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We are grateful to the UFC for permission to publish the following paper in full.  We believe readers will find it an immensely valuable theological and practical document.  It was prepared for their General Assembly in 2001.

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Jewish antecedents 

Some scholars begin their study of Baptism with a discussion of pre-Christian rites involving water, on the basis that water baptism as practised by the early church was the climax of an evolving process. Some have begun with primitive and pagan rituals. Itwas popular for a time to seek the origins of Christian baptism in the 'baptisms' of the mystery religions which flourished in the Graeco-Roman world during the last three centuries BC. In view of the growing recognition, in recent years ,that the essential context for the formulation of Christian belief and practice is to be sought within the spiritual environs of Judaism, it has become much more common to look to the Old Testament and to Jewish practicefor the origins of water baptism.

  1. The Jewish law

Water ritual was a requirement for the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. Both before and after the ceremony he had to bathe himself in water (Lev 16.4; Ezek 44.19). In both verses the word for bathe is the Hebrew word rachats which has the general idea of wash. It is used in Genesis for the washing of feet (18.4; 19.2;24.32; 43.24) and the washing of the face (43.31). It is a common word in Leviticus for ceremonial washing (1.9,13; 8.6,21; 9.14; etc.) though it is not the only word so used. It should be noted that the ritual here is a self-bathing rather than a baptism.

Just as the high priest had to undertake ceremonial cleansing in order to survive the localised presence of a holy God in the Most Holy Place so all the people of God had to undergo ritual cleansing as they conducted their daily affairs in the knowledge that this same holy God was with his people in a more general but no less real sense. Sexual uncleanness (Lev 15) and the uncleanness from contact with an infectious skin disease (Lev 13.4) required ritual cleansing through washing and bathing. Uncleanness through contact with dead persons required ritual cleansing through sprinkling (Num 19.13): "Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean." According to 19.9 the "water of cleansing" together with ashes from a sacrifice are for "purification from sin".

      It would be very easy (but inept) to caricature the emphasis in the Jewish Law on outer ritual cleansing as though that were the only concern or even the main concern. As with Christians the outward sign is symbolic of an inward reality and an appropriate life-style. At least, such was the intention. The ritual may be divorced from the reality but it ought not to be. That was a major emphasis of the prophets beginning with Samuel, "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice…" (1 Sam 15.22). Samuel is not here rejecting the concept of sacrifice as prescribed by the Law and therefore by God. That would have been anathema to him. Indeed, the very next chapter records that the prophet offered sacrifice in obedience to the Lord's instruction (16.5). In 15.22 Samuel is confronting Saul's disobedience and rejecting sacrifice as a substitute for obedience. As Joyce Baldwin puts it, "No ceremonial can make up for a rebellious attitude to God and his commands…"1 & 2 Samuel , IVP, p 115. Samuel's approach is reflected in the following Scripture passages: Ps 40.6-8; 51.16; Pro 21.3; Is 1.11-15; Jer 7.22; Hos 6.6; Amos 5.25; Mic 6.6-8. The concern of the psalmist and the prophets, as with Jesus, was for consistency in how one conducted one's life, e.g. Psalm 24. Flesh and spirit and, therefore, outward ritual and inward reality, were thought of in the Jewish psyche as "partners, not enemies "The Jewish Antecedents of the Christian Sacraments, London 1928, p 13. Beasley Murray comments, "The remarkable feature…is not that the Jew or later Judaism could not distinguish between outer and inner but that he would not separate them…Baptism in the New Testament , Paternoster, 1972, p 7."). Outward rites and inward dispositionsmust be in harmony.      

  1. Old Testament anticipations of a future radical cleansing                  

      Chapter 36 is a crucial chapter in Ezekiel's prophecy for the future restoration of God's people. It is especially interesting for our purpose because it deals with both external and internal realities. J Muilenburg observes, "Israel had made the holy land unholy; yether holy God must maintain his holiness in the earth. Therefore (v 21) he spared them for the sake of his holy name. Yet, if the holiness of his great name was to be vindicated among the nations, then his people must be radically transformed and become a new and holy people." Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Nelson 1962, p 586.        

