Some folks who advocate for baptismal regeneration use Ephesians 5:26 to support their position. Dr. Jack Cottrell uses this text in his book Baptism – Biblical Study (College Press Publishing, Joplin, MO (1989) [7th printing in 2006]) to support the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. On 118, Dr. Cottrell writes [italics in the original & emphasis added]:
Though His blood is the true and literal means of this cleansing, verse 26 says we are cleansed by the washing of water, which is baptism. Connected with this washing is the spoken word of God, His word of promise.
Finally, we have seen in some detail how this passage [Ephesians 5:25-27] connects baptism very closely with our salvation in a foundational way. Our sanctification rests on our cleansing, and this cleansing rests upon the washing of water, viz., baptism. Though only the blood of Christ truly cleanses the soul, it has been so united with baptism by the word of God that the baptism itself can be spoken of as if it were the means of cleansing. It is so in the sense that it is the divinely-appointed time when the sinner is cleansed by the blood.
Post 35 reports the results of my observation of Ephesians 5:25-27, and especially Ephesians 5:26. In summary, my observations are below.
First, the basic thrust of Ephesians 5:25-27 is Christ’s sanctification of His church, i.e., the body of Christ.
Second, by his writing Ephesians 5:26, Paul intended to convey to his audience that upon believing the gospel, a person underwent an initial spiritual cleansing by Christ via the word of God, i.e., the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, at conversion. Paul used water in a metaphorical sense and did not intend to say that water baptism possessed salvific efficacy.
Third, by his writing Ephesians 5:26, Paul intended to convey to his audience that throughout their post-conversion lives, a believer would experience day-by-day spiritual cleansing by Christ who would use the Word of God as the instrument of cleansing. Paul used water in a metaphorical sense and did not intend to say that water baptism possessed salvific efficacy.
Post 36 discusses the impact the doctrine of analogy by faith has on my interpretation of Ephesians 5:26. Post 36 presents my interpretation of Ephesians 5:26. Finally, Post 36 sets forth the application of Ephesians 5:26, as properly interpreted, to ascertain the validity of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
OBSERVATION OF THE TEXT
The Text – Selected English Translation and NA28th
Ephesians 5:25–27 (NASB95) reads:
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
In the Wuest translation, Ephesians 5:26–27 (WUESTNT) reads:
The husbands, be loving your wives with a love self-sacrificial in its nature, in the manner in which Christ also loved the Church and gave himself on behalf of it, in order that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the bath of water in the sphere of the Word, in order that He might himself present to himself the Church glorious, not having spot nor wrinkle nor any of such things, but in order that it might be holy and unblamable.
The Complete Jewish Bible translation of Ephesians 5:26 reads:
in order to set it apart for God, making it clean through immersion in the mikveh, so to speak,
The Hebrews Names translation of Ephesians 5:26 reads:
that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word,
In Nestle-Arndt 28th Edition (NA28), the text reads:
26 ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι,
General Observations from Verses 25-27
The main thrust of Ephesians 5:25-27 is the sanctification of the body of Christ. Words and expressions like “might sanctify her,” “having cleansed her,” “present to Himself the church in all her glory,” where the church has “no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” are descriptive of the sanctification process and the result of sanctification. Tom Constable (Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Eph 5:26-27). Galaxie Software) comments on the entirety of verses 26-27 including the observation that v. 26 refers to a spiritual cleansing and not a physical cleansing. He writes [emphasis added]:
The purpose Jesus Christ had in mind when He sacrificed Himself for His bride, the church, was to set her apart (sanctify her, make her holy) for Himself as His own forever (cf. Heb. 2:11; 10:10, 14; 13:12). Logically cleansing comes before setting apart, but in reality these things occur simultaneously. The cleansing here is spiritual (“with the Word”) rather than physical. The Word of God cleanses Christians in the sense that, when we believe the gospel, it washes our sins away like water washes dirt away (cf. Titus 3:5; 1 Cor. 6:11). Thus washing is a good metaphor for redemption. The Word is also the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to cleanse the Christian day by day.
What was Jesus Christ’s ultimate purpose in giving Himself for the church (v. 25)? It was to present her to Himself in all her glory, namely, holy and blameless—without any sin (“spot”) or even any effect of sin (“wrinkle”) or anything else that would diminish her glory. This will happen at the Rapture, when all Christians will experience full sanctification (i.e., glorification) and will join our Lord forever (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2).
