What was the water baptism that John performed?

This thread is going to look to answer three questions:

  1. Who was John the Baptist?
  2. What was the water baptism that he performed?
  3. Who was he performing it on?

To begin with, I want to cite the four Gospels to validate that John was baptizing with water.

Luke 3:16 - John (the Baptist) answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water . . .”

John 1:26 - John (the Baptist) answered them saying, “I baptize in water,”

Mark 1:9 - In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

Matt 3:55 - Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by John (the Baptist) in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.

This thread is Part II in a series that I started. Part I explores the multiple meaning for the word baptize (bapto and baptizo in the greek) and in (eis, en, epi in the greek). The thread went on to explain how bapto and baptizo didn’t mean ‘to immerse’ to a jew or greek in the 1st century. The words bapto and baptizo can best be described as the effect dye has on cloth when it is applied. I have provided the link to that topic:

Baptism meant more than one thing at the time of Jesus’ Ministry (Part I of this series)

I’m going to begin with question #1. If anyone would like to begin with questions #2 or #3 – please, do so.

To understand who John was, turn your bibles to where the New Testament begins . . . . .
now . . . . flip back one page to where the Old Testament ends.

  1. Who was John the Baptist?

Malachi 4:5

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.

Matt 17:10 And (Jesus’) disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12 but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.

Also . .

Mt 11:14 - "And if you are willing to accept {it,} John himself is Elijah who was to come.

Who was Elijah?

Elijah prophesied against Ahab and Jezebel. They were the King and Queen of Northern Israel (Their story begins in 1 King 16:29).
Jezebel brought tree worship into the temple. It was the establishment of tree worship in the temple that lead to the ultimate downfall of Northern Israel (2 Kings 17:16-23) and later, Southern Judah (Jer. 2:1-3:25).

  1. What was the water baptism that he performed?

Proselyte Baptism:

After the scattering of Northern Israel in 722 BC by the Assyrians and Southern Judah by Babylon in 586 BC, the religious orders of the Pharisees and Sadducees were established in Babylon. The Pharisees developed the Hallakkah and Haggaddah – the oral and written commentaries to the Law of Moses, which was never commanded by the Lord either (Deut 4:12, 12:32).

It was the tradition of the Pharisees that said any Jew (much less a gentile) born outside the gates of Jerusalem proper was considered unclean. Therefore the Pharisees created a standardized method, to make the proselyte a natuarlized member of the jewish community. This was called Proselyte Baptism, and it consisted of 3 things:

  1. circumcision
  2. washed in water (also called a new birth by the Jews)
  3. offering of 2 turtledoves

Although these three elements were in the Law of Moses, God never commanded them for the use the Pharisees had in mind.

The ritual of circumsion was performed on Jesus (Luke 2:21).
Joseph and Mary performed the custom of offering two turtle doves (Luke 2:24).
Jesus, as a full grown man, completed the tradition of water baptism (Matt. 3:13).

The water baptism that John performed was for the Jews only


You cannot find the word baptism or any of its derivatives in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Baptism was not an official part of Judaism as it reshaped itself during and after the Exile in Babylon (most of the sixth century B.C.). Baptism was, however, practiced unofficially by some Jewish people in the century before and after Jesus’ birth.

In this context, baptism was a sign of general repentance and thus could be repeated (as altar calls can be among Protestants). At Qumran on the west side of the Dead Sea, the Jews known as Essenes practiced a baptism of repentance during Jesus’ lifetime. Some scholars think this group may have influenced John’s ministry.

Around the same time, ritual baths for purification became more common among Jews in urban areas. These were obviously not possible during the desert years under Moses. If you go to the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem today, you can see houses with ritual baths dating back almost 20 centuries.

Eventually, some confusion arose concerning the baptism conferred by John the Baptist and the Sacrament of Baptism given by Jesus’ disciples. In Matthew 3:11, John describes his baptism as being “with water” while Jesus’ Baptism will be “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

In Acts 8:14-17, the apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and John to baptize some Samaritans who had been baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” but had not yet been baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Later we meet Apollos, a Jewish man instructed in the Way of the Lord (Christianity) but who “knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). Priscilla and Aquila explained to him the Baptism that Jesus’ disciples used. In Ephesus, Paul rebaptized those who had received only the baptism of John (Acts 19:1-5).

The relationship of John’s baptism to Christian Baptism is directly addressed in Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8 and Luke 3:16.


old threads on the topics:


John the Baptist was a High Priest

**Luke1 **

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

5In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the** daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. ** 6They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

7But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

8Now it happened that while he was performing his **priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, **

9according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

10And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.

11And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.

12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.

13But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.

14"You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

15"For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and **he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. **

16"And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.

17"It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

18Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”

All male generations from Aaron are priests

Exodus 28:41
After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests.

Refer to EXODUS 28,29 and 30

The Priestly Garments 28

Consecration of the Priests 29

The Altar of Incense 30

An ordained priest anoints the new king

1 Samuel 16
Samuel Anoints David

1 The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? **Fill your horn with oil **and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king."

1 Samuel 16:13
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

Jesus is king

John 12:15
"Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt."

John 18:36
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

John 18:37
"You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Jesus the new king **
** Is anointed by the priest St. John the Baptist**

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to** fulfill all righteousness**.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

i believe it was a ritual cleansing

…with a twist—perhaps?

I am disappointed, tabcom. I think that is not an adequate summary of the thread. Everyone else (except yourself) in the thread coudl agree that bapto and batizo could also have other meanings (other than immersion in water). Apparently your preconceived notions that water baptism has been done away with have colored your parsing of the Greek, as well as the discussion about that topic. :tsktsk:

You have stated the the Saducees and Pharisees created customs that God did not decree or sanction.

