Were people taken to bodies of water to be baptized?

This was off topic in another thread but I would like to explore the assertion

I asked but have not yet received an answered where the 3000 were taken to be baptized?

Acts 2

41 They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.

So were people always taken to be baptized to a body of water?

Baptizing in actual bodies of water seems to have been the preferred practice, yes, though we do not know what form of water was used in the case of the 3000 on Pentecost.

The Didache, which is either a first- or second-century source and the earliest “how-to” manual we have for the Christian sacraments, states that immersion in “living” (running) water is to be preferred, or if not that then pouring of “living” water over the head, or if not that then pouring of stored water over the head. So even from that early point non-immersive baptism (infusion/pouring) was considered valid but immersion was preferred. Nowadays we might say that immersion has greater “sign value,” much like receiving under both forms at Communion even though either alone is the entire Christ.

Baptists are interesting because they are very insistent about a specific manner of baptism and yet they simultaneously reject the idea that baptism actually does anything besides display obedience and allegiance. The apostolic churches are slightly more relaxed about the manner (though we, too, have our rules) but insist that baptism is the actual act by which regeneration occurs.

Also interesting is that much art of Jesus’ baptism depicts Him standing in the Jordan but having the water poured over His head by John. So even the use of a body of water does not dictate immersion as the sole method (though the evidence of the Didache does support the Baptists on immersion being the favored method).


No, not always. The ones I think you are referring to were in Jerusalem, which had many pools near the Temple, plus the Jordan was only (I think) a half-day walk away, I believe. I don’t see any reference there in the quote you gave to taking all 3000 people to a river or lake. But when St. Paul was in prison, he baptized his jailers and others. He probably used a cup of water from a bucket in the cell, since I’m sure the rest of the guards wouldn’t have let him walk to the nearest river. Both Immersion (under water with the whole body), pouring water over the head and sprinkling as well are recognized licit forms of baptism. It is not the amount of water which gives a soul the blessings of Baptism – it is the FORM ie, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. That is what Jesus told the disciples to do – to baptize “in the name of …” He never specified that everyone had to go to a river, a pond or a lake. John baptized in the Jordan because in the Jewish Tradition, cleansing was accomplished by “living” (flowing) water, not water in a container, unless the water had been drawn from flowing water, rather than “stagnant” or “non-living waters”. Probably Peter also sometimes baptized in the Catacombs using a cup of water, as it wasn’t always safe to take new believers to the banks of the Tiber River (which wasn’t a very clean river even then, since a lot of sewers emptied into it from Rome). He may have also baptized during his short time in prison in Rome, prior to his execution. That also, would have been done with just a cup of water.

A nice summary! :thumbsup:

It seems to me that immersion was a originally a Jewish ritual. When Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist, Scripture does not say that He had been immersed. While it can be supposed that many were immersed when being baptized, I think that if one were going to baptize hundreds of people immersion might take a long time to do. As judinurse said in her post St. Paul baptized while in prison so he must have used a cup of water to do so, and Jesus said to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, He did not say that they had to be baptized by being immersed in a body of water. beside what if someone was wanting to be baptized and they lived hundreds of mile from the nearest body of water and they were dying would it make any sense to say to that person that to be baptized one had to be immersed in a body of water? Baptizing in water is a outward sign, it is the form not the water. The water is the sign of being cleansed, it is the form that is important, in so far that there is the desire and also baptism by blood.

People from the entire region of Judea and areas beyond were baptized by John in the Jordan river.

***Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. *(Matthew 3:5-6)

Those in Jerusalem made the 20 mile trip through the desert to nearly the lowest point on earth to be baptized by John. So it should be no surprise that 3000 were baptized in one day on Pentecost. Ten people performing one baptism per minute could baptize 3000 people in five hours.

And the 3000 baptized on Pentecost represents a reversal of the apostasy commited when Israel worshiped the golden calf at Mt. Sinai.

*And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. (Exodus 32:28)

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)*

Three thousand perished at Mt. Sinai and three thousand were added at Pentecost. Pentecost is a reversal of Mt. Sinai.



I never thought of that comparison, Tim H. That’s interesting. Of course, some comparisons can reach too far trying to stretch a point, but this one makes sense.


Did the Philippian jailer take Paul and Barnabas down to the river in the dead of night?

It doesn’t sound reasonable.

We do not know how many were baptizing. If it were only the Apostles, that would be 250 apiece. I am not questioning if that many could be baptized in one day but where. To have 3000 make a twenty mile trip seems unlikely to me. It would take a man according to a search I did five hours to walk to the Jordon. It seems to me that if you add 2999 more that the sheer number would increase the amount of time.
I believe that the statement that they were taken to a body of water is false:shrug: More than likely the water was poured on them.

