Was John the Baptist the first person to perform water baptism?
Water Baptism was not a New Testament innovation. This fact will be something new to many people, and may even shock some. Many baptismal ceremonies were prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The following verses should be enough to show this irrefutable fact: Exodus 29:4, Exodus 30:17-21, Numbers 8:5-7, Numbers 19:1-22 (pay close attention to verses 7-9, 13, 20-21), and Numbers 31:23. Our King James Bibles do not use the word “baptism” in any of these passages because that word is a transliteration of a Greek word and not an English translation, as we have already seen. In John 1:25 John the Baptist was asked, Why baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? Visibly these inquirers were not shocked by John’s practice of water baptism as though it were something innovative to them. Rather they anticipated the practice of water baptism in connection with the coming of Messiah. Where could this expectation have come from except the prophecies found in Old Testament Scriptures? Furthermore, we need to keep in mind the Mosaic economy was still in force during the ministries of both John and Jesus. Hebrews 9:17 declares, “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. ” Thus the new covenant could not possibly replace the old until after the death of Christ. John’s baptism was not something new, rather it was a ceremony thoroughly understood by those to whom he ministered. Therefore, water baptism did not begin with John the Baptist. When we permit scriptures to be our authority rather than a denominational bias we quickly learn that water baptism is a ceremonial cleansing that pertains to the kingdom promised to the nation Israel. In Exodus 19:5-6 at the very giving of the Mosaic Covenant, God tells us what His intention in giving birth to the nation of Israel was. God’s avowed purpose regarding the nation Israel is that she is to be a “kingdom of priests and an holy nation,” through whom the Gentile nations will draw nigh to God. Isaiah 61:6 confirms this promise to Israel. In due course this will be accomplished during the kingdom reign of Christ when Israel is dwelling in her land and the nations find salvation and blessing through her instrumentality. All of this awaits Israel’s redemption. The if all of you will obey … then all of you shall be, principle of the law assured that the knowledge of sin would abound. Because of Israel’s failure, she soon found herself in need of a Redeemer. While the hope of Israel looked to the promised coming kingdom, the need of the nation for cleansing must first be faced. With this in mind it is imperative to remember that of all the people or things to be baptized it was the priest who stood foremost. Exodus 29 sets forth the formula for induction into the priest’s office. Two very important steps of consecration are incorporated: Exodus 29:4 And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water. Exodus 29:7 states “Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him.” Exactly as the sons of Aaron were the priests through whom the people of Israel could draw near to God, so the nation Israel itself will one day be “ a kingdom of priests and an holy nation,” through whom the Gentiles will draw near to God (Gen.12:1-3; 22:17-18; Isa.60:1-3, Zech.8:20-23). It is in this light that John the Baptist appears on the landscape preaching his “baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel” (Acts 13:24). To state it another way, John’s “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4) was a mechanism of national repentance and readiness to be the kingdom of priests God intended that favored nation to be.