Origin of Baptism

In Mark's Gospel, we discover the New Testament’s first mention of baptism.  There, we find John the Baptizer in the wilderness baptizing people who were a part of the Covenant Community (Hebrews), most of whom had been physically marked with the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (circumcision) and had considered themselves as the “in-with-God” people. Jesus, both the Covenant-giver and member of the Covenant Community, approached John to be baptized.  Once baptized, Mark wrote that the heavens were opened, the Spirit descended, and the Father’s voice sounded: “You are My beloved Son.  With You I am well pleased!”  Holy Spirit empowerment, clarity in identity and affirmation in value are offered Jesus before His ministry even began.

Before Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptizer referred to Jesus as the One who will baptize with Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11).  After Jesus’ baptism, we learn that He never baptized anyone with water but that His disciples did (John 4:2), and that part of our vocation as followers of Jesus is to disciple-make by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28).  The New Testament continues with frequent mention of the practice of baptism.

 Baptism seems to be a central practice of the Jesus Community but what is its origin?

 In the beginning…

Our Story begins with the Creator speaking existence into being.  The poetry of Genesis 1 portrays the Artisan God inviting creation to rise up from the depths.  New Life emerged thru water on the prompting of the Creator.

In the home of a desperate Hebrew slave…

Our Story continues with the surprisingly reproductive Covenant Community enslaved in the brick kilns of Egypt.  The Pharaoh enacted genocide through the drowning of any newborn Hebrew boy.  One mother would not let anyone else throw her beloved son into the Nile…eventually, though, she had to do it herself.  She placed her baby boy in a basket and placed him in the waters of the Nile, only to be rescued by the Dictator’s own daughter.  Rescue came thru water.

In between walls of water…

The boy, named Moses, grew up and was invited by God to participate in the liberation of the Covenant Community from Egypt.  Their route to freedom seemed to dead-end at the Red Sea.  However, God parted the Red Sea and they walked through the water to their freedom.  Freedom came thru water.

Into the Promsied Land…

After a 40-year wilderness wander, Moses’ predecessor, Joshua, led the Covenant Community to the brink of the Promised Land.  All they had to do was cross the Jordan River and they would be there.  Again, God parted the waters and they walked through to receive God’s Promise.  God’s Promise came thru water.

In our Story, new life, rescue, freedom, and God’s Promises all came thru water.

Back to Mark 1…

John the Baptizer came to prepare the way for the One who would make all things new by bringing rescue and freedom to the community of humanity as the very embodiment of God’s Promise.  Thus, borrowing from his own Story, the ritual that John the Baptizer chose to prepare the people involved bringing them thru water.

The baptism of repentance that John offered the Covenant Community, therefore, required a radical act of individual commitment to belong to God's Community.

Why so radical?

Because those being baptized (the already-circumcised, in-with-God people) had to admit that being born a Jew guaranteed them nothing.  Because they had to acknowledge that what counted was not who their parents were, but whom they lived for.  Because in order to be baptized by John, they had to renounce their dependency on ethnic Jewishness and rely wholly on the mercy of God.