The preaching of John the Baptist in Luke 3

The Sunday gospel lectionary reading for Advent 3 in Year C is Luke 3.7–17, and it follows closely on from last week’s reading; verse begins ‘He therefore said to the crowds…’ which some English translations omit. The content of his teaching raises some fascinating issues about repentance, judgement, and discipleship, and the way in which the teaching of the kingdom is (or is not!) radical and revolutionary.

It is not completely clear whether the linking ‘therefore’ points us back to the verses from Isaiah that Luke has just quoted, or the fact that John ‘preached a baptism of repentance…’ In any case, the two are closely linked together; as we noted last week, Isaiah’s message was that the one who prepared the way for the visitation of God to his people was to make the crooked straight, a metaphor for change and straightening of life.

John’s greeting to the crowd hardly looks encouraging! Language of ‘brood of vipers’ introduces a persistent theme in this section, that of fruitfulness. The language of ‘brood’, γέννημα, refers to ‘that which is produced’, the offspring, sometimes called ‘the fruit of the loins’; verses like Deut 28.4 link this with other kinds of ‘fruit’, of loins, of land, and of livestock. Whether you are the offspring of vipers, or of Abraham, will be shown by what your offspring is in terms of the kind of life you lead. The play on this idea continues right to the end of our passage, in that the language of ‘fruit’ in the New Testament includes reference to the grain of the harvest, which sounds odd to our ears. But in this way the question of who is our true ‘father’, what kind of life we lead, and how we will fare on the day of judgement are all linked together.

The term translated ‘viper’, ἔχιδνα, has entered English as the name of the spiny anteater, echidna, through an error of etymology—but is in fact a general term for snake which does not allow us to identify a species. In the Jewish and canonical context, snakes are associated with the work of Satan as primeval opponent of God, all the way from the Garden of Eden to the Book of Revelation (see Rev 12.9 which uses the alternative for snake ophis); in a Greco-Roman context, the idea of animal physiognomy would imply that, because a snake slithers on the ground, a snake-like person is ‘cruel, harmful, insidious…, terrible when it decides to be, quick to flee when afraid, gluttonous… Such men are… devoted to evil doing’ (cited in Parsons, Paideia on Luke, p 66). Either way, it is hardly flattering!

There is some irony in his question ‘Who told to flee the coming wrath?’ because, in a sense, it is John who has done so! It suggests that the proclamation of the kingdom of God by John and Jesus is both good and bad news, in that it both proclaims liberty to captives but also judgement for those who have not turned to God’s ways, where we, in contemporary discussion, often treat it as an unqualified blessing. Luke’s gospel is often pointed to as a narrative where judgement has been excised or postponed, particularly in relation to Jesus’ so-called ‘Nazareth manifesto’ in Luke 4—yet it is in this gospel that the fall of Jerusalem is most unambiguously associated with the judgement of God on his people for failing to show the repentance and response that John calls for here (see Luke 19.44).

(We should note, in passing, that the New Testament writers never describe God as ‘being angry’ with anyone; the language of ‘wrath’ as a noun signifies God’s steadfast holy opposition to all that is sinful, rather than being an emotion directed towards people with whom God is cross.)

The language of verse 8 makes it clear why the verse 7 began with a ‘therefore’; John is here expounding what his ‘baptism of repentance’ actually means. It is no mere rite, but is a visible sign of a change of heart and mind, leading to a change in life. (The idea that anyone ‘whether Christian or not, everyone has the right to ask their local parish church to provide baptism’ is a theological nonsense; spiritual life is not a medicine that can be doled out, as if the church was like the NHS!) Producing fruit is not so much about showing virtues or qualities, as much as acting in particular ways. That is true here just as much as it is in the well-known verses in Gal 5.22; the list there is of particular ways of conduct, as is shown by the contrast with the preceding list of the ‘works of the flesh’ (‘acts of the sinful human nature’) in Gal 5.19–21. The New Testament is consistent in portraying judgement as being on the basis of actions—note the repeated refrain in Rev 2 to 3, ‘I know your works’—since it is a changed life which is the unequivocal evidence of a changed heart. There is no separation here between the inner and the outer life, as if you could believe something without acting in a way that did not express it.

