The Roman Catechism (Ad parochos, De bapt., 2, 2, 5) defines baptism thus: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration by water in the word (per aquam in verbo).
To confirm the good dispositions of his listeners, John baptized them in the Jordan, “saying that baptism was good, not so much to free one from certain sins [cf. St. Thom., “Summ. Theol.”, III, A. xxxviii, a. 2 and 3] as to purify the body, the soul being already cleansed from its defilements by justice” (Joseph., “Antiq.”, XVIII, vii). This feature of his ministry, more than anything else, attracted public attention to such an extent that he was surnamed “the Baptist” (i. e. Baptizer) even during his lifetime (by Christ, Matthew 11:11; by his own disciples, Luke 7:20; by Herod, Matthew 14:2; by Herodias, Matthew 14:3). Still his right to baptize was questioned by some (John 1:25); the Pharisees and the lawyers refused to comply with this ceremony, on the plea that baptism, as a preparation for the kingdom of God, was connected only with the Messias (Ezekiel 36:25; Zechariah 13:1, etc.), Elias, and the prophet spoken of in Deut., xviii, 15. John’s reply was that he was Divinely “sent to baptize with water” (John 1:33); to this, later on, our Saviour bore testimony, when, in answer to the Pharisees trying to ensnare him, he implicitly declared that John’s baptism was from heaven (Mark 11:30). Whilst baptizing, John, lest the people might think “that perhaps he might be the Christ” (Luke 3:15), did not fail to insist that his was only a forerunner’s mission: “I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand and he will purge his floor; and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:16, 17). Whatever John may have meant by this baptism “with fire”, he, at all events, in this declaration clearly defined his relation to the One to come.
baptism has its origins with the Jewish ritual of mikvah. The word baptize derives from the Greek word βάπτειν (the infinitive; more commonly indicated by the first person singular present active indicative, βαπτίζω), which loosely means “to dip, bathe, or wash”.
Although the term baptism is not used to describe the Jewish rituals, the purification rites (or Mikvah - ritual immersion) in Jewish laws and tradition are where the ritual of baptism can find its origins. In the Tanakh, and other Jewish texts, immersion in water for ritual purification was established for restoration to a condition of “ritual purity” in specific circumstances. For example, Jews who (according to the Law of Moses) became ritually “defiled” by contact with a corpse had to use the mikvah before being allowed to participate in the Holy Temple. Immersion is required for converts to Judaism as part of their conversion. Through practices such as these, immersion in the mikvah represents purification and restoration, and qualification for full religious participation in the life of the community. (See Numbers Chapter 19.)
In modern times, views regarding the mikvah differ greatly among the Jewish denominations. Owing to the destruction of the Holy Temple, immersion in a mikvah no longer carries its original purpose. In modern times, Reform and Conservative Jews generally do not use the mikvah. Orthodox and Haredi still do. It is required of Orthodox and Conservative converts and those returning to Judaism after a time within another religion, and a woman is required to immerse in a mikvah following menses to purify herself before resuming sexual relations with her husband. For more details see niddah.
John declared that repentance was necessary, prior to forgiveness. There must be a return to God. This implies that the stain of sin is not ineradicable, but can be removed by putting off polluting acts and returning to “the way of the Lord”, all of which was symbolized in his baptism.
So, hopefully this demonstrates the origins of Baptism in Jewish culture and that John was Baptising people to call them back to the ways of the Lord, as regeneration, re-consecrating the people and calling them to repent and follow God- to prepare the way of the Lord.
Our position on Baptism is beautifully explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
(All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, and who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God;30 but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves.)
It appears that one had to accept John’s conviction of ones sins and his baptism of repentence before he could comprehend the forgiving words of Jesus. Or, one could not seek forgiveness until one acknowledged one had sinned and needed forgiveness.
Thus John prepared the people to hear, and understand, Jesus.The Pharisees, who considered themselves sinless, skipped that step and were unable to understand the message of forgiveness.
