What is Water Baptism?

This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. 1st. John 5:6

Baptism or immersion in water, which we practice, was not always the same way we know it today. It was established and promoted by John the Baptist and known as the baptism of John.[1] It was also known as baptism of repentance,[2] later established as baptism in Jesus, which is as we know it today.

Baptism was not a strange element for those who received it from John the Baptist. The reason why the people did not hesitate to undergo its practice, apparently new, it was because its basic principle is contained in the Law of Moses.

Water baptism is an extension of the Mosaic practice of purification. It is evident in the description that the author of the Gospel of John presents on the raised conflict between the Jews and the disciples of John the Bautista by precisely the increase in baptisms, activity to which Jesus himself joined with his disciples:

After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. 24 For John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. John 3:25

In fact, in the narration that the apostle Paul make himself about of his conversion, and how he was instructed by a disciple named Ananias, Paul describes baptism as washing from sins:

“Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, 13 came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him. 14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. 15 For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ Acts 22:12-16

The rite of purification is the predominant theme in the Mosaic Law. It was required for all the people, necessary to ensure that God dwelt among them. Remember that the people were declared by God as holy people. This is the raison d’etre of the rite of purification:

And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. Leviticus 20:26

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 14:2

For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you. Deuteronomy 23:14

The purification in water is rigorously established to the priests. It is the necessary condition to be able to minister as well the spiritual cleansing to the people. In the book of Exodus we read the particular instruction given to the priests:

So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them—to him and his descendants throughout their generations.” Exodus 30:21

Likewise, every offering presented in the different kinds of sacrifices should be washed with water before being burned on the altar:

Then you shall cut the ram in pieces, wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its pieces and with its head. Exodus 29:17

In Moses’ instructions to the people concerning impurities or uncleanness, it is appropriately emphasized that in order to solve them they were to be washed ceremonially with water:

“And every person who eats what died naturally or what was torn by beasts, whether he is a native of your own country or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Then he shall be clean. Leviticus 17:15

Everything had to be washed with water; it was part of the purification and cleaning protocol:

everything that can endure fire, you shall put through the fire, and it shall be clean; and it shall be purified with the water of purification. But all that cannot endure fire you shall put through water. Numbers 31:23

We read even the first sign of his messianism; Jesus uses six waterpots of stone for water, according to the purification of the Jews.[3]

It was so integrated into the social and religious idiosyncrasy of the people that, on account of this, the scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus that his disciples ate without washing their hands.[4]

It is in this context that water baptism arises. The task of John the Baptist was to establish it as a public extension of the ritual that until that moment was executed in private. The difference that John established with respect to the rite of purification was that baptism in water was considered sufficient for one lifetime only, unlike the rite that required practicing how many times the person incurred in contamination.

He intended to be a conviction of repentance, moving away from its ritualistic mosaic value. We observe it at the moment when John asks them for fruits worthy of repentance to the scribes and Pharisees who came to him to be baptized.[5]

Water baptism had the endorsement of Jesus, as the Scriptures testify that He came to John to be baptized by Him.[6]

Later, we even have references that Jesus and his disciples joined to the practice of baptizing to those who came to him:

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), 3 He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. John 4:1-3

Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” Acts 19:4

The beheading of John the Baptist by Herod the Tetrarch,[7] the withdrawal of Jesus to Galilee, and the increase of the persecution of the Pharisees, made water baptism no longer the trend of the moment, Until it reappeared later as part of the doctrine of Christ, after the ascension of Jesus.

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[1] John 21:25; Acts 19:3

[2] Mark 1:4;Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4

[3] John 2:6

[4] Matthew 15:2

[5] Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8

[6] Matthew 3:13-16

[7] Matthew 14:8