According to HL Ellison the centre of this prophecy re the restoration of God's people (vv 24-28) "is based on and is an expansion of the great promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31.31-34 Ezekiel: The Man and his Message, Paternoster 1967, p 127. ".The people are to receive a new heart, a new disposition and a new will. This transformation, however, will begin with God sprinkling clean water upon them"to purify them from the stain and guilt of the past"Peake'sCommentary on the Bible, Nelson 1962, p 586. (Ezek 36.25,27):Iwill sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart… and I will put my Spirit in you."

It is of particular interest to us that the inner cleansing of God's people is symbolised by the sprinkling of clean water. There are two elements here worthy of note (and it is worth bearing in mind as we note them that Ezekiel was both a prophet and a priest). The first is that the imagery of ritual cleansing is related to the inner cleansing which God will bring about. Secondly and more specifically it is the imagery of 'sprinkling' that is used, the significance of which is well expressed by Peter Craigie: "As, in Ezekiel's prophecy, the transformation of heart and spirit was preceded by the symbolic sprinkling of fresh water, so inChristianity the water of baptism symbolises the transformation of heartand spirit." Ezekiel (Daily Study Bible), The SaintAndrewPress 1983, p258.

  1. Qumran

      In the middle of the second century BC, as a result of the intrusive and paganizing influence of Greek culture, there came into existence a very loyal and conservative group of Jews known as 'the pious (or loyal) ones', i.e. the Hasidim. The Hasidim were an important group which had a lasting impact on the development of Judaism. GW Anderson has written that "the Hasidim were the spiritual ancestors of the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Qumran sect, displaying unswerving loyalty to the law". The History and Religion of Israel, OUP 1966, p172.      

     Qumran was situated in the wildernessof Judea some seven miles from the River Jordan. The men of Qumran had withdrawn from Jewish society under their 'Teacher of Righteousness'. They regarded the period in which they lived as the 'epoch of wickedness'. They had a particular abhorrence of the high priests of the day whom they regarded as illegitimate. Their purpose was to prepare for the new age which would bring the epoch of wickedness to an end. With that ever before them they practised a rigorous self-discipline and devoted themselves to the purity of body and soul.             

In their passion for purity they provided for various ritual washings or bathings. In the Introduction to his translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls Geza Vermes summarises the various rituals as follows: "The Damascus Rule (XI) devotes a section to purification by water, and the War Rule (XIV) foresees that the victorious Sons of Light will so cleanse themselves after battle before attending the final ceremony of Thanksgiving. The Community Rule (III, V) refers also to a purificatory rite in connection with entry into the Covenant."The Dead Sea Scrolls in English , Pelican 1975, p45.

It is worth noting here that the people of Qumran saw no conflict between the outward ritual and the inner condition; the two were intended to coincide. Beasley Murray observes, "Here we must remind ourselves of the fact, frequently pointed out, that the members of this sect had a clear understanding of the limitations of lustrations. They aspired to something more than ceremonial purity and they knew that lustrations of themselves could not bestow the moral purity they sought." The Qumran Manualof Discipline states, "No one is to go into the water in order to attain thepurity of holy men. For men cannot be purified except they repent their evil."It further states that a man "cannot be cleared by mere ceremonies of atonement, nor cleansed by any waters of ablution, nor sanctified by immersion in lakesor rivers, nor purified by any bath. For it is only through the spiritual apprehension of God's truth that man's ways can be properly directed. Only thus can all his iniquities by shriven so that he can gaze upon the true lightof life…"

Assuming, as most scholars do (cf. FF Bruce, Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, Paternoster1972, p 12 footnote.   John Bright,A History of Israel, SCM 1972, p 465  W Albright), that the Qumran community was essentially Essene there are a number of contemporary writers we can turn to for information. The most helpful of these is Josephus who spent a short time with the Essenes during his teenage years. He is also useful because of his description of Essene initiation procedure involving a three year probationary period. At the end of the first year there was a ritual purification in water. At the end of the second year the probationer was allowed to use the purer water reserved for full members of the sect. At the end of the third year he was allowed to share in the common meal, a token of full membership. It is also clear that ritual purifications were a regular daily occurrence for all members .As Beasley-Murray observes, "Josephus conveys the impression that the baths of the Essenes were taken not simply once daily, as is commonly assumed, but at least three times per day…"

Two questions arise out of this. (1) Is there is any connection between the ritual purifications of these pre-Christian sects and the baptism of John the Baptist and ultimately Christian baptism? (2) Is there any sense in which these ritual purifications may be regarded as baptisms? It will be recognised that these questions warrant much lengthier answers than space allows in this report. The following observations are relevant.