Then you state that Jesus complied with these customs.

Therefore, God has complies with customs created by men that He did not decree or sanction.

Unless, of course, Jesus is not God?

  1. John the Baptist was the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth.
    Zacharias was Levite priest, so John was a levite.
    John was also a Nazarite, which would be kind of like a monk today.
    (As a Levite, it is interesting to note that he baptized Jesus when Jesus turned 30, this was the age in which a Levite priest could be ordained in the old testament, and the age Jesus began his ministry.)
    John probably also was an Essene.

  2. John baptized them in the Jordan, "saying that baptism was good, not so much to free one from certain sins as to purify the body, the soul being already cleansed from its defilements by justice"
    His baptism, was also a preparation for the kingdom of God

  3. Both Jews and Gentiles.



Yes, God did comply with the custom of water baptism (Luke 3:16 - John 1:26 - Mark 1:9 - Matt 3:55).

Why would Jesus do that? Would the Pharisees have recognized Him at all if He didn’t conform to their rituals?

In order for Jesus to be recognized as the Son of David, He had to be accepted by the Pharisees as a Jew. That could only be accomplished by performing their rituals.

But God does not approve of oral traditions, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is full of metaphoric language rejecting the oral traditions of the Pharisees.

Jesus states that He didn’t come to destroy the Law (Matt. 5:17). What He destroyed is the Pharisees’ oral tradtions everytime He used the phrase, ‘You have heard’, or ‘It has been said’. (Matt. 5:21,27,31,33,38,43). These phrases are followed by, “But I say”.

IMHO, I disagree. The Hallakkah and Haggaddah – the oral and written commentaries to the Law of Moses – was created by the Jews in Babylon and was never intended for the Gentiles. Specifically, the ritual of water baptism to a Jew was performed if you were born outside the gates of Jerusalem.

source please?

Sources please?

I agree with you on this point, but you have not established that baptism was part of the Pharisaic practice.

Are you just making this up, or do you intend to provide a reference for us? I don’t care if you made it up, reallly, but don’t try to pass it off as authoritative. To this point it is just an opinion of yours that you are using to negate the validity of water baptism.

A more detailed account can be found in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Chapter 3

St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica
Also New Advent Catholic encyclopedia

That wasn’t directed toward you, runandsew, but to tabcom. He is asserting that John’s baptism:

“saying that baptism was good, not so much to free one from certain sins as to purify the body, the soul being already cleansed from its defilements by justice”

but he gave no reference. this comment is not found anywhere in the OT or NT, then when I asked for sources, that is where he said he got it. I want specifics, or it is just another wild opinion.

He also said that Jews born outside the city gates were not considered “Jews” until they were baptized, and that this is why the baptism of John was accepted, which he has not substantiated either.

And he said that Jesus was baptized by John in order to gain recognition from the Pharisees, which doensn’t make any sense either because the Pharisees did not recognize John, or his baptsim, or his witness to Jesus.

To better understand what John meant when he was referring to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, I’ve supplied this passage from ‘The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah’ by Alfred Edersheim

A review of many passages on the subject shows that, in the Jewish mind the expression ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ referred, not so much to any particular period, as in general to the Rule of God - as acknowledged, manifested, and eventually perfected. Very often it is the equivalent for personal acknowledgment of God: the taking upon oneself of the ‘yoke’ of ‘the Kingdom,’ or of the commandments - the former preceding and conditioning the latter.65 Accordingly, the Mishnah66 gives this as the reason why, in the collection of Scripture passages which forms the prayer called 'Shema,'67 the confession, Deut. vi. 4 &c., precedes the admonition, Deut. xi. 13 &c., because a man takes upon himself first the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and afterwards that of the commandments. And in this sense, the repetition of this Shema, as the personal acknowledgment of the Rule of Jehovah, is itself often designated as 'taking upon oneself the Kingdom of Heaven.'68 Similarly, the putting on of phylacteries, and the washing of hands, are also described as taking upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of God.69 To give other instances: Israel is said to have taken up the yoke of the Kingdom of God at Mount Sinai;70 the children of Jacob at their last interview with their father;71 and Isaiah on his call to the prophetic office,72 where it is also noted that this must be done willingly and gladly. On the other hand, the sons of Eli and the sons of Ahab are said to have cast off the Kingdom of Heaven.73 While thus the acknowledgment of the Rule of God, both in profession and practice, was considered to constitute the Kingdom of God, its full manifestation was expected only in the time of the Advent of Messiah. Thus in the Targum on Isaiah xl. 9, the words ‘Behold your God!’ are paraphrased: ‘The Kingdom of your God is revealed.’ Similarly,74 we read: 'When the time approaches that the Kingdom of Heaven shall be manifested, then shall be fulfilled that “the Lord shall be King over all the earth.”'75 76 On the other hand, the unbelief of Israel would appear in that they would reject these three things: the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of the House of David, and the building of the Temple, according to the prediction in Hos. iii. 5.77 It follows that, after the period of unbelief, the Messianic deliverances and blessings of the ‘Athid Labho,’ or future age, were expected. But the final completion of all still remained for the ‘Olam Habba,’ or world to come. And that there is a distinction between the time of the Messiah and this ‘world to come’ is frequently indicated in Rabbinic writings.78

Do to limitations within the body of this post, the footnotes have been withheld.

To quote Alfred Edersheim from Appendix 12
’THE BAPTISM OF PROSELYTES’ in his book ‘The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah’,

“Only those who have made study of it can have any idea how large, and sometimes bewildering, is the literature on the subject of Jewish Proselytes and their Baptism.”

To answer your question, no, I’m not making this up. And, I don’t have the citation from Jewish literature to provide as a reference at this time.

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