Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

A simple word search for "baptism" in the Old Testament turns up no matches. However by the time John the Baptist shows up on the scene and starts dunking people and calling it "for forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4) people seem to already have an understanding of what baptism is.

In fact, it seems there might have been other sorts of baptisms practiced at the time other than what John and later Jesus talked about. In particular the questions that pop up seem to be about who was doing the baptizing and on what authority. Nobody seems be too concerned about the act itself -- as if it was a well understood thing already.

Since the OT doesn't seem to speak of it and the NT jumps right in with everybody seeming to understand that such a practice exists (even if there is some question as to who/what/how/when), what happened in between the Testaments? Was baptism something that was done by anybody for any reason? If so by who and what for? Did the religious Jews of the time have such a practice?

share|improve this question
See also: Was baptism practiced by first-century Jews? – Caleb Aug 8 '14 at 10:17

Ritual cleansing was a common part of some Jewish sects around the turn of the era. One of the best examples of this (that I know of) comes from Khirbet Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found)—where there were found several miqvot (sn. miqveh) used for a sort of "baptism." It is commonly held that the people living at Qumran were Essenes, and some have speculated that John the Baptist may have been a part of this group or one similar to it.

The Qumran community began slightly before the turn of the age and continued into the early 1st century CE, so it was roughly contemporaneous with Jesus. For a really nice intro to the Archaeology of Qumran, see Jodi Magness' The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

There is a ton of literature from and about the "inter-testamental" period (usually referred to as the "Second Temple Period" by scholars). I'll point you to the great intro to the corpus by George Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature Between The Bible And The Mishnah.

share|improve this answer

Immersion, or baptism, did not simply begin in the 1st century A.D. It was a common practice ever since the Torah was given at Sinai. Whenever an individual contracted uncleaness (טֻמְאָה), they were required to immerse in a mikve (מִקְוֶה), or a bath of "living water" (מַיִם חַיִּים) (Lev. 15:13). "Baptism" or "immersion" is tevila (טְבִילָה) in Hebrew. In most cases, after immersion, they would be clean again after sunset (Lev. 22:6-7) (some may not be clean until after eight days for certain defilements).

The English word "baptism" is a loanword from the Greek words βαπτισμός (baptismos) and βάπτισμα (baptisma). (See Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, Ch. XCIX, p. 370, for the supposed distinction between these two Greek words.)

share|improve this answer

The ‘rite’ which the Baptism of John  used was not new at all, or limited to sects, but was, based on Old Testament teaching and mainstream rabbinic tradition, however, John used it in an entirely different way. The rite, in the way John used it, fully mirrored his preaching, one of repentance.   In the Old Testament those who had contracted Levitical defilement were to ‘immerse’ before offering sacrifice. The symbol goes as far back as Moses, leading Israel through the waters of the Red Sea before the Law was even given. In the Law, for example if anyone touches an unclean bed because a man had a discharge on that bed, they must ‘wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.’ (Leviticus 15:5). There were many such ritualistic cleanings through bathing and these became formal in various ways of immersion under the guidance and administration of priests. It was not called Baptism in the Old Testament though outwardly they are the same thing.
  According to the famous evangelical historian and Jew, ‘Alfred Edershem’, who taught Jewish history in the University of Oxford, that Gentiles who became ‘proselytes of righteousness,’ or ‘proselytes of the covenant’ were to be admitted to ‘full participation in the privileges of Israel by the threefold rites of circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice - the immersion being, as it were, the acknowledgment and symbolic removal of moral defilement, corresponding to that of Levitical uncleanness.’.   Therefore, although it had never before been proposed that Israel should undergo a ‘baptism of repentance,’ like the Gentiles, John was using an existing rite in a dramatic way to ensure the way was clear for Messiah, by repentance and readiness for the gospel of forgiveness. It was only in preparation of Messiah, as a forerunner should be. Even the righteous under this baptism must consider themselves as Gentiles at this most historic transition from law to gospel.
  There was some debate whether this full immersion Baptism, used to convert Gentiles, ‘predated Christ’ but Alfred Edersheim provides ample proof in his appendix on the subject, in the book 'The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah'- Appendix XII. He quotes that the subject was actually debated by Hillel and Shammai (the great competing schools of traditionalism at the time of Christ). Shammai allowed proselytes to partake Passover ‘after baptism’ but Hillel forbid it.  

share|improve this answer

John's Baptism for the remission of sins is particularly interesting, because he seems to have performed it in place of the temple rites of purification via sin offerings. IE, he was competing with the priests in the temple (he was a priest himself, as was his father Zechariah, who came from an Aaronic family and was high enough to be able to offer incense sacrifices).

