Almost all Christian religious groups will speak of “sacraments”. But what are sacraments? What does the word “sacrament” mean? Let’s start with the meaning of the word “sacrament”. The word itself comes from the Latin word, “sacramentum”, and it’s meaning is.. “a solemn oath”. “Sacramentum” comes from another Latin word, “sacrare” meaning.. “to hallow, or to consecrate”. And to “hallow, or consecrate” means.. to make something holy. Such as, in what people call “the Lord’s prayer”, where it says, “Hallowed be Thy name”. That simply means.. “May Thy name be Holy”.
Now if you look up the etymology of the word “sacrament”, you’ll be told of course that it comes from the Latin word ‘sacramentum”. But then you’ll also be told that “sacramentum” comes from the Greek word “Mysterion”. “Mysterion” is where we get our English word “mystery” from. But you might wonder, how on earth did anyone ever get “sacramentum” from “mysterion”? And you’d be right to wonder how that would come about. That doesn’t make sense, does it? But there’s a story behind these words that does make sense.
The truth is that “sacramentum” never really came from the word “mysterion”. But rather it was chosen as a “replacement” for the word “mysterion”. In the bible, you never see the word sacrament do you? You’ll see all those words like, solemn oath, and hallow, and holy, and consecrate, but not sacrament. So the word sacrament, is not really a scriptural word is it? We do see the word “mystery” used in the bible though. As a matter of fact, in the King James Version of the bible, the word mystery is used 21 times. And the word mysteries, plural, is used another 5 times. But here’s the interesting thing. The bible never even ONCE, uses the word mystery, in reference to the things that the denominational world uses the word sacrament in reference to. For instance, denominations refer to baptism as a “sacrament”. And they also refer to the communion, as a “sacrament”. And the Catholic church has an additional five other things that they refer to as “sacraments”. But the bible NEVER uses the word “mysterion” in reference to ANY of these things. So where’s the connection, between the words “sacramentum” and “mysterion”?
The bible speaks of the mystery of the gospel, in Ephesians 6:19. That verse says, “And pray in my behalf (the apostle Paul is writing this) that utterance may be given to me, in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness, the mystery of the gospel”. And Paul wrote in Colossians 1:26, “That is the mystery which has been HIDDEN from the past ages and generations, but NOW has been manifested to His saints”. So now it’s not a mystery any longer is it?
And Paul continued to speak of the gospel, and of the knowledge of Christ, and of God’s ways as a mystery. He wrote to Timothy, “Great is the mystery of godliness”. 1 Tim 3:16. Listen to what he wrote to the congregation at Rome. “For I do not want you brethren to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation..” Romans 11:25. Now that verse is specifically speaking about what the scripture refer to as “a partial hardening of the nation of Israel until the gentiles came in”. And so we can see that this mystery really has to do with the whole plan of salvation, that God had “eternally purposed in Christ”, from before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 3:11
Here’s what Jesus said to His apostles and His closest followers. In Mark 4:11. Jesus said, “To YOU has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables..” Those people who were “outside” as Jesus put it, they were the ones who didn’t have “ears to hear”. They didn’t WANT to hear what Jesus had to say. Jesus said in V-12, “..in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, lest they return and be forgiven.” So Jesus spoke in parables, so that those who really didn’t want to know the truth, wouldn’t understand the truth. But to those who wanted the truth, to them it was given to know it and to understand it.
It’s just like those who don’t have a LOVE of the truth. We’re told in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, “For THIS reason God will send them a working of delusion, that they might believe a lie”.. or you could translate it, “what is false”, or an “untruth”. And that phrase, “a working of delusion”; That does NOT mean that God is taking away their “free will”. Those who don’t have a love of the truth, still have it within their own power to choose. They have CHOSEN to not love the truth. But there’s is a consequence to not having a love for truth. And that consequence is, that God will “send” or in other words, He will “transmit” or “permit” this working of delusion. That’s exactly what that word send means. That delusion will be transmitted to you, and God will permit it.
There are two Greek words that are translated “a working of delusion”. The KJV says “a strong delusion”. the NASB says “a deluding influence”. Here’s what the original Greek words mean. First, the word translated “a working”, is the Greek word, “en-erg’-iah”. It’s where we get our word “energy” from. The word means “working, or action, or activity”. Strong’s Concordance says that in the New Testament, the word is confined to “superhuman” activity. Let’s go back to V-9. for a minute. It says here speaking of “lawlessness”, “The one whose coming is in accord with the en-erg’-iah of satan, with all the power and signs and false wonders”. The same word is used here, “energy”.
