Muscle and a Shovel

Problems & Unanswered Questions

I made these notes as a reminder (to me) of what needs to be answered before I can adopt the teachings of this book.

The title is a little off-putting to me, because I was never very athletic, and because a shovel calls up images of the life-time work ("ditch-digger") my parents held over us kids as the terrible consequence of not doing our schoolwork. The author tells us he meant it as a metaphor, that knowing what the Bible teaches involves hard work and digging into the text -- except this book obviously does not expect nor teach that kind of independent study, nor can it. This is not a show-stopper, but it does push in that direction.

If I were trying to teach somebody how to think about Scripture, I would not point them to a particular verse then tell them what it means, as this book does over and over again. First I'd make them get an analytical concordance like Young's. Maybe even firster to that, I'd insist that they read the whole Bible through cover to cover, preferably in a modern translation like the New Living, so they can understand what they are reading (see "King James Only" and "Favoring the KJV").

Then if we want to see what the Bible says about baptism, find and list on a piece of paper every verse that mentions baptism, along with the context, who is speaking to whom, and what seems to be the point of that verse and/or context.

Try this for practice on a subject I didn't see mentioned in Muscle: frex, Love, specifically God loves a person. There are lots of verses about people loving other people, so focus on where God loves somebody. Who? When? Why? Not what did the preacher tell you, not what it says somewhere else, but what does this verse here say about it? You need to use an analytical concordance, because there are different Greek words that mean different things, but all get translated by the same English word. That is confusing at best, and misleading at worst. Keep them separate. Sometimes the same Greek word might get different English translations; keep these together. It's hard work. You will get a different result than your teachers told you. Who is right, them or what you actually found in the Bible? If you don't want to be enslaved by some pope in the pulpit, you need to be able to do your own thinking about what the text says.

When you get around to studying what the Bible says about baptism, one of the verses will be 1Co.15:29. Does your church baptize "for the dead"? Why or why not? The Apostle Paul did not criticize this practice in Corinth, yet no church I know of (except the Mormons) does it today. Why is that? The Lutherans (and probably also the Catholics, but I don't know) cite Acts 16:33 as justification for baptizing infants. Why is that one example normative (for them), but not the other?

Muscle sees Philip and the eunuch going "down into the water" to be baptized and argues (vacuously, from nothing) that if a dab of water on the forehead is sufficient, why not use his drinking water? Of course we don't know if he carried drinking water. Camels carry their own water in their humps, most people probably didn't drink plain water for safety reasons, so they carried wine -- the alcohol disinfected whatever water they found at the next oasis, mixed 3 parts water to one part wine; "strong drink" was pure wine, no water added (stills for concentrating alcohol were not reported in Roman records before 100AD, and not widely used until the Arab conquest). 21st-century Americans carry bottled water everywhere, but that's a recent practice, not practical apart from our vast personal wealth and sterile bottling technology. We must not impose modern ideas on ancient cultures.

Anyway, if you know first century history (and archeology) you know that the distinguishing characteristic of Jewish communities before the destruction of the Temple (for maybe two centuries after the Maccabeans) was the presence of numerous "mikvoth" or baptismal pools all over town. Everybody did it, as confirmed in Mark 7:4. The eunuch was in Jerusalem to worship as a Jew (until very recently there was a large Jewish community in Ethiopia, and it is still the rumored present location of the Ark of the Covenant, taken there before Nebuchadnezzar overran Jerusalem), so the eunuch would know that. There is no need for Muscle author Shank nor any preacher to postulate or invent (vacuously, from nothing) Philip teaching the eunuch anything about baptism, because (as a Jew, or perhaps a convert) he already did it often, as reported (generally) in the Bible.

Specific problems & questions in Muscle, by page number (assembling this list was a little harder than it needed to be, because page numbers are buried in the gutter where they are hard to see ):

p.25: "Don't you need to know what the gospel is and how to obey it?"

Good question. Too bad this isn't a well-organized academic presentation, with topic and Scripture indexes. Then, even though he introduced this question here -- but didn't answer it until much later (see p.263 below) -- I could look it up, and not have this question lingering. *I* don't have it lingering, I did the Bible search several years ago. What I call "The Gospel According to Bill Bright" ("God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life") has no basis in Scripture. I cannot today find my analysis from back then, but I re-ran the search and came up with three verses where Paul says what the gospel is. One of them describes its power rather than its nature. I think I found four last time, but the fourth also did not say what its nature is. Two completely different verses mention "obey the gospel". There is no explanation of what that means that I could find, but obedience seems to me more closely associated in Scripture with commandments than it does with re-enactment.

