The Baptisms of Israel
In the message today I want to discuss some differences and similarities between the two great religions revealed in the Bible--the religion of Judaism and Christianity, the religion of Moses and the religion of Christ. It has been wisely said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. They are so interrelated that the study of one greatly helps in the study of the other. In the book of Hebrews 9:10 the New Testament makes a most enlightening pronouncement about the Mosaic religion. The scripture says of the Old Testament religion, "It was a figure for that time then present, in which both gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience--concerned only with food and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.” This passage is a commentary on the Jewish religion by an authoritative teacher of the Christian religion and an inspired writer of the New Testament. I call your attention to an interesting truth he revealed about the Jewish religion. He stated that the Old Testament religion was concerned with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until such time as the Messiah would come and establish the Messianic kingdom. One of the important provisions in that religion is said to have been, “various washings.” The Greek word translated “washings” is baptismos which literally means immersions. Our English word baptism comes from this commonly used word among the Greeks. Eph. 4:5 says there is one baptism in the religion of Christ, and it is the same general word translated washings in our text.
The word baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word baptismos or haptisma. By transliteration I mean that when an English letter is substituted for each Greek letter in the word baptismos it comes into English as baptism. In this way the word baptism was coined. But when baptismos is correctly translated it comes into English as immersion. Hence, the Holy Spirit reveals in our text that there were various or different baptisms in the Jewish religion. The first thing I want to discuss with you is the many baptisms of Israel. Did you know there were many different baptisms in Judaism? Were you aware that baptism was an important part of the Jewish purification system? I think most of us have been led to believe that baptism is strictly a New Testament practice and was never practiced before the time of John the Baptist. Let us consider the facts and let the Bible speak.
In the purification laws of the Old Testament water was used in different ways to cleanse the people from both moral and ceremonial uncleanness. In addition to the
ordinary hygienic washing of the hands, body and utensils,the Hebrews sprinkled water for purification and also used immersion to fulfill God's law of purification. One law of purification was to use the ashes of the Red Heifer which were to be placed in water and then sprinkled on the person or object. This law is revealed in Numbers 19. The Hyssop plant was used to sprinkle this water on the unclean person or object which had been in violation of God's laws. After committing the sin of adultery, David said in Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Other purifications required the complete immersion of the body or utensils in water. Our text speaks of divers or various baptisms, and the reference is to purifications which were performed by immersion in water for cleansing. Baptismos was a common word among the Greeks and Jews and meant to immerse or plunge something in water.Hence, whatever was dipped in water could be called a baptism. If I submerge my hands in water, that would be a baptism. Wives often baptize their utensils in the kitchen sink. Such was the common use and understanding of the word baptismos in the days of Jesus.
The Hebrews used both spriniciings and immersions in their purirication system as commanaed by God through Moses. The various methods of ceremonial cleansing which were in use in Palestine when Jesus lived are all mentioned in one interesting New Testament passage. The disciples of Jesus were criticized by the religious leaders of the nation for eating with unwashed hands(Mark 7:1,2). Mark 7:3 says that the Jews did not eat unless they washed their hands in a special way. The word wash here was the ordinary word for washing dirt off the hands, but they did it ceremonially in a special way, as required in the oral traditions of the elders. We are not certain what this special way was, hut the word fist is in this passage. Some think the special way was to wash th& hands diligently up to the wrists or elbows with clenched fists. I don't know how this could be done unless one just immersed fists and arms in the water. Others suggest that when they dipped their hands in water they rubbed their hands together as a bajl or fist. Be that as it may, they used some such rule as this and followed it faithfully. However Jesus and his disciples paid no attention to this rule because God did not command this to be done before they ate their meals. This was simply a traditional man-made rule among the people and had no religious value. In Mark 7:4 it goes on to say that when the Jews left a marketplace, they would not eat until they washed. The word wash here is from the Greek word which means sprinkling. I suppose they thought they might accidentally get contaminated when they shopped and used some form of sprinkling to purify themselves. This was another tradition or man made rule. Then Mark states that they did many other such like things as the washing of pots, pitchers, copper vessels and cushions. Now the word wash here is the Greek word for baptism. They baptized these vessels. They were not merely sprinkled but plunged or immersed in water. After this pause we will resume the study.
If it be asked why Jesus countrymen observed rites not commanded by Moses, the answer is it was a misuse and abuse of God's commands. They were commanded to do something like this only when they did anything which God said made them unclean. Ritual purity was required of the Hebrews by sprinklings and immersions before entering the temple mount. before making a sacrifice, before receiving the benefit of a priestly offering and for other similar purposes. The Hebrews who lived from Moses to Christ will be held accountable at the day of Judgment for the way they observed these water purification rites. Those things which made the Old Testament people ritually unclean are specified in Leviticus 15. For example anyone with any kind of a bloody discharge was unclean. Impurity was further occasioned by nocturnal emissions, sexual intercourse, or contact with a corpse. A woman was unclean after her menstrual period or childbirth. Ritual immersion was part of the process to remove such uncleanness. In most cases, the impurity ceased at sunset after ritual immersion in water.
In Leviticus 15:11. God said to Israel through Moses, “Whomever he who has a discharge touches, and has not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.” This passage speaks of the ritual cleansing of hands, clothes and the entire body. It was not clear just how these ritual laws were to be applied to every day life, but the methods they used have come down by the oral traditions of Israel. I want to especially comment on those ceremonial cleansings which demanded the bathing of the entire body. This bathing was not to wash off dirt but to cleanse them ceremonially. Often no immoral act had been done, but some violation of the ceremonial law. In Lev. 15 many defilements are listed which required the bathing of the entire body, and this was for ceremonial cleansing and not bathing in the ordinary hygienic sense. In such cases the bathing of the body was necessary before entering the Temple mount, before making a sacrifice and for other similar purposes.