There is “energy” in the spirit of evil, isn’t there? There’s a “force” there, that’s trying to get you and me to believe a lie! Now, here’s the second word in that phrase, ‘a working of delusion”. The word is “plan’ey”, and it means.. “a wandering, or an error”. Also “deceit, delusion, error, and sin”. So the power of satan, or the power of the spirit of evil, definitely has an influence on us. It is “working”, with all it’s energy. to make us believe what is false. To make us wander from the truth, and to be deluded, into believing a lie. A LIE is false doctrine!
But Jesus told His disciples, “To YOU it has been granted to KNOW the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to THEM it has not been granted”. Mathew 13:11
So now, let’s get back to this business of how the word “sacrament” ever got to be used instead of the word “mystery”. Those are two different, and separate words. Like I said, the bible never uses the word mystery, to refer to the things that denominations refer to with the word “sacrament”. It’s not surprising that the Latin word “sacramentum” first came to be used by someone who was actually “changing” what the bible says. Sacrament, first came to be used in reference to baptism, somewhere is the third century, by a so-called, “church father” whose name was Tertullian. You can find a lot of writings by Tertullian if you simply do a search on the internet for “writings of the early church fathers”. The thing that I find standing out most prominently, about most of the writings of the “church fathers”, is the realization of how many teachings and practices from the bible, were changed by these men. So I’m not much of a “fan” of the “church fathers”. I’m sure that they stood up for a lot of good teachings of Christ, but I’m also just as sure, that they had the tendency to change things, according to their own understandings. So although we can learn a lot from what the “church fathers” wrote, we can’t rely on their practices or their beliefs, when they vary from the bible.
So, let’s go to the Greek word “mysterion”. “Mysterion” means.. “something hidden or secret”. In the second and third centuries, the pagans used this word to describe the “rite of initiation” of people into their “religion”. It was a “mysterious thing” to be involved in their cults. Why do you think there was so much “mystery” involved with their “rite of initiation”? Wouldn’t their whole religion be, one great mystery? They worshipped gods that really didn’t even exist! They knew NOTHING about these so called “gods”. All they knew was what their imaginations could tell them. And so it’s no wonder to me, why there was so much “mysterion” attached to their beliefs and maybe especially to the “rite of initiation” into their religion.
Now here’s where the connection comes in with Christianity. Who have God’s people always, and historically, wanted to be “like”? They have always wanted to be like the people around them, haven’t they? Well, it wasn’t any different in the third century, and so Christians began using the word “mysterion” to refer to THEIR “rite of initiation” you might say, into the body of Christ. How do we come into the body of Christ? It’s through baptism, isn’t it? Peter said, “Repent and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..” Acts 2;38. And V-41 says, “So then those who received his words WERE baptized, and there were added that day about 3,000 souls”. And it says in V-47, “And the Lord was adding to the congregation day by day, those who were being saved.” So in the process of being converted and being saved, the final step is to be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, right? That’s exactly what the scriptures say, so we KNOW it’s right.
So the third century Christians, in wanting to be like the people around them, adopted the word “mysterion” and applied it to their own “rite” of baptism. Now there’s nothing mysterious about baptism is there? Our God has told us exactly what baptism is. Baptism is “a burial into the death of Christ”, Rom 6:3-4, where we die to sin, and it is being “raised to walk in newness of life” v-4 again, and it’s the “new birth” spoken of in John 3:3 “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. V-5. And God has told us that baptism is “FOR the forgiveness of your sins” Acts 2;38. God has revealed to us salvation, through faith in Christ, and obedience to His word. It USED to be a mystery, but not anymore!
So you’ve got the picture of the progression of things. The pagan religions were using the word “mysterion” in reference to their false religions, which they really had NO knowledge about at all, because there wasn’t anything to know, their gods didn’t even exist! It was all just imagination. But the Christians borrowed their word “mysterion”, or adopted their word, and applied it to their own religion. Now Tertullian enters into the picture. Tertullian evidently was a fairly powerful man with a lot of influence. The writings that I’ve read, say that Tertullian didn’t want there to be any “confusion” between Christians and pagans, and so he changed the word “mysterion” that the Christians had begun to use, and he began to use the word “sacramentum”, in reference to baptism.
