[This article was contributed by Ed]
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that baptism is done in symbol of one’s vow of dedication to God. Have they got it wrong? If so, are there negative consequences to this teaching?
There is nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures about baptism. Baptism was not a part of the Israelite system of worship. Jesus’ arrival changed all that. Six months before Jesus began his ministry, his relative, John the Baptist, introduced baptism in symbol of repentance. However, Jesus introduced a different baptism.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit,” (Mt 28:19)
What Jesus introduced differed from John’s in that it was not in symbol of repentance, but rather was done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The baptism of Jesus came with the promise of God’s forgiveness through a cleansed conscience, the removal of guilt, and sanctification. (Acts 1:5; 2:38-42) In fact, personal sanctification is a necessary step that gives God the basis to ‘sanctify’ us and forgive us of our sins.
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, [the flood] is also now saving you (not by the removing of the filth of the flesh, but by the request to God for a good conscience), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:20, 21 Ro; Mo)
“How much more will the blood of the Christ, who through an everlasting spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we may render sacred service to the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14)
“…let us approach [our high priest] with sincere hearts and complete faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from a wicked conscience and our bodies bathed with clean water…” [“by the water of the word”] (Hebrews 10:21, 22)
Motivated by love of our Father Jehovah and his Son, Jesus Christ, our Father asks the same of us that he asked of David: “My son, give me your heart, [‘seat of affection’] and let your eyes observe my ways.” (Pro 23:26; Dan 1:8)
The Scriptures say nothing about Christians dedicating their life to God as a prerequisite to baptism. However, personal sanctification is not only essential to baptism, it is the precondition to one’s being sanctified by God.
Before examining the subject of sanctification, it is informative to review the various definitions of related terms found in the Glossary of the 2013 Revised NWT, because they have long colored our thinking on the subject of baptism.
NWT Revised, 2013 — Glossary of Bible Terms
Vow: A solemn promise made to God to perform some act, make some offering or gift, enter some service, or abstain from certain things not unlawful in themselves. It carried the force of an oath. —Nu 6:2; Ec 5:4; Mt 5:33.
Oath: A sworn statement to certify that something is true, or a solemn promise that a person will or will not do a certain thing. It is frequently a vow made to a superior, especially to God. Jehovah reinforced his covenant with Abraham by a sworn oath. —Ge 14:22; Heb 6:16, 17.
Covenant: A formal agreement, or contract, between God and humans or between two human parties to do or refrain from doing something. Sometimes only one party was responsible to carry out the terms (a unilateral covenant, which was essentially a promise). At other times both parties had terms to carry out (a bilateral covenant). …. —Ge 9:11; 15:18; 21:27; Ex 24:7; 2 Ch 21:7.
Anoint: [(NWT Study Guide)] The Hebrew word basically means “to smear with liquid.” Oil was applied to a person or an object to ‘symbolize dedication’ to a special service. In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word is also ‘used of the pouring out of holy spirit on those chosen for the heavenly hope’. —Ex 28:41; 1 Sa 16:13; 2 Co 1:21.
Dedication: [(it-1 p. 607 Dedication)] A separation or setting apart for a sacred purpose. The Hebrew verb na·zarʹ (dedicate) has the basic meaning “keep separate; be separated; withdraw.” (Le 15:31; 22:2; Eze 14:7; compare Ho 9:10, ftn.) The related Hebrew word neʹzer refers to the sign or symbol of holy dedication [anointing] worn as a crown upon the sanctified head of a high priest or on the head of an anointed king; it also referred to Naziriteship.—Nu 6:4-6; compare Ge 49:26, ftn.
Consecrate; Consecration: [(jv chap. 12 p. 160)] (‘to have given themselves fully to the Lord,’ as they (Bible Students) understood it to mean.
Regarding “dedication” and “consecration”, The Watchtower of 1964 had this to say:
What this water baptism symbolized has always been clearly understood and explained by Jehovah’s Witnesses, although there has been a change in terminology. In times past what we now call “dedication” used to be called “consecration.” It was called consecration, … particularly with reference to those who make up the symbolic body of Christ, those who have the hope of heavenly life. [Consecration for Life in Heaven] In due time, however, in The Watchtower of May 15, 1952, two articles appeared on this subject. The leading article was entitled “Dedication to God and Consecration” and the subsidiary article was entitled “Dedication for Life in the New World.” These articles showed that what was once called “consecration” was more properly termed “dedication.” Since that time the term “dedication” has been used. (From w64 [excerpts] 2/15 p. 122-23 Did You Make an Acceptable Dedication to God?)