It has been suggested that the Baptist himself may for a time have belonged to Qumran. This is purely speculative and depends on a subjective assessment of the evidence. But even if  there is truth in it, it is also true that the differences between John and Qumran are enormous. In 1959 HH Rowley concluded, "There is not a single feature of John's baptism for which there is the slightest reason to go to Qumranto look for the source."  New Testament Essays, Studies in Memory of TW Manson  (ed. AJB Higgins), Manchester 1959, pp 219-23. As recently as 1990 Alan Millard reached the same conclusion. Discoveries from the Time of Jesus , Lion 1990, p 111. Similar differences exist between Qumran's 'baptism' and that of Christians. We may note the following distinguishing features: (a) The water rite practised at Qumran is more properly described as a bath than a baptism; (b) it was practised often, not once-for-all;( c) the initial purification rite was the same in form as subsequent purifications; (d) it was a self-administered rite; (e) the Qumran people were initiated into a community and not into their Teacher of Righteousness whereas Christians were initiated into the Messiah and his community.

The important if loose connection between the people of Qumran and the disciples of Jesus is that the water rite for both marked entry into the new covenant, the true Israel. This is explained not by a dependency of one on the other but by the fact that both groups referback to the prophecies of Jeremiah 31.31ff and Ezekiel 36.24ff. Equally significantis that for Qumran as for Christians while circumcision was the sign of initiationinto the old covenant, water is the sign of initiation into the new covenant.      

  1. Jewish proselyte baptisms

For some considerable time it was taken for granted by many scholars that Christian baptism had its origin in Jewish proselyte baptism. Jeremias, one of the most ardent contenders for this position, saw similarities between proselyte and Christian baptism in the terminology used, resemblances in baptismal instruction and administration, and theological similarities. Others have rejected Jeremias' arguments and offered alternative explanations for the similarities. There is simply insufficient evidence to show that Christian baptism in its terminology, practice and theology is derived from Jewish proselyte baptism. It is equally possible that early Christian baptism influenced the development of proselyte baptism. So, for example, Beasley Murray writes,

      "Whether the New Testament writers took over the concept of dying and rising and of regeneration from Jewish thought about the proselyte it is difficult to say. Presumption would indicate that those who shaped the thought of the primitive Church could hardly have been ignorant of this teaching. On the other hand the New Testament theology of baptism revolves about two poles of thought not associated with proselyte baptism: unity with the Messiah who is Son of Man and Second Adam and who rose for the race; and, closely connected therewith, the belief that the age of resurrection and the life of the Kingdom of God has dawned in the rising of the Messiah. It would seem plausible that the familiar concepts of Jewish conversion theology were given a fresh orientation and greater depth and power by the Christian understanding of the redemptive action of the Messiah. "Baptism in the New Testament , Paternoster 1972, pp 30f.      

Clearly the arguments of scholars such asJ eremias depend on a presumption that proselyte baptism preceded Christian baptism, a presumption that cannot be taken for granted. The first clear references to proselyte baptism do not appear until the second half of the first century, e.g. in (a) the Sibylline Oracles, usually dated now about AD 80 ,Infant  Baptism in the First Four Centuries   (tran. David Cairns), SCM 1960, p 24. (b) the Dissertations of Epictetus dated cAD 90.Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries   (tran. DavidCairns), SCM 1960,p 24. The more important references, however, are those which appear in Rabbinic literature. These are dated by most scholars between AD 70-90.

While there are scholars who have posited a much earlier date for the references, e.g. Jeremias, the conclusion of Beasley Murray is well justified: "a saying whose significance and origin are so dubious as this has no claim to confidence as a means of determining so complex an issue". Baptism in the New Testament, Paternoster1972,p 23f. Widely regarded as significant is Josephus' detailed account of a Gentile king, Izates, becoming a Jewish proselyte. Izates ruled from AD 30 to 54. In his account Josephus has much to say about circumcision and nothing at all to say about baptism.