Jesus said [John 14:15] "If you love me, you will obey what I command." There's the O-word, not linked in this verse to the "gospel" nor to baptism, but rather with what Jesus commands. In another place [Matt.22:37] Jesus identified some of those commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." Although he quoted them from the Old Testament, the Apostle Paul later confirmed them as binding on Christians. That confirmation shouldn't be necessary, but some people have spiritual myopia with respect to what God has commanded. The "gospel" is about Jesus (and his obedience to the Father), so it seems reasonable to infer that to "obey the gospel" is to obey Jesus. At least it seems more reasonable and relevant to me than re-enactment. The one is commanded, the other only an inference, and far-fetched at that. I'm not saying it's wrong, but there's no Scripture to lead us to that conclusion. Baptism is certainly commanded, and it is certainly a re-enactment of Christ's death, burial and resurrection (Scripture does say that), but supposing that re-enactment constitutes "obeying the gospel" seems less consistent with the fundamental message of God throughout the whole Bible, and in particular of Jesus in the New Testament. God is everywhere less interested in formalities than He is in obedience to the First and Second Great Commandments (1+2C). Formalities are good in their place, but the "weightier matters" are Justice, Truth, and Mercy -- which are encompassed by 1+2C -- and not baptisms [Mark 7:8].

p.83: "Water and spirit"

This is taken out of context. Nicodemus has just asked about being born again as entering his mother again, and breaking her waters (a phrase used today about when a woman is giving birth, but not actually mentioned in that Biblical context) a second time. So the natural, in-context interpretation of what Jesus said is that he distinguishes the second birth (spirit) from the first (water). Importing baptism into this context as the "water" violates good exegesis, and also gets things out of order. If the faith that comes by hearing is the "spirit" in John 3:5, and the "water" is subsequent baptism, then Jesus should have mentioned the spirit before the water. Or is Muscle telling us the order is unimportant? I could believe that, but it's not what the preacher seems to say when he gives an invitation every week. It makes more sense if the "water" is the water that comes out when a woman gives birth (the first birth) and then the "spirit" comes naturally second, when he is born again (water not mentioned in this context as part of the second birth).

This is consistent with the teaching of John the Baptist in Matt.3:11, where he explains that he (John) baptizes in water, and Jesus baptizes in (Holy) Spirit (and fire), as distinguished from water.

That still leaves the puzzle, why Jesus said both the water and the spirit are needed to enter the Kingdom. It might be to remind Nicodemus that the Kingdom is for humans (born of water) not angels (unborn), but that's just a guess. I don't know, but it makes more sense to me than reversing the order. On the other hand, Nicodemus was a Jew, and we know from Mark 7:4 that Jews were getting baptized all the time; perhaps Jesus was saying the water baptism (which Nicodemus knew about and practiced often) necessarily preceeds spirit baptism, but I would find this more credible if the Evangelist had actually used the word "baptize" here.

p.116: "Christ's law (or testament) did not go into effect until the point of his death."

That's bizarre. The death rule applies to human testaments that are given before death, to direct what should be done after it. But if "Christ's law" is in fact the requirement for baptism to be saved, it was not given until after he was resurrected and alive again, so it's inapplicable.

p.119: "If I said that you must chew and swallow to live, will you live if you only chew?"

Anybody can make up any kind of bogus analogy, but that does not validate the claim made from it -- unless no analogy can be constructed arguing the reverse. In this analogy, modern medical practice allows you to live without chewing or swallowing. If I said that you must both read and write to be educated, and you had no hands, but could read just fine, could you be educated if you only read? Obviously yes. The analogy is contrived and proves nothing.

p.185: "Matthew 26:28 and Acts 2:38 possess the identical Greek phrase."

That's an interesting argument, which I would find more compelling if he used the same logic comparing Acts 2:38 to Romans 6:3, which have the same verb and preposition, but one translated "for" (purpose) and the other translated "into" (destination). Matthew has a different verb. Does that make a difference? Muscle needs to explain to us why or why not. On the next page he cites Thayer's Greek Lexicon (not the most scholarly, but not bad) as making the baptism in Acts to be "entrance into" which is certainly better than the preachers who cling to the "purpose" meaning of "for".

By the way, this extended refutation of the straw-man argument that 'eis' should be translated "because of" is both annoying and damages his credibility. I wish he had marked out the beginning and end of it, saying "If you don't hold this bogus opinion, skip forward three (or whatever) chapters." Otherwise he risks alienating readers who are not as stupid or ininformed as the author was at the time.

p.191: "You cannot follow one book, one faith, one Lord, and, at the same time, maintain thousands of opposing practices."

