I have spent the past three months studying the issue of baptism. I do not claim to have all the answers. This is however, from my study, what I have found to be true of how we should understand baptism. I hope it will be beneficial to your personal study.
One of the church’s major debates, which have split congregations, is the belief in baptism and how it should be done. Many churches believe it should be full immersion in to water others believe it should be sprinkled over one’s head. Still others believe it should be done when you are a newborn baby while others believe it should be an act done when one is in their adolescence or when approaching adulthood.
A mikveh is a ritual bathhouse that must meet many specifications. The water of the mikveh must be natural (gathered into the mikveh pool by natural means) not by unnatural means (not by a bucket or some other man made object). Other requirements place the minimum of forty se’ah (250-1,000 liters) collected and the water must be pure (no discoloration). Being that the qualifications for a “pure” mikveh are very difficult, especially in areas where there is low rainfall, there have been many different ingenious methods devised to construct mikva’ot according to the ‘halakhah’ (rule book). The most common was is to collect the required amount of ‘natural’ water into a storage cistern, which is connected, to the actual bath. The bath is filled and emptied at will with ordinary tap water. When it is filled it becomes connected to the natural water in the cistern through the aperture and thus itself becomes a valid mikveh.
Cleansing oneself in an ordinary bath or shower cannot replace the necessity of immersion in the mikveh. On the other hand, careful cleansing of the body must precede immersion in the mikveh. The purpose of immersion is therefore not physical, but spiritual, cleanliness.
Purification seems like an expression one does not use much anymore. In fact, realizing the contemporary condition of the humanity is far-flung from purity. It is purity God seeks so one might be set apart as His people. It is imperative to erect a familiar position in which one might recognize the stipulation of the Jewish people and why keeping one pure is essential in Jewish ideologies and beliefs. Purification derived within the context of being “unclean” moreover, it was that of being “guilty of something in which one did.” When the laws of God, received by Moses were written and reputed, they focused on the idea of being “set apart” from others who have conformed to the ways of the world. The modernization of earlier rabbinic Judaism is the view of impurity – leprosy—not as a metaphor for sin universal, but as a symbol a specific offense has been committed. The employment of purity –laws in this correlation therefore constitutes part of the rabbinic accounting for and justification of the fate of the Jewish people after the eradication of the Second Temple and, in particular, the calamity of the Bar Kokhba War – the time of Meir, Yosé, Simeon b. Yohai, and Simeon b. Eleazar.
Purity within the Jewish Talmud
Just as the people were told thy had sinned but could achieve regeneration through atonement and good behavior, so in the specific and very ordinary instances of disease or early death one might try to show a particular sin lay at the origin of the suffering. The purity –rules provide an explanation for individual suffering because the impurity-leprosy menstruation-afflicts the private person. So through their interpretation of the purity laws, the early post-70 rabbis’ generalized allegation that Israel suffered on account of sin after 135 is made precise and concrete in the life of the private person.
Significance of Purity
The most important point for the interpretation of purity in Judaism is the relationship between cleanness and morality, uncleanness and sin. “… a new kind of relation between pollution and morals emerges when purification alone is taken to be an adequate treatment for moral wrongs. Then the whole complex of ideas including pollution and purification become a kind of safety net which allows people to perform what, in terms of social structure, could be like acrobatic feats on the high wire… (Douglas 137). These reasons allow one to see the importance of immersion and purification of the temple.
OLD TESTAMENT USAGE:
It is important to have a basic understanding in which there is a common ground, which will aid as important to the subjectivity of water baptism. The word immersion, also known as baptism, comes from the Hebrew word mikveh meaning water gathered in one place. This word is first used in Genesis 1 in the literal seven-day creation of the world. And G-d said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together in one place, and let the dry land appear,” and it was so (Genesis 1:9 emphasis mine). There is another word in the Hebrew language, which refers to baptism called kabac. This word is used numerous times in the Old Testament, particularly in the Torah (the five books of Moses). This word is used in reference of washing clothes. Another word, which refers to immersion, is tevilah. Tevilah refers the ceremony of immersion is the actual immersion and the mikveh is the waters gathered in one place to be used for immersion.
