What was the Baptism of St. John the Baptist?


If Baptism for the remission of sins is under the New Covenant, then what exactly was the Baptism of St. John the Baptist?

Thanks in advance and God bless.

It was a baptism of repentence. It was not sacramental, though. A sacramental baptism makes us a part of Christ’s body, opens ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, infuses us with grace, initiates us into Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

The Baptism of John was solely for repentance; the Baptism of Jesus is of the Holy Spirit.

John’s mission was a precursor ministry.

It was a baptism of penance:

In these words, as Bede says (on Mark 1:4), a twofold baptism of penance may be understood. one is that which John conferred by baptizing, which is called “a baptism of penance,” etc., by reason of its inducing men to do penance, and of its being a kind of protestation by which men avowed their purpose of doing penance. The other is the baptism of Christ, by which sins are remitted, and which John could not give, but only preach, saying: “He will baptize you in the Holy Ghost.”

Or it may be said that he preached the “baptism of penance,” i.e. which induced men to do penance, which penance leads men on to “the remission of sins.”

Or again, it may be said with Jerome [Another author on Mark 1 (inter op. Hier.)] that “by the baptism of Christ grace is given, by which sins are remitted gratis; and that what is accomplished by the bridegroom is begun by the bridesman,” i.e. by John. Consequently it is said that “he baptized and preached the baptism of penance unto remission of sins,” not as though he accomplished this himself, but because he began it by preparing the way for it.


The sign of Christian baptism is the water, but we are baptized with the Spirit. John’s baptism was literally just water.

SalamKhan, here’s more on the significance of St. John the Baptist’s baptism contrasted with the Sacrament of Baptism:
The rite of baptism, a symbolic act signifying sincere repentance as well as a desire to be spiritually cleansed in order to receive the Christ, was so strongly emphasized by John that people began to call him “the baptizer.” The Scriptures tell us of the day when Jesus joined the group of those who wished to receive baptism at John’s hands. John knew Jesus for the Messiah they had so long expected, and at first excused himself as unworthy. Then, in obedience to Jesus, he acquiesced and baptized Him. Although sinless, Jesus chose to be baptized in order to identify Himself with the human lot. And when He arose from the waters of the Jordan, where the rite was performed, “the heavens opened and the Spirit as a dove descended. And there came a voice from the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased” (Mark i, 11).* (from the EWTN website, article called St. John the Baptist the Precurser.

Just as the Old Testament is about the New Testament, and just as it is full of foreshadowings and types to be illuminated and realized in the New Testament, so is St. John’s baptism a foreshadowing of the Sacrament of Baptism: the Sacrament is a reality which really causes in the soul that which it signifies, rather than staying on the symbolic level alone.

Hope that helps.

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