I don't know about non-religious people saying that, but certainly the Muslims say it of the language their religious book is read in. And yet we have exactly that in the Christian church. Is Shank now arguing that we should all read the Bible in Greek (and Hebrew) only? I don't think so, because he himself quotes only from a translation. Some people sit in chairs for worship, others sit on pews or benches, and still others stand (opposing practices). It's a bogus argument. Maybe the differences are important, maybe they are not, but you cannot know in advance; you must examine them on a case-by-case basis -- and all Christians do that. The only problem is that Shank's list of what's important is different from the next denomination. Maybe that is itself significant, and then again maybe it's not. Me, I might go with Jesus on this one [Mark 9:40].

p.222: "Every congregation of the church of Christ is completely autonomous."

That's an interesting confession, because the Scriptures he cites do not teach autonomy. Paul is an Apostle appointed by Jesus Christ directly but also confirmed by Peter (and the other Apostles in Jerusalem), then Paul delegated to Timothy and Titus the authority to appoint elders in churches. Nowhere in Scripture is that authority given to any local church. Perhaps once Apostolic authority has been conferred on elders, they may proceed to appoint their own successors, but there's no local "autonomous" startup mode here, none at all.

Now I must admit that the only alternative to autonomy is the Apostolic Succession practiced by the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox and the Anglicans (and maybe the Lutherans and Calvinists; I don't know about the Methodists). Not being a Papist myself, I'm not about to argue for submitting to the authority of the Pope in Rome, but recognizing that congregational autonomy is a deviation from Scripture seems to me unavoidable.

Note that deacons are different. The Apostles invited the early church to "choose out from among yourselves" the first deacons to do things that needed doing ("waiting tables"). It was grunt work, and they needed volunteers, not conscripts. Other than that one reference (and their qualifications specified in Paul's letter to Timothy) there is nothing at all about the appointment of deacons.

p.239: "God never authorized instruments in New Testament worship."

Not in the New Testament, anyway. God never authorized electronic sound amplifiers in New Testament worship, either, but there they are! God never authorized video projectors and chairs and pulpits and little itty bitty cups of grape juice. There are all kinds of things "God never authorized," but there they are in the church I was sitting in when that woman handed me this book. Why some and not others? Muscle needs to give us a better answer than "tradition" (nobody did it before such and such a date). Does instrumental music lead to apostasy? Maybe so (I could be persuaded), but I need to see some proof that instruments do that whereas sound systems or chairs do not. Me, I think apostasy comes rather from when people start to substitute their own opinions for Scripture. It happens often enough -- including in this book.

I happen to like being able to sing in harmony from a hymnbook, but the argument for it here seems a little flimsy. If ALL Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for "teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," and if we are both to "sing [with our voices] and make melody in our hearts" (presumably not involving our voices, because hearts make no other sound than "thump thump"), and if Psalms are to be included in the repertoire, not just "hymns and spiritual songs," then what's wrong with obeying the command of God in Psalm 150 to use musical instruments in that praise to God? Muscle needs to answer that with better than a hand-wave.

p.245: "The past 150 years or so."

That is factually false. Bach composed music for Lutheran churches in the 1700s, almost 300 years ago. I wonder how many other factual errors are in this book, corrupting its message.

p.263: "Paul gives the answer to that question in the book of Romans chapter 6."

Factually, Paul does not answer the question that was asked, namely "How do you obey a historical event?" There is no mention of obedience in that text. Maybe that's a reasonable interpretation of what's going on, but it is an interpretation, not what the text says. Shank's explanation on the next couple pages is a cute story, but so also are Darwinism and Santa Claus; that doesn't make any of them true. He needs to be more careful about his leaps of (non)logic. Waiting more than 2/3 of the way through his book before springing this kind of non-sequitur on his readers smacks of dissimulation.

Purpose or Direction?

p.? ...

Somewhere not far from the end of the book there was a statement to the effect that what you are thinking at the time of baptism determines whether it is valid or not. There was no Scripture cited -- indeed there cannot be, for no Scripture I have ever seen says any such thing -- but apparently I failed to mark the page, and this book is a hard-sell job aimed at persons unwilling or unable to give due diligence to what they read or hear, and to "search the scriptures daily, [to see] whether those things were so." There is no structure to the presentation, no index, no assistance to "search the scriptures daily" to validate such claims. So, like Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2, not only do I need justification for the claim, but I also need somebody to tell me what exactly he said (or what page, so I can find it myself). I am not about to re-read the whole book looking for it -- indeed that would fail, because my attention would flag trying to review all the dreck that I already dismissed as fallacious, which got rather worse toward the end. I have a concordance and electronic (text) copies of the Bible that I can search, but this is neither the Bible, nor searchable. What can I say?

