Expert Answer Forum
sacraments QUESTION from Mike Sersch January 9, 2001 I was wondering what was the history of baptisms before Jesus and John the Baptist. There is little in the Hebrew Scriptures, but I believe the Essences were doing rituals similar to baptisms. Is this from a Greek practice (the root is Greek, meaning washing, right?
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on January 15, 2001 That's right, Baptism does come from the Greek word meaning to dip (in water). Washing in water is a universal symbol of purification. I dare say there is hardly a religion that does not have a ritual akin to Baptism. The waters of the Ganges, the Euphrates and the Nile rivers were used for sacred baths. The sacred bath was also known in Mystery cults.
Under the Old Law, baths were prescribed by the Torah to wash away ritual impurities (For examples, see Lev. 14:8-9. Lev. 15:11,13, 16, 18, 27; Nm. 19:19). The Jews also developed a kind of Baptism for Gentile proselytes. To become Jews, they had to go through circumcision, baptism and sacrifice in order to imitate the Jewish experience of receiving the covenant on Mt. Sinai, where they were circumcised a second time (Jos. 5:2), sanctified in the desert (Ex. 19:10, it was understood in a baptismal sense) and participated in the covenantal sacrifice (Ex. 24:3-8). This baptism was also intended to wash away ritual uncleanness.
The Essene baptism was similar to the Baptism of John. It was practiced to wash away ritual impurity, but it demanded conversion to God. However, it was performed so that people could participate in religious activities; it was not an initiation into a community or religion. John's Baptism was open to all and implied that the Law was an insufficient means to salvation. It was also intended as a ceremony that signified moral and spiritual reform in preparation of the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus accepted baptism not for his sake, but for the sake of the whole world. Just as Adam sinned and incurred sin on the whole world, Jesus, the New Adam, accepted John's baptism on our behalf, and later would accept death for us.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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