[B-Greek] Acts 10:48 (Was B-Greek Question)

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Sun Apr 23 08:22:25 EDT 2006

> [Buth]:
> > This may illustrate one of Carl's points on voice. It also illustrates
> > that texts need to be read from within the culture or shared framework
> > of author and audience.
> Looking at the 77 instances of BAPTIZW in the GNT, at the most 3 are middle in sense, the rest are active or passive.
> > A person should ask how a first century Judean might read the passage.
> > Baptism/tevila, after all, was a common Jewish practice, for some a
> > daily practice, for others an occasionally ritual cleansing, and also
> > practiced with prosolytes. Archaeologically, we have miqvaot (baptism
> > pools) all over the Land. Not just the massive installations around
> > the temple, but at Qumran, and next to an olive press at Gamla in the
> > Golan (showing 1st century halachic practice), and in such Hellenistic
> > cities as Tsipori, to illustrate the cultural spread.
> I think we should first and foremost ask how the word is used in the NT, rather than trying to squeeze the text into a
> Jewish mold, where it does not fit.
> The normal word in the NT for the common Jewish miqvah cleansing is hAGNIZW (John 11:55, Acts 21:24, etc.)
> Only two times is the verb BAPTIZW used in a sense that corresponds to this common Jewish practice.
> One is Mark 7:4 where the aorist middle is used: BAPTISWNTAI. Here there is no indication of any agent, and it is
> implied that the people themselves perform the cleansing. (The noun BAPTISMOS is also used in this verse for Jewish
> ritual cleansing, although the reference is to cleansing of things, not people. There are different BAPTISMOI - Heb
> 9:10, but only one BAPTISMA - Eph 4:5).
> The other is Luke 11:38. Here the word is passive in form, but probably middle in sense. It is not clear to me from this
> text whether the cleansing was only for the hands or whether the intention was a complete immersion in a miqvah.
> >
> > Culturally, the person "baptising someone else" is functioning as a
> > witness and a teacher. Contrary to endless debates, they did not dunk
> > or pour (or sprinkle). The person being baptised went down with their
> > own motor skills while the teacher was a witness. Now many people on
> > the list will read Acts 8:35ff as putting Phillip in the water itself,
> > but that is not a necessary reading if one starts with the cultural
> > pictures just described. As for the Greek here, the PAQHTIKH
> > experiencer/passive would be naturally read as MESH middle.
> >
> As far as I can see these claims are not supported by the texts we have in the NT.
> If you can tell us more about the use of baptism with proselytes, that may help us to see the development from one of
> the many Jewish BAPTISMOI to the new Christian BAPTISMA.
> In John 1:25 The Baptist is challenged as to why he is performing baptisms. Was he the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?
> It seems clear that if someone was baptized by such a leader, one would become a disciple of that leader. It appears to
> be a one-time initiation rite, not a routine miqvah cleansing. Rabbis did not baptize their disciples, did they? It
> would have to be someone very special.
> In Acts 19:4, some disciples are asked EIS TI OUN EBAPTISQHTE?
> Again, this cannot refer to a common miqvah cleansing, but must be a discipleship initiation. Paul was expecting them to
> have been baptized into the name of Jesus, but they responded by saying that their baptism was TO IWANNOU BAPTISMA.
> Paul then explained that John's baptism was a preliminary initiation rite that dealt with repentance from sins, so in
> some ways it was similar to a miqvah cleansing, but it may also have had an element of discipleship. Paul goes on to
> explain that John the Baptist had not wanted his disciples to be his disciples forever, but they should come to faith in
> Jesus Christ and follow him. All who decided to be disciples of Jesus were to be baptized into the name of Jesus (and
> the Father and the Holy Spirit) as a sign of their allegiance to him. That was not a daily or repeated occurrence, but a
> once and for all initiation rite, and therefore quite different in meaning and function from a miqvah cleansing.
> Those disciples of John were then baptized into the name of Jesus to show that they were now his disciples.
> It may be helpful to read Hebrews again and hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, especially chapters 6-9.
> Heb 9:8-10 has an important comment on these Jewish cleansing ceremonies:
> "The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was
> standing. 9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect
> the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings (BAPTISMOI);
> they are external regulations - DIKAIWMATA SARKOS - imposed until the new order came." (NET)
> Since there is a paradigm shift from Jewish cleansings to Christian baptism, one should be careful not to read into the
> NT a traditional Jewish order that has been replaced by a new order.
> Iver Larsen

Yes, one needs to take account of things that move from one paradigm
to another. The fun part of this, should people enjoy these kinds of
discussions, is that much of this is not as clear as people assume.

