dianoigo blog Fellowship of Christian Bloggers Christian Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Christadelphian baptismal examination (interview): a theological critique

1. The theological rationale for the Christadelphian practice
2. Robert Roberts' defense of the practice
3. A biblical-historical evaluation of Roberts' argument
3.1. Baptismal examination in The Apostolic Tradition?
4. The epistemological problem with baptismal examinations
5. Conclusion

In a previous post, I outlined the Christadelphian practice of baptismal examinations or interviews,1 focusing on purpose and content. In this article I want to offer some theological comments on this practice. Note that these comments are not directed at baptismal interviews per se, nor even at Christadelphian baptismal interviews per se, but rather at Christadelphian baptismal interviews as traditionally practiced and understood. As already discussed, the distinctive features of the traditional Christadelphian practice (as endorsed in recent Christadelphian literature)2 are:
  • The purpose of the interview, which is 'to make sure that candidates fully understand what they are taking on and have sufficient knowledge of the Truth to make baptism valid.'
  • The content of the interview, which varies considerably from one ecclesia or interviewer to the next, but seems to include, at a minimum, the following topics: God's nature and character; promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David; future kingdom of God on earth; regathering of Jews into land of Israel; the Fall and sin; the state of the dead (no immortal soul); Jesus shared our human nature, died, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven; Jesus will return to earth; Jesus is Christ, Son of God but did not personally pre-exist and is not co-equal with God; Holy Spirit is God's power, not a person; God is not a Trinity; devil is a figurative concept and not a personal being; resurrection of the dead and judgment; meaning and function of baptism; necessity of obedience after baptism; personal motive for wanting baptism. This list of topics is a 'lowest common denominator'; most interview scripts cited in the previous article covered numerous other topics.
Hence, the traditional Christadelphian baptismal examination practice is unique in relation to baptismal interviews practiced by other Christian groups both for the lofty theological purpose attached to it - ensuring the efficacy of baptisms - and for the very detailed and specific theological content covered and assessed.

We noted in the previous article that this unique practice rests on two core Christadelphian doctrines. The first is baptismal regeneration - the idea that a person is born again in Christ not through faith alone but in the physical act of baptism, which is consequently essential for salvation. This doctrine has an impressive pedigree from patristic times up to the present, so Christadelphians are by no means alone in professing it.

The second doctrine we might call baptismal validation by knowledge - the idea that for regeneration to occur in the waters of baptism, there is a prerequisite, namely knowledge of 'the Truth', i.e. the fundamentals of the gospel (as defined by Christadelphians).3 Ostensible 'baptism' in the absence of such knowledge has no more spiritual efficacy than a bath, despite the best intentions of baptizer, baptizand and congregation. Unlike baptismal regeneration, this second doctrine seems to be unique to Christadelphians in church history. The Christadelphians' forebears in the Stone-Campbell movement held a version of this doctrine, but for them the knowledge necessary for a valid baptism was simply that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The origins of the Christadelphian view, in which a comprehensive understanding of biblical doctrine is necessary for valid baptism, can be traced to a dispute between John Thomas and his fellow 'Campbellites' in the 1830s. Dr. Thomas began re-baptizing Baptists who joined the movement on the grounds that their previous baptisms had been invalid. As he explained in his periodical, The Apostolic Advocate,
My conviction is, that all among us, who have not been immersed upon the confession that Jesus is the Christ, and who did not understandingly appreciate the value of his blood, had better be re-immersed upon that confession - and that all, from this time forth, who may wish to join us from the Baptist denomination (a few excepted who can show just and scriptural cause for exception,) be required to make an intelligent confession and to be re-immersed.4
Complaints about this practice reached Dr. Campbell, who publicly rebuked Dr. Thomas, describing his practice as legalistic.5 Interestingly, one of Campbell's observations was 'that if Thomas were to be consistent, then some type of council ought to pass judgment on every one’s baptism to see whether he understood why he was baptized.'6 In this, Campbell virtually anticipated the later Christadelphian practice of the baptismal examination! A letter to Dr. Thomas from the elders of the church in Baltimore, printed in The Apostolic Advocate, also offered a gentle rebuke of his views on re-baptism. Some of their comments are so cogent and prescient that they are worth reproducing at length:
Those whom we receive from the regular Baptist churches did on a former occasion believe the message of salvation as taught by their preachers, and having believed the truth, they, on their knowledge of the facts, were baptised "into the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Therefore, we conclude (that although this profession was made in the way of experience) that their baptism was and is valid, and need not be repeated, although through the neglect, or perhaps the ignorance of their teachers, the profession was not at the time propounded to them... We SUPPOSE that before their immersion they knew the Lord, although they were, perhaps, unacquainted with the duty of publicly confessing with the mouth, and no doubt were ignorant of many of the duties, privileges, and blessings which belonged to them in the new relation, which they had formed, without, no doubt, their being able to decide, to their own satisfaction, whether the forgiveness of sins, through the favor of God, was obtained through faith, repentance, or baptism, or whether that blessing is conferred as the consequence of them all... We would also remark here, that perhaps not one half of the present number now in the reformation, had the question of faith on the Son of God, publicly propounded to them on the eve of their immersion, or understood that the forgiveness of sins was the special consequence of obeying. We would humbly ask, What you would do with such! Would you call their immersion invalid? Would you confine valid baptism to those who have obeyed within the last few years or, would you renew baptism on every additional accession of knowledge, which the Christian attains to, and should attain to!... It will not be asked in the great day of accounts, who enlisted you, or how much you knew of the blessing you were to enjoy, and of the bounty of the King at the time of your enlistment. It will be rather, have you been a good soldier all through, have you obeyed me at all costs, have you acknowledged me, defended my cause in good and evil report, have you been kind to your feeble companions in their distresses after my example, have you, according to your opportunities and ability, taught them my will, and have you, by your counsel and your example, encouraged them to do it faithfully! If you would re-baptize every one who knows less of the "one faith, one Lord, and one baptism" than you now do, it might so happen (for who is perfect in knowledge) that some years hence, some disciples may excel your present knowledge, and call on you to submit a second time to immersion, and in this way, we would, instead of the one baptism, have every one who is diligent in acquiring knowledge, immersed every year.7
Remarkably, these brothers inadvertently predicted John Thomas' own re-baptism that he would undertake just over a decade later in 1847, after changes in his theology caused him to doubt that he had been validly baptized before.

The position eventually adopted by Christadelphians - that a knowledge of the Truth (i.e. the fundamentals of Christadelphian theology) was necessary for valid baptism - has had radical implications for how Christadelphians have related to professing Christians outside their community, although we cannot explore this issue in detail here.8

These two doctrines, which are both clearly expressed in the Christadelphian Statement of Faith, are vital to understanding the traditional Christadelphian baptismal examination practice, because they provide the theological rationale for it.