  1. The baptism administered by John

It has been seen already that attempts to locate the origin of Christian baptism in Jewish ritual washings, including those of Qumran, are fraught with difficulty. Clearly the use of water is common to all but, that apart, the parallels are not clear. By contrast parallels between Christian baptism and John's baptism are easily discerned. John's water ritual is more properly described as a baptism than a bath or a washing, it was administered to a candidate (not self-administered), and it was administered to a candidate once and not often.

Attempts to locate the origin of Christian baptism in Jewish proselyte baptism are also fraught with difficulty, though for a different reason. It is possible to argue that Christian baptism influenced proselyte baptism rather than the other way round. In the case of John the Baptist that is simply not possible. History and the chronological sequence are  clear. John's baptism preceded Christian baptism.

In view of the clear links between John's baptism and Christian baptism it is important to undertake a more careful exploration of the meaning and significance of baptism as we find it in John, to consider how his approach relates to the baptism instituted by Jesus, and to consider any light that the one throws on the other.

  1. Baptism

According to the synoptic gospels the baptism administered by John was integrally bound up with repentance. Mark relates how John came baptising in the desert region preaching "a baptism of repentance" (1.4; see also Luke 3.3). Matthew has a slightly different phrase when he records John's actual words, "I baptise you with water for repentance" (3.11).

      There is general agreement that the concept to the fore in the New Testament understanding of repentance  is that of a radical turn around, involving a turning from and a turning       to. It involves a moral change, from evil to righteousness. Primarily it has to do with a change in a person's relationship with God.  The change of life stems from the change of relationship. To repent is to turn to God. "The call to repentance on the part of man is a call for him to return to his creaturely…dependence on God… (it is) a complete alteration of the basic motivation and direction of one's life."  The Westminster Confession of Faith says of repentance:      

   "By it a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments." (XV,II)      

  1. A baptism 'of' and 'for' repentance                  

      Whereas Mark gives us his own description of John's baptism, i.e. "a baptism of repentance" (1.4)   Matthew gives us John's own words, i.e. "I baptise you…for   repentance," (Matt 3.11). While some writers have made great play of the difference between Mark and Matthew, arguing for example that Matthew has paraphrased Mark, this hardly seems necessary. It is sufficient to note that there is a difference, that Mark is making a personal comment whereas Matthew is recording the words spoken, and that both a baptism 'of' and abaptism 'for' are appropriate. It is also possible that there is no significant difference in meaning at all. CFD Moule gives a cautionary warning, "it is now becoming more and more clearly recognised that it is a mistake to build exegetical conclusions on the notion that Classical accuracy in the use of prepositions was maintained in the koine period" and argues for a "fluidity of usage". An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, CambridgeUP1959, p49. If there are nuances of meaning we may consider the following.      


The simplest way of understanding Mark's genitive ('of repentance'; metanoias) is that it describes the nature of the baptism. It is a baptism that belongs to repentance. In which case the idea of baptism as a sign of repentance would fit very well. The full description which Mark (1.4) and Luke (3.3) give of John's baptism is "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" – not an easy phrase to decipher precisely.  Barclay's paraphrase  is helpful: "a baptism which was thesign of a repentance through which a man might find the forgiveness of sins. "The Gospelof Mark, The Saint Andrew Press 1955, p1. Leon Morris comments, "This means a baptism which follows repentance and is a sign of it. "Luke, IVP 1974, p 95.