“a unique baptism in the desert in view of the repentance and pardon (Mk 1:4p). . .The baptism of John set up only a provisional economy: it is a baptism of water which is preparatory to the Messianic baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire,” Xavier Leon-Dufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
It was an external ritual signifying an effort of conversion of the baptized (much as many Protestant denominations look upon baptism today).
The baptism of John was the “mikveh”, a ritualistic bath which was a common “rite” in Jewish worship. However, in the case of the baptism of John, he was applying the mikveh in a particular sense: a sense of conversion to Judaism. What do I mean by this? Quite simply, when one becomes a Jew (even today, in Orthodox Judaism), one has his head shaved and his fingernails and toenails closely cut - as if one is a baby again; and one is immersed into the mikveh (the ritualistic bath) so as to emerge and be “reborn” as a Jew. This is exactly what John was doing as the precursor to the Messiah.
For 2000 years God has asked the people of Israel to keep faith with His Commandments. And for 2000 years the Israelites had failed to do this. Yet, now St. John comes along preaching a baptism of repentance to prepare for the Messiah. Here, what St. John is saying is: “Okay, everybody! Come on back! Become real Jews and truly commit yourself to the Jewish Covenant to which you have been unfaithful. This is what is mean by the “baptism of John” – a baptism into Judaism, into the Jewish Covenant – in preparation for the Messiah’s coming.
However, Jesus’ Baptism will do something greater. It will be the Baptism into a New Covenant – a Baptism into His Church. Here, we must remember that the Greek work for “Church” (Ekklesia) means “those who are called out” –that is, out of Judaism, out of the old Covenant of law and into the New Covenant of love. Thus the church will be that remnant of Israel which, along with the Gentiles, will accept Jesus as their Messiah and King.
And so, John’s baptism was not enough to accomplish this. While John’s baptism made one fit to be a Jew (one faithful to the Covenant), it did not make one “born again” into the new Covenant in Christ – just as Christ tells Nicodemus in John 3. So a new baptism was necessary.
John’s baptism, therefore, was not for the removal of Original Sin and being born into the New Covenant; rather it was a preparation for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit through the Death and Resurrection of Our Savior. It is the Christian baptism by water and the Spirit into His Death and Resurrection that accomplishes in the soul (1 Cor. 1:13; Romans 6:3 & 9) what it signifies – a rebirth into Christ, the Sinless One, who signs us with His Cross and the power of His Resurrection. It is the new and greater “circumcision” that now joins together Jew and Gentile, male and female, adult and babe into the Familial Covenant of Christ.
Just a comment or really question. I read somewhere that the ritual
bathing ,the Mikvah, is necessary after a woman’s menses is complete.
As well as for conversion purposes; once the man is cleansed for conversion
the whole household is then Jewish. I bring the cleansing for conversion up as it may apply apologetically to infant Baptism. Fighting and Kelley, do you know anything about this?
Yes, one of the uses of the Mikvah nowadays is by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth.
Wikipedia tells us-
Traditionally, the mikvah was used by both men and women for various purposes. Everyone was required to immerse in a mikvah after coming into contact with the dead or other ritually unclean (tamei) objects before they could be allowed to enter the Temple in Jerusalem (although to be purified from contact with the dead, sprinkling with the ashes of the Red Heifer was needed in addition to immersion in a mikvah). Nazirites were required to immerse in the mikvah upon completing their vows, Metzorot (“lepers”) were required to immerse as part of the ritual followed upon healing, priests were required to immerse before performing certain Temple rites or before eating Terumah, men were required to immerse after having a nocturnal emission (this is still practiced by some as tevilath Ezra, “the immersion of Ezra”), and women after giving birth or their period of Niddah following menstruation.
Ancient mikvahs dating from Temple times (predating 70 CE) can be found throughout the Land of Israel, as well as in the diaspora.
There’s more on the site, I linked to it in my previous post.
I also read that this idea has great significance for a desert people- God gives precious water which flows in life giving streams, a sign of God’s abundance. It would bear further investigation IMO. It’s an interesting topic!