To understand the biblical ritual of water baptism for the remission of sins, which is one of the first acts of faith that a new disciple of Yeshua must take as he begins his spiritual walk (Acts 2:38; Matt 29:19; Mark 16:16), we must first define our terms, and then we can look into the biblical Hebraic origins of this ancient rite to discover the spiritual relevance and significance of it to a modern disciple of Yeshua the Messiah.
So what is immersion or baptism? The traditional Hebrew word for immersion is mikveh (or mikvah), which literally means “a gathering of waters.” Next we have the Hebrew word tevilah, which is analogous to the New Testament Greek word baptidzo from which the English word baptize derives. Tevilah means “immersion or baptism in water.” So technically, when one is baptized for the remission of sins, one does a tevilah at a mikvah.
Baptism is an ancient Hebrew custom that carried over into the apostolic era as sanctioned by Yeshua himself. What are the origins of this ancient custom, and what is its significance and applicability to a modern follower of Yeshua the Messiah?
Tevilah is an ancient custom that goes back to the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood. There YHVH Elohim required the priests to wash themselves in water at the bronze laver in the Tabernacle of Moses before they were allowed to perform their ministerial duties before YHVH Elohim. This was the third step in the seven step process of consecrating a new priest (Exod 29:4). After that, they confessed their sins over a bull, which was then sacrificed (Exod 29:10–11, the fifth step), then Moses anointed them with oil (the sixth step, Exod 29:21). These seven steps are a prophetic picture showing us how one comes to faith in Yeshua the Messiah by confessing his sins, accepting Yeshua’s sin-atoning death on the altar of the cross, then being immersed in water as a sign of spiritual cleansing and rebirth, and then receiving the oil of Elohim’s Spirit consecrating them for becoming part of the royal priesthood of Elohim (1 Pet 2:9; cp. Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). After the initial cleansing ceremony for the consecration of a new priest, YHVH also instructed the priests to wash each time they come into the tabernacle to serve him (Exod 30:18–21). This ritual cleansing was so important that if the priests of old failed to come into the presence of Elohim without first washing, the priest was sentenced to death (v. 20). This step teaches us that once we come to faith in Yeshua, we must be continually being washed in the water of Elohim’s word (Eph 5:26) and the blood of Yeshua to keep us cleansed from the defilement of ongoing sin (Rev 1:5; 1 John 1:7–9), lest we die in our sins. Thus, the consecration process for service to YHVH that the priests went through during the time of Moses is a prophetic picture of what a one must also go through to become a disciple of Yeshua the Messiah; therefore, baptism is a picture of spiritual cleansing and consecration or being set-apart (from the world) for spiritual service to Elohim. This concept is elucidated on in various places in the Testimony of Yeshua (the New Testament).
Even before the Torah’s instructions about consecrating Levitical priests for tabernacle service, the Bible contains prophetic shadows or allusions to the modern baptism ritual. For example, Paul talks about the children of Israel being baptized into Moses when they went through the Red Sea after coming out of Egypt (a metaphorical picture the new believer in Yeshua exiting this world after having come to faith in the Lamb of Elohim, 1 Cor 10:2). In a sense, the whole nation of Israel was consecrated to YHVH’s service first through faith in the lamb’s blood on the doorposts at Passover, and then through baptism in the Red Sea, so that they could become YHVH’s peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests and his set-apart nation (Exod 19:5–6). Moreover, the Israelites washed their garments (another picture of ritual immersion) before coming into the presence of YHVH to receive his commandments at Mount Sinai (Exod 19:10). Additionally, subsequently throughout the Torah, we find numerous other ritual washings for both the priests and the people of Israel associated with various sin-cleansing rites.
As we move forward in the biblical timeline of history, we come down to John the Baptist who came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was the son of a Levitical priest, so he would have known about the significance of ritual cleansing as commanded in the Torah. He seems to have been the one who initiated the modern ritual of immersion or baptism, which he associated with the repentance of sins and preparing the saints for service for the coming Messiah (Matt 3:11). Yeshua the Messiah validated John’s ministry, and set us the example for water baptism, when he allowed John to baptize him in the Jordan River (Matt 3:13–16).
