How did baptism originate? What is the origin of baptism?
Baptism is the public expression of a person's faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation in Jesus is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, Jesus commanded all Christians to be baptized when they believed (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus was personally baptized as an example for Christians to follow (Matthew 3:13-17). The apostles were baptized and also baptized others who believed. However, before this, John the Baptist had already had a ministry that called the Jewish people to repentance and included baptism as a sign of repentance: "John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mark 1:4-5). John's baptism was one of repentance rather than salvation.
Prior to John the Baptist, baptism had already existed in Jewish culture. Some believe it was associated with the cleansing of the priests with water before performing their priestly duties (Leviticus 16:4). Leviticus 16:23-24 notes, "Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out."
Regardless of whether this was the origin of baptism, Jewish history shows that Jewish cleansing ceremonies that resembled baptism clearly existed during the intertestamental period prior to John the Baptist. His ministry likely used this existing practice as a method to call the general public to repentance prior to Christ's ministry.
Following Christ's ministry, early believers were baptized after professing faith in Jesus. On the day the church began on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, we are told, "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). Other notable baptisms include the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) and the baptism of Paul (Acts 9:18).
Still today, it is expected that believers are baptized: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). By doing so, the Christian publicly expresses allegiance to Jesus and association with other Christians. Though there are many other questions today about how and when baptism is performed, Scripture is clear regarding its importance for those who follow Jesus Christ.
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