TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

I.  Symbolic Rites

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Chapter 29  Part I

Symbolic Rites

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are considered by many churches to be the Christian rites or sacraments. “Sacrament” comes from a Latin term meaning “military oath”. The sacraments are often spoken of as being an outward sign with an inner significance. They are practiced by churches in worship ceremonies. Circumcision was also a rite practiced by God’s people, under the first covenant, but has no such relevance under the second covenant.


The Greek translated as “baptism” denotes washing in water. Opinions differ as to whether baptism need necessarily involve full immersion in water, as opposed to simply pouring or sprinkling water on the person being baptized.

God’s people are baptized in (or into) the “name” of Jesus Christ

Acts 19:5  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  ESV

Being baptized in or into the “name” of Jesus Christ, is in part a declaration of our identification and relationship with Jesus Christ, and our commitment or allegiance to him. This explanation reflects both the meaning of the Latin from which “sacrament” comes – military oath (as commented above) – and the concept of being united with him (discussed in the following subsection).

Baptism into Jesus Christ signifies being united with him – with the corresponding implications

Rom 6:2b-5  How can we who died as far as sin is concerned go on living in it? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into union with the Messiah Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore, through baptism we were buried with him into his death so that, just as the Messiah was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too may live an entirely new life. 5For if we have become united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  ISV

After indicating that baptism signifies the spiritual union of the believer with Christ (v. 3), Paul draws parallels between baptism and other aspects of this spiritual union. Paul appears to parallel one’s immersion in water at baptism, with being immersed in death with Christ in his death (vv. 3-4a, 5a). As such, baptism portrays the death of our old self which was enslaved to sin (cf. vv. 6-7), and so a death to sin (v. 2b). Subsequently baptism symbolizes one being raised up in union with Christ to live a new spiritual life (vv. 4b, 5b).

Baptism signifies belief

Acts 8:12  But when they believed Philip as he was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they began to be baptized, both men and women.  NET

Baptism is a declaration and confirmation of belief.

Baptism signifies the washing away of sins

Acts 22:16  [Ananias, to Saul:] And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.  NET

This should not be interpreted to mean that baptism in itself brings the forgiveness of sin. Rather, the external washing in water is symbolic of one’s spiritual cleansing.

Baptism signifies or is linked with receiving the Holy Spirit

Acts 10:47  [Peter:] “No one can refuse to baptize these people with water. They have received the Holy Spirit in the same way that we did.”  GW

Here Peter is referring to Gentiles who had come to faith.

 Questions for Section A

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is regularly practiced in churches. It primarily symbolizes and commemorates Jesus Christ’s death for us. The breaking of the bread symbolizes the breaking of his body, and the pouring out of the wine symbolizes the pouring out of his blood. Eating of the bread and drinking of the wine is in part a declaration of our own belief in Christ’s death and its implications – and correspondingly signifies our participation in the forgiveness and other outcomes that it made possible.

Observe the Lord’s Supper – in remembrance of Jesus Christ and his death

1Cor 11:23-25  [Paul, to the Corinthian believers:] For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  NET

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 25) speaks of Jesus Christ’s blood, shed in his death, introducing the new relationship – or covenant – between God and his people. In part at least this was achieved by his death bringing forgiveness for the sins of God’s people. The shedding of his blood inaugurated the new covenant and ratified or sealed it (cf. AMP, GNT, NCV, NLT) – just as the sprinkling of “the blood of the covenant” by Moses ceremonially confirmed the old covenant (cf. Ex 24:5-8).

Sharing in the Lord’s Supper also symbolizes sharing in the blood and body of Jesus Christ

1Cor 10:16-17  [Paul, to the Corinthian believers:] The cup of blessing that we bless is a sign of our sharing in the blood of the Messiah, isn’t it? The bread that we break is a sign of our sharing in the body of the Messiah, isn’t it? 17Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, because all of us partake of the one loaf.  ISV

The two rhetorical questions in v. 16 appear to imply that drinking from the cup and eating of the bread – in addition to remembering Jesus Christ and his death – symbolize one’s participation in what Christ’s death accomplished, i.e. forgiveness and thus salvation. However, in view of v. 17, the second rhetorical question may well additionally or alternatively mean that eating from the one loaf of bread symbolizes one being part of and participating in Christ’s body, the church.

Further insights on the Lord’s Supper

Acts 2:42  They [the believers] were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  NET

This suggests that the Lord’s Supper – “the breaking of bread” – should be practiced regularly.

1Cor 5:7b  [Paul, to believers:] For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  NET

Paul is drawing a parallel here between the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (with the resultant salvation) and the sacrificial lamb of the Passover meal (which signified the deliverance/salvation from Egypt). Particularly in light of this parallel, by instituting the observance of “the Lord’s Supper” at a Passover meal (cf. Matt 26:17-19, 26-28) Jesus himself may have been intimating a parallel between it and the Jewish Passover meal. As such, observing the Lord’s Supper similarly celebrates and signifies God’s salvation – but a greater, ultimate salvation.

Do not participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner

1Cor 11:27-29  [Paul, to believers:] It follows that if anyone eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, he or she is guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28So then, you should all examine yourselves first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29For if people do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when they eat the bread and drink from the cup, they bring judgment on themselves as they eat and drink.  GNT

The instruction to “examine” oneself before participating in the Lord’s Supper (v. 28) refers primarily to examining the manner in which one is approaching the Lord’s Supper, so as to not do so in a flippant, unworthy manner (v. 27), not bearing in mind its significance (v. 29). Paul may also have in view the need – in preparing to participate – to examine the right state of ourselves before God, examining our hearts for unconfessed sin.

 Questions for Section B

Circumcision: Its Needlessness

Circumcision of males is the cutting off of the foreskin. Jewish males undergo circumcision in keeping with both God’s covenant with Abraham (their ancestor), and God’s covenant and law for Israel, i.e. the Mosaic Law.

In regard to God’s covenant and law for Israel, being circumcised signifies one’s adherence to the law – on which the covenant was based – as the way to righteousness. This is in contrast to and at odds with the way of faith in Jesus Christ, which God introduced in conjunction with the new covenant.

Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham – and included in the Mosaic Law

Gen 17:9-11  And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.  ESV

John 7:22-23  [Jesus, to the Jews:] Moses ordered you to circumcise your sons (although it was not Moses but your ancestors who started it), and so you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23If a boy is circumcised on the Sabbath so that Moses’ Law is not broken, why are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?  GNT

Circumcision does not bring salvation

Acts 15:1-2, 11  Now some men came down from Judea [to the church at Antioch] and began to teach the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2When Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this point of disagreement. …[Peter:] 11On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”  NET

In v. 11 the apostle Peter sides emphatically with Paul and Barnabas, indicating that circumcision and adherence to the OT law (which circumcision symbolizes) do not bring salvation.

For believers, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any consequence

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight – the only thing that matters is faith working through love.  NET

It is our hearts that must be circumcised – as is ultimately accomplished by God

Deut 10:16  [Moses, to the Israelites:] Therefore, circumcise your heart and stop being stubborn.  ISV

Deut 30:6  [Moses, to the Israelites:] Then the Lord your God will circumcise both your hearts and those of your descendants so that you can love him with your heart and with your soul and therefore live.  ISV

Circumcision of the heart involves changing to become responsive to God. It involves “cutting off” the rigidity of sin from a person’s heart.

 Questions for Section C

Pray for persecuted Christians

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