In Leviticus, there are many scriptures, which help one to fully understand the meaning of immersion. It was for purification of the body; those considered “unclean” (Lev. 14: 8-9, 15). Aaron and his sons ceremonially washed for priesthood (Lev.8:5-6). When the people celebrated the Day of Atonement, Aaron had bathed himself to enter the most Holy Place of the temple to be with God (Lev. 16: 3-4). On the same day, the one chosen to release the scapegoat into the desert had to ceremonially bath. He also had to burn his clothes (Lev.16: 26-18). Immersion is very important to a Jewish person because not only was it a tradition that was followed, it was law to be immersed. This was law and a Jewish person would not go against the law God had given them. There were in fact, three things a Jewish man or woman would have to do to show he or she was a Jew, God’s chosen people. These three acts are circumcision (Genesis 17:11), sacrifice (Exodus 24:7-8) and immersion (Exodus 19:10). Immersion in Exodus 19:10 are mikveh symbolizing the washing of garments.
Looking to Jewish traditions, before one is married (woman and man) one must be immersed. She must do this because of the prohibition of a man to have relations with his menstruous wife (during her menses and for a period of seven “clean” days thereafter) and this must be done on the evenings prior to the marriage. Another reason why the woman will immerse herself is due to the status change of authority over her. Since the time of birth, the woman is under the authority of her father. When she is to be married, she will at that time, be under the authority of her husband until death.
JEWISH TRADITONS OF IMMERSION:
Female Immersion Before Marriage
A foreign object that adheres to the body or hair, preventing contact with the water of the mikveh, is called a chatzitzah (barrier), and invalidates the immersion. Halacha requires that foreign material be removed, even if it does not disturb her or adhere tightly to her body or hair. Knotted hair also constitutes a chatzitzah, as the knots cannot come into full contact with the mikveh water. To prevent such problems, a woman should follow a series of steps, summarized below, in preparation for immersing in the mikveh. These include both cleansing (chafifah) and inspection (iyun). Most mikva’ot has checklists in the preparation rooms to prevent inadvertent omission of any of the required steps.
Cleansing is required by rabbinic decree. Originally, only a thorough washing of the hair (the literal meaning of chafifah) was required, but the law was subsequently extended to include the entire body. A woman should do the following: 1) She should remove obvious barriers, such as clothing, jewelry, or contact lenses. 2) Bandages should also be removed. If bandages or other items cannot be removed for medical reasons, she should consult a rabbi. 3) Because dirt beneath the nails is a chatzitzah, the custom is to cut nails short. 4) She should remove all makeup. If she has permanent makeup, hair dye, or a well-maintained manicure that she is reluctant to remove, she should consult a rabbi. 5) She should wash her hair with warm water and shampoo. The hair on her head must be thoroughly combed with a comb; other body hair may be separated with the fingers. 6) Hair that is still attached to her body, even where it is undesired (e.g., leg or underarm hair) is not a chatzitzah. But since some authorities maintain that this leniency does not apply to hair about to be removed, a woman who is about to cut or shave her hair should do so before immersing. She should take care to wash away the removed hairs. For this reason it is recommended to shave earlier that day or on the day prior to immersion. 7) She should wash her entire body with soap and water. Preferably, she should use only warm water, but if there is a limited supply, she may wash her body with cold water and save the warm water for washing her hair. While it is customary to bathe in a bathtub, she may take a shower instead, as long as she is careful to wash her entire body. Parts of the body whose natural form prevents water from entering (e.g., the armpits, under the breasts, and other crevices) are known as beit hastarim – hidden places. These areas need not actually come in contact with the mikveh water, but they must not be prevented from doing so by any chatzitzah (When a woman immerses in the mikveh, her entire body including all of her hair must be submerged in the water at one time. In general, anything, which adheres to the body or hair and prevents contact with the water, invalidates the immersion). Therefore, they must be cleaned thoroughly, and often require special attention. Similar rules apply to internal parts of the body – in particular, the inside of the mouth. Therefore, she should thoroughly brush and floss her teeth.
Torah law requires inspection prior to immersion. 1) She should visually inspect all visible parts of her body to ensure that they are free of foreign material. 2) She should inspect the other parts of her body by touch. 3) She should check her hair for knots.
Upon immersing in the mikveh, one recites the Baruch (blessing) “… asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al hatevilah…who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us on immersion.” Many Sephardic women recite this Baruch while wearing a robe, and then undress and immerse in the mikveh. This is in accordance with the general practice that a Baruch should immediately precede the performance of a mitzvah. The prevalent Ashkenazic custom, however, is to immerse once, recite the Baruch while standing in the mikveh with the water at least waist-high, and then immerse again. Although one may not normally recite a Baruch while undressed, in this case the water is considered a sufficient covering. One should not look down into the water while reciting the blessing. Some women also cross their arms below the heart to separate the upper body from the lower body, and some cover their hair with a cloth.
A woman must immerse at least once after she recites the Baruch. Some women have the custom to immerse additional times or to recite additional prayers.
