There is a distinct dividing line between Christian denominations on the issue of baptism. The formal liturgical churches, as well as some of the lesser liturgical mainstream denominations believe in baptizing babies or children by sprinkling. (Even if an adult is baptized, because they are joining a church for the first time, it is by sprinkling.) In some churches they call this a christening and the baby is “officially” named by the church. The idea is that when baptized, you receive salvation, become part of the body of Christ, and are assured of getting into heaven should you die. Many of these churches then require a confirmation of the baptism by the individual when they get to an age of accountability or around twelve or thirteen years of age. This is the individual's choice to affirm that they want to continue in the body of Christ, believing that they already received salvation and became a member as a baby or child. The specific act of personal repentance (coming to a realization that they are a sinner in need of God's forgiveness, confessing those sins, and asking for forgiveness), accepting the Lord as their personal Savior in an act of faith, and giving their heart and will in submission to God's will for their life is not considered a requirement for baptism (or salvation) as it is in fundamental evangelical churches. This is because salvation is considered accomplished when the sprinkling takes place as a baby. The baptism must be confirmed, though, when one is older. This belief is, as is sprinkling, a man-made tradition. This belief and in fact, these rituals of christening, sprinkling (or pouring water over the head) and confirmation, are not found in the Bible, but can be found in pagan religions.
The fundamental evangelical and Bible churches, as well as Messianic groups, believe that immersion is necessary, as this was the method used in the Bible. Not only is immersion necessary, but it is only performed on an individual who is old enough to have realized their need for salvation, and who has repented and asked the Lord to be his Savior. Thus it is known as the “believer's baptism.” This too is based on a Scriptural premise. Being “born again,” as it is called, is a prerequisite of believer's baptism.
To understand and show which is the proper Biblical practice and why, it is first necessary to look at the history of baptism and then the Scriptural teachings on it. First we will look at the history of infant baptism and then the history of immersion or believer's baptism.
This baptism meant much more than just being born into the Babylonian Mysteries. The pagans of those days did not observe quite the same social customs and laws that we do nowadays. They practiced polygamy or no marriage at all (which is common today) with multiple partners. The men might father hundreds of children with dozens of women. The mother had no rights over the children at all. In fact whether or not the child was even allowed to live (or be sacrificed) was the decision of the father. If the father decided to acknowledge and keep the child, he would take it to the priest. The priest would exorcise any evil spirits by anointing the baby's head with oil. The anointing took the form of putting the mark of Tammuz a “T” or cross on the baby's head and then salt and spittle on the tongue to prevent future influence from evil spirits. Then “holy water” was sprinkled on or poured over the baby's head to cleanse it from any original sin. This process initiated the baby and he was then born-again into the Babylonian religion. The priest also chose a name for the baby at this time. The mother had no choice in the child's name.
Around the 3rd century A.D., these practices infiltrated the Christian Church. When Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official state religion, one of the first laws to follow in A.D. 416 was to decree that infant baptism be performed on everybody. In the 6th century Emperor Justin issued an edict that commanded any unbaptized parents to take themselves and their children to the church for immediate baptism. Leo III issued another edict in A.D. 723 forcing Jews and Montanists (Christians who opposed the Catholic church practices) to be baptized. In time infant baptism became a monetary sacrament, as parents had to pay a fee for the required sacrament. As people believed it was necessary for salvation to be baptized, they went to great lengths to be able to pay the fees, which grew greater and greater as time went by. It might not be money that would exchange hands, but other things such as land. People who believed infant baptism was wrong were horribly tortured and killed over this issue. In all, historians estimate that over 40 million people were killed during the Middle Ages over this issue.
At the General Council of Trent in 1547, the following laws were laid down.
(a) “If anyone, shall say that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, or that there are more or fewer than seven, namely baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony, or that any one of these seven is not truly and intrinsically a sacrament – anathema sit (they are accursed).”
(b) “If anyone shall say that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire of them men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification, though all are not necessary for every individual – anathema sit.”
( c ) “If anyone shall say that by the sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred ex opere operato (by the sacrament itself), but that faith alone in the divine promise is sufficient to obtain grace – anathema sit.”