It is not present in the Greek text here, but behind John’s language there might be a pun on the language of ‘sons’ and ‘stones’, since in Hebrew a ‘son’ is ben and a ‘stone’ is eben. But the contrast of the ideas remains, in that sons or children are living people who come from the fruitful life of the parent, whereas stones are the epitome of lifelessness. God who is the source of life is able to bring life from that which is lifeless.

But John here raises a crucial issue most explicitly expounded by Paul in Romans 2: in contrast to what we might expect (from a certain way of reading the Old Testament), it is the response to the grace of God in repentance and obedience which truly determines your membership of the ‘offspring of Abraham’, and not your ethnic identity per se. In fact, this should not surprise us at all, since it is a repeated theme of the prophets; it explains why some of Israel are excluded from the promises of God, whilst many who are not part of Israel ethnically are included.

The image of the ax being ready to chop down the tree is another picture of judgement which reinforces the language of ‘wrath’ earlier; though no agent is mentioned explicitly, it is clear that God is the one who judges and so is the one who also wields the ax. This images connects both with Jesus’ later language in the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13.6–9, which in Matt 21.18–22 and Mark 11.12–25 is enacted by Jesus, as well as Jesus’ teaching in John 15 about branches that do not bear fruit being cut off and burnt.

Luke characteristically recounts the teaching to groups of people in the form of a dialogue, with the crowds responding to John’s provocative proclamation with the question ‘What, then, should we do?’ A similar questions is repeated by the toll collectors in Luke 3.12, the soldiers in Luke 3.14, a lawyer in Luke 10.25, a rule in Luke 18.18, the Jerusalem audience in response to Peter’s preaching in Acts 2.37, the jailer in response to Paul’s miraculous deliverance in Acts 16.30, and a zealous Jew in Acts 22.10. The action of the Spirit and the preaching of the kingdom consistently provokes a personal crisis which leads to the question of response; ‘the redemptive visitation of God demands response’ (Joel Green, NICNT on Luke, p 177).

Neither translations ‘tunic’ or ‘shirt’ really work for χιτων—which referred to the garment worn by women and men next to the skin, over which something heavier might be worn in colder times—simply because habits of dress have changed. The point is not about the particular garment, but about the need to share with others anything beyond the simple necessities of life. In the same way, the language of broma signifies food in general, and is used interchangeably with the term for ‘bread’ in the ‘bread of life’ discourse in John 6.

Jesus doesn’t have a beef with the Inland Revenue; we need to read the (traditional) language of ‘tax collectors’ in its social context. Taxes on land and on people under Roman rule were actually collected by local Jewish councils; the telones mentioned here were responsible for collecting what we might call indirect taxation—customs duties on goods, tolls and other duties. This would be particularly important on trade routes and at borders, so it is no surprise that they feature here by the Jordan and on the shores of Lake Galilee. The right to collect these tolls and duties was ‘privatised’ by the Romans, who gave the license to the highest bidders, so that there was both authority and motivation to exploit the situation as much as possible and charge the maximum. (Isn’t it a good job that, in the enlightened times we live in, such corrupt practices as giving such roles to the highest bidders would not be countenanced in a democracy…?)

The role and the way it was assigned made toll collectors hated as both wealthy and exploitative, as well as making them collaborators with the occupying power. Yet Luke’s focus on the ‘inclusive’ nature of the gospel means that the wealthy, compromised and corrupt are included in the gracious call of God to receive forgiveness and to amend their way of life.

There is no particular reason to think of the ‘soldiers’ mentioned here as Romans; they might equally well be Jews in the service of Herod Antipas, who ruled this region of Perea. John’s response fits the general temptations of those with (military) power who are able to take advantage of the local populace to their own personal advantage. (This kind of exploitation was such a problem that, according to Josephus, Julius Caesar had to issue a decree forbidding soldiers from extorting money from those living in the territories of the Jews; Antiquities 14.204 and 14.392, cited in Parsons, Paideia p 67). It is perhaps striking that John’s primary rebukes here relate to the misuse of power—financial, social, and military.

