Saturday, April 10, 2010

Baptism by Water and by Fire Part 1 of 2

Baptized by Water and by Fire
A Study by Pastor John � May 1999 (revised 4.6.10)

Part One of Two

Baptism by Water


The New Testament speaks of two kinds of tevilah or baptism. Both are inspired by the Jewish mikvah.

The mikvah (literally "gathering") is a ritual bath used for spiritual purification. It has a few different usages:

It is used primarily in conversion rituals (as John the Baptizer used it and as Master Y'shua instructs for his talmidim, which is to say, for all who accept his Way).

Orthodox conversion into Judaism requires kabbalat ol mitzvot -- receiving the charge to obey the 613 commandments -- males must receive mila or circumcision, and all converts must undergo a tevilah or immersion in a mikvah (usually performed in the nude). The mikvah is also sometimes used in Judaism following a woman's menstrual cycles and on other occasions. For more on these usages consider Leviticus chapter fifteen.

The Chasidim are an Orthodox Jewish sect established by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (aka Besht) that originated in eastern Europe during the second half of the 18th century. Hasidus means "lovingkindness" and speaks to the sect's promotion of spirituality and joy through the practice of internalizing various aspects of Jewish mysticism as fundamental to the Jewish faith. They sought to make Judaism less "legalistic" and more spiritually dynamic. Many Chasidim regularly immerse themselves as a routine part of their spiritual purification reminiscent of the traditions of the long extinct Essene sect. The Mikvah continues to hold a special place within the Jewish faith.

The first century Way elders ruled that circumcision was not binding on Gentile converts to the Way (Acts 15:5-28). Based on the teachings of Master Y'shua Torah observance was redefined however the command for tevilah (baptism) upon conversion was specifically retained as per Y'shua's instructions (Matthew 28:19,20). The other uses of the mikvah fell away with time for the most part from among the Way/Christian communities.

For followers of the Way tevilah or baptism is symbolic but very important as we will discuss below.

Most people on the planet today know the basic story of Y'shua of Nazareth. We know how he lived a righteous life, how he taught, how he was betrayed and how he died in order to make the final sacrifice for the sins of humanity. We also know from Scripture that Y'shua didn't stay dead, that he rose again after three days. We know that after his resurrection he was seen by many witnesses over a span of forty days and then, as his followers watched, the Master was taken bodily to Heaven by HaShem.

What happened next is the topic of this study.

Master Y'shua rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples on at least ten separate occasions over the course of the next forty days. During one of these appearances he issued the following commands for the creation of the Way Movement:

Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
16:18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
16:19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
16:20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
The Master said, Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.

So, what exactly is baptism in the New Testament context? What does it have to do with our salvation?

Paul explains the symbolism of baptism clearly:

Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Y'shua the Christ were baptized into his death?
6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
From the instructions and examples given in Scripture we know that the proper method of baptism is by full water immersion. Leviticus 15:16 commands, "...he shall wash all his flesh in water..." and throughout the New Testament we find references like. "...when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water..." (Matthew 3:16). In other words, the Believer is completely immersed in the water while being baptized.

In the Jewish mikvah no one touches the person being immersed however it is traditional among followers of the Way for the person to be lowered into and out of the water by the one performing the rite, as in the photo to the right of a baptism I performed a few years ago in the San Lorenzo River.

Many non-Catholic Christian congregations have a baptismal pool or mikvah, often located in the front of the sanctuary, behind the lectern and choir loft (Catholics do not normally undergo the biblical rite of baptism). Others use some other available facilities including swimming pools, rivers etc. For Christians the mikvah itself does not hold the same level of holiness it does in Judaism. The important thing for followers of Y'shua is the water, not the sanctity of the container. While Jews typically enter the mikvah nude (something that would be problematic for most Christians, especially if done in public), followers of Y'shua do not follow this custom even though it does appear to be proscribed in Leviticus 15 where nothing but the waters are to touch the person during the rite.

As the Believer is lowered into the baptismal waters he/she is acknowledging something that has already happened. Baptism is viewed as the public testimony of an event already completed. It is ones public confession that one has been buried with Y'shua through his vicarious death and has arisen with him in his resurrection into the family of God. In other words, we are acknowledging that it was for "me" as an individual that the Master suffered and died on the stauros (stauros literally means "stake" not "cross"). Through the rite of Christian baptism we are publicly stating that we understand that as the final Passover Lamb the Master shed his precious blood for "me" as an individual. Certainly he died for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16,17), but through baptism we acknowledge our roles as individuals in that sacrifice. Y'shua is my sin atonement and I place my faith in that sacrifice alone. This is what baptism means for the Believer.

As we rise out of the water we are acknowledging that through his sacrifice we have been made a new person. We join Y'shua in his resurrection with the complete assurance that if we fail to survive the coming tribulation period that we too will be resurrected, even as Y'shua was.