The Council of Trent catechism further states “ Infants, unless regenerated unto God through the grace of baptism whether their parents be Christian or infidel, are born to eternal misery and perdition.” Because of the horror of this possibility, the Councils of Trent, Lyons, and Florence invented and confirmed a place where unbaptized infants would be sent where they would not enter heaven, but neither would they suffer pain. It was known as Limbus Infantum, shortened to “Limbo.” The belief in infant baptism followed through into Protestantism when Luther had his Reformation. Thus both the Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestant churches still use infant baptism.
One group of people who never went along with infant baptism, but insisted on baptism of a person after they understood what salvation was and entered into a personal relationship with the Lord, were known as Montanists (and later the anabaptists). They also believed in full body immersion rather than sprinkling. As a consequence of the Church being the law of the land for hundreds of years, millions of believers were executed, because they would not perform infant baptism. Today there are a few denominations who still practice believer's baptism. The Baptists, descendents of the anabaptists are one group. Other groups are usually independent of organized denominations. Messianic groups are another group that practices immersion baptism, as it is a continuation of the Jewish practice of Mikvah. In America, supposedly the land founded for freedom of religion, infant baptism became a forced part of the early American church when the Massachusetts Bay Colony produced this edict. “If any person or persons within this jurisdiction shall either openly condemn or oppose the baptizing of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from the approbation or use thereof, or shall purposely depart from the congregation at the administration of the ordinance after due time and means of conviction, every such person or persons shall be subject to banishment...” This then is the history of infant baptism.
The history of immersion baptism did not begin with John the Baptist. Baptism was a ritual practiced by Israel from its conception as a nation when God gave Moses the Law. It was not called by the name baptism, though; it was known as a ritual called tevilah or commonly known as mikvah. This mikvah was a total immersion of the body in water that was constantly flowing (to ensure pure water) from a natural source.
In the Law or Torah, when Israelite men went to the Temple three times a year at the Feasts – Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succot (Feast of Tabernacles) they were required to go into the mikvah before they could enter the Temple to offer sacrifices.
Today Jewish people still observe the ritual of mikvah from pre-marital preparations to pre-Yom Kippur preparations. Also Orthodox women are required to mikvah after menstruating and childbirth before continuing marital relations. Ultra-orthodox men go to the mikvah before every shabbat or Sabbath, and some do it every morning. The mikvah is also required for people who convert to Judaism. (This is the association that is important to Christianity.)
The mikvah represented both the womb, and the grave and rebirth. It was considered a pure connection to God, as it spiritually represented a cleansing of the spirit and rebirth into a re-connection with God through death and rebirth. The person was thus considered born-again. When a new convert to the faith underwent the mikvah, they were being born-again from their pagan beliefs through “death” into a new “birth” of faith in God. In Hebrew the word “tevilah” which means to “totally immerse” is used to describe this event. The word “mikvah” in Hebrew means “gathering of waters” which is where the tevilah took place. In the New Testament the Greek word used in place of “tevilah” is “baptidzo” which means “to fully wet or cover with water” or literally “immersion”. This is the source of our word “baptism”. The word for sprinkling or pouring is a completely different Greek word. The first recorded case of sprinkling someone was in A.D. 257. It was performed due to the person being on a sick-bed and unable to undergo immersion. It was not the usual method at that time of the early church, and it created an outcry, being opposed by the church.
To undergo the tevilah in a mikvah marked a change of status from ritually unclean to ritually clean. One who is unclean can not enter into the presence of God, so one needs to be cleansed, both spiritually (through repentance) and ritually (through the mikvah or baptism), as an outward symbol to the world (as well as God, although He can see the heart) of the inner change. As a result of the mikvah being a ritual cleansing, God required it for a great many common events of life. Anyone who became ritually unclean from contact with a dead or diseased person had to mikvah before they could enter the Temple. A leper also had to mikvah after a priest declared him healed. Leviticus 14:1-4,7,9. As already mentioned, women had to mikvah after menstruating or childbirth before resuming sexual relations. Leviticus 15:19-24.