Understanding of the symbolic meaning of water baptism had been broadened out previous to 1952 to include those of the Other Sheep class (those believed to have the hope of living forever in a paradise earth) as well as those of the anointed body of Christ.
As stated on page 677 of the book entitled Babylon the Great Has Fallen! God’s Kingdom Rules!:
“However, from 1934 onward the anointed remnant plainly pointed out that these ‘other sheep’ must now make a full dedication of themselves to God and symbolize this dedication by water baptism and then become fellow witnesses of Jehovah with his remnant. (The Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, August 15, 1934, p. 249, 250 par. 31-34)
Thus, water baptism was extended to include the Other Sheep class.
The Watch Tower Society in all its publications continued taking care not to leave interested persons in ignorance of the fact that water baptism symbolized consecration, for the anointed and, as now taught, dedication for the Other Sheep. In its brief account of the general assembly held at Washington, D.C., May 31 to June 3, 1935, the July 1, 1935, issue of The Watchtower magazine stated on page 194:
“About twenty thousand interested ones attended, among whom were a large number of Jonadabs [those believed to have an earthly hope] who symbolized their consecration by water immersion.”
The following year (1936) the book Riches was published, and it stated on page 144 under the subheading “Baptism”:
“Is it necessary for one who today professes to be a Jonadab or person of good will toward God to be baptized or immersed in water? Such is proper and a necessary act of obedience on the part of ‘one who has consecrated himself …’ It is an outward confession that the one being baptized in water has agreed to do God’s will.”
The change in terminology from “consecration” to “dedication” has not affected in any way what was meant and understood to be a vow or promise made to God to do his will.
As seen from the chronological review of the 1964 Watchtower, starting as far back as 1913 to as late as 1952, the organization has tried to parse the definition of “consecrate” into a special definition, using various words and terms. Eventually “consecrate” was narrowly defined to mean “dedicate”. The question is: Why do this?
The historical evidence demonstrates that it was done in order to perpetuate a class distinction between the “anointed sons of God” and the non-anointed Other Sheep as merely friends of God.
All this has created confusing word play, with Witnesses being taught both that they are not children of God, yet can refer to him as Father. This amounts to attempting to put a square peg in a round hole. The only way to do this is to expand the size of the round hole, and that is exactly what the article says was done:
“Understanding of the symbolic meaning of water baptism had been broadened out previously to 1952 to include those of the “other sheep” class, those who have hopes of living forever in a paradise earth, as well as those of the anointed body of Christ.”
Even after finally “broadening the meaning” (the round hole), they found it necessary to continue to rationalize and re-explain their definitions of “consecration” and “dedication”:
“As has been discussed in other articles in The Watchtower, scripturally there is a difference between consecration and dedication. ‘Consecration’, as this is used in the Scriptures, refers to God’s act of installing the associate priests with Christ Jesus and applies only to Christ and the anointed spirit-begotten members of his body, and this act, of course, follows or comes after the individual ‘dedication’ of those Christians who are eventually called to be members of the body of Christ. The hopes of these are heavenly and are not the earthly hopes of Jehovah’s “other sheep…” (w55 [Excerpt] 6/15 p. 380 par. 19 The Reassuring History of Dedication)
But is there actually difference in these terms? Read the definition of “consecrate” and “dedicate”, according to Dictionary.com. The words are obviously synonyms— a definition without a difference. Other dictionaries make the point even more clearly.
Cons·e·crate; Con·se·crat·ed: adj. (used with object).
- to make or declare sacred; set apart or dedicate to the service of a deity: to consecrate a new church
- to make(something) an object of honor or veneration; hallow: a custom consecrated by
- to devote or dedicate to some purpose: a life consecrated to science [or, even Jesus Christ].
Ded·i·cat·e; Ded·i·cat·ed: adj. (used with object),
- to set apart and consecrate to a deity or to a sacred purpose:
- to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose:
- to offer formally (a book, piece of music, etc.) to a person, cause, or the like in testimony of affection or respect, as on a prefatory page.
