Treg, and NA28/27. There are 56 such instances.

Now, I know that this doesn’t prove conclusively that Holmes ever favors the Majority/Byzantine text type over the Alexandrian (which presumably represents the earliest manuscripts in most cases) it does serve as a handy response to the sweeping claims of the TR advocate. If Holmes and RP chose the Byzantine, then Holmes —IE a modern text critic in the tradition of Metzger— has chosen the Byzantine text type over the Alexandrian. If Holmes and RP chose the Alexandrian text type, then WH, Treg, and NA28/27 —IE modern text critics in the tradition of Metzger— have chosen the Byzantine text type over the Alexandrian. In either case it disproves the sweeping claim.

Although most of the instances consist of a single word, of particular importance is Romans 16:24 where WH, Treg, and NA28/27 omit the verse entirely while Holmes and RP include it. According to Bruce Metzger.

The earliest and best witnesses omit v. 24.[1]

So here we have an explicit instance of a modern Text Critic (Holmes) siding with the Majority/Byzantine text as opposed to simply siding with the earliest witnesses.

Beyond that, there are also a number of cases where one of the three critical texts agree with RP against the other two, and 46 instances where Holmes prefers a reading that all four other editions reject.

This conclusively disproves the claim that modern Text Critics always opt for the oldest reading, even in the face of overwhelming numbers of manuscripts in the Byzantine text type.


  1. Roger Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), 324.