The mikvah was not for physical cleansing as, for instance, a woman preparing for her bridal mikvah must thoroughly wash her body, even to the scrubbing of finger and toenails before entering the mikvah. It was strictly a spiritually cleansing ritual. Both the bride and groom mikvah before the wedding to start the marriage in a pure state.
A mikvah did not have to be a man-made cistern that had waters flowing into it. It could be a body of water such as a river, spring, (or lake if it had an inlet of fresh flowing water). When John baptized or performed the ritual of tevilah on people (which he also performed on the Lord), he did it in the Jordan River. Archaeological digs have discovered man made mikvot or ritual baths in the Second Temple compound as well as the Qumran site. There are also baths at Masada and other places around Israel.
While the ritual of performing tevilah or mikvah was required for entering the temple and other daily events, the one use of the mikvah that is really crucial to our study of baptism is the use of the mikvah for converts to Judaism. When a Gentile converted to Judaism, he was leaving behind the pagan faith and entering into a relationship with the One True God. He was required to be circumcised (obviously this was only required of male converts) and to participate in a mikvah. When the convert went down to be immersed in the waters of the mikvah it symbolized death to the pagan ways, or as we say in Christianity, dying to the old life. When he came up out of the mikvah after having been totally immersed, he came up reborn with a new identity in the Faith. He was born-again. The term born-again actually originates in Judaism. It referred to a Gentile who had converted to Judaism. In the Talmud it says that “One who has become a proselyte is like a child newly born.”
With this understanding in mind, it sheds light on the conversation between Yeshua and Nicodemus. While Christians throw around the term born-again as something that Yeshua coined, it was in fact something that Jews already understood. When Yeshua told Nicodemus that he must be born-again, Nicodemus asked him, “... How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?”John 3:4. It wasn't that Nicodemus did not understand the term born-again. He was asking how he could convert to Judaism or become a Jew again, when he was already a Jew. He would literally have to enter his mother's womb and be born a second time to become a Jew again. Yeshua's reply was letting him know that he could not count on his Jewishness to save him. He had to have a conversion of the heart. He had to be born of the spirit, as well as being born physically into Judaism (whether by birth or by conversion). We understand now that being born into Judaism does not make any difference, but back then they believed you could not come to God unless you converted to Judaism, and indeed until Yeshua came, that was required by God. Yeshua's answer made it clear that it wasn't being born a Jew that ensured salvation, it was being born-again spiritually that mattered. The mikvah, without a heart conversion, was not sufficient to ensure salvation even for a Jew.
To the Jew, the mikvah represents both the womb and the grave. When one enters the mikvah, one symbolically enters back into the womb to be born-again. One is also entering the grave, as when one emerges from the mikvah, one is no longer the same. One has died to uncleanness and is born anew or born-again. One is ritually clean. Does the act itself actually make one spiritually new or born-again in terms of the real relationship with God? No. Just passing through the water does not change a person's heart, as Yeshua pointed out to Nicodemus. It is a symbolic act that portrays death and rebirth and a new connection to God through conversion. If the heart has not changed, a mikvah is useless. That is what Yeshua was telling Nicodemus. Nicodemus would have undergone many mikvah in his life, but without being born of the spirit as well as the water, he still did not have salvation. The mikvah was the outward symbolic testimony to the world that a person had made a conversion to Judaism. It was done in obedience to God's commands to be ritually clean, thus it was also a testimony to God of one's commitment to follow Him.
When John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River, he was performing the Jewish ritual of mikvah, both for the ritual cleansing of Jewish followers, and the conversion of Gentile believers. When the Lord came to him to partake of the mikvah, John knowing who Yeshua was, did not feel worthy to perform the mikvah on Him, as he knew that he was a sinner and Yeshua was the sinless Son of God. It says in Luke 3 that John was baptizing the baptism of repentance which clearly Yeshua did not need. However the mikvah was used for more than the ritual of conversion. It was used for ritual cleansing for a number of things. Teshuvah (a message of repentance, return, and new beginnings) is a familiar message during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). During these Feasts, Israel is to take stock of their spiritual condition and return to God. A knowledge of the timeline of the gospels indicates that John the Baptist was doing his baptizing in the fall during these feasts. The mikvah would have been the symbolic cleansing in spiritual preparation for the Holy Days, particularly Yom Kippur. Yeshua was entering the mikvah waters in preparation of that time and the forty days of temptation He was about to endure.