On Shabbat and Yom Tov
Many elements of chafifah (preparations for immersion), are prohibited or restricted on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Therefore, a woman who plans to immerse in the mikveh on Friday night or the night of Yom Tov should complete her preparations at home before she lights candles. This includes bathing, washing and combing hair, and cutting nails. At the mikveh, she should wet her body and hair prior to immersing. This prevents hair from floating on top of the water, and ensures that all parts of her body will be in contact with water during her immersion. During the week, women usually wet themselves in the shower just before immersion. But bathing on Shabbat is normally forbidden, particularly in warm water. Furthermore, most baths and showers do not allow for the use of hot water on Shabbat because more water is automatically heated up (this is prohibited on Shabbat but not on Yom Tov). Therefore, rather than taking a cold shower, many women immerse once in the previously warmed mikveh to wet themselves before the halachically significant immersion. Some mikva’ot, however, are equipped with showers designed for use on Shabbat. One should clarify the proper procedure with the mikveh attendant before entering the preparation room. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, just as on any other day, a woman needs to visually inspect herself for barriers before immersing. If she finds a problem, she should ask the mikveh attendant how to proceed. Due to the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov, the procedures may be different than on a weekday.
NEW TESTAMENT USAGE:
The Greek word for immersion is bapto, which loosely translated to be dipped into the water. In the eyes of a Jewish person, this is a very poor translation of the word. The word bapto is used in John 13:26 when Jesus dipped the morsel of bread and gave it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot and Satan then entered into him.
Different Methods of Baptism with Different Views:
It is important to take a quick look at the diverse outlooks denominations hold on subjects of institution of baptismal acts. Scrutiny of these views of baptism is not held as correct methods of baptism but is solely different responses to baptism within their respected denomination. “Anabaptists stressed that only are to be baptized; as a result they rejected infant baptism as invalid, necessitating the rebaptism of those who had become believers but who had received only infant baptism” (Enns 456). Catholic’s believe “baptism is the sacrament that frees man from original sin and from personal guilt, which makes him a member of Christ and his church” (F.S. 957).
“Mainline’ dispensationalism avoids the excesses of ultra-dispensationalism. This subgroup within dispensationalism in its most radical form has limited applicable Scriptures to some of Paul’s epistles” (Enns 525). Finally, Lutherans believe baptism is a “vehicle” that communicates the grace of God. There is a larger priority put on God’s promise. Thus as Enns writes, “Luther later taught that unbelievers profit from the sacraments” (Enns 453). These views again are not seen as correct forms of baptism rather give some insight within some of the more popular views, which denominations hold within their congregations.
In The Name of Jesus:
The term “in the name of” was only a common phrase in the New Testament. “It is relatively certain that in the early Church one commonly referred to baptism as being done ‘into the name of the Lord Jesus’ or something similar. One strange thing with this phrase is that the construction in what seems to be its earliest form, viz. ‘into the name of…’ (Gk eis to onoma) was not otherwise used in normal Gk, except for the language of banking, in which it referred to the account/name ‘into’ which a sum of money was placed. It does not occur in the LXX” (Herion 586). Matthew uses this terminology within his gospel (10:41-42; 18:20) also; Luke reveals that ‘into the name of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 8:16; 19:5) was what he was taught in order to refer to the Messiah. John as well uses this phrase possibly in naming Christ (1 Cor 1:13, 15) say only ‘Christ,’ Gal 3:27 ‘into Christ’ and Rom 6:3 ‘into Christ Jesus.’
John the Mikva’ot
John the Baptist is found to be the primary character, baptizing citizens with water. He is also, as one would bring to mind the one who baptized Jesus in the waters. There are a few Jewish traditions to fully welcome this amazing day in Israel. The first thing is immersion is not like it is today. The baptizer would not hold the person’s nose or envelop their face and slam them into the water and baptize them. This is truly not practiced and would not have been adept in the time of John. The baptizer would christen people to approach and witness the baptism. This was usually done with a message calling for remorse from their peccadillo and for them to be baptized in water to be purified. The baptizer would saunter out with the person wanting to be baptized, and be an encouragement to the one who is being baptized. To be fully immersed, your whole body must be under the water. If your hair was long and floated above the water, the baptizer would gently push the hair of the person under completing the immersion. This has a lot of symbolism as most Jewish tradition is founded on. John the Baptist baptized the people of Jerusalem and all Judea and the entire region about the Jordan acknowledging their sins (Mt. 3:6). His message was simple, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mt. 3:11). Jesus also came to John to be baptized. John avowed, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me (14)? Jesus told John to immerse Him. Scripture then says “immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (16-17). “Tradition places the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River near Jericho. Although baptism was not specifically included in Jesus’ instructions to the twelve (Luke 9:1-5), nor to the Seventy (Luke 10:1-6), the disciples employed it as the initiation into a new moral order, as Josh the Baptist had, even though Jesus refrained from personally administering the ceremony (John 4:2). Jesus Christ was baptized for the reason that of Jewish tradition; He was changing his status, which anointed the beginning of His ministry the Father had sent Him to bring about. This is momentous to understanding the rejoinder of Jesus and the Father.
