The Origin of Baptism
by Wayne Blank
The Origin of Baptism
The ancient Levite priests (see Levites) were commanded to perform a symbolic cleansing in water (as described below, it wasn't simply taking a bath) before, and while, performing their priestly duties:
"But thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy Linen coat, and shall have the linen breeches on his body, be girded with the linen girdle, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water, and then put them on ... Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there; and he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people." (Leviticus 16:3-4,23-24 RSV)
Symbolic acts of cleansing weren't just done by the priests, as evidenced by Naaman the Syrian being cured of leprosy by a "baptism" in the Jordan River. He at first didn't appreciate what Elisha told him to do, or why. He later learned that it wasn't the water that healed him, it was because of his act of obedience and faith that God made him "clean":
"But Naaman was angry, and went away, saying, "Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of The Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage."
This "cleansing of what ails you" took on a much greater meaning with Christianity:
"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21 RSV)
Christian baptism, by immersion in water (just as the dead are usually immersed in the earth), symbolizes what Christianity is all about:
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of The Father, we too might walk in newness of life [see Resurrections]. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His." (Romans 6:3-5 RSV)
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