Robert Roberts was, it seems, largely responsible for institutionalizing the baptismal examination practice within the Christadelphian movement. As noted in the previous article, he briefly explained the practice in The Ecclesial Guide, and referred readers to a possible template for such an examination in The Good Confession (1869). In a preface to the latter work, Roberts made 'a defense of the practice of examining candidates for obedience'. This remains, to my knowledge, the most detailed theological argument for baptismal examinations ever made in the Christadelphian community.

Roberts regards the need for a baptismal examination as self-evident from the two doctrinal premises outlined above (baptismal regeneration and baptismal validation by knowledge):
No one admitting that the validity of immersion depends upon a belief of the Gospel preached by the apostles can consistently deny the propriety and necessity of an endeavor on the part of those to whom the application for immersion may be made, to ascertain whether this pre-requisite qualification actually exists.9
Having provided the basic rationale for the practice, an important problem Roberts must address is the lack of explicit biblical precedent, i.e. the absence of evidence that the baptismal examination was an apostolic practice. He states, 'But some hold that examination is altogether unscriptural, & that it is a practice savoring of priestly arrogance.'10

Roberts' response to the second objection is straightforward: he stresses that 'the efficacy of the candidate's immersion' does not depend 'on the administration or sanction of the examiner'. Thus,
We cannot impart validity to immersion by compliance, nor can we vitiate it by withholding countenance. But, as a matter of the commonest order and self-protection, we are bound to ascertain whether a man applying for immersion believes the truth of the Gospel or not.11
To this issue of ecclesiastical authority we shall return. As to the question of whether baptismal examinations are unscriptural, Roberts' defense is quite ingenious. His argument hinges on the difference between the apostolic age and our own:
It is a mistake to draw a parallel between the apostolic era and our own time, as to the particular method of arriving at this knowledge [i.e., knowledge of whether the candidate meets the prerequisites for immersion]. The circumstances are so totally different as to preclude a comparison.12
In his construal of the first-century situation, Roberts emphasizes its simplicity: 'The apostles came on the ground with a fresh, and (among those receiving it) uncontested doctrine concerning Christ.' He argues that the earliest hearers of the gospel faced a simple binary decision: either Jesus was the risen Christ, or a dead impostor. For one who believed the former, 'few words were needed to define his position'; there was a 'guarantee' that 'the doctrines embodied in Christ' were received by such a person. Turning to the case of Pentecost (Acts 2), Roberts acknowledges that 'there was no examination on that occasion' but contends that 'it was not necessary', because these converts were devout Jews 'grounded in the elements of the Law and the Prophets', who 'looked for the Messiah, and in great part believed the truth concerning the Messiah'. Hence, 'the only question on which their minds had to be changed was the identity of the Messiah.' Furthermore, Peter taught them with 'many words', and 'His words were words of authority, and therefore the implicit reception of what he declared stood in the room of the examination'.13 Roberts further discusses the cases of Philip and the eunuch, and Peter and Cornelius. He summarizes:
In apostolic days, there was divine authority present in every case to direct, and perfect submission to authority on the part of those who were obedient. This constitutes the great difference between that time and our time.
Hence, Roberts argues, there was no need for 'critical examination' in the apostolic period.

A key paragraph in Roberts' biblical argument for baptismal examination reads as follows:
Jesus associates baptism with belief (Mk. 16:16); and it is our duty to him to see that this association exists, so far as we are called upon to sanction a profession of his name. Philip is recorded to have observed this precaution in the case of the eunuch (Acts 8:37). Paul at Ephesus re-immersed 12 men, on putting their faith on a right footing (Acts 19:3-5). In ALL recorded cases of baptism, BELIEF PRECEDED IT, and it is an outrage on common sense to suppose that the parties immersing took no steps to ascertain the existence of that belief. The dictates of common sense coincide with apostolic example and scriptural induction.
It is not entirely clear here what 'steps' Roberts thinks were taken to ascertain the existence of sound belief in apostolic times. He may be suggesting on the basis of 'common sense' that some form of baptismal examination must have taken place in those days, even though the practice is never actually mentioned. Elsewhere, however, Roberts seems to concede that baptismal examinations are a departure from apostolic practice - albeit a justifiable one.

In The Ecclesial Guide, Robert Roberts cites the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) as a passage that might be used to justify 'immersing a believing stranger at a moment's notice'. On purely rational grounds he then argues instead for the necessity of a baptismal examination 'as a matter of order and self-protection'.14 Essentially, Roberts is arguing that, given the contemporary circumstances of the Ecclesia, she is justified in modifying apostolic practice. As he writes elsewhere:
In apostolic days, there was divine authority present in every case to direct, and perfect submission to authority on the part of those who were obedient. This constitutes the great difference between that time and our time. And with a difference of circumstance, there is of necessity a difference of method of procedure in the matter, but the result aimed at and secured is THE SAME: the induction of men and women into Christ by the belief and obedience of the truth... The mode in our day found effectual for ascertaining whether an applicant for immersion is qualified by a scriptural apprehension of the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ is exemplified by the following [he proceeds to give a suggested pattern of interview questions]15
One could summarize Roberts' argument in four points:
  • The baptismal examination is logically necessary, given the doctrines of baptismal regeneration and baptismal validation by knowledge
  • Although baptismal examination is never explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, baptism is always preceded by belief, and 'common sense' requires that some method of ascertaining belief must have existed
  • Because our circumstances differ from those of the apostles, we have the right to modify their method, provided the same end goal is in view
  • The practice of baptismal examination is not a grab for ecclesiastical power, since no claim is made that the examiners have any special authority or powers of discernment

One can certainly concede to Roberts that the practice of baptismal examination is logically necessary, given the doctrines of baptismal regeneration and baptismal validation by knowledge. However, this being the case, if these two doctrines are both biblical it is all the more surprising that the associated practice is never mentioned in Scripture. Roberts' attempts to account for this silence are unconvincing.

The passages he cites as circumstantial support for baptismal examination are all problematic. Mark 16:16, which says 'The one who believes and is baptized will be saved', is part of the 'long ending' of Mark which is generally recognized by biblical scholars today as inauthentic. Acts 8:37, which is the only biblical evidence for something even resembling a baptismal examination (albeit consisting of just a single question), is not in the earliest manuscripts of Acts and is generally recognized by textual critics as an interpolation.16 And the 're-immersion' in Acts 19:3-5 is not simply a matter of knowledge; it is a matter of a different baptism: 'the baptism of John' versus baptism 'in the name of the Lord Jesus'.17

Hence, while it is true that belief and baptism are clearly linked as cause and effect in the New Testament, this makes it all the more telling that there does not seem to be any intervening diagnostic step to verify the doctrinal knowledge of baptismal candidates. The silence extends also to the Didache, a church manual probably from the late first century which specifically deals with procedures for preparing candidates for baptism.18

Roberts next argues that baptismal examination was not needed in the apostolic period as it is today, because 'In apostolic days, there was divine authority present in every case to direct, and perfect submission to authority on the part of those who were obedient.' Peter allegedly preached on the Day of Pentecost to Jews who understood the law, the prophets and the truth concerning Messiah; all they lacked was knowledge of the identity of the Messiah. This all seems a very simplistic and naive picture of the situation facing the earliest church at Jerusalem. It is well known that Second Temple Judaism was theologically diverse, so could it really be assumed that all the diaspora pilgrims listening to Peter at Pentecost had a pristine understanding of gospel truth apart from Messiah's identity? As just one quick case in point, is it not plausible that the 'Egyptians' in the crowd (Acts 2:10) might have believed in the immortality of the soul, given that the best known Egyptian Jewish writer of the first century, Philo of Alexandria, did? From a Christadelphian point of view, should the Hellenistic Jewish converts not have been screened for such ideas? And what about priests who believed (Acts 6:7, some likely from a Sadducean background), or Gentiles who believed from an Athenian philosophical background (Acts 17:34) or an Ephesian magical background (Acts 19:19)? Was there no need for a diagnostic baptismal examination practice in such cases?