Paul and Baptism
“Paul’s view of baptism was being baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Romans 6: 1-14 is filled with petition for life consonant with involvement in the deliverance of Christ that lies at the heart of baptism” (Hawthorne). “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (1-4). Paul gives give imagery of “stripping of the old self and putting on the new man.” This symbolizes in itself, a type of baptism of the New Covenant. “Its symbolic significance is depicted in its objective form. While much debate has focused on the varying interpretations of the forms of baptism, every form is clearly associated with the concept of cleansing and identification, which are the two integral parts of Spirit baptism. Immersion however, depicts more clearly the symbolic aspect of baptism since its three steps—immersion (going into the water), submersion (going under the water) and emersion (coming out of the water)—more closely parallels the concept of entering into the death of Christ, experiencing the forgiveness of sins, and rising to walk in the newness of Christ’s resurrected life (Rom. 6:4)” (Tenny 124).
Therefore, releasing one from the traditions of the flesh and focusing more on the Spirit. Paul uses his same theology asserting circumcision. He states it is not being circumcision of the flesh rather it is circumcising the Spirit, being set apart from the attachments of the world and returning to the truth of circumcision; being set apart from the nations as God’s chosen people. In like manner, Paul relates his perceptive of the Jewish ways of life of the law and recreates, with highly sustained sway from Christ, the like approach in which baptism ought to play a key function in a believer’s life.
Acts and the Apostles
“Entering the Christian community through faith and baptism means to be ‘saved’ (2:40; 11:14; 16:30-31) and in 2:40 what one is saved from is specified: ‘this crooked generation’ (cf. Deut. 32:5), i.e. from those who have turned away from God” (Herion 590). Luke asserts one side of baptism is the diminution of sins (2:38; 10:43, 48; 22:16). However, both ‘salvation’ and remission of sins are among the eschatological blessings which according to Luke, are at hand already in the Christian community (2:17-18); the concluding kingdom is not yet there (1:6-8), but God is present in the community imparting some of the eschatological gifts. To these also belongs the Holy Spirit (2:17-18), the endowment of which is linked with baptism (2:38; 8:14-17; 9:17-18; 10:47-48; 19: 1-6).
1 Peter 3: 21
Peter only mentions baptism once found in 1 Peter 3:21 referring to the being brought by God into a new existence, different from the former one, and, because of Christ’s resurrection and glory, one can look forward to the glorious fulfillment. Baptism is said to refer ‘not to removal of dirt of the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to 3:21, this salvation is something taking place in baptism, and according to 1:5, 9 and 3:21, is Christ’s resurrection, the Christ who is now enthroned in glory (3:22).
“From A.D. 250 the exclusion of a second repentance in Heb 6:4; 10:26: and 12:17 was understood as a prohibition of a repetition of baptism. The fierce persecution of Anabaptists in the sixteenth century resulted from this interpretation of texts that do not even mention baptism” (Crim 89). The scriptures in Hebrews rightly state the current doctrine of ‘once and for all’ immersion. The physical immersion is only practiced as obedience to Christ when receiving Him as personal Lord and Savior. The repetitions of water baptism, similarly salvation in Christ cannot be lost once received from the Holy Spirit, though there needs to be a daily ‘baptism’ of the heart that one might be ‘cleaned’ of sin within ones life.
After sorting through the information of baptism and the inexpressible obedience in which it rightly symbolizes, one would have veneration to the like conduct in which it was completed. Immersion was and is considered to this day, the most sought out and biblically acceptable expression of obedience to God. From the time of the early priest to the churches in the 21st century, one must recognize the magnitude and representation of the Jewish traditions and how they hold important significance to the church universal. One would undoubtedly have no protestation or justification in differencing opinions. This is therefore seen to be 100 percent unwavering truth of the biblical and authoritative measure in which one would and should seek to execute within the milieu of baptism. “Even though many churches differ on these matters, all agree that baptism is incorporation into Christ’s community of the new creation by the grace of the Spirit. While not all churches recognize the baptism of every other church, this agreement as to essential meaning at least points toward the emphasis on unity in relation to baptism expounded in Ephesians 4:5” (Eerdmans 148). Lord. Create in me a clean heart.