Water baptism in the New Testament was not a new idea to those living at the time. It was not a foreign thought. They were already familiar with the concept of water baptism. How is this true, considering that John the Baptist is the first person mentioned in scripture that performed baptisms?
Water baptism was seen in the Old Testament in typology. In fact, there are many OT typologies of baptism.
We see the account of Noah in Genesis chapters 6 – 9. God told Noah to build an ark to save Himself, his wife, and his three sons and their wives, and two of every animal (and seven each of the clean animals) in whose nostrils was the breath of life. God destroyed the earth with water in a world-wide catastrophe. Noah was saved through the flood. Peter used this as a typology of baptism.
1 Peter 3:20-21 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
The earth was purged of sin by water. The next purging will be with fire.
2 Peter 3:5-7 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
We are purged by water at baptism, and of fire when we are filled with the Holy Ghost.
In the book of Exodus we see the Israelites in bondage of Egypt. God sends Moses to deliver the Israelites out of the hand of Pharaoh. While Moses and the Israelites are traveling to the land that God promised them, Pharaoh and his armies chase them. The Israelites are caught against the Red Sea as Pharaoh’s armies approach to attack. God sends a cloud to stand between Israel and the Egyptians as Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. God parted the Red Sea, allowing Israel to cross on dry land. Once the Israelites have crossed over, the Egyptians attempt to follow them. God causes the water to fall back into its place, destroying the Egyptians (Exodus 14). God used water to destroy Pharaoh’s armies. This is symbolic of water baptism destroying and burying the sinful nature. The water delivered Israel. We are delivered of sin when we are baptized in water.
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
Just before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, He commanded Israel to wash their clothes in water.
Exodus 19:10-11 10 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, 11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
Moses sprinkled the people with blood and water; symbolic of the shed blood remitting sins through water baptism (Bernard, p. 138).
Hebrews 9:18-20 18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you.
Symbolism can also be seen in the Tabernacle. In fact, the Tabernacle symbolizes the New Testament salvation experience (Bernard, p. 79).
Hebrews 9:8-10 8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.
The laver of brass was given for the Priests to wash before entering the Tabernacle.
Exodus 30:18-21 18 Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. 19 For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: 20 When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the LORD: 21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.
This is symbolic of washing away uncleanness before entering the holy place, which contained the altar. Without the washing, the priests were unclean, just like without water baptism our sins are not washed away.
Consecration of the Priests required a blood sacrifice, washing in water, and anointing with oil. The washing in water was symbolic of water baptism.
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.
The blood sacrifices had to be washed in water before being burned in fire (more new birth symbolism – water representing water baptism and fire representing Spirit baptism).
Leviticus 1:9 But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Elijah poured water on the altar.
1 Kings 18:33-35 33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. 34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. 35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
Naaman was healed of leprosy after obeying Elisha’s instructions to dip seven times in the river Jordan.
2 Kings 5:10-14 10 And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. 11 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? 14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Others that were healed of leprosy were purified in blood, water, and oil. The water is symbolic of water baptism.
Leviticus 14:5-8 5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water: 6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water: 7 And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field. 8 And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean:
Those that were ceremonially unclean had to be purified blood, water, and fire.
Numbers 19:7-8 7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even. 8 And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even.
God ordained a purification ceremony for the Israelites after they had won a war against the Midianites. This included purification in water.
Numbers 31:23-24 23 Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water. 24 And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.
These typologies show that water was used for cleansing from sin (Bernard, p. 137). In some cases the blood was applied through the water, showing that the blood of Jesus Christ is applied during water baptism in order to forgive sins (Bernard, p. 137). Over and over we see blood, water, and oil or fire. This is symbolic of New Testament salvation, which consists of repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost, or Spirit Baptism.
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.
The blood that was offered in the Old Testament was a foreshadow of the blood of Christ. The blood represents our repentance from sin. This is the death of the old sinful man in our lives. This is a conscious decision to turn from sin and live for God. The washing in water is water baptism in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins. Water baptism also represents the burial of Jesus. We are buried with Him in baptism, which is a burial of the old sinful man. The oil and the fire represents the Spirit baptism, or the infilling of the Holy Ghost. This represents the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a resurrection into newness of life. Without the complete gospel – death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus – we do not have salvation. We apply the gospel by repenting of our sins, being baptized in Jesus name for the remission of sins, and being filled with the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the gospel that the Old Testament shows in typologies. This is the gospel that Jesus bought for us by coming to Earth as a man and taking our place in death by dying upon the cross. It is salvation bought by the blood of Christ.
Bernard, David K. (1984). New Birth, The
Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press
David Bernard The New Birth