A man ask a rabbi a question, and at the conclusion, says, “You’re right.” Another rabbi over hearing the conversation gave an entirely different and contradictory answer. The man responds, “You’re right.” A third rabbi looked at the man and said, “He’s right and he’s right, they both cannot be right.” The man looked at the third rabbi and said, “You’re right.”
The point of the tale is that our western culture cannot accept two different answers as right, especially if they are seeming contradiction. This is not the case in the Semitic (Ancient Middle Eastern) mindset. This is really not a problem.
When I began this study on baptism, I was aware of the different interpretations, methods used, theologies and religious doctrines associated with this religious rite of passage. I am aware of the quest of some religions for a single interpretation, however, I do not wish to limit my study to a particular mindset or religious doctrine, but rather be open to how the scriptures speak to me, sharing what I have learned.
The most common form of baptism is with water. Some consider this an act of immersion, others kneeling in a pool of water with water being poured over the head, others feel a form of sprinkling is acceptable. Some feel it is of the utmost importance that the proper words are said during this ritualistic ceremony. Some believe this is part of the salvation process, so I will leave this with a question for you to ponder. Is a person’s salvation dependent upon another person’s action, what he or she says or doesn’t say? Is it more dependent upon what Jesus did and does?
The word baptism comes from the Greek root word bapto, which Strong’s defines as:
a primary verb; to whelm, i.e. cover wholly with a fluid; in the New Testament only in a qualified or special sense, i.e. (literally) to moisten (a part of one’s person), or (by implication) to stain (as with dye):—dip.
Using a computer software, I ran a query on all the places a form of the word bapto is found, and came across scriptures where the translators did not use the English word baptize. This appears to be contradictory to what I have been taught baptism is.
“And as He [Jesus] spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first [baptized] washed before dinner.” Luke 11:37-38 [Emphasis mine]
To understand the intent of this verse, I take a stroll into Judaism and practices around the second temple era. Jesus is having a meal with a Pharisee, the spiritual fathers of modern Judaism, who were members of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law. They had imposed a priestly law upon the common people, to ritually wash the hands before a meal where bread is served. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hand-washing/
It has to be appreciated that this ritual washing of the hands has nothing to do with physical cleanliness. The procedure is to pour water out from a cup or glass first twice over the right hand and then twice over the left hand–care being taken that the unwashed hands do not touch the water used for the washing. The hands are then dried with a towel before partaking of the meal. A benediction is recited over the washing of the hands: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.”
As I now understand the act of “baptizing” in this scripture, Jesus did not perform the ritual cleansing of his hands before the meal. Bapto is identified in this verse with a routine ritual cleansing. This highlights an aspect of Jesus, for He did not like Pharisee’s law. Go read his response to them in the verses that follow.
To summarize the use of the word bapto in the Greek language, there are verses where it is used for baptism, for dipping (finger in water, garment in blood, bread in oil), and for ritual washing. To understand the word baptism further, I searched translator engines for the Hebrew word. I found three Hebrew words with their meanings, please note these words are not found in the Old Testament, but are found in the Oral/Traditional Law.
לְהַטבִּיל – Baptize
טְבִילָה – Baptism (baptism, immersion, dipping, ablutions*, duck
הַטבָּלָה – Baptism (baptism, dipping, immersion)
*Ablutions is the act of washing oneself, a ceremonial act of washing parts of the body or sacred containers.
These Hebrew words come from the root word: Tebal טבל. Which means to immerse, to dip, to bathe briefly. From Jewish law, to perform ritual immersion.
What? There is a Jewish law on baptism by immersion? As I researched, I learned Judaism even has a “baptistery” called a Mikveh. Here is a beautiful article on what immersion (baptism) means in the Jewish faith, the symbolisms to Christianity are… Wow. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/why-immerse-in-the-mikveh/
Here are some excerpts: What physical act could a person perform in order to symbolize a radical change of heart, a total commitment? Jewish tradition prescribes a profound symbol. It instructs the conversion candidate to place himself or herself in a radically different physical environment–in water rather than air. No other religious act is so freighted with meaning as this one which touches every aspect of life and proclaims a total commitment to a new idea and a new way of life as it swallows up the old and gives birth to the new. “As soon as the convert immerses and emerges, he is a Jew in every respect” (Yevamot 47b).
I was stunned to find in Judaism, new converts are “baptized”, and the oral law of water immersion for converts goes back to the time of Moses! I had always wondered why no one questioned John the Baptist on what he was doing, for I now know, it was not something new to them. Let’s conduct a word study for the root word, Tebal.
30 2 9 = 41
This comes from an ancient hieroglyphic parent root, Tov טב . From the research of Jeff Benner on the ancient hieroglyphic, http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/ahlb/tet.html , we find that Tov means:
The Hebrew letter Beth is the word used for house as found in the town Bethlehem – House of Bread, but can also be interpreted as heart, and our body. The parent root for the Hebrew word Baptize has a sense of something surrounding us. What is very interesting, taking the first two letters of Tebal טבל, spells the word טב Tov, which means, Good, and the last two letters backwards forms לב Lev, which means Heart. Combining this play on words, we uncover a symbolism for baptism as a good heart. A heart God has changed or made good!
This gives me insight into Peter’s description of Baptism …”but the answer of a good conscience toward God…” 1 Peter 3:21.
Using Gemantra, the numerical value of Tebal is 41, which shares the same numerical value as Mother Em אם. The numerical value of the first letter of Tebal, the Tet, is 9, representing the nine months of gestation. As a fetus is surrounded by water in the womb of the mother, Tebal is the surrounding of oneself with water. As a baby is born, it comes out from the water into life. Think about the symbolisms for baptism and the birth of a baby.
Esoterically, the Tet tells of goodness and harmony with God, being surrounded. The Beth, our body, heart, home, and a sense of duality (We have this life and new life to come.) The Lamed, for teaching, learning and purpose.
Esoterically, Mikveh (Mem-Qop-Vav-Hei), the bath used for immersion or “baptism” can be interpreted. The Hebrew letter Mem is the word for water, and also represents revealed knowledge of God, His mercy and lovingkindness. The Qop, speaks of holiness, completion and wholeness, the Vav a connection with heaven and earth, redemption, and the Hei, reminds us to pay close attention to the specifics.
Due to the length of this particular study, I wish to stop here with a summary of what I have learned. Baptism has been around since the days of Moses, according to Jewish law. The Old Testament speaks of a ritual cleansing where the High priest immerses himself in water, but also, there are times that sprinkling of water is used.
There are many beautiful symbolisms for Baptism, and as the Hebrew word has shown me, it is a matter of a good heart. With each word study I conduct, I find God is more interested in the change in our spiritual heart, for this is the part that only He can save! The place where He acts to bring someone into salvation. As I feel baptism has its importance, more importantly is a spiritual heart God has changed.