I think this question may be the crux of the issue, and the other questions above are piddly by comparison. If 'eis' in Acts 2:38 is merely directional as Shank essentially admits by the words "entrance into" on page 186 (his italics), not purposive (as other pages seem to claim, and as sometimes preached from the pulpit here in this local church), then baptism is truly passive, something done to the believer, not a work you do to yourself in violation of Eph.2:9. It still washes our sins away, according to the Scriptures, but the difference has subtle and far-reaching implications (as I'm sure the author and his teachers are aware ;-)

A purposive interpretation of this preposition requires the baptistant to think particular thoughts while going into the water, so that those thoughts activate the saving grace. It seems to me that if we choose to infer the uncommon purposive interpretation of 'eis', we need to offer "two witnesses" to the significance of purpose (mental thoughts) in baptism, so that "at the mouth of two or three witnesses everything may be established," which principle God enforces on Himself everywhere else in Scripture. One preposition in one sermon, where that one preposition is not interpreted in its normal sense, hardly seems to be a compelling argument.

The passive directional interpretation in no way gives over-zealous evangelists permission to yank urchins off the street and throw them willy-nilly into the water, thereby to pronounce them "saved," because we still require of them the mental assent inherent in "believe, confess, repent." However, the Catholics and/or especially the Lutherans, who grant baptismal regeneration to the infants they "baptize", nevertheless require it to be done "by faith," but that faith is itself a gift of God [Eph.2:8], thereby eliminating any hint of works-righteousness. The parents and the god-parents present at the child's christening offer their faith vicariously for the child, consistent with Mark 2:5, where Jesus forgave the man's sins after he saw their (not "his") faith. But I am not defending infant baptism, and I did not sit in a Lutheran or Catholic church last Sunday.

In My Humble Opinion, much of the confusion evaporates when you see this question as an exercise of the Keys of the Kingdom [Matt.16:19, John 20:23], where Jesus explicitly granted to the Disciples -- and presumably also to their successors, the leadership in his church -- the authority to forgive, and to refuse to forgive, people's sins. The Lutherans do this with a little dab of water shortly after birth, the Baptists require assent and walking the aisle and speaking a particular prayer (none of which can be found in the Bible), while the Church of Christ leadership require particular words to be said over them (and/or thought in their hearts) over and above being "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (or in Jesus' name) at the time of their dunking (likewise). But that's my opinion only. Jesus did not say how and when to exercise the Keys, he left that to the Disciples.

It is curious that the Council at Jerusalem [Acts 15] was called together to address precisely the question of what burden of duty to lay on the Gentiles so that we might be saved, and it seems to me curious that among the four duties they listed, not one of them specifies what words should be said over (or purposes being thought in the mind of) the person being baptized. Of course the list in verse 20 -- and also as it is repeated in a different sequence in verse 29 and then again in 21:25 -- is really only three activities, the consumption of blood being replicated in the reference to "strangled" (undrained) meat; perhaps the symbolic baptizers who came along after the Reformation corrupted the text, and replaced "purposive baptism" with "strangled meat" in all the copies everywhere (including those under the control of the Catholics, who would never approve such an alteration). I don't believe it, they could not have found all the copies hidden away in desert monasteries. We have in the last couple centuries found some very early manuscripts and fragments of worn-out manuscripts, and other than understandable copying mistakes, there is no evidence anywhere of intentional tampering, and especially not here. God has preserved His Word, as He promised. The words of James to that council [Acts 15:20] were intended to list exhaustively all the duties to be laid on the Gentiles over and above the faith mentioned by Peter in verse 9, where "He purified their hearts by faith." Recall that Jesus blessed "the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Peter was referring particularly to his Cornelius experience, where the Holy Spirit was given to the Gentiles before they were baptized [Acts 10:47]. Unless God is in the habit of giving His Holy Spirit to wicked sinners and pronouncing them "pure" enough to admit to His Heaven where they will "see God," it looks to me like the symbolic baptizers have credible Scriptural authority for their dogma. Muscle author Shank and the preachers need to address that question before they (and we) can consider baptismal regeneration to be a slam dunk.


Somewhere around p.284 the fecal material got too thick for me to wade through, and I stopped making notes. Deal with the problems above, and maybe the later fertilizer might smell a little less rank. Or maybe it might disappear entirely. Or not. Whatever.

Tom Pittman
2016 March 19, rev. April 4