I think this means that John made the forgiveness of sins available to those who could not afford the costly temple sacrifices (animals had to be inspected and found ritually pure before being offered--and such animals were sold in the Temple precincts and were expensive); and John's location along the Jordan was more easily accessed by many of the poorer country folk.

John's baptizing in the Jordan must also have recalled the entrance into the Promised Land made by Joshua--after they crossed the river Jordan, Joshua set up 12 stone pillars--as the generation of their father at Sinai--a sign of the renewing of the covenant. Being baptized in the Jordan by John after confessing one's sins was thus a statement of affirmation that one was renewing, on a personal level, the covenant with God.

But it is the practice of requiring the confession of sins that is particularly interesting. As one offered a sin offering in the temple, it was necessary to mention to the priest that one was making the offering because of having committed a particular sin. John takes over this oral confession of sins in his baptizing.

Here, I believe, is the origin of the practice of auricular confession within the Apostolic Churches (those directly descended from the Apostles, namely the Orthodox and Catholic Churches). Jesus sent His apostles (many of whom had followed John) out to baptize--and from Acts there is no mention of detailing one's sins; this practice was reserved for sins committed after Baptism--it is the origin of the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation; and the whole question of a second forgiveness of sins (ie of those committed after Baptism) became a huge subject of debate in the Roman Church in the early Third century. The moral lenient position, allowing for forgiveness of serious sins committed after Baptism, won out.

share|improve this answer

Mikvah is associated with ritual purity.

Baptism is always associated with discipleship.

Israel was baptized into Moses's teachings.

John's baptism took disciples away from competing rabbis.

John considered Jesus's teachings to be superior to his own, requiring him to be baptised BY Jesus and to follow Him.

Paul was reluctant to baptize new believers because he thought it created division .

Why was the term baptism used to describe what the competing rabbis were doing?

Was it a case of using an equivalent Greek word to convey an existing Hebrew meaning? We know that Adonai, sarx, psyche, etc were used inspite of not being the exact equivalents. Or was it a word used to describe a new ritual or process.

Israel knew that they were still in exile, under judgment even though they were returned from Babylon. Jerusalem was under foreign rule, freedom to worship was controlled, the Temple had been desecrated several times. They searched the Scripture to discover what was needed to please God and be justified.

Each rabbi had a suite of laws they considered halakhic, required, for justification. Works of the law.

4QMMT and Paul: Justification, "Works" and Eschatology

  • Quote

  • The ‘works’ commended in MMT, then, are designed to mark out God’s true people present time , the time when the final fulfillment of Deuteronomy has begun but concluded. They are designed (C30) ‘so that you may rejoice words of ours to be true’. These extrabiblical commands will thus enable the sect to the verdict of the last day, when it will be clearly r a [118] the identity and context of the differentia of the in the is not yet at the end of time , finding these anticipate evealed that those who follow this particular halakhah are indeed the true, renewed people of God.

  • (3) This brings us to the key comparison between MMT and Paul. Paul, arguably, held a version of the same covenantal and eschatological scheme of thought as MMT; but, in his scheme, the place taken by ‘works of Torah’ in MMT was taken by ‘faith’. Paul, like MMT, believed (a) in a coming ‘last day’ when all would be revealed, and (b) that the verdict of that last day could be anticipated in the present when so meone displayed the appropriate marks of covenant membership. For him, though, the appropriate marks were not ‘works’, either of the biblical Torah or of postbiblical halakhah, but faith: more specifically, faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.