The Scriptures do not tell us WHERE they were baptized, only that 3000 souls were added that day. Doesn’t even mean they were all baptized that same day – could have taken several days. Also, besides the Apostles, there were at least 70 “disciples” among the followers of Jesus who came to Jerusalem that year for Passover. They could have assisted by taking groups to where the Apostles were. There were a number of rather large “pools” around the Temple and City. Many were within the City and not actually a part of the Temple proper. Each of them could hold from 25 - 50 people at a time. Each Apostle could have been at a different pool, and a few might have been taken to the Jordan River – perhaps a couple of hundred. It really doesn’t matter. The Scripture says 3000 souls were added to the “believers” that day. It does it say 3000 were :“baptized” on that day. If so, then they were. I can believe it. If they started in the morning, they could finish by midafternoon. Takes about 2 minutes or less per person. Why the hang-up on WHERE, the important part of this Scripture is that 3000 BELIEVERS were added that day.

Did you read the OP?

It is stated that immersion is what was practiced in Scripture. I don’t think so that is the reason where is important.

I know of pools around the temple. Would you like to give a source that they were large and how many? I doubt if they would have been used for immersion baptism for a crowd. .

How do you think the 3000 were added?

There were a number of pools, some have been recently found at the foot of the Temple Mount. Some were believed to heal when “an angel stirred the waters”. Others were used for ritual cleansing prior to prayer – washing the hands to the elbows, and the face prior to prayer. I don’t know precisely how many, but I would imagine that the Romans added a few to Jerusalem as well, since they were big on fountains and pools. Yes, immersion was the practice and is still recommended per the Catechism, but it is usually done as shown in early Church art: a person stood in the river, or pool, or knelt and water was poured from a clay cup or jug over the head. Generally, the full immersion of the body was not done then, since it was in public with both men and women. In fact, every Jewish village had such a pool, with flowing spring water, as men immersed for cleansing for ritual after they had become unclean – such as preparing a body for burial (including family members), women had to be cleansed after childbirth and also monthly after their “moon time”. Where were they immersed? I don’t know. But if they had that large a crowd converted, I think they would have gone to the Jordan or if there were a clean stream nearby (upstream of the city, obviously) they might have gone there. The Jordan is very likely, even with such a large group, since John had baptized many there, and the banks of the Jordan, and surrounding area would have been large enough (& outside the city and Temple jurisdiction). The 3000 would have gone in the same manner as 5000 or more followed Jesus around Galilee. Some on foot, some on donkeys. It is possible. Yes, I think immersion was often done in the early Church as it was the preferred manner of baptism, although pouring the water was permitted and acceptable when rivers were not available. I doubt they dunked them completely under.

The earliest art drawings in the Church (some done from memory of those who saw such baptisms) showed a man standing on the bank of the river, a person standing about waist deep in the river, and water being poured on their heads from a cup. In fact, the earliest artwork drawings of the Baptism of Jesus by John, shows Jesus standing about waist deep in the Jordan and John on the edge of the bank pouring water from a cup on His head. That’s likely what they did in Jerusalem – went out to the Jordan. The Jordan River also had great religious significance to the Jews, dating back to Joshua. I don’t know if they did all 3000 in one day, but they certainly could have.

I know some churches insist that ONLY immersion is acceptable, some use sprinkling. According to what I’ve read in the Church teachings, immersion is preferred, but pouring is usually used more commonly and is acceptable in Church teaching. None of the Baptismal fonts I’ve seen --(except a few in ancient churches) were large enough for an adult, or even a child to stand in one. In the Apostolic times, they preferred to use a river, stream or lake. But when none were available, they simply poured water drawn from a spring (a well) and used that, as it was considered “living” water, as wells came from underground springs.

Hi judynurse: great information!!! I have yet to find in the New Testament anything that says one has to be immersed in order to be Baptized. While at the time immersion may have been the custom, it would in time not be practicable to immerse everyone wanting to be baptized since there are places where there is little to no water for immersion in order to baptize someone. Did you find something where immersion was to be the means in order to baptize someone?

Anyone baptized in Jerusalem would have been immersed in the mikveh baths. Mikvaot (plural) were common at the time of Jesus and used for ritual purification. Essene Jews would immerse themselves in the mikveh daily.