A baptism for repentance

The preposition 'for' in Matthew's Gospel translates a word (eis) which generally means 'into' – either literally or metaphorically. In which case it is a baptism into repentance. The suggestion here may be that it is a baptism which takes or leads us into repentance. Hence Barclay translates, "I baptise you with water to make you repent. "The New Testament: Volume 1 (a new translation), Collins 1968, p 58.   Hendriksen has a better turn of phrase when he renders it, "I baptise you…with a view to conversion (repentance). "Matthew,Banner of Truth 1974, p 207. Other possibilities, depending on one's exegesis of the difficult phrase 'for repentance' (eis metanoian) are:(a) 'I baptise you in order that you will repent' (eis plus accusative suggesting purpose, here in context unlikely); (b) 'I baptise you with a view to continued repentance' (the telic sense suggested by Broadus), (c)'I baptise you because of your repentance' (causal eis, or something closeto it, Turner). Syntax, Vol 3 of JH Moulton,Grammar of New Testament Greek , T & T Clark 1963, pp 266-267;referred to in DA Carson's, The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol 8Matthew-Luke,(Ed.FE Gaebelein), Zondervan 1984, p 104. It is well to remember that John's purpose in speaking these words is to contrast his baptism with that of the one who was to come after him.

All this raises a fundamental question, not without significance for our understanding of Christian baptism. Does repentance lead to baptism, or does baptism lead to repentance? Is repentance a pre requirement of baptism or is it a consequence of baptism? Is baptism a sign of repentance or does it effect repentance? E Lohmeyer is in no doubt as to the answer: "For John repentance is a divine act on a man; the means through which this miracle is given and is experienced is through baptism, "Johannesder Taufer, Gottingen, pp 68f. (italics added). It is clear from Lohmeyer's writings that in his view people came to John to be baptised in order to receive repentance and not the other way round. Beasley-Murray  helpfully comments, "It is unfortunate that an exegete should so strongly contend for what is manifestly a one-sided emphasis; it demands decision on an 'either-or' which the New Testament writers would not have recognised."Baptism in the New Testament, Paternoster 1972, pp 34f.  Perhaps, as is often the case and as Beasley Murray has hinted, the truth lies somewhere in-between.

There can be no question that John required repentance from those who came for baptism and that his baptism was a sign of repentance. The heart of John's preaching was repentance not baptism, as Matthew himself records (3.1): "John the Baptist came…saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'" The message is for men to turn from sin to God. As Beasley-Murray comments, "It is not feasible that either Jesus or John meant by that word, 'Come to baptism that God may turn you!' "Baptism   in the New Testament, Paternoster 1972, pp 35. We should also note the exceedingly strong emphasis which John laid on the need for genuine repentance (Matt 3.7-11).

At the same time it is worth pointing out that repentance and conversion are a continuing necessity for a person's relationship with God. It may be that John was urging repentance both before and after baptism, urging repentance as a way of life as well as the way into a newl ife. Repentance must be prior to baptism and it must be subsequent to baptism. Baptism both signifies the repentance already there and the repentance which must follow. Hendriksen's summary of the position is worth quoting in full.      

"But is this phrase 'with a view to conversion' a contradiction of the idea that a man must already have been converted before he can be baptised, a truth clearly implied in verses 6-10? Answer: Not at all, for, by means of baptism, true conversion is powerfully stimulated and increased. The person who in the proper manner – that is, with a pledge to God proceeding from a clear conscience – receives baptism, understanding the outward sign and seal, will all the more heartily out of gratitude yield himself to God. Moreover, how could reflection on the adopting, pardoning and cleansing grace of God, as symbolised by the sign and seal of baptism, have any different effect? For such a person the outward sign and seal applied to the body, and the inward grace applied to the heart, go together."Matthew , Banner of Truth 1974, p 207.

Genuine repentance is clearly a work of God before it is a work of man and yet the obligation to repent is laid on men everywhere. That was as true for the ministry of John the Baptist asit was the ministry of the Apostles. Baptism is a sign of grace and a means of grace. There is nothing, however, to suggest that John's act of baptism itself effected repentance. His words to the Pharisees and Sadducees clearly contradicted such a possibility.  Baptism alone would not save them from"the coming wrath" (Matt 3.7), only baptism in so far as it represented agenuine turning from evil to God.

  1. The context of John's baptism                  

An 'eschatological orientation'

The context is 'the coming of the Lord'. Quoting Isaiah each of the synoptic Gospels tells us that John has come to "prepare the way for the Lord", to "make straight paths for him". Luke gives us more of the quotation concluding with (v 6), "And all mankind will see God's salvation." It is worth noting that in Isaiah the 'concluding' verse reads (40.5), "And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankindwill see it."      