The modern baptism ritual was perpetuated forward when Yeshua commanded his disciples to preach the gospel to the world, to make new disciples, and then to baptize them (Matt 29:19; Mark 16:16). For example, on the day of Pentecost, after the people heard the gospel message and acknowledged their sins (Acts 2:37), baptism was one of the very first things that the apostles required of the people as an act of faith in Yeshua the Messiah (Acts 2:38). This was in accordance with Yeshua’s command to preach the gospel and to baptize new converts as part of the process of making them his disciples (Matt 28:19).
As we can see, the concept of water immersion has a long precedence with the people of YHVH and originated in the Torah as per Elohim’s instructions.
Paul expands our understanding regarding baptism, and shows us that it is an outward action that helps a physical person to understand some new spiritual realities in their life, when they come to faith in Yeshua the Messiah (see Rom 6:1–14). In a sense, like many of the physical rituals that the Bible requires a saint to perform, baptism is a physical means or bridge for the human to connect with or relate to the higher spiritual realities and dimension where Elohim exists.
Moving forward, we next come to the Epistle to the Hebrews 6:1–2. Here the writer lists the foundational doctrines of Messiah for the congregation of believers including the doctrine of baptisms (plural). The writer recognizes that the concept of immersions (plural) is a central part of the redeemed believer’s spiritual walk with regard to his relationship with Yeshua.
Why is the word baptisms is in the plural. This is because Scripture reveals that there are several baptisms. These include the baptism of John unto repentance, the baptism of fire (which seems to be a baptism of spiritual refinement to burn out of one’s life the spiritual wood, hay and stubble (Matt 3:11), baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and then there’s the baptism of the Spirit of Elohim (Acts 1:5). The latter two baptisms ideally should happen at the same time, but the Testimony of Yeshua in the book of Acts record shows that doesn’t always happen (this is another completely different subject).
People often ask me if their baptism for the remission of sins that they did when they were “saved” in their Christian church is valid. In response, I ask them if they were changed spiritually when they did it? Did they repent of their sins—or at least as much as they knew to do at the time? Did they put their faith in Yeshua (or Jesus)? Did they receive the Spirit of Elohim? Did the fruits of the Spirit begin to manifest in their lives? Were they converted at that time into the kingdom of light from that of spiritual darkness, and did they come to the realization that Yeshua was alive and at work in their lives? Did they fall in love with Yeshua and his Word? If the answer is yes, then their baptism was valid regardless of the exact rituals and terminologies used. YHVH honored it, because he heard their heart crying out to him and he answered them. Period. If those things didn’t happen, then they probably weren’t saved, and so they need to be baptized for the remission of sins. I see no biblical precedence for getting baptized again if the first baptism was valid and the spiritual fruits are evident in one’s life to validate it.
Some people are concerned that they were baptized in the name of “Jesus” instead of Yeshua, or that in some way, the baptism ritual formula was not quite right. In all the decades that I’ve been studying the Bible and getting to know the heart and mind of Elohim, including many decades as a Torah-obedient believer in Yeshua, I’m convinced that YHVH is more concerned about the state of our heart more than the exact formula and ritual we used to come into a spiritual relationship with him through Yeshua the Messiah.
However, if someone is convinced in their heart that they need to be baptized in the name of YHVH and Yeshua instead of God and Jesus, then do it, if it will help one to draw closer to the Father. What’s the harm in doing this?
People often ask me what name do we get baptized in? Matthew 28:18 says to do it in the name of the Father, Son and Set-Apart Spirit. I ask them what is the name of God? It’s YHVH. I’m convinced at this time that it’s pronounced “Yehovah,” but some people prefer “Yahweh” or something else. Use the name with which you’re comfortable.
In Acts 2:38, it says to be baptized in the name of Yeshua. Some people see that Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 are opposed to each other; one says one thing and the other another. Actually, if you put them together, there’s no conflict: His name is YHVH-Yeshua, thus be baptizes in that name. Yeshua is YHVH and he’s part of \ Elohim or “the God-head,” so say “Yehovah Elohim Yeshua” and all your bases are covered.
Being baptized in living waters (such as clean river or stream) is preferable, however a pure mountain stream may not always be available to you. If someone wants to get baptized, the book of Acts gives us the example of not to wait, but to do it immediately (e.g. Acts 16:31–33). If one can’t find clean living waters, or it’s in the middle of winter and the water is frozen or it’s snowing and the water is frigid, one can use your hot tub, horse trough, a pool or bathtub. The most important thing isn’t the exact manner in which the baptism occurred, but the heart condition of the person being baptized.