Sarah R – I was wondering if water baptisms started with John the Baptist’s ministry. Were there baptisms in the Old Testament?

Dave – Thanks for your question. Beyond preparing peoples’ hearts for true repentance (a desire to stop sinful behaviors, not just feel sorry about them), John the Baptist was also proclaiming a prerequisite to receiving the Messiah for salvation. He was also fulfilling OT prophecy concerning the coming of the Savior in the “spirit of Elijah” as Malachi 3:1 and 4:5 reveals. Jesus later confirmed that those Scriptures referred to the Baptist (Matt.11:14).

In the Old Testament period, baptism was a ritual of conversion to Judaism. Pagans would become proselytes through this ritual by self-baptizing to become part of the Jewish people. So it was an identification with the people of God.

Water is the element naturally used for cleansing the body and its symbolical use entered into almost every cult, and into none more completely than the Jewish faith, whose ceremonial washings were proverbial.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also depict the baptism ritual as something practiced by much of Jewry at that time. To this day Jews practice baptism for both male and female converts who immerse themselves in a ritual bath.

Long before the Jews practiced baptism, the concept or spirit behind Christian baptism is found in the Old Testament. For instance, the passing of Israel through the Red Sea on the final Day of Unleavened Bread, was likened to a baptism by Paul (1 Cor 10:1-2). And further baptismal and resurrection typology may be found in the crossing of the Jordan River which was a type of entering the Kingdom of God followed by pulling down the strongholds of the enemy (Joshua 3:15-17; 2 Cor 10:4). At the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the Levites were cleansed via sprinkling of water – a type of baptism to purify them in preparation in service to God and man (Num 8:6-7,11,21). Further, the Levites had to be bathed or washed clean in water in Ex 29:4 which is one of the ceremonial washings referred to in Heb. 6:2.

Were sins forgiven before Jesus and The Baptist? I think so. If people (Jews or Gentiles) believed in Yahweh (the God of the Jews), believed that the shedding of innocent blood was necessary for forgiveness, and believed in the coming of a Messiah, people could have eternal life. If they trusted in their own goodness or ignored those things listed, then they would not have life on Judgment Day. Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, proclaimed that a righteous person shall live by their faith (Hab.2:4). Bear in mind, however, that animal sacrifices were a mere, temporary cover for sins, whereas Jesus’ Blood did away with them forever.


Jenn K – There is also the analogy of Noah used by Apostle Peter in I Peter 3:20-21.

Alona R – I never thought of the passing through the Red Sea on the final Day of Unleavened Bread being likened to a baptism by Paul. Certainly there were ceremonial washings for various reasons, i.e. the lepers who were healed and had to go through washings and going to the temple to be inspected before being declared clean again. As you mentioned too the Levites seemed to be cleaner than most because of their ceremonial washings. In the day most people used oils and perfumes to cover their bodily odors rather than bathe as we do now, but there are still Asians and Europeans who do not use water as much as we do. I guess we all relate to water as a cleaning agent for exterior soil, but fail to connect to water as a daily cleansing agent for our sin.