Hopefully, thus far in our study we have sufficiently proven that confession when we obey the gospel is necessary, and that the confession we make should include reference to Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God in keeping with the example of Timothy whose confession follows the example of Christ.
Some controversial passages.
You may have noticed the absence of the account of Philip and the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in what has been written thus far. There we find a clear example of confessing Christ.
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him”. (Acts 8:35-38 KJV)
When we look to other translations and read commentaries about this account we find a supposed problem with verse 37, the verse that includes the eunuch’s confession. Many translations omit it completely, while others include it as a footnote. One translation, the New American Standard, includes the verse but says in a footnote: “Many manuscripts do not contain this verse.”
What are we to understand? Must all church leaders become Greek scholars in order to consider this question? I trust not. Based on this, do we discard the confession altogether? Not at all.
Even though what the Ethiopian eunuch said may not be in some manuscripts we can trust what he did say was right, or else he would not have been baptized. Notice at the end of Acts 8:36 the eunuch asks Philip the question:
“What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Are we to understand there was complete silence as the chariot was stopped and the baptism completed? Obviously there was an answer to the eunuch’s question, and subsequent conversation. Surely no one would dare say the Ethiopian eunuch did not make a declaration of his faith in Christ.
In fact, please allow me this conjecture: If indeed Acts 8:37 is an addition, I don’t believe an addition would have been made that was not the practice of the church. It in no way does harm to or disagrees with any passage regarding conversion. It in every way agrees with all that is said about The Good Confession. Brents reports “Dr. Hacket tells us this interpolation was known to Irenaeus as early as the year 170. Then it was bound to have been in copies taken at or before that period.” (p 199)
My own opinion is to accept the Acts 8:37 confession and I use it frequently in sermons and conversions. When Jesus is preached to a total stranger, as was the relationship between Philip and the eunuch, and baptism is requested there must be some examination of what is understood. Just because someone requests baptism does not mean they understand the gospel. We need to know they are requesting baptism for scriptural reasons with the proper discernment of Christ. I know of no better examination than Acts 8:37 “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”
Brents quotes several historians regarding the confession and then says:
These quotations might be extended almost indefinitely, but the foregoing are deemed sufficient to show that in primitive times the only confession demanded was a belief in the fact that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. As this was the confession authorized of the Lord, and required by the apostles and primitive Christians, who is authorized to demand anything else now? Can we improve upon the work of the Lord? Surely, it is more safe to keep within the boundary prescribed in the New Testament. (page 207)
Another controversial passage:
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. (Rom 10:9-13 KJV)
This passage is often quoted and correctly applied to the necessity of faith and confession when we obey the gospel.
Please notice some other translations of Rom 10:9:
That if you will openly confess with your mouth, that Jesus is Lord, and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. (The Living Oracles)
That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; (New American Standard)
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (New International Version)
Some brethren have wondered after reading Romans 10:9 from “new” translations if we need to change the confession we commonly use. Readers may not be familiar with one of the translations I quoted, The Living Oracles. This translation is from the early 1800’s by Doctors George Campbell, James MacKnight, and Philip Doddridge, with “prefaces, various emendations, and an appendix” by Alexander Campbell. The “Jesus is Lord” translation of Romans 10:9 is certainly not new.
Is Romans 10:9 a valid confession as translated in translations other than the King James Version? Based on what many translations have done with this verse I believe we can trust the words “Jesus is Lord” to be a possible translation of Rom 10:9 . The Nestle Greek Text’s literal English translation of that verse is: “Because if thou confessest with the mouth of thee Lord Jesus…” (p 634) This, by the way, is very close to the King James Version rendering of the passage in question. Regardless, the phrase “Jesus is Lord” reminds us of the wonderful truth of the Lordship of Christ. It is absolutely true that Jesus is Lord. He is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (I Tim 6:15).
But what do we do with this newly discovered confession? Do we need to change the confession we have made thru the years? I don’t believe so.
At this point in our study, you may think I’ve lost my mind, but bear with me for just a moment as I make a point that applies to this important issue.