John condemns certain practices of the toll collectors and soldiers, but does not follow the tradition of the Jewish prophets in condemning unjust structures. Does that make his ethics compromised or bourgeois? Not at all:

John calls for a radical generosity in which everything beyond subsistence necessities is vulnerable to the claim of need. Jesus asks for no more. He adds only the clarification that such generosity is not only for those of one’s own group, but shows its true nature especially in being extended to the enemy (Luke 6.35–36) (John Nolland, WBC on Luke, p 149 cited in Parsons, p 67).

John’s proclamation ensures that his baptism is understood as an assault on the status quo, that to participate in his baptism is to embrace behaviours rooted in a radical realignment with God’s purpose (Green, NICNT, p 173).

Only Luke includes here the speculation of the crowds (the third mention of crowds/the people) that John might be the promised, anointed (Christos) one who would bring God’s deliverance to his people—but their understanding of who this would be appears at this stage to be quite unformed. The clarification of what this ‘Christ’ would do becomes one of the themes of the gospel.

There are several significant images of eschatological judgement in John’s response. First, the promise of the Holy Spirit being poured out (‘baptism’ means being immersed in or overwhelmed by) is connect with ‘the last days’ in Joel 2.28. Although we might naturally associate ‘fire’ with the tongues of flame at Pentecost in Acts 2, but in fact it is an image of judgement, as the phrase ‘unquenchable fire’ makes clear. (Two interesting things to note here. First, the Greek term for ‘unquenchable’ is asbestos from which we get, well, asbestos! Second, fire is primarily an image of destruction, not torment.) John seems to expect Jesus to be one who will bring the judgement of God to his people and to the wider world.

In Luke’s gospel, there is a sense that judgment is postponed until the end of Jesus’ ministry, with an intervening period of grace creating an opportunity to respond. By contrast, Matthew is less reluctant to record the language of judgement in the teaching of Jesus, and this is particularly noticeable in Jesus’ six-fold use of the phrase ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ in Matt 8.12, 13.42, 13.50, 22.13, 24.51 and 25.30.

The coming of the kingdom of God means the coming of the longed-for presence of God with his people. But that will also mean a challenge to the reigning powers of this world, and the personal challenge to us: to whom do you owe your allegiance? Will you respond to the urge call to welcome what God is now doing, and change your ways and your priorities? And this challenge comes most sharply in the ministry of Jesus himself, who will one day return as judge and king over all the earth. For John’s hearers, there is practical action to be taking as they wait to meet the coming of God—and for us, too (as expressed consistently in the parables of Matt 24.36f and Matt 25), our patient waiting for the return of Jesus should be marked not by ‘looking for signs’ but simply by getting on with our Master’s business (Matt 24.46).

John is right about judgement and Jesus, with two important qualifications. The first is that this judgement is postponed—in the case of Israel until the destruction of the temple in 70AD, and in case of all humanity until the return of Jesus as judge at the end of the age. And the second qualification is that the basis of judgement shifts; for John it is avoided by repentance, baptism and the fruit of that change in tangible change of life. In Jesus’ teaching this is taken up into the question of decision about following him: judgement is no longer on the basis of being part of the ethnic Jewish people of God; nor on the basis of whether we change and begin to obey God’s just commandments; but it is now on the basis of being incorporated into the renewed people of God by accepting Jesus as Lord, and living a new life of holiness empowered by the Spirit. And all this is possible only because of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection for us.

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33 thoughts on “The preaching of John the Baptist in Luke 3”

  1. ” It suggests that the proclamation of the kingdom of God by John and Jesus is both good and bad news, in that it both proclaims liberty to captives but also judgement for those who have not turned to God’s ways, where we, in contemporary discussion, often treat it as an unqualified blessing.”

    How true that is. The omission/downplaying of the bad news is the most serious failure of the Church and to reverse the trajectory away from the Articles and Homilies should be top priority for all who believe that they truly summarise what the Bible says.

    Phil Almond

    • I agree that we must present the cross as a sign of judgement for those who refuse to turn to God as much as we present it as a means of salvation for those who will turn to him.
      In doing this though we shouldn’t present God as equally willing in each case! The justice of God is not eager to damn – it is as we see in the cross always motivated by seeking if possible to create the circumstances under which it will be possible to show mercy. Even when that chance is gone we must present God as the one who because of his mercy and grace exhausted every avenue – instead of as the one eager to eternally damn people.