As for 'perfect submission to authority', what of the case of Simon Magus? Soon after he believed and was baptized he showed himself to be 'in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity' (Acts 8:23). Surely he would not have passed a rigorous baptismal examination, so did Philip err in baptizing him?

We can also point out that the New Testament epistles rebuke the readers for major lapses in doctrinal understanding, but never express doubts about whether the readers are validly baptized, or recommend that they be rebaptized.19

One cannot, in the end, prove that baptismal examinations did not take place in the first century. However, there is no evidence that they did, and this practice thus highlights a serious inconsistency in the oft-repeated Christadelphian claim regarding the source of their practices:
'As Christadelphians, our aim is to recapture the beliefs and practices of the early church.'20
'We model our beliefs and practices as closely as we can on the first century church, which makes us different to most other Christian groups.'21
'Christadelphians follow the beliefs and practices of first century disciples.'22
Can a group claim to be following first century practices as closely as possible while simultaneously institutionalizing a practice for which there is no first century evidence? Robert Roberts apparently believed so, because he considered the modern Ecclesia to be at liberty to modify apostolic practice at this point to suit 'common sense' and changing circumstances. It is worth noting here the similarity between this line of argument and that used by John Calvin to justify sprinkling as a legitimate mode of baptism. Commenting on the encounter between Philip and the eunuch, Calvin acknowledges that 'the men of old time... put all the body into the water' but claims that 'the Church did grant liberty to herself, since the beginning, to change the rites somewhat'.

Christadelphians might recoil at this comparison: surely a change in the mode of baptism from immersion to sprinkling is far more radical than a change in pre-baptismal procedures. Or is it? Roberts himself used the word 'mode' to describe that which it was appropriate to change. And the addition of a completely new pre-baptismal practice which potentially restricts access to the waters of baptism altogether is arguably a much more substantial innovation than a change in the way water is administered. (And, interestingly, we do have evidence from within the first century that a non-immersive mode of baptism was permissible.)23

In summary, Robert Roberts' defense of baptismal examination does little more than highlight the anomalous nature of the case. Christadelphians, who are generally very scrupulous about grounding their beliefs and practices in the explicit teaching of Scripture, have in this case institutionalized a practice devoid of any such basis.
I would like to comment briefly on an early Christian text, The Apostolic Tradition, traditionally attributed to Hippolytus of Rome. Written in the early third century, it seems to preserve practices in the church of Rome that go back at least to the second century. Robert Roberts did not refer to it, but since Christadelphians have cited this text in connection with discussions on baptismal examinations, I want to preemptively address the possibility that it provides a precedent for Christadelphian baptismal examination practices.

The relevant features of the Apostolic Tradition are found in the description of catechetical and baptismal procedures in chapters 15-21 and the points that roughly parallel Christadelphian practice may be summarized as follows:

  • Those brought forward to hear the Word will first 'be questioned concerning the reason that they have come forward to the faith... They shall be questioned concerning their life and occupation, marriage status, and whether they are slave or free.'
  • People in certain occupations are to be rejected unless they cease their occupation.24
  • Catechumens are to hear the word for three years before baptism.
  • Before receiving baptism, the catechumens' lives are to be 'examined' for good works.
  • Upon entering the water, the baptizand is asked three questions beginning with 'Do you believe...' and corresponding to God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit respectively. The baptizand is to respond 'I believe' each time.
To be sure, there are certain correspondences between these practices of the early church and the Christadelphian practice of baptismal examinations. However, in other respects the baptismal practices described in The Apostolic Tradition show major theological differences from Christadelphians. For instance, each baptismal candidate is subjected to an exorcism and is required to verbally renounce Satan. The baptizand is immersed thrice. After being baptized, the baptizands are anointed with holy oil. The bishop lays hands on them and prays for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit. They then go to receive their first communion, which is clearly understood in a 'real presence' sense.

Moreover, even the practices described above are not as similar to Christadelphian practices as they may appear. The only explicit mention of an interview (being 'questioned') occurs before one begins the three years of instruction in the word. The 'examination' that occurs at the end of the three years appears to focus exclusively on moral conduct and seems to consist of testimony from third parties and not an interview of the candidate himself/herself. If they pass this 'examination' satisfactorily, then they are allowed to hear the gospel! The purpose of these practices seems to be to maintain the moral purity of the community but also to guard the church and its teachings against infiltration by unworthy or malicious persons. This would have been very important at a time when Christianity had no legal status and constantly faced threats of persecution.

Importantly, there is no evidence of practices intended to ascertain that the candidates had a certain level of doctrinal knowledge prior to baptism. Nor is there any indication that the validity of a baptism depended on the candidate's knowledge (although the document does presuppose baptismal regeneration).25 Indeed, there is evidence to the contrary. First, Apostolic Tradition 19.2 states that catechumens should not be afraid to receive martyrdom even while unbaptized because in such a case 'they have received baptism in their own blood'. Martyred catechumens were understood to have been validly baptized even though they had not completed the instructional process or even reached the stage where they would hear 'the gospel'. Second, concerning the confessions to be made during the baptism, Apostolic Tradition 21.4 states, 'The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family.' This obviously presupposes the practice of baptizing very young children who were too young even to answer 'I believe.'

Hence, despite the long and rigorous initiation procedures of the Roman church attested by The Apostolic Tradition, there is certainly no parallel to the Christadelphian baptismal examination, i.e. a detailed dialogue about doctrinal subjects intended to ascertain that a candidate has sufficient knowledge for baptism to be valid.