Consider the name of the church. There are many ways the church is identified in the New Testament. Consider the following references:
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (Acts 9:2 KJV)
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. (Acts 12:1 KJV)
“The Church of Christ”
Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you. Rom 16:16 KJV)
“The Church of God”
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 KJV)
“The Church of the living God”
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. I Tim 3:15 KJV)
Now, are all of these scriptural designations for the church? Yes they are. So, out of all these, and more, why do we choose to use the name Church of Christ? For the following reasons: I. It is scriptural (this, by the way, is most important) 2. It has universal agreement within our fellowship 3. We have peace with this name 4. It identifies us to the religious community around the world.
Now, what should happen if someone comes along and says we should change the name by which we are known to another Bible name? Or, we should attempt to combine every possible name for the church on our signs? Would we have scriptural grounds to say no? Yes, I believe we would, for the reasons listed above. Even though there are names for the church that appear to have different meanings-they are all synonymous and interchangeable and choosing one does not deny the others.
Is there a compelling reason for anyone to change the name by which we identify ourselves to the world? Not at all. Does calling the church, “The Church of Christ” violate any of the other names God’s children are called in the scripture? Not at all. Therefore this generation can pass on to the next generation the use of the name: “Church of Christ” with confidence we are obeying God’s word.
Back to the confession. Why do we use a confession that includes that Jesus is Christ and that he is the Son of God?
For the following reasons:
1. It is scriptural (this, by the way, is most important)
2. It has universal agreement within our fellowship
3. We have peace with this confession
Now, what should happen if someone says, there are other confessions, let’s change the confession we use? Would we have scriptural grounds to say no? Yes, I believe we would.
Is there a compelling reason for anyone to change the confession? Not at all. Because confessing Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of’ God is synonymous with every other confession regarding Jesus and choosing one does not deny any other.
Confessing we believe that “Jesus Christ is the son of God” does not violate any of the other confessions God’s children are called upon to make in the scripture just as saying we are the “Church of Christ” does not violate any of the other several names that are used in the scriptures.
Our obedience to the gospel is performed for the church as a whole. We do not need to walk down the aisle, confess and he baptized again and again as we attend different congregations. In this regard baptism is similar to church discipline. Once disciplined, a Christian is disciplined for all. Once baptized, the baptism is to be accepted by all. Because we trust everyone to do this properly, we must he very careful to be worthy of our brethren’s trust in this area. We need only to study the route of teaching about circumcision in the early church to know how fragile this trust is. And we are right to know where brethren stand on such issues, because we want to trust them.
The fellowship enjoyed between Christians and the cooperation enjoyed between congregations is precious. We are to go out of our way to give our brethren reasons to trust our judgment.
“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. (Eph 4:3 KJV)
Every generation has the responsibility to know the truth of God’s word, and to share those truths with those who are younger, that the church might be preserved blameless until the end of time.
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also”. (2 Tim 2:2 KJV)
This generation can pass on to the next generation the use of a confession that refers to Jesus as being the Christ, the Son Of God, with confidence we are obeying God’s word just as that same “Good Confession” was passed on to us by the previous generation.
What if some want to add other things to the confession? I don’t believe it is at all necessary, but as long as the confession includes the fact that Jesus is Christ and Son of God, and if what is added is scriptural, I believe it is acceptable. I could not recommend ever omitting the fact that Jesus is Christ and Son of God from the confession. To do otherwise takes us away from what Jesus confessed before Pilate.
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (I Cor 1:9-10 KJV)
Brents, T.W. The Gospel Plan of Salvation. Bowling Green. Kentucky: Guardian of Truth Foundation. 1987.
Campbell. George, James MacKnight and Philip Doddridge. Doctors. The Living Oracles, The Sacred Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ. Cincinnati: G.W. Rice. 14th ed. 1882 (Alexander Campbell’s preface is dated January 29. 1826)
The New International Version Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. The Nestle Greek Text with a Literal English Translation by Alfred Marshal. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Eighth printing 1982
Vine, WE. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Old Tappan. NJ; Fleming H. Revell Co.. 1966
Zerr. E.M. Bible Commentary. Marion. Indiana, Cogdill Foundation.
Published in the January 1, 1998 issue of the OPA.