Negative and positive elements

Here again we note not only the negative but also the positive element in John's ministry. The coming of the Messiah is near and with his coming the establishing of his kingdom. The glorious day anticipated for centuries was about to dawn, the day when God would intervene and save his people.

Of course, it was also understood that this day would be a day of judgement and salvation (the negative and positive again). It includes "the coming wrath"; the tree that does not produce good fruit "will be thrown into the fire"; "the winnowing fork is in his hand"; and the chaff will be burned with "unquenchable fire" (Matt 3.7, 10, 12).But the warning of judgement is intended to lead to repentance. In any case the essential purpose of the winnowing fork is not the destruction of chaff but the "gathering of his wheat" (v 12). Saint Luke, Pelican 1963, p 74.

The turning from evil and the turning to God signified and stimulated by baptism is, according to John, essential preparation for those who want to be included in the Messiah's kingdom. John makes clear that the Jewish ancestry of those who came to him would be insufficientto gain them entry into the kingdom (v 8). There is no substitute for genuine repentance.

T he pointer to another baptism

There is another important aspect of John's baptism. His "preparatory and symbolic baptism" was to give way to a truly "effective baptism" Matthew, IVP 1985, p 93. , i.e. the baptism of the Coming One. He would baptise "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt 3.11; Luke 3.16; Mark omits 'and with fire', 1.8). It should be noted that John's baptism with water anticipates Jesus' baptism with the Holy Spirit and not Christian baptism with water.

In spite of arguments to the contrary there is no good reason for not taking the text as we have it in Matthew and Luke as correct and allowing that Mark omitted the words "and fire" either because he wasn't aware of them or because he was concerned to emphasise a particular aspect of the promised baptism which had been fulfilled by the time he wrote. The Message of Mark, IVP 1992, p 34-36 IH Marshall writes, "the way for John to speak of a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire had already been laid in Judaism, and he could have well taken the final decisive step…"The Gospel of Luke, Paternoster1978,p 147. The term 'Holy Spirit' appears in the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 51.11; Isa. 63.10ff) and the coming of the Spirit is anticipated in the Old Testament (Isa 32.15; 44.3; Ezek 18.31; 36.25-27; 37.14; 39.29).Judgement is associated with fire (Isa 29.6; 31.9; Ezek 38.22; Amos 7.4;Mal 3.2; 4.1). Particularly important is the association of the Holy Spirit with fire in Joel 2.28-30.

Granted the above there are still differences of opinion as to what is meant by Jesus' baptism as  "baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire". (a) Some distinguish between the Holy Spirit and fire and also between the recipients of the Holy Spirit and fire, arguing that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is for those who genuinely repent, whereas the baptism with fire is for those who cling to their sin (c.f. Luke 3.13).The Gospel of Luke, Marshall, Morgan and Scott 1977, p 140.   (b) Some distinguish between the Holy Spirit and fire but argue that those who receive the Holy Spirit and fire are those who truly repent. The Spirit and fire represent positive and negative aspects of God's salvation in the life of the same truly repentant person. (c) Some make little or no distinction, though the practical application here is much the same as with b). Hence, Calvin comments that it is Christ who bestows the Spirit of regeneration and that, like fire, this Spirit purifies us by removing our pollution. Carson says, "the one whose way (John) is preparing will administer a Spirit-fire baptism that will purify and refine." The Expositor's Bible Commentary   Vol 8 Matthew-Luke, (Ed. FE Gaebelein), Zondervan 1984, p 105.  It may be noted that the connection between the Holy Spirit and fire is close ;there is no separate preposition in the Greek text; it is "with the Holy Spirit and fire". It may also be noted that on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit and fire came upon believers, fire symbolising the presence of the Holy Spirit. We can be fairly sure that Pentecost was the fulfilment of John's prophecy in Luke's understanding, both in his Gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles. The Gospel of Luke, Paternoster1978, p 146. 

It is possible that the baptism with 'the Holy Spirit and with fire' represents the whole work that God would achieve through his well beloved Son in terms of rescue, renewal and restoration plus the destruction of all that is worthless. JDG Dunn sums up this preferred approach, reflected in (c) above, as follows.