Besides the lack of biblical and historical precedent, the traditional Christadelphian practice of baptismal examinations faces another major theological problem. The verbs Christadelphians attach to purpose of the examination, like 'ascertain', 'make sure', 'determine' and 'establish', carry great epistemological weight. But on what grounds can a Christadelphian rest assured that the examination has established the validity of his or her baptism? We have already seen Robert Roberts' admission that the examiners have no special authority or powers of discernment. In keeping with Christadelphians' low ecclesiology and hyper-cessationist pneumatology, the examination is viewed as a purely natural, human encounter without supernatural guidance. Yet what a huge task is placed on the shoulders of these fallible human examiners:
It is for the examining brethren to determine whether such an understanding [of the one Faith] and recognition [of the responsibilities of the step about to be taken] exists, because it is upon these that the validity of the immersion depends.26
Now consider the variables involved in 'determining' whether a candidate has sufficient understanding of the one faith to make baptism valid.
  • One must first determine how much knowledge is required for baptism to be valid. The Bible does not explicitly reveal this, so a complex process of biblical interpretation and systematization is required to arrive at an answer. The diversity of content across different Christadelphian baptismal interview scripts shows that there are differences of opinion on how much knowledge is required. To make this variable even more complex, one version of the Ecclesial Guide suggests the level of knowledge required is not a constant but rather a sliding scale depending on the candidate's 'age and intelligence'. Hence, determining how much knowledge is required for baptism to be valid not only requires a complex process of theological inquiry - the results of which are diverse within the Christadelphian community - but also an accurate appraisal of the candidate's intellectual capacity.
  • One must then determine how much knowledge the candidate actually has. While this might seem like an easier problem, there is much potential for errors in judgment to occur. For example, particularly in foreign mission settings, there may be a language barrier between examiner and candidate, not to mention cultural differences, making it difficult to appraise the candidate's level of understanding. It is also possible that a candidate may memorize stock answers to questions that came up in pre-baptismal instruction and 'parrot' these back to the examiner with little real comprehension. A candidate may have real doubts about the truth of a particular Christadelphian doctrine but may conceal them due to an eagerness to 'pass' the interview and enter the community. The examiner may accidentally omit a question on the interview script that would have uncovered a gap or flaw in the candidate's understanding. These and other possibilities show that assessing the candidate's level of doctrinal knowledge is not a trivial matter.
  • One must then compare the level of knowledge measured with the level of knowledge required and reach a yes-or-no verdict on the candidate's readiness for baptism. In many cases, perhaps the great majority of cases, the examiners will be satisfied without reservation that the candidate is ready (although this confidence may be misplaced, given the impossibility of determining the exact level of knowledge required for valid baptism). There may also be cases where it seems obvious that the candidate is not ready (although, again, this confidence may be misplaced). However, there will certainly be occasional cases where reaching a decision is difficult and there may even be different views within the examining team. In such cases, should one err on the side of caution and return a 'no' verdict to ensure an invalid baptism does not occur? Or should one err on the side of optimism and return a 'yes' verdict? These are very challenging questions, especially when a person's eternal destiny hangs in the balance. An example of a more conservative approach to the issue is that of Christadelphian writer F.G. Jannaway:
The brethren whose duty it is to examine candidates for baptism have a most serious responsibility, for they have in their possession, as it were, the keys of the Church, for with them is the power to admit to the fellowship of the Brotherhood the candidate before them... Unless the candidate has a clear understanding and appreciation, and a hearty belief in each and all of the foregoing, the examining brethren should not hesitate to postpone the baptism of the candidate (Acts viii. 12, 37). Far better both for the Truth's sake and the peace of mind of the candidate to delay baptism, than allow personal feeling to precipitate the most important step in one's life.27
Evidently, it is no easy task to 'ascertain' that a candidate has sufficient knowledge to render their baptism valid and effective. Does it make sense to suppose that God would leave this task to fallible humans? The consequences of an erroneous verdict would be disastrous. If the examining committee recommends a candidate for baptism whose knowledge is in fact insufficient, the result will be an invalid baptism. Hence, this person will in effect not be baptized, not be a brother or sister in Christ, but he or she will go through life thinking that he or she is baptized, and thus the mistake will never be rectified. This gives Christadelphians reason to fear as their knowledge of the Bible grows and they reflect on deficiencies in understanding they may have had when they were baptized. It is for this very reason that both Dr. Thomas and Robert Roberts underwent believers' baptism twice - twice as a Christadelphian in Roberts' case.28 Interestingly, Dr. Thomas' 1847 baptism (which arguably represents the beginning of the Christadelphian movement)29 was conducted by a friend at his request. There was clearly no baptismal examination, so his fitness for baptism was entirely a matter of his own private judgment. According to Christadelphian historian Peter Hemingray, Dr. Thomas still believed in immortal emergence at the time of his final baptism (an idea anathematized in the Christadelphian Statement of Faith),30 and his ideas about the nature of Christ and God had not yet fully developed.31

For Christadelphians to be baptized twice as Christadelphians seems to have been common in the late nineteenth century - at least Robert Roberts reports that it was.32 This is evidence that at that time, numerous Christadelphians wrestled with uncertainty as to whether they had been validly baptized. And it is no wonder, when their assurance was grounded in the fallible human judgment of an examining committee!

The Christadelphian baptismal examination practice, as traditionally understood, faces major theological problems. The first is that it has no biblical or historical basis, despite Christadelphians' claims to follow first-century Christian practice as closely as possible. The second is that the practice is not epistemologically viable. Specifically, there is no rational basis for Christadelphians to think that the verdict of an examining committee - devoid of Holy Spirit guidance - can 'make sure' that a candidate has the necessary knowledge to make his or her baptism valid.

In the early days of the Christadelphian movement, this epistemological gap apparently led to many rebaptisms as Christadelphians struggled with uncertainty over whether their initial Christadelphian baptism had been valid. It appears that such rebaptisms are very rare today. Perhaps this is the result of a less legalistic attitude toward baptism, in which divine benevolence is thought to make up what is lacking in the requirements for valid immersion. Certainly some Christadelphian ecclesias no longer imbue the baptismal interview with the lofty purpose which it had when originally instituted by Robert Roberts - in some contexts its function is now more social than theological (i.e., to ensure uniformity in doctrine and practice within the ecclesia but not to ensure the validity of a baptism before God).

However, the two doctrines on which the traditional baptismal examination practice is founded - namely, baptismal regeneration and baptismal validation by knowledge of 'the Truth' - are still in the Christadelphian Statement of Faith. And the pioneers rightly deduced - as did Alexander Campbell in his early critique of Dr. Thomas - that these doctrines necessitate some sort of examining procedure to verify that a candidate meets the prerequisites for valid baptism. Hence, in my judgment it is the conservative, traditionalist Christadelphians and not the liberal reformers whose baptismal interview practice is consistent with Christadelphian theology. At the root of the problem is the Christadelphian theological position 'that a knowledge of the Truth is necessary to make baptism valid.' This claim needs to be rolled back as part of any rethinking of Christadelphian baptismal examination practices.


