The richness of water

Just had a very interesting discussion with Alastair Roberts on Twitter about water imagery in Scripture, prompted by a tweet in which Alastair suggested that Hebrews 6:4-8 has “rather a lot of potential baptismal imagery” in it.

The discussion culminated in a series of very thought-provoking comments by Alastair that I’ve summarised below (very lightly edited):

  • Water imagery in Scripture is very rich. The direction of its movement, and ours in relation to it is v. significant.
  • God has always created, ordered, and filled worlds by acting on and through water(s) both in new creation and old creation.
  • Most people miss the presence of ‘abovewaters’ and ‘belowwaters’ in most biblical water narratives.
  • e.g. abovewaters = rainbow in the cloud, cloud leading the Israelites, temple’s bronze laver, descent of Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  • And so the symbolism of belowwaters (death, judgment, etc.) tends to be overemphasized.
  • And water isn’t just ‘above’ and ‘below’ but is also something that we pass through. Israel is defined by water-crossings.
  • Euphrates marks barrier from old idolatry, Jabbok from pre-Israel identity, Red Sea from slavery, Jordan from wandering.
  • Though it is interesting that the boundary waters of the Jordan are also the waters at the heart and centre of the land.

So much to think about there: the direction in which water moves in Scripture (e.g. the Spirit being poured out), the themes of “abovewaters” and “belowwaters” (which surely finds an echo in Romans 6, for starters), and baptism as both a “boundary” through which God’s people cross and also “the heart and centre of the land”.


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