***Mikveh is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. The word “mikveh”, as used in the Hebrew Bible, literally means a “collection” – generally, a collection of water. *Reference en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikveh

Mikvaot are still used and very common today in Jewish communities. Pictures of ancient and modern mivaot are at google.com/search?q=mikveh&client=firefox-a&hs=yil&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=oNnSUrvYJ5HlsASqnIK4DA&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1680&bih=930#imgdii=_

An ancient mikveh purification bath from the time of Jesus is show below.


Actually I do have!! From my Priest – a teaching placed in our Bulletins this weekend:

“Treasures From Our Tradition”
“Through the centuries, artists and craftspeople have depicted Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John. At first in mosaics and frescoes, and later in tapestries, stained glass and paintings, the scene is is familiar. Jesus is standing waist-high in flowing water. Above Him, standing on dry land, John the Baptist pours water over Jesus. The first artists to depict this were sketching from memory. This is exactly how most people were baptized in the early days: as adults, standing or kneeling in the water, with water poured over their heads.
This method of baptizing, called immersion, is the favored way today. An adult enters a font, or an infant is lowered a bit into the water supported by a parent’s hand, and water is poured or splashed over them. The treasures of baptistery art attest that submersion, or plunging beneath the water’s surface, is not really in our tradition, and that “infusion”, the mere pouring of a few DROPS of water, yields too narrow an understanding of what it means to be plunged into Christ’s life. Jesus Christ has gone before us into the water, and waits for us there with abundant gifts. No wonder the tradition calls for abundant symbols!”

Of course, in modern times, actually having a “baptismal font” large enough for an adult to stand in is not common in Catholic Churches, but the “pouring” of the water is still traditional, rather than “sprinkling”. The use of “Sprinkling” of Holy Water, is generally used at Masses, when the Priest, using a short rod, and dipping into a bucket reserved for the purpose, “sprinkles” the entire congregation, while processing up and down the aisles, scattering droplets of Holy Water across the pews of people.

Does this help? Father got it from one of the Books on the Traditions of the Fathers. He usually has one of these “Traditions” in every Bulletin each week.

Judynurse: Yes it helps! However, I was thinking more from Scripture than from art etc… I do not doubt that early Christians baptized by immersion, and it may have been a common way of baptizing. yet, I tend to think that at some point, depending on the situation, water being pored on the head and not by immersion became common at some point in time. So far as I have been able to comb through the New Testament I have not been able to find anything that say one has to be immersed when being baptized, which I see I was not being clear about in my quarry.

Also, Timothy H was correct that there were a LOT of ritual baths in Jerusalem as well as one in every village of Jews. Each one could have been used in almost any part of Jerusalem and there were dozens, if not hundreds, since each neighborhood would have had at least one, and probably two (one for men, one for women), although since the water is from springs, both could use one Mikvah, as a woman using it prior to a man could not “contaminate” it, as the water she used would flow away. One Apostle could baptize a couple hundred people in any one of these, as they can come down the stairs, then go up while another comes down, as you can see from the photo from Jerusalem. There were also a number of pools which were larger, outside of the Temple precincts, most at the foot of the Temple Mount, which were used, and one, at least, was believed to heal “when the Angel stirred the waters”. All were connected to underground springs, therefore were “living waters”.

It does state in the Scriptures that Paul often baptized while in prison. Certainly he used a cup and poured the water while saying the Triune formula, as Jesus taught the Apostles to do. Peter also baptized in the Catacombs, as did the Elders in Rome and other cities, who were actually in hiding. Taking a group of people to a river for immersion was very likely to reveal them to the local or Roman authorities and get them killed prior to even being baptized! (or at least imprisoned and then killed in an arena or otherwise). The full immersion (even to the knees, or waist), was never specifically prescribed by either Jesus or the Apostles. It simply would have been more traditional when they COULD, simply as a result of the Baptism of Jesus, and because Jesus, apparently baptized new believers even at the Sea of Capernaum (which was fresh water fed by the Jordan River). It would appeal to them to do so when they could, in remembrance or copying of John’s baptism of Jesus, but as soon as persecution began, they probably went to pouring from a cup indoors instead. So, I think the custom of pouring water on the head probably started even during the lives of the Apostles. Especially those who taught out in desert areas, where pools were pretty rare, as was water. So, no, immersion is NOT required, it was simply the “preferred” manner of Baptism, the pouring from a cup has been common since the time of the Apostles. There is nothing in the Bible which required Baptism by immersion or pouring – it only requires the FORM be correct – and that Water be used - not any other liquid (such as wine); Baptizing "in the Name of…etc. Does that clear this up?

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