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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Thief on the Cross WAS Baptized

Everyone assumes that the thief on the cross who repented wasn't baptized (Luke 23:39-43). But who's to say he wasn't? John's baptism came a few years prior to this (as recent as three years prior, as Scripture tells us). And Scripture also tells us that "Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him" (that is, John), and that “they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins“ (Matthew 3:5-6). Now we may reasonably assert that “all” doesn’t mean “all” in a fully inclusive sense here (unless one disagrees with limited atonement and therefore realizes the consequence of agreeing with this assertion). But Matthew is using hyperbole here, in order to indicate that the vast majority of people from these places went out to be baptized by John. So how do we know that the thief on the cross wasn't also baptized by John? And if we insist on taking “all” in a wooden, literalistic sense here, thus ignoring the standard conventions of normal language, then the thief on the cross must have been baptized.

Some scholars, however, propose that John's baptism wasn't the same as Christian baptism, which Jesus instituted at His ascension. While this may be true, I don't think one can reasonably argue that there wasn't a continuity between the two. Even then, one may reasonably assume that the thief was a Jew, and therefore would have been circumcised. As Colossians 2 tells us, baptism is the New Covenant sign of initiation into God‘s people, replacing circumcision, which was the Old Covenant sign (Col. 2:11-15). If he wasn’t a Jew, then how did he know who the Messiah was to be, or that Jesus was going to come into His Kingdom (Lk. 23:39-42)? Such, it seems, would have required more than a passing knowledge with the Jewish Scriptures, and therefore he must have had a Jewish upbringing. Therefore, whether he had the New Covenant sign, or just the Old Covenant sign, it appears the thief on the cross had the sign of the covenant.

It seems to me, then, that we paedobaptists have simply copped to the argument of the Believers baptists. They say that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, noting that the thief on the cross wasn’t yet “born again”. But for us to use the same argument is simply to consent to the idea that one must be regenerated before he is baptized. I see no place where Scripture requires this, and it seems the thief on the cross is actually irrelevant to the discussion after all.

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