Updated: Jan 1
(Image of a dirty man being washed clean like baptism)
By Luke Lancaster
Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters will say that, when Paul speaks of the "washing of water with the Word" in Ephesians 5:25-27, that he is using a figurative description of the Gospel, and is not referring to baptism. The text says this,
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."
Jesus wanted to marry us, the Church, but we were smelly and filthy. Now let's be real, if you haven't showered, I'm not hanging out with you much. So, Jesus wants our spirits to be washed and cleansed, and does what He needs to do. He dies on the Cross to make us clean, glorious, and perfect.
That process of salvation, from unclean to clean, is described as a "washing of water with the word." Sounds a lot like baptism, doesn't it? When we get baptized, there is a symbol: As the physical water washes our bodies of dirt and smell, so God washes our souls of dirt and smell.
So, when Paul speaks of the washing of water, he means just that - a literal washing of water. For that is literally how we describe baptism. I mean, if he wanted to describe baptism, how else would you describe it? Renowned Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce noticed this and said,
“The noun translated ‘washing’ occurs only one other place in the New Testament - in Titus 3:5, where Christ is said to have saved his people ‘by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.’ The reference is to Christian initiation, in which the bestowal of the Spirit and baptism in water play a central part - the baptism involving not only the external washing but [also] the inward and spiritual grace which it signifies….The phrase ‘with the word’ in our present text: the ‘word’ is the convert’s confession of the name of Christ as baptism is administered” (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians in the New International Commentary of the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1984], 388-89).
Ephesians 5:25-27 is speaking about the Sacrament of Baptism.