John 1:25 and Mode of Baptism

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Pilgrim

Puritan Board Doctor
[SUP]19[/SUP]And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
[SUP]20[/SUP]And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
[SUP]21[/SUP]And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
[SUP]22[/SUP]Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
[SUP]23[/SUP]He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
[SUP]24[/SUP]And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
[SUP]25[/SUP]And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
[SUP]26[/SUP]John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
[SUP]27[/SUP]He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
[SUP]28[/SUP]These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Where did the Pharisees get the idea that the Christ (the Messiah) Elijah or the Prophet would baptize?

Does this relate primarily to the authority by which John was baptizing, perhaps especially why he was baptizing Jews? Or was there some expectation from the OT (or perhaps elsewhere) that the Messiah would baptize?
 
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FCC

Puritan Board Freshman
And they asked him, and said unto him,.... They put a question, by saying to him,

why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? since he denied that he was the Messiah, or Elias that was to come before the Messiah, according to the expectation of the Jews, or that prophet, or a prophet, they demand by what authority he introduced a new rite and ordinance among them, which they had never been used to; for though there were divers washings or baptisms among them, enjoined by the law of Moses in certain cases, and others which obtained by tradition, as the immersion of themselves after they had been at market, and of cups, pots, brazen vessels, and tables, yet nothing of this kind that John administered: and as for the baptism of proselytes, it seems to be of a later date than this, and had no manner of likeness to it. The ordinance John administered was such, as they apprehended that no one ought to practise, unless he was the Messiah, or his forerunner, or some eminent prophet; they insist upon it therefore, that since he denied he was either of these, that he would show his credentials, and what commission he had from God to baptize; or they suggest he was liable to be called to an account by their sanhedrim, and be condemned as a false prophet, or an innovator in religious affairs. From hence it appears, that the Jews expected that baptism would be administered in the times of the Messiah, and his forerunner; but from whence they had this notion, it is not easy to say, whether from Zechariah 13:1 as Grotius, or from Ezekiel 36:25 as Lightfoot; nor do they speak contemptibly of it, but rather consider it as a very solemn affair, to be performed only by great personages: and this may teach modern ones to think and speak more respectfully of this ordinance than they do, who have given themselves great liberties, and have treated it with much contempt and virulence; calling it by the names of uncleanness, abomination, filthy water, and a devoting of persons to Satan (z): likewise, it is clear from hence, that they expected that this ordinance would be first administered by some person of very great note, either some very famous prophet, as Elias, whom they looked for before the coming of the Messiah, or else the Messiah himself, and not by a common teacher, or any ordinary person; wherefore this rite, as performed by John, could have no likeness with any thing that was in common use among them: besides, it was expressly done in the name of the Messiah, Acts 19:5 therefore they conclude he, or his forerunner, must be come; and that John must be one, or other of them, otherwise, why did he administer it? and it is also evident from hence, that no such practice had obtained before among them, or they would not have been alarmed at it, as they were; nor would they have troubled themselves to have sent after John, and inquire of him who he was, that should practise in this manner,

John Gill's commentary on John

In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. Zechariah 13:1



Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. Ezekiel 36:25

The Jewish leaders did know the Scriptures and apparently had connected these passages with the rite of baptism. Gill mentions the variety of baptisms, or ceremonial cleansings with which the Jews were very familiar and most certainly Johns actions would have alerted them to the spiritual and prophetical issues connected with the coming of the Messiah.
 

