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Revista Studii Teologice

REVISTA FACULTĂŢILOR DE TEOLOGIE DIN PATRIARHIA ROMÂNĂ



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"Omul - subiect pasiv în renaşterea baptismală. O perspectivă ioaneică"

Man – a passive subject in baptismal rebirth. A Johannine perspective

Autor(i): Răzvan PERŞA


Summary: Man – a passive subject in baptismal rebirth. A Johannine perspective
The present article starts from the remark that Romanian Biblical editions render the verbs related to baptismal rebirth by reflexive forms and meanings, unlike the Greek Biblical text which presents the passive voice as the only authentic version from grammatical, semantic and theological perspective. Thus, this article aims to demonstrate that man is a passive subject of baptismal rebirth, based on the Johannine perspective on Baptism, and on the interpretation of the verb γεννάω as a reality of baptismal rebirth, as against the verb βαπτίζω. It also intends to bring up for further discussion, through philological, Biblical and Patristic argumentation, the fundamental soteriological issue underlying a genuine comprehension of the Holy Baptism’s mystery.
The first part of the article highlights the etymological, lexicological and semantic aspects of the verb βαπτίζω, as well as the use of the term in Ancient Greek literature, noting that we cannot give this verb the meaning of ritual ablution or cleansing, but at most we can assimilate this verb to some sacred practices.
In the following chapter, we discuss the occurence of the term βαπτίζω in Old Testament writings, demonstrating its specificity as the verb is used to designate the immersion necessary for washing, and received a ceremonial connotation much later, as well as the fact that it cannot be translated by wash or cleanse, but it can only indicate a method, as the act is at most purifying, but not regenerating. In Old Testament writings, the action indicated by the verb βαπτίζω has a reflexive meaning and can be associated with certain Judaic practices. The Jewish peculiarity is rendered by the verb’s use in the middle voice, showing that the action is carried out by the respective subject.
The following chapter synthesizes the use of the term in New Testament writings, focusing on the Gospels and the Pauline writings, to employ the result as grounds for revealing the Johannine meaning of the term βαπτίζω. Thus, we have identified and classified the term’s use into eight great semantic categories, designating: 1. The Jewish cleansing ritual (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38); 2. The people of Israel crossing the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:2); 3. John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance, with which he baptized the crowds; 4. Metaphorical sense: baptism as eschatological action - the baptism with Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33); 5. The baptism performed by the disciples of Jesus, during His activity (John 3:22. 26; 4:1); 6. Jesus’ baptism as starting moment for His messianic activity (Mark 1:9, Matthew 3: 13-17, Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34;) 7. Death as baptism (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50); 8. Technical term designating the Christian Baptism (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16).
For each category, we have stated that the verb βαπτίζω: is used in the middle voice in order to designate Old Testament realities, either Jewish ablution, or as metaphor for the people’s passage through the Red Sea, showing the link with prior developments; then starting with John’s baptism, the passive voice is predominantly used for baptism in messianic times. Moreover, we stated that Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan points to His death and resurrection as general baptism, in which we all participate as passive subjects. The use of the passive voice of βαπτίζω indicates that we participate in our own baptism as passive subjects; participation is represented by not resisting the grace and passive acceptance of God’s will. We demonstrate that the verb βαπτίζω and the noun βάπτισμα, as technical terms employed to designate Christian baptism, reveal the way of performing the ritual act rather than its deep meaning. These two terms provide an exterior perspective on baptism, but cannot provide an internal, theological perspective on the Holy Baptism Mystery. The verb βαπτίζω designates the act of baptizing, not the Holy Mystery of Baptism. We also stress the relationship between faith and the act of baptism and we have not found, in the excerpts examined, no condition for faith to precede baptism.
The following chapter, the core of the article, deals with the use of the term βαπτίζω in Johannine writings, which develop a holistic perspective on baptism, adding to the reality of the sacramental act the reality of the relation between the two baptismal elements: the Holy Spirit and the water, and especially the ontological dimension of divine filiation given through baptismal rebirth. We have investigated the context and recurrence of the term in all Johannine writings, focusing on chapter 3 of the Gospel according to John. Based on the Johannine baptismal theology and the use of the verb exclusively in the passive voice, we have asserted that: 1. Man is a passive subject of baptismal rebirth; 2. Baptismal rebirth is unique, unrepeatable (the use of aorist); 3. Baptismal rebirth is connected to the event of Christ’s death and resurrection (third conditional, future passive condition). 4. It is a Mystery, faith cannot replace it and it is not a mere confirmation of faith. The effects of baptismal rebirth are: complete spiritual cleansing, birth to a new life and total transformation, power or capacity of becoming sons of God (John 1:12), having complete freedom to avoid sin and do justice (John 3:8; 1 John 2:29; 1John 3:9), to love (1John 4:7), to believe in Jesus Christ (1John 5:1), to conquer the world (1John 5:4), to reach the state of sinlessness (1John 5:18).
The following chapter dwells on Romanian notable translations, showing that Romanian Biblical editions render the verbs concerning baptismal rebirth by reflexive forms and meanings, contrary to the Johannine text and theology which use the passive voice, to denote that the subject undergoes the action or that the verb’s action is performed onto the subject. Passive voice does not entail the necessity of a preliminary act of will from the passive subject, but it implies the existence of an agent whether it is expressed or not. Thus, we can assert that the performer of the action, the active subject, who is also the ultimate or direct agent, is God Himself, and the the means for performing the action are the water and the Holy Spirit (ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος).
In the final chapter, we bring dogmatic and patristic arguments to complete our argumentation and support it. The patristic perspective is approached in a diachronic development structure.
We conclude that: concerning the relationship between faith and Baptism we can assert, on Biblical grounds, that in New Testament writings, especially in the Johannine perspective, man is a passive subject of baptismal rebirth, and faith does not represent a sine qua non condition for the Christian baptism. What is mandatory is man’s response of faith, after baptism. The baptism is the stating point for faith, received from God as a gift of baptismal rebirth. Baptism is the Mystery of receiving, not the Mystery of conditioning. Thus, we can state, on Biblical, dogmatic and patristic grounds, that show man as a passive subject in the act of baptism and baptismal rebirth, that baptizing childen does not contradict baptismal Biblical theology and performing it complies with the New Testament texts and theology.

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Pagini: pp. 205-228