Christian Baptism - God's Plan from the Dawn of Time

Baptisms in the Old Testament and baptisms in the New Testament both point towards Creation itself, and are intended for the purpose of our salvation.

From the very beginning of time, God planned to send His Son into the world, and from day one, He planned for the mystery of holy baptism . . .

2000 years ago, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river. When he came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit hovered over the water like a dove, and a voice from heaven proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Jesus had no sin of his own, so he was not baptized for his own sake. Rather, when he was baptized, he sanctified the water for our sakes. Whenever we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we become a new creation, and our sins are washed away.

Many people know these details about baptism. But often, they make the mistake of thinking that these things were something entirely new. They mistakenly believe that the New Testament is the only place where we can read about holy baptism.

God is not a man who tries something, makes mistakes, learns, and then tries something different. He is the Lord of all Creation, and He knows the end from the beginning. From the very beginning of Creation, He planned to send His Son into the world, and from the very beginning, He planned for the mystery of holy baptism.

St. Ambrose of Milan, one of the great Early Church Fathers, points out the connection between baptism and Creation itself:

Consider, however, how ancient is the mystery [of baptism] prefigured even in the origin of the world itself. In the very beginning, when God made the heaven and the earth, “the Spirit,” it is said, “moved upon the waters.” He Who was moving upon the waters, was He not working upon the waters?

— St. Ambrose, On the Mysteries

In the beginning, in the very first verses of Holy Scripture, when darkness and light are first mentioned, the Holy Spirit and water are introduced between them:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)

In Genesis, the passage from darkness to light is marked by the Holy Spirit and water. This pattern is repeated throughout the rest of Scripture. Baptism involves water, as a person passes from darkness into light. Thus, all baptisms continuously point back to Creation.

Every time a baptism occurs in Scripture, the same pattern emerges:

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Noah’s Baptism

In Noah’s baptism, the flood of Water marked the world’s passage from spiritual darkness to light. The same flood waters which destroyed the wicked, also carried Noah’s ark to safety on Mount Ararat. Noah and his family passed from being social outcasts, to being the supreme rulers and parents of the new post-flood world. Their place in creation was renewed by this baptism.

We know that Noah’s flood was a type of baptism, because the Holy Scriptures say so. When the apostle Peter writes about Noah’s flood, he tells us that New Testament baptism corresponds to this:

God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.
— 1 Peter 3:20–22

By passing through the waters of baptism, Noah saved himself and his family, condemned the world of the ungodly, and became an heir of righteousness. He passed from death into life. He left behind the violent, corrupt world, so that he could become a new Adam — bringing about a new Genesis for the human race.

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The Infant Baptism of Moses

In the infant baptism of Moses, the baptismal waters carried him from death to life, from condemnation to acceptance, from slavery to royalty. His baptism conferred a new name upon him, a new future, and a new identity.

Moses was like Noah in multiple ways:

  • Like Noah, Moses was plunged into the same waters which killed others in his generation. The wicked Pharaoh had commanded all Israelite children to be thrown into the water and drowned. (Exodus 1:22). Moses passed through the same waters, and yet came out alive.
  • Like Noah, Moses passed through the waters safely, because of an ark which had been ordained by God and prepared in faith. (Holy Scripture uses the same Hebrew word for «ark» in the story of baby Moses, as it uses when talking about Noah’s ark.)
  • Like Noah, baptism carried Moses from death into life. By undergoing this baptism, Moses passed from the danger of condemnation into the freedom of palace living. He went from being the son of a slave to being the son of a princess.
  • Like Noah, Moses became the leader of God’s people.
  • As baptism had changed Noah into a type of new Adam, baptism brought about a change in this child’s very name. His identity was tied to the water itself. The princess who adopted him named him «Moses» because he had been drawn out of the water (Exodus 2:10). For the rest of his life he was called “Moses,” reminding him of his baptism.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the great Early Church Fathers, speaks of this event as a type of baptism:

I find that . . . even before the Incarnation of our Lord, the ancient Scripture everywhere prefigured the likeness of our regeneration . . . Baptism [was] shown forth by action and by word. Let us recall its types . . . . Again, the great Moses, when he was a goodly child, and yet at the breast, falling under the general and cruel decree which the hard-hearted Pharaoh made against the men-children, was exposed on the banks of the river — not naked, but laid in an ark, for it was fitting that the Law should typically be enclosed in a coffer. And he was laid near the water . . .

— St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ

This passage through water caused Moses to pass from condemnation to acceptance, from slavery to royalty, and from death to life. Thus his baptism parallels every other baptism in Scripture, ultimately pointing back to Creation itself.