Sanc·ti·fy; Sanc·ti·fied [I.e.; Holy; Holiness] A quality possessed inherently by Jehovah; a state of absolute moral purity and sacredness. (Ex 28:36; 1Sa 2:2; Pr 9:10; Isa 6:3) When referring to humans (Ex 19:6; 2 Ki 4:9), animals (Nu 18:17), things (Ex 28:38; 30:25; Le 27:14), places (Ex 3:5; Isa 27:13), time periods (Ex 16:23; Le 25:12), and activities (Ex 36:4), the original Hebrew word [sanctify] conveys the thought of separateness, exclusiveness, or sanctification to the holy God; a state of being set aside for Jehovah’s service. In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the words rendered “holy” and “holiness” likewise denote separation to God. The words are also used to refer to purity in one’s personal conduct. —Mr 6:20; 2 Co 7:1; 1Pe 1:15, 16. (nwtstg Holy; Holiness)
After considering those published excerpts and the various definitions, it is eye-opening that the term “dedication” in connection with Christianity and baptism is not found in the NWT of the Greek scriptures. Neither is “dedication” found in the “Glossary of Bible Terms” of the Revised NWT. So, it is not a Christian term. However, the closely related term “sanctification” is found throughout the Christian scriptures, especially in Paul’s writings.
Baptism is rooted in one single bible requirement simply and beautifully expressed by Peter. He says that baptism is a “request made to God for a clean conscience.” (1Pe 3:20-21) The process requires confessing our sinful state, repenting. We then are “in Christ”, and live by the ‘kingly law of love’, whereby we gain God’s favor of sanctification. (Pro 23:26)
1Peter 3:21 indicates that baptism provides the basis for us to ask for forgiveness of sins with full confidence that God will grant us a clean start (sanctification). This definition does not include any legal requirement to make and then to live up to a dedication vow. And if we break that vow, what then? A vow once broken, becomes null and void. Are we to make a new vow? Are we to vow over and over, each time we sin and fail to live up to our vow of dedication?
Of course not.
Peter’s expression harmonizes with what Jesus commanded of us:
“Again YOU heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You must not swear without performing, but you must pay your vows to Jehovah.’ 34 However, I say to YOU: Do not swear at all, neither by heaven, because it is God’s throne; 35 nor by earth, because it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor by your head must you swear, because you cannot turn one hair white or black. 37 Just let YOUR word Yes mean Yes, YOUR No, No, for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one.” (Matt 5:33-37)
The idea of a vow of dedication would therefore originate, according to our Lord, from the Devil.
As stated, there is no record showing that a solemn vow of dedication is a prerequisite necessary for baptism. There is however, a prerequisite of ‘personal sanctification’ necessary for baptism—opening the way to a clean conscience before God. (Ac 10:44-48; 16:33)
Sanctification or Dedication—Which?
The act or process of making holy, separating, or setting apart for the service or use of Jehovah God; the state of being holy, sanctified, or purified. “Sanctification” draws attention to the action whereby holiness is produced, made manifest, or maintained. (See HOLINESS.) Words drawn from the Hebrew verb qa·dhashʹ and words related to the Greek adjective haʹgi·os are rendered “holy,” “sanctified,” “made sacred,” and “set apart.” (it-2 p. 856-7 Sanctification)
“The blood of the Christ” signifies the value of his perfect human life; and it is this that washes away the guilt of sin of the person believing in him. Hence it really (not just typically [compare Heb 10:1-4]) sanctifies to the purifying of the believer’s flesh, from God’s standpoint, so that the believer has a clean conscience. Also, God declares such believer righteous and makes him suitable to be one of the underpriests of Jesus Christ. (Ro 8:1, 30) Such ones are called haʹgi·oi, “holy ones,” “saints” (KJ), or persons sanctified to God.—Eph 2:19; Col 1:12; compare Ac 20:32, which refers to “sanctified ones [tois he·gi·a·smeʹnois].” (it-2 p. 857 Sanctification)
The publications apply this process of sanctification to the 144,000 only, claiming that the Other Sheep differ. Yet Jesus did not initiate two baptisms. The Bible speaks only of one. All Christians are the same and all undergo the same baptism.