Pilgrim

Puritan Board Doctor
While I didn't see it argued in a quick glance at some of the older standard commentaries like Henry, etc., (at least not at this passage) some non-immersionists place some weight on Eze 36:25 and Isa 52:15 ("So shall he sprinkle many nations") in arguing for sprinkling as the mode of baptism. One example is found in Robert Reymond's Systematic Theology, page 932:

It is a distinct possibility that what made the Ethiopian eunuch even think of and request baptism in the first place, reading Isaiah 53:7-8 as he had been doing, was his having read just moments before the words of Isaiah 52:15....
Then in a related footnote on the same page we read

It should be noted that some Pharisees asked John the Baptist, after he had denied that he was the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet, "Why then do you baptize?" (John 1:25.) Where did they get the notion that the Messiah would baptize? Without a translation such as "sprinkle" in Isaiah 52:15, there is no other prophecy in the Old Testament that expressly states this. But then this suggests that John's mode of baptizing was by sprinkling, because it was his activity that provoked the Pharisees' question in the first place. They saw him sprinkling, and knowing of the prophecy in Isaiah 52:15, they asked him whether he was the Messiah.
What say ye? What answer do immersionists have for this? Are there any non-immersionists who nevertheless believe that an argument for sprinkling as the mode on the basis of these passages is unwarranted?
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Chris,
You know I am not a "proselytizer" but a "defender" of Presbyterian views of baptism.

So, with that caveat, my contribution here is only this: that if one is committed to the view that the word "baptism" ineluctably includes the mode of complete surrounding with the substance/fluid--no "air gaps," no "symbolic" whelming allowed--then connection to passage like Is.52:15 are minimized or ruled out at the beginning.

Gill seems quite representative of the historic Baptist position, namely that baptism is a "new rite," and unheard-of. Yes, there were those washings, but "nothing of this kind that John administered." There is an adamant exclusion of any connection to OT rites and symbols. Allowance would seem to be the sort of "crack-in-the-door" that could legitimate a broader sort of symbolism such as non-baptists are wont to observe.
 

Pilgrim

Puritan Board Doctor
Here are some of the aforementioned commentators in Isa. 52:15. (For some reason I couldn't be bothered to refer to this verse yesterday, but only looked comments on John 1:25.)

Clarke:

Does not sprinkling the nations refer to the conversion and baptism of the Gentiles? Many nations shall become proselytes to his religion.
Henry:

Many nations shall be the better for him, for he shall sprinkle them, and not the Jews only; the blood of sprinkling shall be applied to their consciences, to purify them. He suffered, and died, and so sprinkled many nations; for in his death there was a fountain opened, Zec_13:1. He shall sprinkle many nations by his heavenly doctrine, which shall drop as the rain and distil as the dew. Moses' did so only on one nation (Deu_32:2), but Christ's on many nations. He shall do it by baptism, which is the washing of the body with pure water, Heb_10:22. So that this promise had its accomplishment when Christ sent his apostles to disciple all nations, by baptizing or sprinkling them.
Dabney, in his Lectures on Systematic Theology:

Nor is the force of this analogy a mere surmise of ours. See Isa. 52:15, where it is declared that the Redeemer, by His mediatorial, and especially His suffering work, "shall sprinkle many nations." The immediate reference here doubtless is not to water baptism, but to that which it signifies. But when God chooses in His own Word to call those baptismal graces a sprinkling, surely it gives no little authority to the belief that water baptism is by sprinkling! Immersionists feel this so acutely that they have even availed themselves of the infidel glosses of the German Rationalists, who to get rid of the Messianic features of glorious prophecy, render hz²y" —to cause to start up, "to startle." The only plea they bring for this unscrupulous departure from established usage of the word is, that in all the other places this verb has as its regimen the element sprinkled and not the object. This objection Dr. J. A. Alexander pronounces frivolous, and denies any Hebrew or Arabic support to the substituted translation. Again: In Ezek. 36:25, are promises which, although addressed primarily to the Jews of the Captivity, are evidently evangelical; and there the sprinkling of clean water symbolizes the gospel blessings of regeneration, remission, and spiritual indwelling. The language is so strikingly favorable to us, that it seems hardly an overstraining of it to suppose it a prediction of the very sacrament of baptism. But this we do not claim.
 

Pilgrim

Puritan Board Doctor
Chris,
You know I am not a "proselytizer" but a "defender" of Presbyterian views of baptism.

