Lost in the controversy generated by those who would wrest baptism from its proper place in the Christian experience and elevate it to cardinal doctrine is the easily verifiable yet never emphasized reality that immersing new converts in water(1) upon their confession of faith precedes its Christian usage by more than a century. This rite took place in the “Mikveh,” a ritual that has taken place in the Jewish world at least from the times of the written scriptures, and continues until this very day!
1. The Greek word “Baptisma,” from which the English word “Baptize” is derived means “To immerse.”
3. For a more detailed study on all aspects of the mikveh ritual check the following links: http://ohr.edu/ask/ask251.htm, http://jesus-messiah.com/html/mikveh.html, http://www.essene.com/B'nai-Amen/MysticalImmersion.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikvah,
After a woman has her monthly period. (Lev. 15:28).
When using pots and eating utensils manufactured by a non-Jew. (Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion p-263).
Ancient Jews viewed the mikveh (baptism) as a process of spiritual cleansing and purification.(3) It was performed only on persons and things that were considered to be unclean. Before the ritual was performed, the person being baptized cut his nails and made a confession of faith before Elders, after which he was immersed, often three times.
For new converts to the Jewish religion this ritual was performed in demonstration of their willingness to forsake their Gentile background and to accept their new Jewish identity. Before being immersed they would reaffirm this acceptance of the Torah by declaring before Elders: “I will do and I will hear” with reference to the commandments of God. These converts were considered to have experienced a new birth, and were referred to as “a child of one day” after immerging from the waters.
It is the abuse of the mikveh ritual that Christ often chastised the Pharisees for, and that they attempted to judge He and his disciples by. (Mark 7 1:1-4; Luke 11:37-40) It is also the reason for the plural with reference to “doctrine of baptisms (washings)” in Hebrews 6:2; 9:9-11 in that disputes concerning these ceremonials washings and their proper place in Jewish life often dominated Hebrew theology.(4)
Likewise, mikveh is also the reasoning behind Christ’s presenting Himself for immersion prior to beginning his Priestly on behalf of mankind in Matthew 3:13-15. Priests were commanded, in the Old Testament, to be washed ceremonially before commencing their priestly duties interceding for Israel. (Leviticus 8:1-6)
Thus, it is clear when objectively examining all of the data available to us in this modern information age, that:
Baptism precedes its Christian usage by more than a century.
As the mikveh, it was used ceremonially to initiate new converts to the Jewish faith.
Men then, as they do now, placed too much emphasis on the ritual, and thereby missed the point.
The word “mikveh” is first used in scripture in Genesis 1:10, and is translated as “gathering together.”
“And God called the dry land Earth, and the
gathering together of the waters He called Seas.”
According to the Mishnah(2) Mikvehs had to contain water that pooled naturally, as in the sea, rivers, lakes, and even rain water that gathered in precut indentations in the Earth such as King Herod’s Mikveh. In Rabbinical literature, mikveh waters were referred to as the “womb of the world.”
King Herod's Mikveh
There are three basic areas where immersion in the mikveh is required according to Jewish Law: