The Definition of Baptism

In Greek, it literally means “immersion” or “dipping.” Though the word for baptism in Greek means immerse or dip, not all Christians use this mode when baptizing. Many sprinkle water on the head and some pour. We believe that immersion of the total body in water is the proper mode, not only because of the meaning of the word, but because the New Testament indicates that this was the mode followed by Messiah Yeshua and the early disciples. Also immersion best expresses the significance of baptism as the New Testament explains it. We believe that sprinkling and pouring came later as concessions by church leaders.

The History of Baptism

In the Tenach water was used ceremonially in rites of cleansing. God commanded the Jewish people (Exodus 30:17 21) to build a bronze wash basin, and to place it before the Mishkan and later before the Temple. The priests cleansed themselves in the bronze wash basin before performing their services in the tabernacle and the temple. In a number of places in the Torah Israelis are commanded to purify themselves by washing their entire bodies in water after certain practices or contacts which are considered defiling. For example, a man who had a nocturnal emission or a woman who had her menstrual period or persons having bodily contact with such individuals during these times, were required by the Law to wash their bodies thoroughly in clean water (Leviticus 15:1 6,11:6 18 and Leviticus 22:4 6). It is clear from these passages and others like them that water is regarded in the Tenach as signifying cleansing and a renewal of life from defilement.

Baptism is an ancient Jewish practice after Biblical Times

There is a great deal of ancient testimony that indicates that the Jewish people practiced many washings and dippings in water as rituals. Not only were the bodies of people dipped and immersed in water but also household articles were as well. The practice of Netilat-Yadayeem – washing the hands before eating – is still practiced by traditional Jews. The Talmud and other rabbinical writings mention the practice of baptizing proselytes to Judaism. Baptism was a familiar practice among the Jewish people before the beginnings of the Messianic Jewish movement began.

Baptism is a continuing Jewish practice

Moses Maimonides and other medieval rabbis mention the importance of baptizing proselytes. In addition, the practice of tevilah, ritual cleansing and purification in a pool of water, has been practiced among Orthodox Jews up to the present times. Gentile converts to Judaism are still required to use be baptized. The meaning of these rites in Judaism is that of cleansing and a new beginning.

Baptism in the New Testament

Messiah Yeshua was immersed before He started His public ministry (Matthew 3:13-17, John 1:28-34). His baptism was His declaration to Israel that He was prepared to begin His ministry.

All of Messiah’s followers are commanded to be immersed. Yeshua commanded His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). To baptize in the one name of the Three-in-One God, did not only mean a formula of words but in the authority and character of the Father, Son and Spirit.

The Meaning of Baptism

Baptism involves Repentance: The challenge of Simon Peter on the day of Shavuot was: repent and let each one of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua (Acts 2:38). The idea of an unbaptized Believer is not entertained in the New Testament.

Baptism means Cleansing: Arise and be immersed, and wash away your sins, calling on His name (Acts 22:16). You will come out of the water a new creation, fresh, clean and eternally new. Keep your life clean by living for Messiah, and confessing your sins to Him and repenting if you sin.

Baptism means identifying with Messiah in His death, burial and resurrection: The baptized person acknowledges by this that he has chosen to turn completely away from his old life, characterized by sin and rebellion against God’s will, and to turn completely toward the new life which Messiah offers. Going down into the water means death and burial and coming up out of the water as means resurrection. By being immersed the new Believer is saying: I was joined to Messiah when He was judged for sin and put to death. His death was my death. I die with Him. I was buried along with Him, and I am also joined to His resurrection. His resurrection is my resurrection. His eternal indestructible life is now my life. From now on you will be forever linked and identified with Yeshua. (See Romans 6:2-4, Ephesians 4:4-6, Colossians 2:12).

Baptism is a public declaration of your faith: when one is baptized he expresses, not only his union with the Messiah, but with all true believers and with the belief and truth which express God’s true revelation concerning man’s salvation The whole faith is a total unity of which baptism is an integral part. There is One Body (a true spiritual unity of all believers), one spirit (the Holy Spirit who gives spiritual life to every believer), one Lord (the Messiah), one faith (the one true way of trusting God and the one true body of truth related to that trust), one baptism (the one true ordinance given by the Lord expressing this great unity) and one God and Father of all (see Ephesians 4:4 6).

Baptism means joining the Messianic Community: Not only are you identified with Messiah, but now you are a recognized part of the Messianic community. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). Water Baptism is a picture of the spiritual reality that has already taken place, that the Spirit of God has placed you into the Body of Messiah, His holy community. By being immersed you will follow in a long line of Jewish and Gentile saints and holy men and woman of God going back to 2000 years to Messiah Yeshua Himself. Take your full place in Messiah’s body and be a faithful member of our community.

Baptism means a New Beginning: Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Messiah Yeshua (1 Peter 3:21). Just as Noah and his family were brought safely through the waters of the Flood, we can be brought to safety and experience salvation by following Yeshua, who is like the Ark, and by being immersed in water, the water of baptism. Peter makes it clear that baptism is only a symbol, a type, a picture. Baptism itself, getting immersed in water, doesn’t actually save you – it only removes dirt from your body by making you wet! What really saves you is the reality which being immersed is a symbol of – asking God to give you a good conscience that will do what is right, say what is right things, and live the right way. Baptism is asking God for a new beginning, a fresh start, that you will now put God and Messiah Yeshua at the very center of your mind, heart and soul, and do things God’s way. What is the basis that enables us to get this good conscience? Yeshua’s resurrection from the dead! His real and historical death, and His real and historical resurrection, when combined with our faith in Him, enables us to get a good conscience, to experience atonement, be forgiven for all of our sins, and to start doing the things that really please God, and head in the right direction.

What Baptism Does Not do

Baptism does not save you (1 Peter 3:21). It is not the washing of water from the body that saves you, it is the appeal to God for a good conscience. Messiah Yeshua saved you already. This is a picture of what He has already done for you, and a prayer for Him to continue to save you.

Baptism is to be administered to those who are able to exercise repentance and belief: hence, not children below an age of accountability. See Mark 1:15, 16:16, Acts 2:38 39.

If you are Jewish, baptism is not a renunciation of your Jewish identity, since you are now a loyal subject of Yeshua, the King of the Jews, but the fulfillment of it. Ezekiel 36: 24 For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and hay-vaytee et-chem el ah-dah-mat-chem – bring you into your own land. Notice that this Land is specifically designated for the Jewish people in it). In spite of being an embarrassment to God during our exile among the nations, profaning God’s name, causing disrepute to the God of Israel’s reputation, the gracious God will nevertheless demonstrate to the nations, that He is holy, reliable, and trustworthy, by taking us out of the Exile, and returning us to our own land. He can be counted on, even if His people can’t. Let’s call this Phase One: Israel’s physical restoration to the Land.

Next comes Phase Two: Israel’s spiritual restoration to God: 36:25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Next God promises to sprinkle the Jewish people with clean water. The sprinkling of water is a symbol for spiritual cleansing. Whereas we were unclean, this sprinkling will bring cleansing, cleansing from all our filthiness and from all our idols. There will be a turning away from the idols of false religion that the Jewish people have adopted, which I can only understand to mean the Judaism of the rabbis – all non-Messianic Judaism, and other non-biblical influences that we have followed: perhaps the new age and eastern philosophies that are becoming more prevalent today, the philosophical ideas of Darwinism and evolution that are so unbiblical and destructive.

This spiritual restoration to God includes a national spiritual rebirth: 36:26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. We will go through a spiritual rebirth. This is the promise of the New Birth, spiritual regeneration, new life from above, a new -desire to love, follow and serve God that comes from the heart. Whereas the Jewish people have had a heart of stone – tough, hard hearted toward God, the heart of our people will finally and truly be soft, malleable, tender towards the Lord our God.

36:27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. We are promised the indwelling presence of Ruach Elohim – the Spirit of God. God will place His Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, within us, and we will suddenly find ourselves with a new desire to please God, a new desire to serve God, a new awareness that we need to be careful to observe God’s ordinances, not the man made traditions and laws that the rabbis have imposed. Then we will really do God’s chukkim – statutes, and His mishpatim – His ordinances – and not the false teachings of the non-Messianic Yeshua denying rabbis of the Galut. Then we will really do God’s chukkim – statutes, and His mishpatim – His ordinances – and not adhere to the pagan ideologies and philosophies of the nations, like evolutionism. Then the Spirit of God Himself will be our rabbi, and He will guide us into all truth. We will do and fulfill God’s Torah – not man-made rabbinic interpretations.

Other Forms of Baptism

In addition to water baptism, the New Testament also mentions baptism with the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 3:11, John 1:33 and 3:5, and Acts 1:5) and baptism with fire (Matthew 3:11 12, Luke 3:16 17, and Mark 9:42 43 and 47 48). The baptism in or with the Holy Spirit refers to the Spirit of God entering into the life of a believer, giving him new life at the time he places true faith in Messiah. The baptism of fire refers to the purging of God’s judgment, either to separate what is ungodly out of the life of a true believer or to separate unbelievers from believers at the last judgment. These “baptisms” are in addition to, and not in place of, water baptism.

Order of Service for Baptism

I recommend that baptism be done by total immersion not just sprinkling.

I start with the She he che yanu prayer: Blessed are You O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.

Normally I give a short teaching on baptism.

The congregation prays for those being baptized.

A testimony by the one being baptized may be given.

I may ask the person being baptized if they believe in God, and that Yeshua is the Messiah, and the Lord, and if He died and rose again, and if they are committing the rest of their live to serve God.

Before doing the immersion, I usually pray the following prayer: Baruch Ata Adonai, Elohaynu Melech HaOlam, asher kidshanu b’Yehsua HaMeshee ach, v’tzee vanu al ha tevilah. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us through Yeshua the Messiah, and commanded us to be immersed. I baptize you in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

After the baptism, more prayer follows, followed by a celebration.

By | 2017-01-30T21:44:58+00:00 December 27th, 2012|Categories: Prayers, Hagada, Machzor|Tags: |Comments Off on Baptism

About the Author:

Rabbi Loren Jacobs is the senior rabbi and founder of “Congregation Shema Yisrael” (which means “Hear O Israel”). Congregation Shema Yisrael is a Messianic synagogue which was started in 1986 when Rabbi Loren and his wife Martha moved to Michigan to proclaim the Good News about the Messiah to the Jewish people living in the metro Detroit area. Rabbi Loren was raised in a Jewish home in the Chicago area, and became a Messianic Jew in 1975. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute’s Jewish Studies program in 1979 and received a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Literature from Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey in 1986. His wife Martha is a fifth generation Messianic Jew, which is quite unusual. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.