Dr. Wayne Grudem (Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 746). Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House) describes the application of the redemption process as progressive sanctification [emphasis added]:
The previous chapters have discussed several acts of God that occur at the beginning of our Christian lives: the gospel call (which God addresses to us), regeneration (by which God imparts new life to us), justification (by which God gives us right legal standing before him), and adoption (in which God makes us members of his family). We have also discussed conversion (in which we repent of sins and trust in Christ for salvation). These events all occur at the beginning of our Christian lives.
But now we come to a part of the application of redemption that is a progressive work that continues throughout our earthly lives. It is also a work in which God and man cooperate each playing distinct roles. This part of the application of redemption is called sanctification: Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.
Sanctification is a post-conversion process. Using Dr. Grudem’s terminology, sanctification takes place after the gospel call, regeneration, justification and adoption. In the context of sanctification, the action of “washing with water” occurs AFTER salvation (or conversion) so that “washing with water” happens to a believer.
Detailed Observations from Verse 26 (NA28)
In the Nestle-Arndt 28th edition, Ephesians 5:26 reads:
26 ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι,
Verse 26 begins with the conjunction ἵνα, which the NASB95 translates as “so that,” and it functions as a purpose conjunction to indicate the goal or aim of the action denoted by the word, phrase, or clause to which it is joined. See Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press. What follows appears to be the purpose for Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
The pronoun αὐτὴν, which the NASB95 translates as “her,” follows ἵνα. The pronoun αὐτὴν refers to the church. Next is the finite verb ἁγιάσῃ, which the NASB95 translates as “He might sanctify,” and according to Louw et al. (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 744). United Bible Societies) it means:
to cause someone to have the quality of holiness—‘to make holy.
The verb ἁγιάσῃ is in the aorist active subjunctive third person. Christ’s sanctifying His church has a one-time beginning, and yet, is an ongoing process. While is it is beyond the scope of this article, it appears that at the moment of justification, sanctification begins and continues for the life of a believer.
Next is the Greek verb καθαρίσας, which the NASB95 translates as “having cleansed,” and according to Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 698, it means:
to cause something to become clean—‘to make clean, to cleanse, to clean
The Greek verb καθαρίσας is in the aorist active participle singular nominative masculine. Logos 9 describes it as a circumstantial participle that expresses the conditions, or circumstances, under which either an action occurs or a substantive exists in the relevant clause. See Lukaszewski, A. L. (2007). The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary. Lexham Press. The main verb is ἁγιάσῃ, i.e., “He might sanctify.”
What follows next is the article + noun of τῷ λουτρῷ, which the NASB95 translates as “By the washing.” According to Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 537, the noun λουτρῷ means, “ceremonial washing referring to baptism—‘washing, baptism.” The noun λουτρῷ is dative singular neuter, and Logos 9 describes it as a dative of means (see Lukaszewski, A. L. (2007). The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary. Lexham Press):
Use of the dative to express the means of an action.
It seems that spiritual cleansing results in a believer becoming more holy via a spiritual washing.
What follows next is the combination of an article and noun τοῦ ὕδατος, which the NASB95 translates as “of water.” The NASB95 translates the noun ὕδατος as “water” and it is singular genitive neuter. Logos 9 describes it as a genitive of content which is used to express the substance or content of another substantive. See Lukaszewski, Id.
The NASB95 translates the preposition ἐν as “with.” It functions as a preposition to express the means of an action. See Lukaszewski, Id. Finally, verse 26 ends with the Greek noun ῥήματι which the NASB95 translates as “the word.” According to Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 389, it means:
a minimal unit of discourse, often a single word—‘word, saying
The Logos 9 sense of ῥήματι is:
The content of the communications or documents produced by, and representative of, God and His mind; often of a specific topic or portion (like the Gospel)
Preceptaustin.org (Ephesians 5:25-27 Commentary | Precept Austin ) makes a distinction between rhema and logos:
The significance of rhema (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, Eph 6:17
And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word (rhema) of God. (See note Ephesians 6:17)
In Ephesians 6:17 the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture.
Logic dictates that because the word (Word of God) does the washing to accomplish the cleansing, the washing is in the spiritual sense like the cleansing is in the spiritual sense. Anders (Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, pp. 174–175). Broadman & Holman Publishers) observes that one interpretative option of v. 26 is water is a figure of speech [emphasis added]:
Paul goes on to extend the picture of Christ and the church. Christ loved the church that he might make her holy, or set her apart for himself. He did this by the washing with water through the word. Some Bible teachers do not think Paul is referring to water (baptism) in this verse. They understand the water to be a figure of speech, referring to the cleansing that the Holy Spirit brings to the soul through repentance, after hearing the Word of God. It is as Jesus said in John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Applying water to the outside of the physical body can have no effect whatsoever to the spiritual cleansing that makes one holy. Through repentance, the water of the word reaches the innermost recesses of the soul, cleansing and making it holy.
