2 Corinthians, Lesson 3: An Excursus on Confirmation

Confirmation2 (610x351)This is an excursus that we took on the origins of Confirmation while studying 2 Corinthians.

In the last lesson, Paul and Timothy referred to themselves by saying, “God has establishes us with you into Christ and has anointed us” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Their use of “you” shows that the Corinthian congregation was included in what God was doing: establishing them and anointing them into Christ. But Paul and Timothy don’t stop there: They say that God even puts His seal and gives His Spirit to the Christian as a guarantee!  

What leaves us perplexed is that Paul and Timothy don’t say how God does this! Since this looks to be important, we now explore what and how God does what Paul and Timothy describe.


Excursus: Why and How Confirmation Started in the Church

2 Corinthians 1:19-22:

For God’s Son, Jesus Christ who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus [Silas], and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No.” In Him [Christ], it is always “Yes.” For all God’s promises are “Yes” in Him. And so the “Amen” is also spoken through Him by us to the glory of God.

[So this “yes” from God comes to God’s people through the pastors of the Church: “spoken through Him by us.” Paul and Timothy then go on to say how all God’s promises become “yes” for the Christian.]

Now it is God who establishes us with you [ya’ll] in Christ and has anointed us, sealed us, and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 is a chiasm in the original Greek text. A chiasm is a literary device where the text makes two or more points and then re-mentions those points in reverse order, often using different words or expressions. In a simple chiasm, you will find an A B A’ or A B B’ A’ pattern. Further, the central point is in the center of the chiasm.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 has an A B C B’ A’ pattern. In the center of the chiasm is God, which emphasizes that what takes place in those verses is God’s doing. What does God do? In part “A” of the chiasm, He establishes us in Christ and has given us the down payment, the Holy Spirit, in our hearts. This takes place in baptism. Acts 2:38: Peter said [to the crowd gathered on Pentecost Day], “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

In part “B” of the chiasm, God has anointed and sealed us. God “confirms” the Holy Spirit that was received in baptism. “Anoint” and “seal” are synonyms. Paul also used the same word for “seal” (Greek: sphragizo) in Ephesians 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, in whom you were sealed [sphragizo] for the Day of redemption.” In that verse, Paul was not referring to God giving the Holy Spirit in baptism but, instead, being sealed in the Spirit, being anointed, being “confirmed” in the Spirit.

Lesson 3, The Chiastic Structure of 2 Corinthians 1.21-22

In Acts 19:5-6, we find the Apostle Paul baptizing Ephesian disciples and then laying hands on them. Luke doesn’t tell us why Paul did that. Historically, this laying on of hands points to the early Church’s practice of confirming the Holy Spirit in someone who was just baptized. (We see a similar laying on of hands after baptism in Acts 8:17.)

But why would Paul lay hands on someone after baptism? That doesn’t make sense until we realize that everyone brought into in the New Covenant is also supposed to be brought into God’s Royal Priesthood (unlike the Old Covenant where only men from the Tribe of Levi became priests). The Apostle Peter wrote, “You [Christians in the New Covenant] are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).


The Old-Covenant Foreshadowing of What Would Become “Confirmation”

What the New Testament doesn’t tell us is how God brings someone, ordains him, into His Royal Priesthood. And yet we know that He does! So, we first explore the Old Covenant to see if it contains a “foreshadow” of New-Covenant ordination into God’s Royal Priesthood.

In the Old Covenant, God brought a man, from the Tribe of Levi, into His Priesthood through a four-part ritual. That consisted of 1) being washed with water (Exodus 29:4), 2) being dressed in new garments (Exodus 29:5-6), 3) being anointed with oil (Exodus 29:7), and 4) eating part of the animal sacrifice made during that ordination ritual (Exodus 29:32).

God also commanded that this priestly ordination ritual was to go on “forever,” “throughout your generations” (Exodus 29:9, 42). So, what God mandated for Old-Covenant priestly ordination was to go on—even in the New Covenant; of course, in its fulfilled form. (This is similar to baptism being the fulfilled form of circumcision and the Lord’s Supper being the fulfilled form of all the Temple sacrifices.) Matthew 5:17: [Jesus speaking to the crowds,] “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”


“Confirmation” in the New Testament 

From the time of the Apostles, the Church’s first pastors confirmed to Holy Spirit on the newly baptized by: (1) the laying on of hands and (2) by anointing (Acts 19:1-7, 1 John 2:20). This was part of what God used to bring someone into His Royal Priesthood.


