Confessions of a Questioning Christian

Posts Tagged ‘baptism

Matthew 3

Posted on: January 31, 2012

Enter John the Baptist! Someday I’ll tell you all about how John the Baptist caused my brother to hide behind a vintage soda machine for a month.

I have two thoughts about John the Baptist: 1) This guy is crazy and reminds me of the creepy people who used to come to my college campus, stand at every corner, and hold signs up saying we were going to hell if we didn’t repent, and 2) How did he become this powerful, radical person? He seems to be an outsider to the norm as far as whatever Judaism was at the time. Enough that people were coming out of the woodwork to see him. What’s his deal?

John was somewhat reclusive. Jesus once said: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a demon” (Mt. 11:18). “Eating and drinking” stood for socializing. The prophet was not a party-goer. His ascetic life-style appeared almost demonic, like those possessed of evil spirits who apparently frequented the desolate areas (cf. Mk. 5:2-3). He did not seek out the multitudes; rather, somehow, he attracted them.

The citizenry of Jerusalem and all Judea went out unto him as he moved about in the Jordan Valley (Mt. 3:5; cf. 13; Jn. 1:28; 3:23). The imperfect tense verb, rendered “went out” (Mt. 3:5), suggests a stream of auditors gravitating to the rough prophet. His influence was phenomenal. Hundreds, if not thousands, were immersed by him. And his success was solely in the message he proclaimed.

The multitudes said that he performed no “sign,” though they regarded his message concerning Christ as true (Jn. 10:41). This passage appears to indicate that John did not perform demonstrative miracles, as Jesus and the apostles did (cf. Mt. 10:1ff). It is certainly the case, however, that his message was from God, and thus infallibly true. The power of John’s preaching, together with the void in Israel’s hearts, was a winning combination. (christiancourier)

I can’t get a firm answer on where John got his instructions or why he did what he did. But Jesus wanted John to baptism him.

Now, to me, baptism is a very Christian thing to do, but Christianity as we know it today wasn’t even a thing yet. John was a Jew, Jesus was Jewish, and Jews were waiting for the Messiah. So why was John baptizing at all?

Background in Jewish ritual

Main article: Mikvah

Although the term “baptism” is not used to describe the Jewish rituals, the purification rites in Jewish laws and tradition, called “Tvilah”, have some similarity to baptism, and the two have been linked. The “Tvilah” is the act of immersion in natural sourced water, called a “Mikvah”[80][81] In the Jewish Bibleand other Jewish texts, immersion in water for ritual purification was established for restoration to a condition of “ritual purity” in specific circumstances. For example, Jews who (according to the Law of Moses) became ritually defiled by contact with a corpse had to use the mikvah before being allowed to participate in the Holy Temple. Immersion is required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion. Immersion in the mikvah represents a change in status in regards to purification, restoration, and qualification for full religious participation in the life of the community, ensuring that the cleansed person will not impose uncleanness on property or its owners (Num. 19 and Babylonian TalmudTractateChagigah, p. 12). This change of status by the mikvah could be obtained repeatedly, while Christian baptism, like circumcision, is, in the general view of Christians, unique and not repeatable.[82] (wikipedia)

So maybe John was putting a new spin on the Mikvah – he was cleansing people of their sins. Or maybe John was just doing the Mikvah, and then when Jesus showed up asking for it, that’s what started the whole thing?

Baptism has been part of Christianity from the start, as shown by the many mentions in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles. Christians consider Jesus to have instituted the sacrament of baptism. How explicit Jesus’ intentions were and whether he envisioned a continuing, organized Church is a matter of dispute among scholars.[22] (wikipedia)

Later in Matt 2:11, the Holy Spirit is referenced again. And again, the Holy Spirit is a Christian thing – not Jewish, right?


Main article: Holy Spirit (Judaism)

The term “holy spirit” only occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible. (Found once in Psalm 51:11 and twice in Isaiah 63:10,11) Although, the term “spirit” in the Hebrew Scriptures, in reference to “God’s spirit”, does occur more times. In JudaismGod is One, the idea of God as a duality or trinity amonggentiles may be Shituf (or “not purely monotheistic”). The term Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is found frequently in Talmudic and Midrashic literature. In some cases it signifies prophetic inspiration, while in others it is used as a hypostatization or a metonym for God.[16] The Rabbinic “Holy Spirit,” has a certain degree of personification, but it remains, “a quality belonging to God, one of his attributes” and not, as in mainstream Christianity, representative of “any metaphysical divisions in the Godhead.”[17] (wikipedia)

and also

Fire was often a symbol of wrath, and so linking the Holy Spirit with it superficially appears to clash with portrayals of this Spirit elsewhere in the New Testament as a gentle thing. Some translations avoid using the word fire due to this, but when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, it appeared that several of its texts make the connection between Holy Spirit and wrath, and so most scholars now see the wording here as original, and the other portrayals as misinterpreted. (wikipedia)

Matt 3: 15 – I think we already discussed that.

Matt 3:16 – What can I say, there seems to be no information affirming or refuting this from happening. It must simply come down to faith as to whether and how this happened. It is said that Luke is emphatic that something like a dove came down, while Matthew leaves things vague, and therefore perhaps something “dove-like” happened.