Baptism – a Study


Reviewing the real thing before examining the counterfeits.

Baptism – vocabulary

Tabal – Hebrew to wash, dip – translated in the LXX as baptizo

Rachats – Translated as wash or bathe

Bapto – Greek to dip, wash – used to express the dipping of a garment for dyeing, dipping of finger into sacrificial blood, the washing of hands

                Baptizo, Baptismos – Greek to dip, immerse, sink, wash

Connected concepts:

2 Kings 5:10 – go and wash (rachats),  v14 and dipped (tabal) himself…
(Sproul – pg 48-51)

Old Testament Examples – all form our understanding of baptism

Lev 4:6 – dipping finger in blood – tabal (Hebrew)  bapto (LXX)

Lev 16:4, 23-24 – Aaron washing – rachats (Hebrew)

Eze 23:15 dyed

Dan 4:30 – bathed (with dew)

In the Old Testament, the words translated from Hebrew to the Greek words bapto or baptiso indicate they were used both of dipping and washing in mundane and ceremonial contexts. (1)

The simple vocabulary / word study misses the intent and context of baptism. Which is a ceremonial washing, a ceremonial purification. (Not arguing mode here, rather arguing intent.)

The problem with focusing on the meanings and roots of the words associated with baptism is that it misses the greater intent and context of the idea, which has to do with ceremonial cleansing. (2)

What was done with the blood and water of purification after the tabal (dipping)?

Lev 4:6, 17, 14:7, 16, 27 -… and sprinkle part of the blood…

Num 19:18-21 – water sprinkled for cleansing

Isa 52:13-15 – so shall he sprinkle many nations – BIG PROMISE!

Eze 36:25 – I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean…

New Testament Fulfillment

Preparatory Ceremony / Cleansing – preparatory cleansing prior to the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Making the way (the people/etc) read for the Lord.

John’s baptism – John 1:23John’s baptism was preparatory pointing to the coming of the Messiah and the need for Israel to repent. (3) 

John 1:31 – 33 – John’s baptism lead to the revealing of the promised Messiah (Act 19:4)

Matt 3:10-12 – pointed to the immediacy of the kingdom of God.

Ceremonial washingThe Jews already had a set of ceremonial washings they participated in.  Baptism wasn’t unheard of in Jewish ceremony, the jars used by Jesus to turn water into wine were for Jewish purification rites.

Mark 7:2-4, pp Matt 15:2 – Jesus’ disciples’ failure to obey Jewish customary washings upset the Pharisees

John 2:6 – Large stone jars, many gallons each, filled with water for Jewish rites of purification

Heb 9:10 – Various ceremonial washings (baptismos)

  • So far all we have learned is that baptism is a ceremonial washing that has connections with various washings, dipping and purification rights of the Old Testament
  • Notice none of the occasions that baptism is done in the New Testament is the water anything but river water, well water, or otherwise normal water. There is nothing special about the water.

The Covenant of Grace  – (pgs 25 – 31)

God is a covenant making and keeping God. Throughout the Old Testament God makes several covenants with man.  The major over-arching covenants are the “Covenant of Redemption” (a Trinitarian covenant between the members of the Trinity to redeem man, “Covenant of Works” (made with Adam in the Garden), and the “Covenant of Grace” – the covenant by which God establishes that he will freely and graciously redeem man from sin through the sacrifice of His own Son.  There are other covenants between God and man in Scripture, but these are the archetypes and/or originators of the rest. We focus on the COG.

Gen 15:1-17 – God made a promise to Abraham to bless him and to be His God.  God swears by himself, because there is no one greater to swear by (Heb 6:13-14)

God is saying: ‘If I fail to keep my promises to you, may I be cut in two like these animals.’ (pg 37) – keep this concept in mind, with the shedding of blood and the threat of judgment for failure.

Signs/Seals – Thus it is established that covenants have signs pointing to aspects/conditions of the covenant and seals, marks of agreement or inclusion in the covenant.   Covenants are sealed with initiation rites, bloody ceremonies expressing conditions and penalties of the covenant. (5)

Gen 17:9-14 – Later God establishes the rite of circumcision wherein the males of the household of Abraham are circumcised in their foreskin, later all those who join themselves to Israel must be circumcised.