  • 1 As previously noted, while many Christadelphians use the term 'baptismal interview' rather than 'baptismal examination', I will primarily use the latter term because it brings out the distinctive purpose and content of the Christadelphian practice in contrast to other groups that practice a baptismal interview.
  • 2 This demonstrates that the traditional understanding of the practice is still widely held in the Christadelphian community; hence this article is not critiquing an outdated straw-man.
  • 3 As Roberts put it, 'The validity of immersion depends upon believing the truth'. This is not Roberts' private judgment but a Christadelphian dogma: article 31 of the Doctrines to be Rejected in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith rejects the belief 'that a knowledge of the Truth is not necessary to make baptism valid'. In Christadelphian parlance, 'the Truth' (with uppercase T) is neither an abstraction nor a general reference to the content of Christian faith, but refers specifically to the Christadelphian belief system as distinct from all other allegedly Christian dogma.
  • 4 John Thomas, The Apostolic Advocate, Vol. 2, p. 67. What Dr. Thomas meant by 'understandingly appreciate the value of his blood' can be recovered from his teachings at that time on the significance of baptism. Based on the etymology of the word βαπτίζω, he reasoned that the word baptism conveys not only the idea of immersion but also of dyeing in scarlet. Hence, he concluded that baptism entails being dyed in the blood of Jesus, the 'divine dye'. He writes: 'Immersion is but one-half of baptism. A man may be immersed and yet not baptized; a man, however, cannot be baptized without being immersed. The fluid into which he is plunged must be tinged of a bright scarlet color. Let me not be misunderstood; it is not supposed that this tinge is obvious to the natural eye, but the eye of faith can see the crimson dye flowing from the pierced side of Jesus into all the baptismal waters. If a man confess Jesus to be the Son of God, and apprehends his blood shed for the remission of sins, and he be immersed in the waters of the Potomac, Rappahannock, Mattaponi, Pamunky or James river, the eye of faith can see those waters dyed around him with the blood of Jesus. The eye of faith, however, must be open in the person baptized or dyed... the subject must believe and confess for himself or his dipping will be mere immersion and not baptism.' (Thomas, John (1834). The Apostolic Advocate, Vol. 1, p. 122). Hence, because Baptists did not understand that the very waters of baptism were the means of washing away sins in the blood of Jesus, their baptisms were invalid, and re-baptism was necessary.
  • 5 Accounts of the controversy from the perspective of the Stone-Campbell movement can be found here and here.
  • 6 These are not Campbell's words, but are taken from a summary of his response here.
  • 7 Quoted in Thomas, John (1835). The Apostolic Advocate, Vol. 2, pp. 97-99. Emphasis added.
  • 8 If one must understand and believe the gospel as defined by Christadelphians in order to be validly baptized, and thus be a genuine brother or sister in Christ, it follows that the vast majority of professing Christians are simply not Christians at all. They are deceived into thinking they are Christians but their standing before God is no different than an atheist's. Now some liberal, non-traditional Christadelphians reject this principle of exclusivity and prefer to consider themselves one Christian denomination among many. However, the principle itself follows logically from the Christadelphian Statement of Faith, so liberal Christadelphians must either reject the Statement of Faith or act inconsistently. Such a liberal approach would probably have been regarded by Robert Roberts as apostasy.
  • 9 Roberts, Robert. The Good Confession, p. 1.
  • 10 Roberts, Robert. The Good Confession, p. 2.
  • 11 Roberts, Robert. The Good Confession, p. 2.
  • 12 Roberts, Robert. The Good Confession, p. 1; emphasis in original.
  • 13 Roberts, Robert. The Good Confession, p. 3.
  • 14 'There is, of course, a need for ascertaining whether an applicant for immersion understands and believes the truth. The validity of immersion depends upon believing the truth. In apostolic times, the belief was evidenced by the simple admission that Jesus was the Christ. The case stands differently now when nominal believers in Christ associate with their historical belief doctrines subversive of the scheme of truth which centres in his name. It is no longer sufficient for a man to say he believes in Christ, unless the statement means that he believes the truth concerning Christ. The simple confession of belief in Christ does not bring with it the guarantee it did in apostolic times, that the doctrines embodied in Christ are received. The apostasy has held sway for centuries, and still reigns with undiminished power; and through its influence there exists around us a state of things in which, while, so far as words go, there is universal profession of belief in Christ, there is an absolute and virulent rejection of the truth of which Christ is the embodiment. We must, therefore, dispense with mere forms and phrases, and address ourselves to the work of gauging the actual relations of things. We must find out the truth of a man's profession when he claims fellowship with us; and the genuineness of his faith when he asks to be immersed; and this now-a-days cannot be done without crucial test; for words have become so flexible, and mere phrases so current, that a form of words may be used without any conception of the idea which it originally and apostolically represented.'
  • 15 Roberts, Robert. The Good Confession, emphasis added.
  • 16 After the eunuch asks what prevents him being baptized (Acts 8:36), the Western text includes this dialogue: 'Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”'
  • 17 Also, the main emphasis in this narrative is on how these disciples initially lacked the Holy Spirit and subsequently received it after submitting to baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus. This feature of the narrative is neglected in Christadelphian exposition, since in Christadelphian theology the coming of the Holy Spirit is not an essential feature of life in Christ.
  • 18 The Didache provides a body of catechetical teaching, almost entirely concerning ethics, and states that this teaching should be 'rehearsed' prior to baptism. It also states that the baptizand, the baptizer and ideally others are to fast before the baptism. While the 'rehearsal' of the moral teachings might have taken the form of a dialogue resembling a baptismal interview, there is no indication that doctrinal content formed part of this rehearsal. Nor is there any indication that the validity of the baptism rested either on the candidate's doctrinal knowledge or on the outcome of the 'rehearsal' of the moral teachings.
  • 19 Examples from 1 Corinthians were discussed in a recent post. We can also mention Heb. 5:12, the source of the term 'first principles', used in Christadelphian parlance to mean the fundamental doctrines of the Truth. In context, the writer is rebuking his readers for their deficiencies in understanding the 'first principles' - but he does not call into question their status as brethren in Christ.
  • 20 Adelphicare, http://www.adelphicare.org/Christadelphians/Christadelphians.html
  • 21 Introducing the Christadelphians, p. 1.
  • 22 The Decline of Christendom.
  • 23 Didache 7.3 permits baptism to be performed by pouring water three times on the head 'in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit' if running or standing water is not available for immersion.
  • 24 These included artists who sculpted or painted idols, actors, charioteers, gladiators, pagan clergy, military governors, rulers of cities, soldiers, prostitutes and magi.
  • 25 This is clear from the bishop's post-baptismal prayer, which states that God has 'made these worthy of the removal of sins through the bath of regeneration' (Apostolic Tradition 21.21), as well as the concern to state that catechumens who are martyred 'with their sins not removed' (i.e. unbaptized) are still justified, 'for they have received baptism in their own blood'. Note that translations from The Apostolic Tradition are taken from this online translation.
  • 26 Roberts, Robert (1889). The Christadelphian. Reprinted in The Berean Christadelphian, Vol. 52, No. 9 (September 1964), pp. 30-32. Here p. 31.
  • 27 Jannaway, F.G. Christadelphian Answers, p. 85. A similarly conservative approach is enjoined by Robert Roberts. He holds the 'accommodative' practices of examining brethren 'largely responsible' for the spread of heresy in the ecclesias, and instructs: 'In the gentlest manner, but with the firmness which the importance of the occasion requires, the examining brethren should deal with all the points of doctrine, and where there is deficiency let them show the way of God more perfectly. But if it is evident from the manner of the candidate that he or she fails to comprehend the import of the doctrine, there should be delay in admission.' (Roberts, Robert (1889). The Christadelphian. Reprinted in The Berean Christadelphian, Vol. 52, No. 9 (September 1964), pp. 30-32. Here p. 31.)
  • 28 Robert Roberts was originally baptized at age 14; a decade later he was re-baptized, 'on attaining to an understanding of the things concerning the name of Jesus, of which he was ignorant at his first immersion'.
  • 29 Hemingray writes, 'It also marked the true origin, if any one single event did, of the body of beliefs of Christadelphians' (Hemingray, Peter (2003). Dr. Thomas: His Friends and His Faith. Christadelphian Tidings, p. 147).
  • 30 See Doctrines to be Rejected 17.
  • 31 On immortal emergence, Hemingray writes that Dr. Thomas 'appeared to have begun changing his mind in 1854, but did not make it a test of fellowship until some years later' (Dr. Thomas: His Friends and His Faith, p. 268). On 'the nature of Christ and God', Hemingray writes that 'Dr. Thomas appears not to have fully developed his understanding of this subject until he came into contact with a group of Christian Jews in 1857' (op. cit., p. 267). It is certainly open to question whether the 1847 Dr. Thomas would be able to 'pass' a contemporary, conservative Christadelphian baptismal examination.
  • 32 'But there have been admitted to fellowship some who were practically deficient in a knowledge of the first principles of the Faith. This has been proved by many who subsequently came to see with increased knowledge that they had in the first place been immersed with a deficient knowledge of the truth, and without an adequate recognition of their responsibilities in becoming connected with Christ's brethren. With their new light and knowledge, these good and honest hearts were anxious to be placed in a proper relationship to Christ, and hence they sought re-immersion—an acknowledgement that their first immersion was invalid. These had gone on to perfection, but how many may be like them in their first experience, having need to be taught again what be the first principles of the oracles of God?' Roberts, Robert (1889). The Christadelphian. Reprinted in The Berean Christadelphian, Vol. 52, No. 9 (September 1964), pp. 30-32. Here p. 31.