How the Jews ceremonially bathed the entire body has come down by oral traditions and have been verified by the science of Archaeology. The Jews carried outGod's law to bathe ceremonially by the use of immersion baths or pools called a Miqveh. These pools resembled our modern day baptistries. Archaeology has uncovered many of these ritual pools in Israel, and many of them were in existence before the time of John the Baptist. On the Temple mount in Jerusalem Archaeologists have discovered 48 of these ritual immersion pools. They must have served thousands of pilgrims coming from all parts of the world to attend the annual feasts of Israel. By immersing in these pools they purified themselves before climbing up to the Temple area. Complete immersion was required. Maimonides, a famous Jewish Rabbi of the 12th century and an expert on the Jewish raditions in the Talmud, said: "Whosoever immerses himself must immerse his whole body, naked and all at once....If anyone who is unclean immerses himself in his garments, the immersion still avails him since the water enters through the garments and these do not interpose.
We are told that even the hair must be totally immersed. The scholar who translated into English the Mishnah, another book of Jewish traditions, said: “For immersion to be valid, no part of the body's surface may be untouched by water.” When the Hebrews were commanded by God to bathe their bodies for ritual cleansing, they correctly understood that it meant the entire body. The only safe way to comply with God's law was a complete immersion of the body. I have said all these things to enhance your understanding of Gods purification system in the religion of Christ. Baptism was one of the purification rites among the Jews. Immersion was a well known and well understood rite among the Hebrews. They never confused immersion with sprinkling. Sprinkling never was baptism, and baptism never was sprinkling. Hence, sprinkling could not be substituted for immersion in the Jewish purification system.
When John the Baptist introduced his new immersion rite for the pardon of sins to Israel, the rite itself was not something new to them. They had often immersed themselves in a Miqveh ord an immersion pool for cleansing. However Johns baptism had some new elements in it. It was for the cleansing of all sins of soul and body. Furthermore, it was strictly for inward cleansing and not ritual or ceremonial cleansing. Moreover, in order to be a candidate for John's baptism, people had to agree to follow the Messiah when he came and to agree to purify their lives for his appearance. It was John the Baptists work to introduce the Messiah to Israel. When the Church of Christ was established on the earth in 33 a.d. baptism took on an even newer meaning. In the religion of Christ, which was inaugurated on the first Jewish Pentecost Day after the death of Christ, the purification rite of baptism or immersion was done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Christian religion the purification rite of immersion is done in the name of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The person being immersed and those who witness the rite should have knowledge of this fact. This distinction made Christian immersion different from all immersions ever practiced in Israel. The distinctive purpose of the immersion rite in the Christian religion is to forgive every sin committed in thought, word and deed during one's entire lifetime. Israel had no purification rite that would blot out the sins of a lifetime. Israel had many baptisms, but no baptism like this. This baptism purified the soul and not the outward body.
Commenting on the importance or immersion in the cnristian reiig~on Peter saici mat baptism saves us” and then explained that baptism does not remove literal dirt from the body, but it is the answer of a good conscience toward God(I Pet.3:21). The meaning is that immersion into Christ cleanses the conscience and not the body. Baptism is a purification rite, a pardoning act and hence a saving act. This does away with the mistaken belief in the religious world that water baptism is not necessary and does not save the believer. God's word teaches that the one immersion or baptism in the Christian religion washes away sin, purifies the soul, reconciles the person to God and transfers him or her from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. Eph. 4:5 says. There is one baptism. This word meant immersion among the Jews, and it means immersion to Christians. There is but one purification rite in the Christian religion, and that is the immersion of the entire body in water. All who tamper with or change this purification rite do so to the eternal danger of their souls.
My final comment is that there is a definite relationship between the baptisms of ancient Israel and the one baptism in the Christian religion. As the many animal sacrifices of Israel typified the one sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, so the many immersions or baptisms of Israel typified the one immersion rite in the Christian religion. This relationship is clearly set forth in Hebrews 10:22 which says to Christians, “Let us draw near (to God) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Bodies washed and hearts sprinkled is a clear reference to the Jewish purification system. I Pet. 1:2 declares that Christians have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ. Israel used animal blood for sprinkling, but Christians use the blood of Christ. As the literal blood of Christ is not available, this must be understood figuratively. Hence, when the body is washed or immersed in the pure water of baptism, it is then that the blood is sprinkled on the believers conscience and soul.
If you are not a Christian, you must be purified before you can approach God with acceptance and favor. You must submit to the purification rite. We are commanded to draw near in worship to God only after our bodies have been washed in pure water and our hearts sprinkled with the cleansing blood of Christ. The command of God for the purification of all unbelievers, all nonchristians and all alien sinners is the immersion of the entire body in water, after there has been an acceptance of the atoning work of Christ on the cross and a sincere willingness to correct past sinful behaviour. You need to be washed from the top of your head to the bottom of your your feet. This is to be done by immersion in water, and this immersion process symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Christ(Rom. 6:3-Il). Galatians 3:26,27 says, “For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” How important is the purification rite of baptism? Scripture says, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Are you listening? If your body has not been washed in the pure water of baptism, delay no longer. Accept the atoning work of Christ on the cross, turn from a life of sin and carelessness to a walk with God. Faith and repentance entitles you to the purification rite of baptism which admits you into the saved and into the family of God.