      • Philip
        I should have added in my last post that I agree with Calvin when he writes, commenting on Ezekiel 18:23, “Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we look now through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our intelligence.”

        Phil Almond

        • Hi Phil,

          To win me you will need to quote scripture. I would need to understand how Calvinism is consistent with the following passages:

          2 Peter 3:9 ESV
          The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that ANY should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

          Acts 10:34-35 ESV
          So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation ANYONE who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

          Or otherwise be shown that we are entitled to believe that God can both will that all men be saved while also willing that some be damned. I don’t believe that we are. Let’s imagine that we were though – that God can both want all people to be saved while also planning to create some people only so that he can pour out his wrath on them. It means that the cross – instead of being the means by which we can come to know God RELATIONALLY – and see the fullness of his character revealed – becomes a question mark. We are then only in a position to know that God has DONE two seemingly opposite things without being told why – instead of being able to KNOW and experience the character of God. The Calvinist would protest here – he would say he experiences God’s mercy – but he does this by being myopic – by relating to God only in respect of God’s treatment of him.

          For us to experience the truth relationally we have to come to see one or more aspects of his character revealed in a consistent way. If we do not we have – whether or not we have chosen to consciously – begun life as a Pharisee – someone who believes not only that it is POSSIBLE to believe in things that are true intellectually without them being confirmed by God’s Spirit to our spirit – but someone who MUST do this to be relying wholly on (Calvinist) grace. At least in as much as our mind rules our faith (I am slowly coming to understand that while someone might have Calvinist beliefs this doesn’t prove that their faith is only mind to mind – there are for example a few charismatic Calvinists around – not many – but a few. For the reasons I have explained I find it hard to imagine how these people’s spiritual life (their Spirit to spirit life) – what the Spirit reveals to their spirit – does not lead to some kind of crisis with their intellectual life).

          Pharisaism is receiving the word without receiving Jesus:
          John 5:39 ESV
          You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

          I therefore ask that you explain your beliefs from scripture and show how I have either misunderstood both of the passages of scripture I quote – or how it’s possible to believe them while also believing things which are seemingly inconsistent with them.

          These issues lie at the heart of epistemology – at the heart of what it means to know God – so there is little choice but to engage in a hopefully helpful manner in respect of them. For what it’s worth I write what I write as one who is strongly inclined towards Pharisaism (the word without Jesus) more than liberalism (Jesus without the word) – these being the only two ways to sin. Although in my apathy concerning obeying all of scripture I am also a liberal. My tendency is towards inappropriately excluding – more than inappropriately including (the latter being liberalism). It would therefore be seriously unfortunate if you came away from reading what I write here with the impression that I as one inclined to the heart of the Pharisee am writing with the heart of one who wishes to exclude. I have to ask God to help me to remove the Pharisee from what I write – and when he then does it’s appalling what is revealed to me. I am God’s mercy and grace away from being a complete joke – I write a pile of garbage and then – if I can restrain myself long enough to throw up what is barely a prayer – God then reveals to me in exactly what way it is. Or I find out after the damage is done – only in the passing of time. And yet he does not abandon me – my sin is covered because my behaviour arises out of weakness instead of wilfulness (my will – as far as I am aware – and this is of course all that we can be expected to be – remains set to offer God whatever he should demand of me). Glory to God!

          God bless you mate.