Covenant signs/seals have dual roles – Pointing to blessings: circumcision signified the cutting and removal of sin from the flesh and the setting apart of the people for God. (6)

Circumcision is both a sign pointing to the idea that the heart of the sign bearer would have sin removed from it and a seal of their inclusion in the people of God, it is also a warning of what will happen if the bearer fails to keep the conditions of the covenant. (They will be cut off! Gen 17:4)

After Israel falls into slavery, and when coming out, God establishes the Law to reveal sin but states that (Lev 26:40-42) even after He rescues them and yet they turn away again, God will remember the covenant He made with Abraham.

Eze 16:59-61 – prior to announcing the New Covenant, the prophet states that God will remember the covenant he made “in the days of your youth”… the context of the New Covenant follows in chapter 36 and again in Jeremiah 31. Eze 36:22-32 – the New Covenant promised, a renewal of that covenant made with Abraham, in which God will sprinkle clean water on his people and cleanse them from sin, removing heart of stones and giving hearts of living flesh.

What is the condition of the covenant of grace?

Calvin: In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ.

Francis Turretin: Faith is the sole condition of the covenant because under this condition alone pardon of sins and salvation as well as eternal life are promised…

Charles Hodge: The condition of the covenant of grace, so far as adults are concerned, is faith in Christ…. It is in this last sense only that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. There is no merit in believing. It is only the act of receiving a proffered favour.

Consider what this means for someone who partakes of the covenant sign and seal, but fails to have faith in the Covenant maker.

Covenants have promises and conditions, the condition of the Covenant of Works was perfect obedience, the condition of the Covenant of Grace was/is faith in the Messiah. (7)  (Gal 3:8)


The New Covenant

The bloody signs of the Old Covenant are done away with – as Christ has put away sin once-for-all by one sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:11-27)  (8)

Notice the language:  blood sprinkling of defiled persons, sprinkled the book and all the people, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

No more blood sacrifices or cutting of flesh is needed in the New Covenant.

Baptism REPLACES circumcision because Christ has fulfilled it. (pg 29)

Col 2:11 – 12 – “Gentile believers who have received… baptism… have received an internal circumcision” (pg 29)

Belgic Confession Art. 34

Christ has put an end to every other shedding of blood…

Having abolished, circumcision which was done with blood…

Signifies… that just as water washes away the dirt of the body when it is poured on us and also is seen on the body of the baptized when it is sprinkled on him… the blood of Christ… washes and cleanses from sins and transforms us into the children of God.

Not by the physical water but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God – who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh…

                                WCF 28

… to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his engrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life…

HC 69 – 74

Initiation Rite – new Christians attested to their faith and entry into the church through baptism – it was a sign to others of their belonging to Christ

Matthew 28:19 – … make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…

Acts 2:38, Acts 8:12* (notice addition of women in this passage, ask why the special mention is necessary and what this might indicate for the credo-only position.)

Mark of Identity – Covenantal community (pg 27 – 32)

1 Cor 10:2 / 12:13 – just as circumcision was an identifier of the people of God, baptism is an identifier of God’s people in a new era.  Moses’ crossing the Red Sea is symbolic of baptism in that those who were faithful passed through, while the Egyptians fell under judgment.


Baptism is a Sign (pg 32-44) – points to something

Of our Engrafting into Christ – Eph 11-13, Rom 11:17-24

Of our death to sin, through Christ’s death and resurrection to newness of life – Rom 6:3-4

Of the circumcision of our dead flesh/heart of stone – Eze 36:22-32, Col 2:11-15

Of judgment for unbelievers  and those who fall away – Pharaoh and the Red Sea, the flood and the ark 1 Pet 3:17-22, Esau, Ishmael and others.

“baptism now saves you… as your identity with the people of God through the ark who is Christ will save you from God’s wrath and separating you from those outside.”  

Baptism is a seal – a mark of something

                Of God’s promises to us through the Spirit by faith – Acts 2:38, Eph 1:13, Col 2:12

A mark of our inclusion in the covenant people – Rom 6:4, Eph 4:5


Final thoughts – Baptism is a sign and seal of the New Covenant, replacing circumcision as the rite of the Covenant of Grace by which we are marked as God’s possession and visibly shown God’s gospel plan in a dramatic form, pointing us to salvation by faith in Christ whereby our sins are washed away by his blood shed on the cross and his resurrection to life anew.