Personally, I think it may have been more “embarrassing”, than confusing, to adopt a pagan term into our Christian activities. Wouldn’t it have been a whole lot LESS embarrassing, and a lot less confusing also, just to call baptism and communion by the words that God himself uses in the bible?
Baptism is an immersion, that’s what the Greek word “baptidzo” means.. To immerse, or to plunge. It’s a “burial” in water, just like the scriptures say, “we are buried with Him in baptism..” Rom 6:4. And the word “communion”, it’s a “sharing”, and it’s a “remembrance”. “Is not the cup of blessing, a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break, a sharing in the body of Christ?” 1 Cor 10:16. Jesus said, “This is My body which is for you; Do this in remembrance of Me”. This cup is the new covenant in My blood; Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me”. 1 Cor 11:24-24. The communion is also a “proclamation”. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death, untill He comes”. V-26
Is baptism a sacrament? Well, remember that sacrament means.. “a solemn oath”. Are we making an oath to God when we’re baptized? We should be. We should be promising God that we are turning our lives over to Him. We are dying to our old self, and being born again of water and the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
And are we making ourselves hallow, or holy? Again, we should be. Our lives should now be lives lived to the Lord, led by the Spirit. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”. And Galatians 5:25 tells us, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” But is this a mystery? Not if we read the bible it isn’t.
In the fifth century, St Augustine, of the Roman Catholic church, and the Bishop of the church in the city of Hippo, (Hippo was a city in what now is Algeria, in Africa) began to describe a “sacrament” as “an outward sign of an inward, or invisible grace”. But that statement is something that’s entirely made up by man. There’s nothing biblical at all about the idea of something being an outward sign of an inward grace. The “sign” of God’s grace is all around us, in all the wonderful blessings that He showers upon each and every one of us every day. And the “sign” of His spiritual grace, is seen abundantly in the bible, the very word of God. Salvation in Jesus Christ IS the grace of God!
We read in Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore having been justified by faith (faith in the gospel and in Christ) we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have obtained our introduction into this grace in which we stand, and we can exult in hope of the glory of God”. So we “stand in this grace”. 1 Cor 15:1 says, “Now I make known to you the gospel, which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, IF you hold fast the word which I preached to you..” So we “stand in God’s grace, and we “stand in His gospel”. The gospel of Christ IS the grace of God. And there’s no mystery about it, all we need to know is written clearly in His word. And His word is the only “sign” we’ll ever need.
As far as any other “outward sign”, well, that sounds a lot like Baptist doctrine to me. The Baptists probably don’t realize how much they owe to the Catholics. Baptists believe that they are saved simply by “accepting Jesus into their hearts”. And baptism is simply “an outward sign, of an inward grace”. The “grace” being the fact that they believe God has already saved them BEFORE they are baptized. The only reason a Baptist is baptized, is to “display” their belief that they’ve already been saved. That’s quite a “change” from what Peter preached on the day of Pentecost when he said, “Repent and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, FOR the forgiveness of your sins..” Acts 2;38. And it’s quite a “change” from the words of the Lord’s servant Ananias, who told Paul, “And now, why do you delay, arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on Him.” Acts 22:16. How are you gonna be saved, until you wash away your sins?
St Augustine by the way, went on to describe over three hundred “rituals” as “sacraments”. The Roman church gradually reduced this number to seven. And that’s where it remain to this day. Catholics today believe in seven “sacraments”. Most of the other denominations only consider baptism and communion as “sacraments”. However some Protestant groups also include “confirmation” as a sacrament.
Should we use the word “sacrament” in speaking of our religious activities? The bible never does. Does that hold any weight with you, that the bible doesn’t use that term? Whenever we use words and terms that are foreign to the bible, it always leads to a certain amount of confusion. Supposedly, that’s what Tertullian was trying to avoid. So how about this “rule of grammar”; Let’s call bible things by bible names. And while we’re at it, let’s DO bible things in bible ways. And let’s remember the word of God which says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God”. 1 Peter 4:11. If everyone would just do that, then I do believe, there wouldn’t be ANY confusion.
Thanks for joining us in this study, and may God bless you in every study of His word. Please leave your comments in the space below.