          • Hi Philip

            I refer you to Kuiper’s God-Centred Evangelism pages 40-41 (I can’t find this passage online; if I could I would include it here). He writes that Reprobation is undeniably taught in Romans 9:21,22 and in 1 Peter 2:8 and that the universal and sincere offer of the gospel is assuredly taught in Ezekiel 33:11 and 2 Peter 3:9 and elsewhere. He goes on: “We may as well admit -in fact it must be admitted – that these teachings cannot be reconciled with each other by human reason. As far as human logic is concerned, they rule one another out. However, the acceptance of either to the exclusion of the other stands condemned as rationalism. Not human reason, but God’s infallible Word, is the norm of truth. That Word contains many paradoxes. The classical example is that of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The two teachings now under consideration also constitute a striking paradox. To destroy a Scriptural paradox by rejecting one of its elements is to place human logic above the divine Word. To subject human logic to the divine logos is the part of child-like faith. It is noteworthy that in the history of the Christian church those theologians who have been most insistent on the truth of divine rejection have also upheld most emphatically the universal and sincere offer of the gospel. A few examples follow. It is generally known that John Calvin taught divine reprobation. At time he even took a so-called supralapsarian position; that is to say, he held that the decree of predestination logically preceded the decrees of creation and the fall. Yet, in commenting on Ezekiel 18:23, which parallels Ezekiel 33:11, he said…”. He then quotes what Calvin said, which includes the statement I have already given above. He then gives two more examples of the paradox from the Canons of Dort and Herman Bavinck.
            I do not believe the supralapsarian view is right. Indeed I question whether these logical order distinctions are valid. But if pressed I would say the infralapsarian view is right. Also I think (though I cannot quote an example) that Calvin was not completely consistent in all that he wrote on this subject, But I do think that in the quote I have given he got it right. I am comfortable with believing the truth of both parts of the paradox, humbly acknowledging that their consistency is a truth known only to God – one of his secrets, as in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law”.

            Phil Almond

          • There is a much less dramatic explanation for 1 Peter 2:8 and Romans 9:21-22 – the only verses you present in support of divine reprobation – namely that they refer to God choosing to ensure that instead of ethnic Israel being saved that both Jews and non-Jews who choose to receive him by faith will be saved. So Romans 9 then becomes about a God who is wanting to INCLUDE people not EXCLUDE people in his salvation plan. It is those who refuse to receive Christ who are appointed to not believe and those who do accept him who are appointed to believe. This is the way that the non-Calvinist understands God’s predestination – namely that God has chosen Christ as the means of people being able to come to him or reject him. See those all important two words “In Christ” in Ephesians 1.
            With that alternative reading in mind Phil I ask you – why would someone choose to accept a view of God which makes him self-contradictory – which requires him to have no known character – when the entire Bible reveals that character and shows God reaching out to ALL human beings? You must surely be open to considering an explanation which doesn’t take a sledge hammer to all of scripture. To not do so is to create all the issues which I explained above – namely that you must believe truths intellectually which cannot be relationally confirmed – to concluding that one cannot know God relationally – except in as much as one contradicts in one’s spirit what God has revealed to one’s mind.
            You can hear William Lane Craig explaining a non-Calvinist understanding of Romans 9 at the link below.

        • Romans 9 is infralapsarian. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy implies a fallen humanity. Supralapsarianism seems to me to attack God’s goodness.

  2. It seems to me that John’s message can be classified as threefold:
    1. ‘Challenge’ to repentance.
    2. ‘Confrontation’ with self-righteousness.
    3. ‘Comfort’ of pardon for sins and new life in the Spirit, through the good news that will be preached by the one who will follow John.

    • My three are in some ways the same as yours, but with a different order and emphasis:
      1. The one you have all been waiting for is coming – but, like Jesus he won’t use ‘Messiah’ and likely for the same reason ie the popular understanding of that was significantly in error.
      2. Therefore get ready by turning from your sinful lives. And don’t suppose that you get any sort of bye because you are Jews. And you will have to change what you do.
      3. I baptise with water, but he will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
      This is in all 4 gospels, so it is probably important.
      And yet it does not really come up in those gospels until right at the end.
      No one is recorded as asking Jesus ” John said that the one coming after him would baptise people with the Holy Spirit – so when are you going to do that ? “

  3. Note that John the Baptist’s rage is confined to those whose behaviour is wilful (knowing) contempt for the truth. Although he does of course call all to repent.

    God does not have feelings of hatred towards those whose sin is weakness – or those whose sin is wilful but ignorant.

    But why not? Haven’t all people rebelled against God? Yes – but our current sin isn’t necessarily wilful rebellion – it can be merely the CONSEQUENCE of our having rebelled against God in the past – making us weak – subject to the flesh. We are responsible for our sin – but this does not mean we ARE our sin. Only Calvinism says that we ARE our sin – with all the shame that goes with that. We only ARE our sin when we are wholly possessed by evil – when we show contempt for God’s full revelation of himself in Christ. The wages of sin is therefore death – not hell. I never understood why until I came to the overall position I am outlining here. The wages of EVIL – as distinct from sin – wilful rebellion against God’s love in Jesus – is hell. At that point hell is in effect what we have actively chosen.