"First, the future baptism is a single baptism in Spirit-and-fire. Second…Spirit-and-fire baptism is not offered as an alternative to John's water baptism, nor does one accept John's water-baptism to escape the messianic baptism. Rather one undergoes John's water-baptism with a view to and in preparation for the messianic Spirit-and-fire baptism. In which case, the Coming One's baptism cannot be solely retributive and destructive. Those who repent and are baptised by John must receive a baptism which is ultimately gracious. In short, if John spoke f a future baptism at all there was both gospel and judgement in it. Baptism in the Holy Spirit, SCM 1970, p 11.      

A new and novel baptism

At the turn of the century, reflecting on Jewish initiation rites Plummer was able to state, "the history of baptism, so far as direct evidence is concerned, begins with (John)". Can the same be said following the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

When considering the Qumran community (under' JewishBaptisms?') the question was raised of a connection between John and Qumran. Our conclusion was that there is no evidence and no necessity for a connection.The contrasts between the two are far greater than the similarities. WL Lane (quoted previously when dealing with Qumran) puts forward one particular difference which demands further consideration at this point.

"Those who heard John would not have failed to recognise the familiar prophetic call to repentance. But in response to his preaching John called for an action which was wholly novel –baptism in the Jordan River. It has been conjectured that John's baptism was derived from the Jewish practice of baptising proselytes, or from the rites of initiation practised at Qumran. No clear line of dependence can be shown in support of these theories. Baptism appears rather as a unique activity of this prophet, a prophetic sign so striking that John became known simply as 'the Baptizer.' The Gospel of Mark, Marshall Morgan and Scott 1974, p 49.      

RT France makes a similar point: "Johnis introduced abruptly, distinguished by his regular title, the Baptist , (so also Mark, Luke and Josephus), since he was apparently the first to baptise others (proselyte baptism and the 'baptisms' at Qumran were self-administered )"Matthew, IVP 1985, commenting on v 1 (p 90). See also his comment on vv 5,6: "John's baptism was an innovation. The nearest contemporary parallels are the self-baptism of a Gentile on becoming a proselyte, and the repeated ritual washings (also self-administered) at Qumran."   (italics added).

France also notes two other important distinctions. Referring to proselyte baptism and the 'baptisms' of Qumran he observes, "Neither accounts adequately for John's baptism, which was apparently a once-only rite, administered by John in the river; and neither carried the note of urgent preparation for the coming crisis which was the main point of John's baptism. John's 'converts' were not seeking ceremonial purification, but' fleeing from the wrath to come' (v 7). Their baptism was a token of repentance…"Matthew, IVP 1985, p 91. (italics added).

Beasley-Murray points out that the word baptism a  (baptism) used in connection with the baptism of John "appears for the first time in the NT. No instance of its occurrence in pagan and Jewish literature has yet been found. In view of the fact that its earliest employment is for the baptism of John, it could conceivably have been coined by John's disciples. More plausibly, it is a Christian innovation, and was applied by Christian writers to John's baptism in the conviction that the latter should be bracketed with Christianity rather than with Judaism. It is often affirmed that baptismos denotes the act of immersion and baptism a includes the result… Of this there is no evidence. It is more likely that baptisma  was formed on the analogy of its Heb. equivalent t ebilah. Apart from the general preference of Jewish Christians for Gk. terms phonetically similar to Heb. equivalents, it may well have been adopted by them to express their consciousness that Christian baptism was a new thingin the world, differing from all Jewish and pagan purificatory rites (soYsebaert,op. cit., 52)"– italics added. ho baptistes

  1. John's baptism and Christian baptism

RA Cole states: "John's baptism was not Christian baptism, nor was it associated with the gift of the Spirit(see Acts 19.2, where disciples of John are re-baptised by Paul, as being ignorant of the very existence of the Spirit, and as not having been baptised in the name of Jesus). But note also that there is no evidence for the re-baptism of those disciples of the Lord who had previously been John's disciples, and who may thus be presumed to have received his baptism already." The Gospel According to St Mark, Tyndale 1963, p 57.   This raises a number of questions.

(1) What is the relationship between John's baptism and Christian baptism? It is clear that the two cannot be equated for the simple reason that John's baptism was not sufficient for those who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that the two are not equated, however, does not mean that they are not connected.