John taught the need to follow ALL the Law. Those who followed his teachings were inducted into his group by baptism. In 1st Century Palestine, the term baptism could have come from the word bapto or related words like baptizo. We have a 2nd Century BC document here containing both those words:

  • Quote

  • The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (bapto) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizo) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change. When used in the New Testament, this word more often refers to our union and identification with Christ than to our water baptism. e.g. Mark 16:16. 'He that believes and is baptised shall be saved'. Christ is saying that mere intellectual assent is not enough. There must be a union with him, a real change, like the vegetable to the pickle! Bible Study Magazine, James Montgomery Boice, May 1989. Translated Words KJV (80)


1 Peter 3:21-22 NET And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you – not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him.

In the NT, is baptism a ritual for induction to a course of indoctrination or the indoctrination itself. The answer is: both.

Induction brings one into the church. Indoctrination saves.

Israel was baptized into Moses (God's People/ecclesia) drank from the Rock (Christ) did not believe, resisted indoctrination, rebelled, perished.

share|improve this answer

To answer the question, No, during the Old Testament period the Mosaic Law didn't require immersion rituals, but sprinkling (of blood) & washing (bronze laver) are covered. Elisha/Naaman account records 'dipping in Jordan (2kings5:14)'; however it was not a practiced ritual but could have evolved from the rituals presented then. But the mission of John the Baptist was to 'Baptize' and hence Baptism before Christ was introduced only by John; how & when he got this command from God is not recorded in the bible.

I believe John's act was to pave the way for transition from the law that required temple sacrifice 'without repentance' to the law of spirit that requires 'personal repentance'. That's why the bible says in Mal3:1 'I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me - underline 'prepare the way' - the hearts & minds of temple ritualistic Jews. John himself has testified that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit - after of course the repentance & washing away of sins by the blood of Christ Jesus.

You may note after Jesus's baptism & temptation in the wilderness, when Jesus began His preaching John had been thrown in prison (Mat4:12). I think, by then John's Job was over and God didn't allow overlapping of ministries by John & Jesus. Mat4:17 says Jesus began preaching repentance, thus started the message of transformation to the law of spirit.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to the site. We are glad you decided to participate. Please see What this site is about and How this site is different to help you learn how the site works. Also see the help center and take the tour to learn the site functions. I hope to see you post again soon. – fredsbend Feb 18 '15 at 8:33
It looks to me like this is a duplicate post with your previous answer. I've gone ahead and deleted the other one in favor of leaving this one because it looks like you've setup this account farther than the other one so it should be easier to use going forward. – Caleb Feb 18 '15 at 20:09

Baptism was practiced before the time of John the Baptist. In fact, Adam, the first man, was baptized as was Eve, Seth, and many of Adam's posterity. The origin of the word "baptism" is Greek and literally means to dip or immerse.

The Law of Moses refers many times to washings, however most of these references are not in relation to the ordinance of baptism in question. John the Baptist was of Priestly Descent which gave him authority to administer the ordinances associated with the Law of Moses but he was also ordained by God prior to his birth to "prepare the way of the Lord." He was "the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." (Isaiah 40:3) When he was 8 days old he was ordained by an angel "to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power." (Doctrine and Covenants 84:28)

While John was not the first to administer the ordinance of Baptism, he was the only man having authority of God to do so. At that time, Israel had fallen away from the teachings of the prophets and although they were observing the Law of Moses, they were doing so without purpose or authority. Israel had not had a prophet with authority from God since the days of Malachi because of their rejection of God's word. Thus John the Baptist was called by God to prepare the Way for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom John knew to be the Son of God.

To learn more about Baptism and John the Baptist see

share|improve this answer
What evidence is there that Adam, Eve and Seth were baptised? – curiousdannii May 31 '14 at 13:22
@curiousdannii This is particular to LDS theology, but Moses 6 explains how Adam was taught the doctrine of baptism (see verses 51–66). I'm not sure all the points in this answer are exactly correct according to LDS doctrine but I would recommend clearing them up, citing sources, and making it clear from the beginning that this is an explanation particular to a certain religion. – brandaemon Dec 26 '15 at 18:28

protected by Community Feb 18 '15 at 20:08

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.