Baptism is an important fundamental act of Christianity. However, not all Christians know its origins or what God’s purpose for baptism is. A few people have also asked me about the difference between baptism by water and fire, and if they are related. So I have decided to discuss these issues here.
Where did baptism originate from? Baptism is first mentioned in the Old Testament in Leviticus:
Leviticus 14:3-7 – and the priest hath gone out unto the outside of the camp, and the priest hath seen, and lo, the plague of leprosy hath ceased from the leper, and the priest hath commanded, and he hath taken for him who is to be cleansed, two clean living birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. And the priest hath commanded, and he hath slaughtered the one bird upon an earthen vessel, over running water; [as to] the living bird, he taketh it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and hath dipped them and the living bird in the blood of the slaughtered bird, over the running water, and he hath sprinkled on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and hath pronounced him clean, and hath sent out the living bird on the face of the field. (YLT)
Basically, this passage states that a priest is to baptize a person AFTER the person has been healed of leprosy by God. Leprosy of the Bible is probably not the same leprosy of today which we call Hanson’s Disease. Instead, it probably is a much more general term, referring to any skin or respiratory disease caused by bacteria or fungus such as chickenpox, smallpox, psoriasis, tubercolosis, pneumonia, etc. So coming back to baptism, its purpose was to bear witness that the leper had been healed, not to actually heal the person. This is repeated by Jesus in the New Testament:
Luke 5:12-14 – And it came to pass, in his being in one of the cites, that lo, a man full of leprosy, and having seen Jesus, having fallen on [his] face, he besought him, saying, Sir if thou mayest will, thou art able to cleanse me, and having stretched forth [his] hand, he touched him, having said, I will; be thou cleansed; and immediately the leprosy went away from him. And he charged him to tell no one, But having gone away, shew thyself to the priest, and bring near for thy cleansing according as Moses directed, for a testimony to them (YLT)
Jesus heals a man of leprosy and then tells him to tell a priest to bear witness that he was in fact healed. This confirms that the purpose of baptism is to witness to others, not to give salvation itself. To take it a step further, Jesus commands us to baptize everyone:
Matthew 28:18-20 – And having come near, Jesus spake to them, saying, Given to me was all authority in heaven and on earth; having gone, then, disciple all nations, (baptizing them – to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all, whaterever I did command you,) and lo, I am with you all the days – till the full end of the age. (YLT)
Therefore, water baptism is a symbol of your commitment to God. It is separate from salvation itself. It is similar to how a marriage ceremony is separate from the marriage itself. A marriage ceremony includes a crowd of people watching the couple walking down the isle, dressing up, and saying their vows. But the marriage itself is only between two people.
In Matthew, Jesus also mentions how mature Christians are to teach the new Christians about God following the baptism. This is in alignment with why baptisim is about being a witness.
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