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The Baptism of Israel

In the baptism of Israel at the Red Sea, the Jordan waters destroyed the wicked Egyptian army, and also parted in order to bring freedom to God’s people in the Exodus. The Israelites passed from being despised slaves to being a blessed new nation bound for the promised land.

The waters of the Red Sea hearken back to the waters of Noah’s flood. The waters that bore the Ark to safety are the same that drowned the wicked. The waters that opened the way to Israel’s deliverance are the same that drowned Pharaoh and his army.

In baptism, Israel was following Noah’s footsteps. They were passing from death into life, from spiritual darkness into spiritual light, from the old world into a new creation. They were separated forever from their past lives. Baptism is always a separation from the old life and a commencement of the new, thereby pointing back to Creation itself.

Not only did their baptism free them from bondage, and bring them into a new life; it also enabled the Israelites to partake of Jesus Christ in a special way. As precursors to the bread and wine of Holy Communion, God graciously gave them manna from Heaven, and water from a rock:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 10:1-4

In this passage from 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul reminds us that Israel «passed through the sea», and he explicitly calls it a baptism.

While the sea was parted and they were able to walk across on dry ground, Holy Scripture says there was also plenty of rain during this event. The final verses of Psalm 77 describe the crossing of the Red Sea, and verse 17 says that «the clouds poured out water». Thus, in this baptism, the Israelites may actually have gotten wet.

Their very identity was changed by their baptism. Their name was changed from “Hebrew slaves” to “The Nation of Israel”. Their baptism transported them from slavery to freedom, from death to life, from spiritual oppression to spiritual light, from an old world to a new creation.

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OT Ceremonial Purification Baptisms

In Old Testament ceremonial-purification baptisms, the waters caused Israelites to pass from ceremonial uncleanness (not permitted to worship in the Temple) to ceremonial cleanness (allowed in the Temple), thus embodying a spiritual passage from darkness into light.

St. Gregory writes about this connection between OT sprinklings and NT baptism:

". . . for the Law, and those daily sprinklings of the Hebrews which were a little later to be made plain in the perfect and marvelous Baptism, are near to grace."

— St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ

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In the New Testament, Hebrews 9 discusses Old Testament worship in the earthly tabernacle. And as a part of this discussion, Hebrews 9:10 mentions “various washings” that were an important part of the Old Testament system.

Interestingly enough, the Greek word for “washings” here is “baptismos”, which simply means “baptisms”. In English, Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible reflects this fact:

". . . only in victuals, and drinks, and different baptisms, and fleshly ordinances — till the time of reformation imposed upon [them]."

Thus, we have yet another New Testament passage discussing baptism, which points us back to the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews says that the Old Testament cleansing/purification ceremonies were called “baptisms”.

A close reading of John 3:22-26 likewise reveals the correspondence of baptisms and Jewish purification rituals.

Before receiving these ceremonial washings, Israelites could not enter the Lord’s presence and worship Him in the temple. After being washed, they were considered clean and were permitted to worship. These waters illustrated the passage from death to life, and the passage from darkness to light, thereby pointing back to Creation itself.

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Naaman’s Baptism

In Naaman’s Baptism, the waters were instrumental in renewing the health of Naaman’s body and soul. The seventh time he dipped into the Jordan river, his flesh was healed of leprosy, and his soul gained faith in Israel’s God. This was a baptismal passage from darkness into light.

Naaman’s story can be found in the fifth chapter of 4 Kingdoms (2 Kings). He has an Israelite servant girl, who says that her God can heal him from leprosy. In response, he goes on a long journey to Israel and meets God’s prophet, Elisha. Instead of asking Naaman to perform some great task, Elisha simply asks Naaman to immerse himself seven times in the waters of the Jordan river. Naaman complies, and is fully healed:

So Naaman went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to Elisha’s instruction, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was cleansed. Then he, with all his aides, returned to Elisha and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I have come to know that in all the earth there is no God except the God of Israel. . . .”

— 4 Kingdoms 5:14-15 in the Orthodox Study Bible
(2 Kings 5:14-15 in most English Bibles)

Of course, early Christians spoke Greek, not English. Ever since the days of Jesus and the apostles, the Church has recognized the Greek Septuagint as being an authoritative copy of the Old Testament Scriptures. And according to the Greek Septuagint, Naaman was baptized. In the passage above, the English word “dipped” is translated from the Greek word “ebaptizato”, which is a form of the word used for “baptism” throughout Scripture.

When early Christians saw the word “ebaptizato” in Scripture, they thought of “baptism”, and the book of 4 Kingdoms is no exception. Naaman went down and was baptized in the Jordan.