As we emerge from the baptismal water we are told to be mindful that we "walk in the newness of life." Why is this?

The symbolism of transformation through the Master's resurrection is no mere figure of speak! Without him we are spiritually lost but through him we arise as true sons and daughters of HaShem, grafted for all time onto the holy Tree of Israel! This occurs at the point of our salvation, when we repent of our sins and accept his sacrifice, but the rite of baptism is the public acknowledgment and demonstration of this transformation.

The Master explains at John 3:16 that he was sent into the world by HaShem to bring forgiveness and life to all of humanity. As his talmidim or followers we acknowledge what he has done for us, both as our paschal lamb and as our cohen gadol or high priest. We owe everything to Master Y'shua and to his Father.

Through the rite of baptism we acknowledge that we have chosen to begin walking the Way he taught. Water baptism should be experienced as soon after receiving salvation as is feasible. It can be conducted by any sincere Believer as all the talmidim are members of the Priesthood of Believers. The only mediator between the Believer and HaShem is Master Y'shua, our Cohen Gadol or High Priest.

There exists within the Nicene Christian faith competing opinions on some of the specifics of conducting baptisms.

Infant Baptism

Some congregations and denominations baptize infants. The usual given justification for this non-biblical act is that it protects the child in the event of premature death. There are two problems with this view. Firstly, baptism is symbolic, of itself it is meaningless. Secondly, it is symbolic of ones conscious decision to enter into a covenant relationship with HaShem through the sacrifice and high priesthood of Y'shua. Infants can not make such choices. For this reason infant baptism should not be practiced. One need not understand all the details of salvation, but one must understand the basics. The rite of Baptism is a sacred metaphor for the entire Gospel message and is not to be taken lightly. As for children, we are assured:

I Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

HaShem is just and merciful always.


Every baptism recorded in the Bible is a credobaptism, which is to say, a baptism based on volitional faith (from credo: Latin for "I Believe"). The Anabaptists are usually credited with returning credobaptism to Nicene Christianity. These were former Catholics who had undergone infant baptism but realized the New Testament necessity for an informed and complete immersion. In order to receive biblical baptism a person must be able to acknowledge that "I believe" in the completed work of Y'shua. What is biblically required is a single informed baptism. There is no need for a baptized Believer to undergo more than one credobaptism.


While there is no biblical need for more than the initial Credobaptism neither is there any biblical prohibition against it. If one has been out of fellowship for some period of time or if one simply wishes to rededicate her/his life to Y'shua re-baptisms can be spiritually rewarding. If desired they can be taken frequently as by the Chasidim.

The Words of Baptismal Consecration

While most Nicene Christians who undergo biblical baptism conduct the rite with the words "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" there is not complete agreement about this point. Some Nicene Christians, such as the United Pentecostal Church, baptize "In the name of Jesus" while others say "In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus' name." The reason for these differences are found in the following two verses:

Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost...

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins...

There is an interesting point to be made here that is of special interest to "Arian" Believers (such as Noahide Nazarenes, Unitarians, Creation Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Arian Catholics, International Bible Students, members of the United Church of God, members of The Way International and Church of the Blessed Hope and others). While "Arianism" is certainly the minority view, it has far more adherents than most Christians assume. It is therefore worth noting that in all cases I am aware of (there may be exceptions) Christians who embrace the Doctrine of the Trinity use the prior declaration while those who embrace what is known as the "Oneness doctrine" practice the later.

The words "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" seems to support the Trinitarian view of God (One God in three distinct Persons) while the phrase "In the Name of Jesus" is thought to support the Oneness doctrine (i.e. that Jesus is God described as Father, Son and Holy Spirit with no division).

From an Arian perspective the arguments used to support neither view really fits the biblical teachings. The translation of the verses that use these different forms are all textually correct. Are we therefore looking at contradictory instructions? No, not at all.

In both cases the Greek word rendered as "name" is onoma and is correctly translated. This word is commonly used both literally and figuratively, both as a personal pronoun and figuratively as in under the authority of. In this case the most likely meaning of the word is the figurative one. The instruction in my opinion is to baptized new Believers by and in the name or authority of the One God. As with "the Lord's Prayer" the Master was not reciting something to be repeated but the essence of what matters.

Our God and Father HaShem provides such baptisms to those with faith. His Son Y'shua makes this faith possible by his sacrifice and his service as our high priest. By His Spirit HaShem empowers and sanctifies such baptisms so that they are meaningful and purifying. And it is all thanks to work of Y'shua of Nazareth.

The specific words of the rite are not what matters. Its the heart that gives praise to HaShem and thanks to His Son and that through baptism makes public declaration that HaShem is God.

Next: Baptism By Fire

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