(2) What is the relationship between John's baptism of Jesus and Christian baptism? According to Bultmann it was the practice of the early church which provided the basis for the account  of Jesus 'baptism in the Gospels. Jesus' baptism was modelled on the practice of the early church. Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition , 3rd ed. 1997, pp 263ff, referred to in Beasley-Murray's Baptism in the New Testament, p 62. The more common view has been that the baptism of Jesus had a crucial role to play in the development of Christian baptism. WF Flemington suggests that Jesus' baptism "has exercised a more considerable influence than has hitherto been recognised upon the origin of the Christian rite" and further suggests that in the early church Christian baptism was "the counterpart in the life of the believer of the baptism of Jesus himself". The New Testament Doctrine of Baptism, 1948, 121. DM Baillie writes, "It seems obvious that when the early Christians baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus, their thoughts went back to that incident which in the gospel tradition stood immovably at the beginning of His public ministry – the baptism of Himself by John in the Jordan."The Theology of the Sacraments, Faber 1957, p 77. According to Karl Barth it was through his own baptism that Jesus instituted the sacrament of baptism. The Teaching of the Church regarding Baptism      

The difficulty faced here is "the all but complete silence of the New Testament writers concerning this supposed relationship between the two baptisms". Baptism in the New Testament There is not a single New Testament writer who makes any attempt to relate the two. Whether the omission is deliberate or unconscious it stems, no doubt, from the uniqueness of Jesus' baptism. His baptism was the baptism of a man who did not need baptism, at least, not for himself. In his baptism the sinless One was identifying with sinners. It seems inappropriate to compare his baptism with ours, and may well have seemed inappropriate to the apostles.

While it may be going beyond the biblical data to suggest that one baptism is dependant upon the other it is certainly in keeping within the biblical data to say that there are parallels between the two baptisms. As Beasley-Murray has put it, there is "a vast difference between the two experiences, yet there is also a connection between them". Baptism in the New Testament, Paternoster 1972, p 65.      

There are parallels between Christian baptism and John's baptism, i.e. all his baptisms including the baptism of Jesus.

Unlike other Jewish rituals involving water neither of these baptisms are self-administered. They are administered     to the persons seeking baptism. As made clear earlier this is quite different from rituals involving water prior to John the Baptist which are normally called ritual cleansings, washings or baths rather than baptisms. 
Unlike other Jewish rituals John's baptism and Christian baptism are both once-for-all events. The baptism of proselytes was also a once-for-all event but there is considerable uncertainty as to when such baptisms began and whether they had any influence on either John's baptism or Christian baptism. The first significant reference to such a baptism is dated c AD 80.
Key emphases in both are repentance and the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mark 1.4 with Acts 2.38).

There are further parallels between Christian baptism and the specific baptism of Jesus by John which do not apply to John's baptisms in general.          

Jesus was identified with us in his baptism; we are identified with him in our baptism.  
Jesus was acknowledged to be the Son of God at his baptism (Mark 1.11); we are acknowledged to be the sons of God at our baptism (albeit through faith in him) (Gal 3.26). Our sonship is rooted in his Sonship.

      Jesus' baptism had an anticipatory and eschatological  element to it, anticipating the great redemptive act of death-resurrection-ascension-parousia; our baptism has an anticipatory and eschatological element to it. It is the sign of ourdeath, resurrection, ascension and glorification.      

The Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism. The Spirit is given to those who are baptised in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2.38).

It should be remembered that these are parallels and that the parallels are not be taken too far. So for example in connection with the last named parallel Beasley-Murray cautions that "in Apostolic teaching the descent of the Spirit at the Messiah's baptism is eloquent of who He is rather than what Christian baptism is (Acts 10.38;1 John 5.6ff)."Baptism in the New Testament, Paternoster

Other Sections of the Report an be reached by clicking on the following Chapter headings:

Institution of Baptism

Origins of Water Baptism

The Baptism of Children: Old Testament Evidence

The Baptism of Children: New Testament Evidence 

The Baptism of Children: Extra-Biblical Evidence

The Proper Subjects for Baptism 

The Mode of Baptism 

The Way Forward

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