We might amplify the meaning of this phrase by saying that the true church heard the Word of Christ preached and believed it. They were born again, regenerated, washed and cleansed spiritually by believing the Word. If Paul were alluding to baptism here, then the washing of the water in baptism would be symbolic of the inner cleansing that had already taken place through the Word.
O’Brien (O’Brien, P. T. (1999). The letter to the Ephesians (p. 422). W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) advocates that verse 26 describes spiritual cleansing [emphasis added]:
This cleansing was effected ‘by the washing of water through the word’ (cf. Tit. 3:5). Many commentators assume that ‘the washing’ refers to baptism. But references to washing or water do not necessarily point to baptism, and the only specific mention of this motif in the entire letter is at 4:5, where it is listed in a sevenfold confession but is not specially emphasized. Instead, when Paul speaks of ‘washing’, his focus, as in 1 Corinthians 6:11, is on the spiritual cleansing accomplished by Christ rather than on baptism. Nowhere else in the New Testament is the church baptized!
O’Brien, supra at p. 423 defines cleansing word as the gospel of Jesus Christ:
A better interpretation is to join the phrase ‘through the word’ with the ‘cleansing’, and to understand it as signifying ‘through the word of the gospel’. This is precisely how this particular term ‘word’ is employed elsewhere in Ephesians, namely, as the preached word of the gospel which the Spirit uses as his sword (6:17; cf. Rom. 10:8, 17; Heb. 6:5; 1 Pet. 1:25). Moreover, it is consistent with every instance of the term in Paul (except 2 Cor. 13:1), where it denotes words that come from God or Christ. In the present context, the apostle asserts that the church is made pure by a spiritual cleansing (‘by the washing of water’), and this is accomplished through the purifying word of the gospel—a notion that is akin to our Lord’s words about his disciples being cleansed and sanctified through the word which he had spoken (John 15:3; 17:7). This word is not something additional to the spiritual cleansing effected ‘by the washing of water’, but as the gracious word of the gospel it is the means by which it is accomplished. In the present context this is a word of love by which ‘the Bridegroom binds himself to his “bride”, and brings the church to himself in love’.
Using preceptaustin.org (https://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_525-27#5:26 ) as the source, William MacDonald sets out what I believe to be a good observation (boldfacing in the original):
William MacDonald is in agreement with Walvoord writing at the present time Christ’s… love for the church is shown in His work of sanctification: that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word. To sanctify means to set apart. Positionally the church is already sanctified; practically she is being set apart day by day. She is going through a process of moral and spiritual preparation, similar to the one-year course of beauty culture which Esther took before being presented to King Ahasuerus (Esther 2:12, 13, 14, 15, 16). The process of sanctification is carried on by the washing of water by the word. In simple terms this means that the lives of believers are cleansed as they hear the words of Christ and obey them. Thus Jesus said to the disciples,
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).
And He linked sanctification with the word in His high priestly prayer:
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Just as the blood of Christ cleanses once for all from the guilt and penalty of sin, so the word of God cleanses continually from the defilement and pollution of sin. This passage teaches that the church is being bathed at the present time, not with literal water, but with the cleansing agent of the word of God. (MacDonald, W & Farstad, A. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Thomas Nelson)
By writing Ephesians 5:26, Paul intended to convey to his audience that upon believing the gospel, a person underwent an initial spiritual cleansing by the word of God, i.e., the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, at conversion. Further, by his writing Ephesians 5:26, Paul intended to convey to his audience that throughout their post-conversion lives, a believer would experience day-by-day spiritual cleansing by Christ who would use the Word of God as the instrument of cleansing. Paul used water in a metaphorical sense in Ephesians 5:26, and did not intend water baptism to possess any salvific efficacy.
In conclusion, my observation of Ephesians 5:25-27, and especially Ephesians 5:26 are:
First, the basic thrust of Ephesians 5:25-27 is Christ’s sanctification of His church, i.e., the body of Christ.
Second, by his writing Ephesians 5:26, Paul intended to convey to his audience that upon believing the gospel, a person underwent an initial spiritual cleansing by Christ via the word of God, i.e., the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, at conversion. Paul used water in a metaphorical sense, and did not intend water baptism to possess any salvific efficacy.