    Does this mean that there will be some people who rebel against God’s revelation in creation who will only die – instead of be in hell? No it doesn’t. We are spiritual – our bodies die but our spirits do not die. It is possible for God to judge people worthy of hell as a result of the NATURE of their response to his revelation of himself in creation. God can from this know how people will respond to his revelation in Jesus – and may even not bother to ensure that someone receives that higher revelation. In that sense creation leaves ALL without excuse – even if it makes some worthy of death and others worthy of hell. This is why in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 there are two groups of people who will be in hell – “those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”.

    I come to the conclusion that our initial rebellion against God makes us worthy of death not hell because of another belief that I feel compelled to have from scripture – namely that people always respond to God’s revelation of his love IN JESUS (not creation) – whether positively or negatively – the same way. I get this belief from verses such a Philipians 1:6
    And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
    How can Paul be sure? There are only two possibilities – either he is sure because salvation overrides the will of people – or because people always respond to God’s revelation of his love IN CHRIST (not creation) the same way. If people’s initial rebellion against God created the same culpability in them as their rebellion against the love of God shown in Jesus there would be no reason why any sinner would become a Christian.
    The nuanced views I express here may be held by others – I don’t know – I haven’t read every theological book ever written – or even a few of them! I haven’t because they almost universally irritate me – I cannot see how the ideas in most theological books begin from – and extend from a clear picture of the character of God. And of God’s character being unchanging – and always love. Maybe the attempts I have made were unfortunate – I looked in the wrong places.
    Because I am not aware of whether the nuanced aspects of my views have any support I naturally remain open to feedback. If you think I have things wrong please chime in – with scripture. And/or reasoning arising from scripture.

    • Your unwrapping of scripture chimes with me. The fact that there are degrees of award in the age to come seems to support your position.

      • Hi Steve,
        It’s interesting you bring up degrees of reward in heaven. I mentioned as I was going along above that there are only two options for why Paul can be sure in Philipians 1:6 that God – who began a good work – will carry it on to completion – that either salvation is irresistible grace – or that we always respond to God’s FULL revelation of himself IN CHRIST (whether positively or negatively) in the same way. Rewards in heaven is further evidence that the correct option has to be the latter – if salvation is solely a work of God (instead of reliant on God’s grace at every moment but still requiring us to act – the non-Calvinist position) then why would there be rewards in heaven? Shouldn’t God be rewarding himself?
        So I think your point is an excellent one – any view of salvation which finds no room for human participation MUST be wrong.
        Thanks for chiming in Steve.

        • I am mulling also the statement by Jesus that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John. I suppose it means not the holder of a point of view but the actual message , evAngel, contained therein. We have a message > John’s.

        • Hi Philip
          If you think that my view “finds no room for human participation in salvation” then I have not succeeded in explaining my view so that you can understand it. I must try again in another post.

          Phil Almond

          • Hi Philip
            Just two quick points showing divine sovereignty and human action – I have more to say but it will take time:

            “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul”. The Lord opened her heart and she attended.

            “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
            For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”.
            God works in us and we work out with fear and trembling

            Phil Almond

          • Phil, if you think that the section of my reply you quoted was intended to mean that I think that Calvinists think people don’t even appear to do anything as they are converted then of course that is not what I think.
            People APPEAR to repent etc – but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether they were exercising freedom when they were. Therefore before I write lots of words – can I ask – do you believe that in respect of all conversion and sanctification that God predetermines everything? Once you answer that question I will – depending on how you answer – ask you how your belief (just expressed in your most recent reply) that human beings have free will – fits in with that.

          • ….. But they have been arguing with the referee! Nietzche accuses Confucius of having no free will and Confucius say name go in book.

          • Hi Philip
            As I said, I have more to say. But I need some time to do that, including to explain what I think about ‘fee will’. Please bear with me as I find time to reflect on these vital matters at this busy time.

            Phil Almond

  4. ἔχιδνα according to Liddell-Sott-Jones means ‘viper’ (citing several classical authors). At the very least, the word denotes a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3). Jerome/the Vulgate translates as vipera, meaning viper or poisonous snake, so I suggest it be left as that.