The order of events as outlined in Scripture is repentance (which can only be done by a person who has understanding of what this means) and then baptism. In Acts, the eunuch came to understand about Yeshua and his sacrifice for his sins and then asked Philip to baptize him. Belief precedes baptism. Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Notice that this verse also tells us that it is not baptism which saves, but belief. It does not say he that is not baptized is damned, it says that he that believeth not is damned. Relying on an infant baptism to give one salvation is to risk damnation, unless one comes to truly believe and accept the Lord as their personal Savior. Infant baptism cannot include belief, as a baby is too young to believe.
This order of events is reiterated in later Scriptures. Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:41 “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Acts 8:12 “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (no babies mentioned - only adults) Acts 8:13 “Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.” Acts 18:8 “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” In all of these cases, belief preceded and was required for baptism. There were no babies baptized. Belief in these passages sounds as if it is merely agreeing in your mind as to whom Yeshua is and what he has done, but it is more than that. It refers to the process that one undergoes for justification which leads to salvation when one dies. (Some people think they have a secured salvation upon accepting the Lord, but salvation is something that one works out over a lifetime and only achieves upon death when they have endured to the end.)
There are several steps to get to justification or the state of belief that is referred to here that was then followed up with baptism. The steps are repentance, confession, and belief or if you prefer another order: belief, repentance and confession.
The following verses tell us that repentance is necessary. Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Mark 6:12 “And they went out, and preached that men should repent.” Luke 13:5 “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke 15:7 “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (This does not mean that there are people who do not need repentance. It is speaking of those who arrogantly believe they do have any need to repent.) Luke 15:10 “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Acts 3:19 “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;” Acts 17:30 “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”
The following verses show us that confession is necessary. Matthew 3:6 “And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Romans 10:10 “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 4:15 “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”
The following verses tell us that belief (a heart belief and change, not head belief) is necessary. John 1:12 “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 3:15-16, 18 “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:36 “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of god abideth on him.” John 5:24 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” John 6:40 “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:47 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” John 11:25-26 “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die...”
Baptism for Christians is supposed to be symbolic of our death to the old life and resurrection into a new life through Yeshua HaMashiach. This is why it requires belief and immersion. Romans 6:3 “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:4 “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” The final instructions Yeshua left for His followers was to make all the Gentile nations followers of His (the Jewish Messiah) and to tevilah or mikvah them. The baptism was to be an important part of their conversion.
So it can be seen that infant baptism has a long history and has been forced upon believers and unbelievers alike throughout history. That it is not a Biblical practice, but a pagan one that was co-opted by the “Christian” Church, and a tradition of man is clearly seen. That most churches practice baptism in this way, and believe that it is the means of salvation is one of the greatest deceptions that Satan has perpetrated upon Christendom. People are trusting in their baptism rather than embarking upon a personal relationship with Yeshua HaMa`shiach through repentance/confession and belief/faith. On the other hand, immersion baptism is a Biblical practice or ritual from the time that God gave the Law to Moses. With the advent of Yeshua, the mikvah took on even more meaning, as it became the believer's baptism signifying symbolically that they had entered into a personal relationship with God through Yeshua. If there is any doubt that modern baptism is the same as the mikvah, we only need to look at Paul's description in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Romans 6:3-4 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” and “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Paul speaks of being buried in baptism to “die” and being raised to new life. This clearly describes immersion baptism or the mikvah which was still practiced by the church for several hundred years after Yeshua, until the pagan ways incorporated themselves into the church.
Armed with this information, if you are a person who was baptized as an infant, are you trusting your baptism to be your salvation? Have you believed (as defined above) and do you need to be re-baptized by immersion? Clearly the Scriptures teach that immersion after belief is the proper way that God wants it done. It is your choice.