Monday, 22 August 2016

My first publishing experience in biblical studies

This article is an anecdote about my first experience publishing in a biblical studies academic journal.1 I hope the reader will forgive any self-congratulatory exuberance inherent in writing about one's writing. (Perhaps I am betraying my greenhorn status by expressing excitement over an achievement that for professional biblical scholars is par for the course.) All glory goes to God, whose I am and whom I serve. My hope in writing this anecdote is that it will prove useful to other amateur biblical scholars who aspire to publish.

Over the past two years I co-authored two articles with Dr. Guy Williams, who specializes as a Pauline scholar.2 Both articles have been accepted by the Journal for the Study of the New Testament and published in the September 2016 issue, comprising 56 pages combined.3 Their titles are, respectively, Diabolical Data: A Critical Inventory of New Testament Satanology and Talk of the Devil: Unpacking the Language of New Testament Satanology.

I am a statistician by profession, and am also in the latter stages of an Honours degree in theology through distance learning (at King's Evangelical Divinity School in the U.K., which I highly recommend). I've long had an interest in marrying my statistical background with my interest in the Bible by applying statistical analysis to biblical texts. I've also long been interested in Satan as a theological concept, owing in large part to my upbringing in the Christadelphian sect, which has a unique interpretation of the biblical devil and Satan. In 2013-14 I engaged in some correspondence and online discussion with Christadelphians about the prevalence of Satan in the New Testament. My interlocutors had claimed that Satan is prominent in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts but marginal in the rest of the New Testament. This claim struck me as suspect, and I did some preliminary statistical analysis which confirmed my suspicions, publishing my findings on this blog.

However, one of the challenges I faced in conducting this statistical analysis was the uncertainty of the data set itself: how many references to Satan are there in the New Testament? One can easily count up the number of occurrences of the Greek words satanas and diabolos, but it is not obvious that every instance of these words does refer to Satan (e.g., John 6:70). Moreover, there are numerous other New Testament terms that do seem to refer to Satan, such as 'the evil one' (Matt. 13:19), 'the god of this age' (2 Cor. 4:4) and 'the ruler of this world' (John 12:31). I couldn't find any scholarly source that sought to identify all New Testament references to Satan, offering critical exegesis of uncertain cases. Hence, I resolved to create this data set, reasoning that this would not only assist me in my own statistical analysis but would be a tool for broader research Satan in the New Testament. This was the genesis of the research project that eventually resulted in these two articles.

By the end of 2014, I had a working manuscript where I had attempted to identify every reference to Satan in the NT, with recourse to the academic literature and my own exegesis to decide uncertain cases. I also included some statistical analysis of this data set. I had never published in biblical studies before and was then only a first year theology student. Knowing that most biblical studies journals have rejection rates in the 80% range, I knew submitting my manuscript to a journal would be a long shot. Enter Dr. Guy Williams. I had read his excellent monograph on The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle (based on his Oxford University doctoral thesis) and had asked him some questions about it via email, and been impressed by his thoughtful replies. He had also humoured me by reading and commenting on some of my quasi-academic, but somewhat amateurish, online articles about Satan. I decided to send Guy my manuscript and ask him whether it looked remotely publishable to him, and if so whether he might be willing to collaborate with me to refine it into a publishable form. To my delight, he responded in the affirmative on both counts (while graciously offering to give feedback and still let me submit it myself). Better still, he had an idea for taking the project further by turning it into a two-part series which he would co-author. The first study would create the data set by identifying all New Testament references to Satan. The second study would then analyse the data statistically but also contextualize the analysis by looking at hermeneutical issues in New Testament Satanology. I enthusiastically agreed. In the end, I wrote most of the first article and Guy most of the second, but it really was a joint project as we offered each other useful input and suggestions at every stage of the writing and revision process. The effective collaboration we were able to develop despite sitting on separate continents and never meeting face to face is a testimony to the power of globalization.

We submitted both articles to JSNT4 in May 2015. We heard back after the peer review process in November and were thrilled to receive a positive response. Both articles were accepted pending some revisions, the most significant of which was that we needed to interact more with German scholarship in our exegesis. (This is a standard requirement of the major biblical studies journals, and understandably so.) My German is very limited, but Guy can read German fluently and I can read French almost fluently, so we decided to bolster our literature search by consulting additional works in both these languages. Doing so proved very useful, as it helped us to identify some probable NT references to Satan that we had previously missed. Another issue was that our articles were too long for the journal, so we needed to find ways to cut down on the word count. This was achieved primarily by reducing the bibliographic material. We submitted our revised versions at the end of January 2016.

The editorial process of preparing the articles for publication began in earnest in May. This, for me, was one of the best things about publishing. You get to have your work edited, copy-edited and proofread by experts for free. In the case of these two articles, the final versions are far superior to the original submissions in terms of style, compactness, and number of typo's and other errors.

All told, the experience of publishing has been tremendously rewarding and enriching. However, it has also been a tremendous amount of work. I wouldn't want to guess the equivalent number of forty-hour work weeks that went into this project, but it was not a few. My heart's desire for the two articles is that they will make some contribution to the body of academic - and ecclesial - knowledge about the New Testament, and that they will lead to other opportunities for writing and research.

