August 27, 2005
Pastor Hartman has been in the ministry for thirty three years. He graduated from the Institute of Christian Service of Bob Jones University. He also holds B.S. and M.S degrees and post grad work from Columbus State University. He has traveled once to Russia, three times to the Ukraine, twice to England in a humble effort to help the missionaries spread the Gospel of Christ. If you would like to contact Pastor Hartman, please feel free to do so.
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Well what do you know?! The traditions of man, and in this case the Jewish religious traditon of the Mikveh, ends the debate over which mode is correct. The winner is, IMMERSION! Neat. Well, not really. Let me elucidate your understanding.
In the last thirty to fifty years, Mikvoth (plural) have been found almost every were in the Holy Lands. A Mikveh (singular) is simply a hole in the ground. I should hasten to say that many of these Mikvoth were very elaborately finished. You may ask, "what were these Mikvoth used for and why?
The Mikvoth was used for immersion in the act of purification. As you know the Jewish laws required the Jewish people from the time of Moses till Christ to be clean. Mostly it was a ceremonial act. The word Mikveh means a gathering of water. Therefore you could use the ocean for your purification if you could stand the salt. In reality they say that such acts really got started during Solomon's Temple or the Temple period. He built laver's as large as the "seas" and placed them in front of the Temple. In other words they were very large. That is compared to the wilderness laver which had to be fairly small in size in order for the Levites to be able to carry it. As a matter of fact water from that one was drawn out to wash hands and feet. No doubt the water that was used to sprinkle the children of Levi for the office of the priesthood was drawn out of it too. As far as that goes we see that sprinkling was very much a part of the acts of purification with respect to the leper and contact with a dead body. This aspect is largely lost in the Mikveh tradition. Nevertheless it was at the temple of Solomon, many say, that the tradition really started.
As mentioned before, sprinkling was very much a part of the act of purification. That was a command of God to Moses and Aaron. They were to both wash clothing, and wash with water, and wash in water, and surprise - sprinkle. Yet no where can one honestly find anything that would suggest that an actual immersion took place before the Temple period. Nevertheless, that was the general understanding of this tradition by the religious zealots and Pharisees before the destruction of the Herod's temple.
By the time Jesus came on the scene, immersing in a Mikveh was very regulated. The Mikveh comes from the "Oral Torah." According to Peggy Pryor, these laws were hand down via mouth for over 1,500 years. While it concerns God's Word, in this case, it is no less questionable then any other oral tradition that was handed down over that many years. Nonetheless, it is what it is.
There were laws, six to be exact, that regulated a Mikveh. Let's investigate them. First, only water could be used and nothing could be added to it. Second, the pool had to be built in the ground or be a part of a building that was attached to the ground. Third, the water of the Mikveh can not be moving, unless you are using a deep spring or a river. Fourth, the water had to be supplied by natural means. No clay pots could be used, but stone pots which were recognized as pure could be used to fill a Mikveh. Fifth, the water could not be channeled to their purification pools by pipes, clay, metal, or wood. Yet they did have channels to catch rain water for their Mikvoth. And finally, the Mikveh normally had to contain at least 150 to 200 gallons of water.
Before people could use these pools they had to wash themselves to get the dirt off their bodies and that includes the dirt under the finger nails. (No doubt this facet was more like what the Lord commanded in the wilderness which meant applying the water to their bodies.) Many went naked into the pools so as the water would touch every part of their body. (There are recorded immersions by the early Church fathers where men and women were baptized in the nude. Now we know where that comes from.) While under the water, they had to open their eyes, wiggle their fingers and toes to make sure they were completely covered, and there were to be no ribbons and bows in the women's hair. No one dared to immerse them for fear that the point where they held the person while immersing them would not be touched by the water. Some traditions of Mikvoth required people to immerse them selves three times. It was a self immersion. (By the very command to baptize in Matthew some on has to baptize the convert.) These therefore were the requirements for this baptism. I should also hasten to add that some people immersed themselves in these Mikvoth several times a day. It sure doesn't sound like a Christian example of baptism to me. The only close comparison is, and you guessed it, the mode.
Now there were many discussions about Christ being baptized by John during the hay days of this debate when we Methodists showed some holy character. It was in a time when we did not compromise away convictions and doctrines to achieve some sort of ecumenical kum-by-yah. There were two points that this discussion hinged on. First, the preposition of "out of" and "in" and second, the Greek word baptizo itself. As far as the preposition is concerned, you can not build doctrine on the bases of a preposition. The word baptizo can also mean sprinkle, wash, moisten, and etc. In the scripture where the word was used, it was always natural. It only tells us to baptize someone, or that a baptism had occurred, and never the mode.
There is still one other point to be considered concerning Christ's baptism. That was that Christ himself made it clear he came to fulfill the law. Part of that fulfillment took place at the hands of John the Baptist. Now I have always postulated that Christ was sprinkled because that was the ritual that was ordered by God himself for priests to serve in the tabernacle and later the temple. We find this in Leviticus.
Now I don't want to mess up this Mikveh fervor, so let me propose this. Let's say that Jesus was immersed. You see, Christ told John he came to fulfill the law. Now if the Law really required immersion, and not the rabbinic traditions of immersion, then we are no longer bound by that mode. Christ did it for us. It is finished in him. It is finish just like many of the other laws that Christ fulfilled. Just like Christ was the Lamb who shed his blood for us, there needs to be no more lamb slain for the sins of man.
For the person who insists that the Mikveh proves that immersion is the only scriptural mode of baptism, both because of Jewish tradition, and the word baptizo itself, you can't have them. Immersion was fulfilled in Christ. That mode of baptism is no longer necessary. Sadly, for the immersionists, the prophets say clearly that Christ came to "sprinkle many nations" and not to immerse many nations.