From the Book of Hebrews

Hebrews 6:1-2:

Therefore, leaving behind the elementary word about the Messiah, let us be carried along to completeness, not again laying a foundation, repenting from dead works, and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

In these two verses, Hebrews lists some (not all) of the basics of Christianity, which all Christians were to experience. All Christians are to have faith in God, repent from dead works, be baptized, have hands laid on them, rise from the dead [on the Last Day], and appear before God for the final judgment. Since all Christians are to experience the “laying on of hands,” this can’t refer to pastoral ordination but to another laying on of hands—what would we later come to call “confirmation.”


From the Apostle John

1 John 2:20, 27 [Contrasting Christians from non-Christians]:

You have an anointing from the Holy One and all of you know the truth…. The anointing you received from God remains on you, and you do not need anyone to teach you this. Instead, because God’s anointing teaches you about everything (and is true and not a lie), remain in Him, as He taught you to do. 


Lesson 3, Being Brought into God's Priesthood


“Confirmation” in the Early Church

Theophilus (120-190 AD, from Antioch): “Are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? It is on this account that we are called Christians [anointed ones]: because we are anointed with the oil of God” (To Autolycus 1:12).

Tertullian (160-225 AD, from Carthage) wrote:

Having come out of the baptismal pool, we are anointed with blessed oil according to the ancient discipline in which it was customary to be anointed with oil spread on the horn to receive the priesthood. It is with this oil that Aaron was anointed by Moses; from which comes his name of the Anointed (Christus) which comes from chrisma, meaning “anointing.” (“On Baptism,” ch.7; ANF 3:672)

From Hippolytus (170-235 AD, from Rome):

After this [being baptized], pouring the sanctified oil from his hand and putting it on his head, he [the bishop] shall say: “I anoint you with holy oil in God the Father Almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.” And signing him on the forehead he shall give him the kiss of peace … (On the Apostolic Tradition, 21:22-23, Stewart-Sykes translation)

From Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD):

Now that you have been “baptized into Christ” and have “put on Christ,” you have become conformed to the Son of God [Galatians 3:27, Romans 8:29]. For God “destined us to be his sons” [Ephesians 1:5]… Hence, since you “share in Christ” (Hebrews 3:14), it is right to call you “Christs” or “anointed ones”… You have become anointed ones by receiving the sign of the Holy Spirit….

But be sure not to regard the [oil used for anointing] merely as ointment. Just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is no longer just bread, but the body of Christ, so the holy [oil] after the invocation is no longer ordinary ointment but Christ’s grace, which through the presence of the Holy Spirit instills His divinity into us. [Mystagogical Lectures, 3.1-3]

Other Church fathers also called confirmation as a “seal” (Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 AD), “the spiritual seal” (Ambrose of Milan, 339-397 AD), “the seal of eternal life” (Leo the Great, 400-461 AD), and “the confirmation” (The Apostolic Constitutions, circa 375-380 AD).

The early Church’s sequence of someone being baptized, being anointed with the laying on of hands, and then participating in the Lord Supper mirrored ordaining a man into the Priesthood in the Old Covenant. In Old-Covenant ordination, the final act was the priest eating part of the sacrifice. Thus, in the Old Covenant, we see a foreshadowing of New-Covenant “communion.” Through such a similar sequence, one was ordained into the New-Covenant’s Royal Priesthood. 


Discussion Questions

  • Discuss: How was your confirmation similar to or different from what we learned in the Lesson?


  • How has our current confirmation practice taken what God does for us (Gospel) and turn it into what we are doing for God (Law)?


  • Pastor will read from Lutheran Service Book Agenda to show a vestige of the original confirmation that still exists in our Baptismal Rite and Confirmation Rite. Discuss.


  • Although we find no place in Scripture where Jesus commanded confirmation, like He did for baptism and the Lord’s Supper, how does understanding the New Covenant as the fulfillment of the Old lead us to affirm and still practice confirmation?


  • How does this cause us to rethink our confirmation practices?


  • What can, or should, we do as a congregation in a church body (denomination) that is so dysfunctional that it’s almost impossible to resolve any theological difference or practice?


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