21 April 2006

Did Baptism Originate With John the Baptist?

Bro. Waddey:
Was John the Baptist's baptism the first instance of any one baptizing others for religious purposes?

Dear Ed:
In response to your inquiry about the practice of baptism prior to the ministry of John the Baptist, I share with you the following information.

"It is well know that oblation or bathing was common in most ancient nations as a preparation for their prayers and sacrifice, or as expiratory of sin" (Smith, Unabridged Bible Dictionary, Vol. I, p. 233). The ancient Jews, before John, also had their ceremonial washings. Rabbi Maimonides (1135-1204) wrote, "Israel was admitted into covenant by three things, namely by circumcision, baptism and sacrifice" (Issure Biah cap. 13).

One of the earliest of those traditional customs was the baptizing of proselytes" (Smith, Ibid.). The Targum of Jonathan on Ex. 12:44 states, "Thus shalt circumcise him and baptize him" (Smith, p. 233-234). Jewish baptism included "men, women and children" (Ibid. p. 234). The writer of the book of Hebrews refers to the "divers washings (baptismois) of Judaism. The Essenes had their water of purification (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2:8,6).

Alfred Edersheim describes the Jewish rite thusly, "The person to be baptized, having cut his hair and nails, undressed completely, made fresh profession of his faith before what were designated ‘the fathers of the baptism'... and then immersed completely, so that every part of the body as touched by the water" (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol 2, p 746). He rightly argues that the information "must be regarded as proving that at that time (previous to Christ) the baptism of proselytes was customary" (Ibid. p. 747).

While the practice was known in pre-Christian times, the purpose assigned to baptism by Christ was new and different. Faith and baptism secures a person's salvation (Mark. 16:16). It brings the person baptized into a saving relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19); it is "for remission of sins and to received the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:28). It is the appointed time and place where the blood of Christ washes away ones sins (Acts 22:16). It puts the recipient into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). It puts one into the one body or church of Christ (I Cor. 12:13).

Our baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-5). I hope this information is helpful for you.

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