  5. I should ask – since it is relevant here and John is baptising in this passage – how do you square John the Baptist’s `baptism of repentance’ with the infant baptism that the Anglicans practise? Isn’t baptism supposed to be an acknowledgement that God has worked within you and brought you to repentance? In other words, it is (a) a public declaration of a work that has already been done and (b) at the same time, a sacrament, which in some mystical sense helps to strengthen the believer. `I have been baptised’ is important to a believer (and it is difficult to see how this works when it was `done’ to them at a time in their early infancy that they cannot remember).

    More generally, having baptised an infant (which is presumably supposed to imply having brought the infant into church fellowship in some sense), how do you go about communicating the central gospel message – which is rather brutal, involves a crucifixion and some rather horrendous things (e.g. the crown of thorns) leading up to the crucifixion – to the child?

    We like to keep our children ignorant of the `brood of vipers’ in the world around for as long as possible – and it is with some regret that we eventually see this breaking in on the child’s world.

  6. 1 Peter 3:21
    The water of baptism is symbolised in the story of Noah. By being baptised we are identifying with Jesus . He asks “can you be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?” I agree with you Jock, it is a bit of an ask to present a baby with this question. But it seems that in Paul’s time , ‘households’ were saved. This included everyone from the top down so infant baptism is just an aspect of that 1st C. Way of life. …not necessarily a superstitious reaction to a capricious deity. I expect it was only men who were baptised by John. They went home, called a general meeting for everyone, including farm hands and their wives, and announced the news; “you are all baptised”.

    • Thanks Steve.

      As I understand the NT, whenever the whole household gets baptised, it seems to add that they had all come to believe (so presumably they did all get baptised). Certainly, this is the case with the NIV translation of the Philippian jailer in Acts – although other translations don’t seem to make this so clear. There aren’t any clear counterexamples in the NT.

      I’d say that the family of the Philippian jailer did have an advantage – some clear unmistakable miracle had occurred and his life was saved.

      Presumably the pro-infant baptist people have good arguments for what they are doing, even though I can’t reconcile it with my own view of what baptism is supposed to be all about (and I can’t really reconcile it with John the Baptist in Luke 3).

      I’m more interested in the question of – what next? Having baptised an infant (and presumably taking the view that, following the baptism the infant is now part of church fellowship in some sense) – how do they go about communicating central gospel message to the child? Especially given the brutality of the message – and communicating it in any meaningful way introduces the child to a world of gratuitous violence.

  7. I thought because *all* were baptised all knew exactly what they were getting into, like the disciples of Jesus responding to his questions about baptism. Now, however, I think households were baptised wholesale. Servants, slaves, sons and daughters irrespective of their personal ideas. It was a patriarchal society after all. Infant baptism is a hangover of the old ways, it seems to me. Infants were expected to grow up in the family’s new way of life. There is no point in criticism of any method. John’s baptism , like all baptism, is symbolic , a starting point, a ticket to ride. The holder of the ticket still has to go and get on the train.

    • …. well, that makes a certain amount of sense. You mean that they were `baptised’ in the same sense as Nanki-Poo was executed in the Mikado (i.e. he wasn’t executed at all – they simply said that he had been executed).

      • Hi Jock
        I mean that say, back in Roman times a farm settlement would be evangelised, the appeal made to the head man. He decides for Christ and gets baptised, then all follow his example and follow the new ritual. It is just what every servant and slave is expected to do. The whole enterprise becomes Christianised. It only becomes apparent who has made a true conversion later when the fruit begins to show. Things were different then. Today for example, even toddlers are asked to make decisions on what to eat, wear, do, etc. I just think a servant in a household situation back then was conditioned to obey and never questioned much.

        • Steve – yes – I’ve been trying to mug up some Polish history – the `conversion’ of Poland under Mieszko I (approximately 970 AD) seems to have been for purely political reasons connected with good military alliances to prevent them from being invaded. Faced with the alternatives, it doesn’t seem to have been hard to persuade people to get baptised.

  8. On another topic altogether. Ian, on reading Christianity Today I notice you seem to be at the forefront of the Christian response to the conversion therapy bill. This may be an uncomfortable place to be. I trust you will know the courage and wisdom of the Lord.



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