Excerpts taken from the October, 15, 1953 The Watchtower (pp. 617-619) “Sanctification, a Christian Requirement”
“WHAT constitutes a Christian? Strictly speaking, a Christian is a holy one, a sanctified one, a “saint.” He is one whom Jehovah God has sanctified —and who has sanctified himself— and who is leading a life of sanctification. As the apostle Paul expressed it, “This is what God wills, the sanctifying of you.”—1 Thess. 4:3, NW”
God’s Word of truth also plays a vital role in the work of setting these apart for God’s service. That is why Christ prayed: “Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NW) Additionally God’s active force or power at work is needed, and so we read that Christians are “sanctified with holy spirit.”—Rom. 15:16, NW”
Sanctification primarily concerns those Christians who have a heavenly hope, those who, because of their faith and dedication to do God’s will in the “acceptable season,” have been declared righteous by Jehovah God and given a heavenly hope. (Rom. 5:1; 2 Cor. 6:2, NW)…”
“However, the Bible also shows that there are “other sheep,” a “great crowd” of dedicated Christians who have an earthly hope. (John 10:16; Rev. 7:9-17) …”
“… Though not strictly considered as sanctified ones or “saints,” these (other sheep/ great crowd) nevertheless are benefited [i.e.; sanctified] by Christ’s ransom sacrifice at the present time, have the truth of God’s Word and receive of his active force or holy spirit. They also must exercise faith, keep themselves separate from the world and morally clean [sanctified/holy] as they serve as God’s instruments to make his truths known to others.”
That last paragraph statement that the Other Sheep are “not strictly considered as sanctified ones or saints” is an artfully contrived attempt at class distinction to de-classify the other sheep as having sanctification/holy status before God and Jesus Christ. The purpose is to deny them the promised “entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” —In essence, their teaching “shuts up the kingdom of the heavens before men…not permitting them to go in…” (2 Peter 1:16; Matt. 23:13)
(2 Peter 1:9-11, 16) For if these things [the manifestation of sanctification] are not present in anyone, he is blind, shutting his eyes [to the light], and has become forgetful of his cleansing from his sins of long ago. 10 For this reason, brothers, all the more do YOUR utmost to make the calling and choosing of YOU sure for yourselves; for if YOU keep on doing these things YOU will by no means ever fail. 11 In fact, thus there will be richly supplied to YOU the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… 16 No, it was not by following artfully contrived false stories that we acquainted YOU with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
So, if we separate the wheat from the chaff; what is the requirement for Christian baptism, “sanctification or dedication?” What do the related scriptures teach us?
For this is what God wills, the sanctifying of YOU, that YOU abstain from fornication; 4 that each one of YOU should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor…, 7 For God called us, not with allowance for uncleanness, but in connection with sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)
Pursue peace with all people, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord…” (Hebrews 12:14)
And a highway will be there, Yes, a way called the Way of Holiness [Sanctification]. The unclean one will not travel on it. It is reserved for the one walking on the way; No one foolish will stray onto it. (Isaiah 35:8)
In a nutshell, this is what the Bible teaches about requirements for baptism and its effect on Christians as servants of God and of Jesus Christ. So, why aren’t baptized Christians being scripturally taught that they are sanctified and holy instead of being required to vow or swear an oath of dedication? Could it be, as the foregoing 1953 Watchtower states:
“In the Christian Greek Scriptures the words sanctify and sanctification translate Greek words whose root is hágios, an adjective meaning “holy,” which in turn is comprised of two roots or smaller words meaning “not of the earth” [heavenly]; and hence, “dedicated to God above.”
Interesting that as recent as 2013, we are told that all baptized Christians, that is, all true Christians approved by God and Jesus Christ are “sanctified as holy to Jehovah.” (See: “You Have Been Sanctified” — ws13 8/15 p. 3).
We see how they trip up on words, stretching then restricting the meaning to fit their own theology.
The truth of the matter is that imposing a vow of dedication adds a great burden to the Christian, since it is impossible to live up to such a promise day in and day out. Each failure means that the Jehovah’s Witness has broken his promise to God. This adds to his guilt and makes him or her more susceptible to pressure to do more in the service of the Organization which measures one’s worth based one’s works. Like the Pharisees of old, the Governing Body has bound “up heavy loads and put them on the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not wiling to budge them with their finger.” (Mt 23:4) The vow of dedication is just such a heavy load.
As Jesus said, to make such a vow originates with the wicked one. (Mt 5:37)