I've already embarked on my next academic writing project - this time going solo, and on a completely different topic. We'll see how it turns out!


  • 1 I have been a co-author on a couple of other published articles/notes where my contribution involved probability and statistics, not biblical studies. See here, here and here.
  • 2 His publications include The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostles: A Critical Examination of the Role of Spirit Beings in the Authentic Pauline Epistles (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009); An Apocalyptic and Magical Interpretation of Paul's ‘Beast Fight’ in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32) (Journal of Theological Studies, 2006); Narrative Space, Angelic Revelation, and the End of Mark’s Gospel (Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 2013); article on Romans in The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  • 3 The issue has not been printed yet as I write this, but the articles have been published online already.
  • 4 As an amateur biblical scholar, one would need to choose a journal with a double-blind peer review process in which the reviewers do not know the identity or qualifications of the author. The manuscript is evaluated solely on its own merits. That said, the double-blind policy is not intended as an invitation to submit substandard material. To avoid disappointing oneself and burdening editors, it is a good idea to collaborate with an established scholar, especially for one's first publication.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

All the amēn sayings of Jesus in a table

I've lately being doing some analysis of Jesus' amēn sayings. Jesus' tendency in the Gospels to begin sayings with amēn legō humin ('Truly I say to you') is one of the most distinctive features of his teaching style, and undoubtedly historically authentic.1 There is scholarly debate over whether this saying formula was unique to Jesus,2 as well as its linguistic background. One intriguing hypothesis is that Jesus took it from the expression ē/ei mēn in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible)3 and translated it into Aramaic, whence it was transliterated back into Greek.4 New Testament scholars are generally agreed that the formula adds emphasis and solemnity to a saying.5 

I would not want to suggest that sayings of Jesus prefaced with the amēn formula are of a different order of importance from those prefaced simply with 'I say to you'. Nevertheless, in honour of this distinctive and majestic formula used by our Lord, I am reproducing in a single table all of the amēn sayings of the Gospels. I hope it may prove useful for further study. The sayings are quoted in the World English Bible, not because it is such a great translation but because the table was generated using a computer program, and the World English Bible is freely available in a text file format, which facilitated this.

There are 79 amēn sayings all together.6 Where an identical or nearly identical amēn saying occurs in multiple Gospels, it is quoted only once, but the parallel is noted.7 Hence there are 63 entries in the table. A few linguistic and statistical notes about the sayings are included beneath the table for those who may be interested.

Some think the amēn sayings are Christologically significant, telling us something profound about Jesus' self-understanding. I tend to agree. It is quite possible that the use of this emphatic formula contributed to the crowds' reaction to Jesus' teaching recorded in Matt. 7:28-29: 'And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.'

World English Bible Translation
Matt. 5:18
For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.
Matt. 5:26
Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are with him in the way; lest perhaps the prosecutor deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Most certainly I tell you, you shall by no means get out of there, until you have paid the last penny.
Matt. 6:2
Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don't sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward.
Matt. 6:5
"When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward.
Matt. 6:16
"Moreover when you fast, don't be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward.
Matt. 8:10
When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, "Most certainly I tell you, I haven't found so great a faith, not even in Israel.
Matt. 10:15
Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.
Matt. 10:23
But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come.
Matt. 11:11
Most certainly I tell you, among those who are born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptizer; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.
Matt. 13:17
For most certainly I tell you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and didn't see them; and to hear the things which you hear, and didn't hear them.
Matt. 17:20
He said to them, "Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
Matt. 18:13
If he finds it, most certainly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.
Matt. 18:18
Most certainly I tell you, whatever things you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever things you release on earth will have been released in heaven.
Matt. 18:19
Again, assuredly I tell you, that if two of you will agree on earth concerning anything that they will ask, it will be done for them by my Father who is in heaven.
Matt. 19:23
Jesus said to his disciples, "Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty.
Matt. 19:28
Jesus said to them, "Most certainly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Matt. 21:31
Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Most certainly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you.
Matt. 23:36
Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar. Most certainly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Matt. 24:2
But he answered them, "You see all of these things, don't you? Most certainly I tell you, there will not be left here one stone on another, that will not be thrown down."
Matt. 24:47 (par. Luke 12:448)
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord has set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord finds doing so when he comes. Most certainly I tell you that he will set him over all that he has.
Matt. 25:12
Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us.' But he answered, 'Most certainly I tell you, I don't know you.'
Matt. 25:40
"The King will answer them, 'Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
Matt. 25:45
"Then he will answer them, saying, 'Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn't do it to one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me.'
Mark 3:28
Most certainly I tell you, all sins of the descendants of man will be forgiven, including their blasphemies with which they may blaspheme; but whoever may blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"
Mark 8:12
He sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Most certainly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation."
Mark 9:1 (par. Matt. 16:28; Luke 9:279)
He said to them, "Most certainly I tell you, there are some standing here who will in no way taste death until they see the Kingdom of God come with power."
Mark 9:41 (par. Matt. 10:42)
For whoever will give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Christ's, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward.
Mark 10:15 (par. Matt. 18:3; Luke 18:17)
Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child, he will in no way enter into it."
Mark 10:29-30 (par. Luke 18:29-30)
Jesus said, "Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life.
Mark 11:23 (par. Matt. 21:21)
For most certainly I tell you, whoever may tell this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and doesn't doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is happening; he shall have whatever he says.
Mark 12:43-44 (par. Luke 21:3-410)
He called his disciples to himself, and said to them, "Most certainly I tell you, this poor widow gave more than all those who are giving into the treasury, for they all gave out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on."
Mark 13:28-30 (par. Matt. 24:32-34; Luke 21:29-32)
"Now from the fig tree, learn this parable. When the branch has now become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that the summer is near; even so you also, when you see these things coming to pass, know that it is near, at the doors. Most certainly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things happen.
Mark 14:9 (par. Matt. 26:13)
Most certainly I tell you, wherever this Good News may be preached throughout the whole world, that which this woman has done will also be spoken of for a memorial of her."
Mark 14:18 (par. Matt. 26:21; John 13:21)
As they sat and were eating, Jesus said, "Most certainly I tell you, one of you will betray me--he who eats with me."
Mark 14:25
Most certainly I tell you, I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it anew in the Kingdom of God."
Mark 14:30 (par. Matt. 26:34; John 13:38)
Jesus said to him, "Most certainly I tell you, that you today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times."
Luke 4:24
He said, "Most certainly I tell you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.
Luke 4:25-2611
But truly I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land. Elijah was sent to none of them, except to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.
Luke 12:37
Blessed are those servants, whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them.
Luke 23:42-43
He said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." Jesus said to him, "Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
John 1:51
He said to him, "Most certainly, I tell you, hereafter you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
John 3:3
Jesus answered him, "Most certainly, I tell you, unless one is born anew, he can't see the Kingdom of God."
John 3:5
Jesus answered, "Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can't enter into the Kingdom of God!
John 3:11
Most certainly I tell you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you don't receive our witness.
John 5:19
Jesus therefore answered them, "Most certainly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things he does, these the Son also does likewise.
John 5:24
"Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn't come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
John 5:25
Most certainly, I tell you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead will hear the Son of God's voice; and those who hear will live.
John 6:26
Jesus answered them, "Most certainly I tell you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled.
John 6:32
Jesus therefore said to them, "Most certainly, I tell you, it wasn't Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.
John 6:47
Most certainly, I tell you, he who believes in me has eternal life.
John 6:53
Jesus therefore said to them, "Most certainly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don't have life in yourselves.
John 8:34
Jesus answered them, "Most certainly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is the bondservant of sin.
John 8:51
Most certainly, I tell you, if a person keeps my word, he will never see death."
John 8:58
Jesus said to them, "Most certainly, I tell you, before Abraham came into existence, I AM."
John 10:1
"Most certainly, I tell you, one who doesn't enter by the door into the sheep fold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
John 10:7
Jesus therefore said to them again, "Most certainly, I tell you, I am the sheep's door.
John 12:24
Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 13:16
Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither one who is sent greater than he who sent him.
John 13:20
Most certainly I tell you, he who receives whomever I send, receives me; and he who receives me, receives him who sent me."
John 14:12
Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father.
John 16:20
Most certainly I tell you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.
John 16:23
"In that day you will ask me no questions. Most certainly I tell you, whatever you may ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
John 21:18
Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don't want to go."