Third, by his writing Ephesians 5:26, Paul intended to convey to his audience that throughout their post-conversion lives, a believer would experience day-by-day spiritual cleansing by Christ who would use the Word of God as the instrument of cleansing. Paul used water in a metaphorical sense, and did not intend water baptism to possess any salvific efficacy.
VERY IMPORTANT IF YOU BELIEVE IN BAPTISMAL REGENERATION
Finally, let me quote gotquestions.org (link: https://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-Mark-16-16.html ):
If you believe in baptismal regeneration, you would do well to prayerfully consider whom or what you are really putting your trust in. Is your faith in a physical act (being baptized) or in the finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what are you trusting for salvation? Is it the shadow (baptism) or the substance (Jesus Christ)? Our faith must rest in Christ alone. “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Please read and take to heart what I write in the section entitled “IF YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN.”
IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT YOUR SALVATION
If you are unsure about your salvation, you need to check out my book The Salvation Meter: Biblical Self-Diagnostic Tests to Examine Your Salvation and Spiritual Growth (book link at Xulon Press: https://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781662828638 ). At Amazon the book link is https://www.amazon.com/Salavation-Meter-Biblical-Self-Diagnostic-Spiritual/dp/1662828632 . I also have a website in which I am updating the content in the book. The link to my website for the book is https://thesalvationmeter.com .
IF YOU ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN
… please (1) read through “God’s Plan of Salvation” so you can understand what God did for you through His only unique Son, Jesus Christ, and (2), from the bottom of your heart, pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” meaning every word. If you do, you will be reconciled to God – saved – through Jesus Christ.
God’s Plan of Salvation
In the beginning, God, who is holy, created the entire universe. As a part of His creative actions, He made humans in His image to know Him. For a while, everything was right between God and our ancestors, Adam and Eve. But Adam sinned, and his sin was passed down to all of humankind whereby we became separated from God. Nothing we could do on our own could bridge that separation so that without God’s intervention, hell would be our eternal destination.
Fortunately for us, in His great love and mercy God provided humankind with the only means of salvation, which is through Jesus Christ who is God’s only unique Son. While retaining His deity, God the Son became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law Himself and taking on Himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever repent and trust in Him for their salvation. Jesus rose from the dead, showing that God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us has been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and trust alone in what Christ did to save us.
If we repent of our sins and completely trust in Christ alone that He died for our sins and rose to life from the dead, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
Scripture References: Genesis 1:1, 27, 31; Habakkuk 1:13; Genesis 2:7, 18, 21-25; Genesis 3:1-7, 23-24; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:19-20, 23; 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 4:10; John 3:16-18; Mark 1:15; Romans 1:4; 4:25; John 3:5-8; 1 Peter 1:3.
Lord, Jesus Christ, the only unique Son of God, thank You for Your free gift of eternal life. I know I’m a sinner who cannot save myself no matter what I do, and I deserve to spend eternity in hell. But, I know that because You loved me so much, You voluntarily died on the cross for me taking my sins upon Yourself, and You physically bodily rose from the grave showing that Your sacrificial death was sufficient payment to give me eternal life in Heaven. I now repent of my sins and trust alone in what You did for my eternal salvation. Please take control of my life as I now receive You as my Lord and Savior. Thank You so much for saving me. I am now Yours forever! (Scripture references: John 1:1-4, 11-14; John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-26; Isaiah 53:4-6; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10, 13; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; John 10:27-29).
Upon your salvation, you must find a spiritually solid Bible-believing church that (1) teaches that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, (2) believes in the doctrine of the Trinity, which means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and each Person is fully God, and (3) teaches that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works (e.g., water baptism by immersion).
ONE CAUTIONARY POINT. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that once you become a Christian, your life will become easy. Most likely, it will become more difficult. God’s blessing of salvation and life’s difficulties are not mutually exclusive. Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15:18 (NLT). Always keep in mind that you have an eternal home in heaven waiting for you per John 14:2–4 (NLT):
2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
NOTICE OF PERMISSIONS
I am mindful of and respect the rights other authors and/or publishers possess in their works. I thus try my best to not violate any copyright rights other authors and/or publishers possess in their works. The below copyright permission statement is the result of my best efforts to understand that limited usage or “fair use” is available and/or to secure direct permission for specific works. The quotations from commentaries are considered to be “fair use.”
Scripture quotations marked “ESV” are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture marked “NASB95” are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”
Scripture marked “NCV” is taken from the New Century Version. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1991 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
The Scriptures marked “NET” are quoted are from the NET Bible® http://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved”.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture marked “GW” is taken from the God’s Word Bible that is a copyrighted work of God’s Word to the Nations. Quotations are used by permission.