So, with that caveat, my contribution here is only this: that if one is committed to the view that the word "baptism" ineluctably includes the mode of complete surrounding with the substance/fluid--no "air gaps," no "symbolic" whelming allowed--then connection to passage like Is.52:15 are minimized or ruled out at the beginning.

Gill seems quite representative of the historic Baptist position, namely that baptism is a "new rite," and unheard-of. Yes, there were those washings, but "nothing of this kind that John administered." There is an adamant exclusion of any connection to OT rites and symbols. Allowance would seem to be the sort of "crack-in-the-door" that could legitimate a broader sort of symbolism such as non-baptists are wont to observe.
Bruce,

Poole in his commentary notes the Pharisees inquiring about the change as well and for whatever reason doesn't make the connection with mode, at least not explicitly in the way that the others I've quoted did.

The Pharisees themselves would allow the Messiah, or Elias, or a prophet, to make any additions to or alterations in the worship of God, but none else: hence it is they ask, by what authority he baptized, if he were none of these? From whence we may learn, that although they might have some umbrage of that baptismal washing which was under the gospel, to commence into a sacrament, or federal sign, in the washing of their proselytes, or of Jewish children when they were circumcised; yet John’s action was looked upon as new, who baptized adult Jews: now the care of the sanhedrim was to keep the worship of God incorrupt, and the Pharisees amongst them had a particular zeal in the case, especially so far as the traditions of the elders were concerned.
He thinks they might have had some inkling about baptism, but doesn't press it to the extent that the others do.

Is it fair to say that John's action was "new" in some sense? Granting the non-immersionist case for the sake of argument, this washing is not the same as other washings--different purpose, different thing signified, etc.

In this thread, I'm not arguing for or against immersionism. (Well at least not yet.) I'm just looking for input from both sides. Would any paedobaptists (or credos who are not dogmatic on mode) disagree with Reymond and the others? I suppose some might disagree on how much weight to put on this connection.

What do Baptists say to this argument?

I think the crux of the argument may be why one thinks the Pharisees were asking the question. 1) Was it merely a question regarding upon what authority John was baptizing? 2) Did they have the expectation that the Messiah would baptize?

How is Is. 52:15 translated in the Septuagint? Is the word translated "sprinkle" in our English translations there rendered as bapto or one of its cognates, or is it something else?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Is it fair to say that John's action was "new" in some sense?
I think so. It was "new" or a "re-pristination" of the cleansing of the people; but not so new as that it had no connection to the former constitution of the people of God.

It is one thing to be the wife/child of a man who has gone off to war, with the promise of return (but who knows when). The identities they have, by a marriage ceremony, by a birth and its markers; but when the announcement is made that the long-awaited return of husband/father is nigh, the wife is more worn, the child is twice as tall. They've lived so long without him; they're more used to life without him than with him. An affirmation of their readiness to meet him is appropriate. And where they've been remiss, they need reformation.

Such is the principle in John's preparatory baptism. His ministry is a true bridge between the covenants. By baptism, he completes the previous age, and announces the forthcoming one. It is the coming of Christ that compels the baptism for the end of the former age, and He carries it over and invigorates it for the new age, enhancing it and brimming it with full import. As the Head of the kingdom, Christ is the Baptizer. And I think, in some sense, his work is expected/anticipated in the OT prophecies concerning a future cleansing; which expectation is given precise form in the events themselves.


My subjective, outside read of the Baptist assessment of the connection between the prophets cited re. sprinkling as it pertains to the New Covenant or to NT baptism is: that the OT is heavy on the symbolic; and NT realities are couched in OT language. Since baptism is "defined" in the Baptist way a priori, the NT "givens" (e.g. full-immersion only) are decisive. The OT passages cannot inform the NT church on the aptness of mode. {I say this acknowledging that I also have "givens" by which I approach these or other questions.}
 
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