>I think we should first and foremost ask how the word is used in the NT, >

I appreciate this, as long as one remembers the accidental/random
nature of such a procedure. It is the equivalent of asking what is
N.I.V.-NT English? I speak English, but I really don't know what
N.I.V.-NT English is and would need a concordance to check. Nor would
I consider the resulting "language" either self-defining or complete.
One of the implications of relevance theory is that the meaning of a
code and language is invariably tied to the culture and perspectives
of those using it. I expect that we are agreed on this point.

You [Iver] listed Acts 21:24 AGNIZEIN as referring to a
miqve-immersion while I read the context as referring to animal
sacrifices for purification. A miqve immersion could be done anywhere,
even the ocean, while in Acts21 the specific Temple locus,
head-shaving, vows, and payment, means that the animal sacrifices for
purity are being referred to. Of course, they would incidently have
immersed in a miqve, too.

>Since there is a paradigm shift from Jewish cleansings to Christian baptism,>

Agreed. However, this shift took place over a seventy year trajectory,
from the time of two Jewish prophets preaching and practising a TVILA
in the bush EN TH ERHMW (say circa 30 CE) to the time of the DIDAXH
(c. 100CE). Baptism is discussed in this last document TH DIDAXH in
the non-Jewish section (the first 6.2 chapters are usually seen as a
re-editing of a Jewish two-ways catechism.) Just what kinds of
practices were those tens-of-thousands following, all of the Judean
believers, seeing that they were still attending the temple?
(tens-of-thousands MURIADES corrects most English translations)
Incidently, I read the title of PROS TOUS EBRAIOUS as a late addition
to an anonymous, unaddressed text probably written PROS TOUS
13:7 point to a non-Jewish audience. And a literal application of
chapters 6-9 to the Jewish church in Jerusalem would appear to
disenfranchise the whole mother-church being described virtually
simultaneously by Acts 21. Not a likely senario, in my eyes, though
probably so-read from the second century on.

While archaeologically the stairs and some dividers in a MIQVE point
to single-person activities, and the miqvaot around the Temple would
have been the natural locus for the baptisms on Pentecost in Acts 2;
and while culturally people immerse themselves, that does not mean
that lack of contact with another person was absolute. Mishna Miqvaot
8.5 mentions "someone who holds on to a man or vessel while immersing
them--the person or things are unclean". That is, the tvila is
invalid. the physical contact of the outside person renders the
immersion invalid. However, the same mishna continues: "if one [the
baptiser] had rinsed his hands in the water, the person or vessel is
clean. Rabbi Shim`on says, 'If he lets go." So there were occasions
when some kind of contact took place. I am ignorant about what this
was, though I could make guesses. The principle, of course, was for
complete purifying contact with the water. Nothing between the person
being immersed and the water. Absolutely nothing, practically

Which raises other natural questions. What kind of clothes were worn,
or not, as the case may be? What about public places and privacy?

I assume that by the time of the DIDAXH new questions and practices
had arisen for a multiethnic and multicultural community, which still
leaves a 70 year trajectory to deal with. It took another few
centuries for ecclesiastical practices to develop and fix. Incidently,
there are pictures in a Callistus catacomb Rome from c175CE in one of
which John is dressed and on a bank and Jesus comes out of the water
alone, neked (Texas dialect, at least when Willie Nelson sings), with
a dove in upper left corner. See Jerusalem Perspective
www.jerusalemperspective.com search 'baptism', or Flusser, Jesus,
Magnus, 1997:  p41.

Anyway, that is a different picture of baptism from what I am used to
seeing in various churches. And for b-greek, the main point is not
whether or not we read the same way, but that the vocabulary, forms
and syntax need to be read within the ancient cultural perspectives to
the degree that we are able to reconstruct them. there is also a kind
of spiralization, not exactly circularity to all of this, because we
need to use texts and random preservations to build the framework for
interpreting the texts.

braxot le-Haggim smeHim

Randall Buth, PhD
ybitan at mscc.huji.ac.il
randallbuth at gmail.com

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