St. Irenaeus comments on the connection between Naaman’s baptism and Christian baptism:

It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord.

— St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus

St. Gregory of Nyssa comments similarly on this event:

Yes, and yet again his disciple Elisha, when Naaman the Syrian, who was diseased with leprosy, had come to him as a suppliant, cleanses the sick man by washing him in the Jordan, clearly indicating what should come, both by the use of water generally, and by the dipping in the river in particular. For Jordan alone of rivers, receiving in itself the first-fruits of sanctification and benediction, conveyed in its channel to the whole world, as it were from some fount in the type afforded by itself, the grace of Baptism. These then are indications in deed and act of regeneration by Baptism.

 — St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ

Indeed, Naaman is not only cleansed physically, but also spiritually. When he goes into the water, he is a leper and an unbeliever. When he comes out of the water, his flesh is restored like the flesh of a little child (verse 14), and he professes faith in the God of Israel (verse 15). He is regenerated both in body and soul.

This baptism is also significant for Naaman’s descendants. Scripture suggests that Naaman’s leprosy was not merely an individual malady, but was a generational curse which would propagate leprosy to all of one’s children and grandchildren. Indeed, when Naaman’s leprosy is transferred to Elisha’s unrighteous servant, Gehazi, it is a leprosy which plagues future generations (verse 27). Thus, when Naaman is cleansed of his leprosy, it is not only a healing for him – it also brings healing to his descendants who will come after him. He no longer has any leprosy to pass on
to his children.

It is fitting that this baptism takes place in the Jordan river – the same river where John the Baptist would eventually baptize repentant Jews, and would even baptize Jesus himself.

Significantly, Naaman is from Syria, not Israel. He is a Gentile, not a Jew. Thus his baptism is prophetic of the Christian era, when countless Gentiles would flood into the Church via baptism.

When Naaman goes into the water, he is both a leper and an unbeliever. When he comes out of the water, his flesh is healed and he professes faith in God. He is regenerated both in body and soul.

His passage through water is a passage from sickness to health, from death to life, from light to darkness, from paganism to faith in the One True God. Via the waters of baptism, God made Naaman a new creation.

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New Testament Baptism

In the Gospel of John, there is a recapitulation of the Genesis creation narrative:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

— John 1:1–5

The world was in spiritual darkness, but the true Light was coming — and that Light is Jesus Christ. But who would point the way to the Light? John immediately thereafter answers this question:

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.

—John 1:6–7

And what was this Forerunner John’s ministry? It was a ministry of baptism. The world was in spiritual darkness, and John the Baptizer came as a voice “crying in the wilderness,” baptizing people and pointing them to the true Light of all creation. Thus, the pattern remains consistent: Water baptism marks the passage from darkness into light.

This Christian mystery marks the passage from darkness into light, from death into life. It is how one goes from being an outcast to being in God’s very presence. It marks the journey from being “formless and empty” (Gen. 1:2) to being “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

As one writer has observed:

The Church understood God’s Spirit in the waters of creation to be life-giving, “and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:1); so, too, they recognized His enlivening Presence within their baptismal waters. As God’s Spirit gave life to creation through water, now He uses water to actualize new life in the Christian’s restoration and re-creation 

— Jordan Bajis, Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity
for the American Christian

Baptism echoes creation’s movement from darkness into light. And its eternal significance lies in the cleansing from sin and regeneration (new creation) by the Holy Spirit.

In many of the baptisms in Scripture, the Holy Spirit is represented either by a dove, or by a great rushing wind:

  • At Creation, the Holy Spirit was hovering over the waters.
  • After Noah’s baptism, the dove was sent out of the ark. It returned, hovering over the waters, bearing a small branch from an olive tree. The dove and olive oil both represent the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • At the Baptism of Israel, the Lord sent a wind rushing over the Red Sea, and thus the waters were parted. (Centuries later, at the feast of Pentecost, there was a great rushing wind, and all baptized Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit.)
  • At Christ’s baptism, the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters in the likeness of a dove.

And the feast of Theophany is not only a revelation of holy baptism. It is also a revelation of the Trinity. We see the Son rising from the water, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and we hear a great voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." All at once, the Holy Trinity is revealed: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

From the very beginning of time, God ordained baptism as a picture of Creation itself, and He intends it for the purpose of our salvation. In holy baptism, we are united to Christ, we are joined to His Church, and all our sins are washed away. We are restored to a blessed relationship with the Most Holy Trinity. We pass from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from darkness to light, and God makes us into a new creation.

Thanks be to God for the wondrous gift of holy baptism!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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