Further statistical and linguistic notes about the sayings
  • Matthew contains the most amēn sayings (31), followed by John (25), Mark (13) and Luke (10). 
  • The Johannine Jesus always uses a double 'amēn amēn'. This double formula doesn't occur outside John except as a textual variant in Matt. 6:2, Luke 4:24, Luke 18:17.
  • In Luke 9:27, 12:44 and 21:32, instead of amēn we find the adverb alēthōs, 'truly'.12 In Luke 4:25 we find ep' alētheias, 'of a truth'. These are the only instances where the (presumed) original Aramaic word אמן has been translated rather than transliterated. They help to confirm the meaning of amēn in the other sayings. I have still counted them as amēn sayings.
  • There are 70 cases where the pronoun 'you' is plural (humin), indicating Jesus is addressing a group, and nine cases where the pronoun 'you' is singular (soi), indicating Jesus is addressing an individual.13 The three individual people who have the distinction of being the addressee of a canonical amēn saying are Peter, Nicodemus, and le bon larron
  • The word order of the formula almost never changes. The only exceptions are Luke 9:27 (where alēthōs occurs at the end rather than the start of the formula - literally 'I say to you truly') and Luke 23:43 (where soi and legō are transposed - literally 'Truly to you I say').


  • 1 'There can be no doubt that the expression is a historically authentic expression of Jesus' (Aune, David E. (1983). Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 165.) I simply mean that historical Jesus is very likely to have actually used such a formula when teaching, while acknowledging that the term 'authentic' has now become very controversial in historical Jesus research. See, e.g., Keith, Chris (2016). The Narratives of the Gospels and the Historical Jesus: Current Debates, Prior Debates and the Goal of Historical Jesus Research. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 38(4), 426-455.
  • 2 In Hebrew, אמן was generally used responsorially. However, Strugnell draws attention to a 7th century B.C. Hebrew potsherd where the word seems to introduce a saying. He translates: 'and all my brethren will answer for me (i.e., on my behalf), those who were harvesting with me in the heat of the sun, ALL my brethren will answer for me. Truly ('mn), I am innocent of gu[ilt; pray return] my garment' (Strugnell, John (1974). "Amen, I say unto you" in the Sayings of Jesus and in Early Christian Literature. Harvard Theological Review, 67(2), 177-190; here p. 178.) He is responding to other scholars who had claimed that amen is used responsorially here, i.e. 'my brethren will answer me "Amen."' The amēn I say to you formula also occurs in Recension A of the Testament of Abraham, a Jewish pseudepigraphic work. However, it is disputed whether the saying there is independent of Christian influence (Lee, Sang-Il. (2012). Jesus and Gospel Traditions in Bilingual Context: A Study in the Interdirectionality of Language. Berlin: de Gruyter, p. 352). Allison, for instance, thinks it is a Christian interpolation (Allison, Dale C. (2003). Testament of Abraham. Berlin: de Gruyter, p. 389).
  • 3 Both these Greek expressions mean something like 'surely'. For example, 'Say to them, As I live, saith the Lord: surely as ye spoke into my ears, so will I do to you.' (Num. 14:28 LXX, Brenton translation). LXX occurrences of ē mēn are Gen. 22:17; 42:16; Ex. 22:7, 10; Num. 14:23, 28, 35; Job 13:15; 27:3; Isa. 45:23. LXX occurrences of ei mēn are Job 1:11; 2:5; Ezek. 33:27; 34:8; 35:6; 36:5; 38:19.
  • 4 This is argued by Lee (op. cit.). A Septuagint background to the term was originally proposed by Berger, Klaus. (1970). Die Amen-wort Jesu. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • 5 'There is a consensus that the ἀμήν-formula in the sayings by Jesus in the four gospels refers to emphasis and solemnity.' (Lee, op. cit., p. 356.)
  • 6 amēn occurs as a textual variant in the sayings of Luke 7:9, 7:28 and John 6:56, but since they are excluded in the NA28 critical text, I have not counted them. In Matt. 18:19, some manuscripts lack amēn, but NA28 retains it (albeit in square brackets indicating its dubious authenticity), so I have counted it.
  • 7 If an amēn saying has a parallel in which the word amēn is lacking, this parallel is not cited.
  • 8 NA28 has alēthōs rather than amēn here. However, this is semantically equivalent: alēthōs is a translation whereas amēn is a transliteration. See discussion below.
  • 9 Luke 9:27 has has alēthōs rather than amēn here. However, this is semantically equivalent: alēthōs is a translation whereas amēn is a transliteration. See discussion below.
  • 10 Luke 21:4 has alēthōs rather than amēn here. However, this is semantically equivalent: alēthōs is a translation whereas amēn is a transliteration. See discussion below.
  • 11 Luke 4:25 has ep' alētheias rather than amēn here. However, this is semantically equivalent: alēthōs is a translation whereas amēn is a transliteration. See discussion below.
  • 12 In Luke 9:27, alēthōs occurs at the end of the formula rather than the beginning, and some manuscripts insert hoti before the content of the saying, indicating that the adverb is part of the saying itself, rather than part of the introductory formula. However, NA28 does not retain this hoti, and given that Luke is here relying on Mark 9:1 as a source (where we find an amēn saying), alēthōs is probably playing the role of amēn. In Luke 12:44, some manuscripts have amēn instead of alēthōs. Hence, Luke 21:32 is the only case where we can say with certainty that alēthōs has taken the place of amēn.
  • 13 The nine individual instances are Matt. 5:26, 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 23:43, John 3:3, 3:5, 3:11, 13:38, 21:18.