I’ve been kind of curious about the baptism that John preached and performed in the gospels. I understand that baptism today for believers is meant to be a sign for being “buried with Christ and raised to walk in the newness of life.” However, what did this baptism mean for the Jews during this time? Was baptism a normal practice for them, and what was the importance of it?
@mpitts92 Yes, baptism was regularly practiced in the Jewish community by the time of Jesus. Gentile converts to Judaism would be baptized, along with circumcision. Ritual washings were common in ancient culture and symbolized cleansing and devotion. John was baptizing people in preparation for Messiah - calling them to repentance of sin and devotion to God.
Excerpt from Holman Bible Dictionary
Jewish Background As with most Christian practices and beliefs, the background of baptism lies in practices of the Jewish community. The Greek word baptizo , “immerse, dip, submerge” is used metaphorically inIsaiah 21:4 to mean, “go down, perish” and in 2 Kings 5:14 for Naaman’s dipping in the Jordan River seven times for cleansing from his skin disease. The radical Qumran sect which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls attempted to cleanse Judaism. The sect laid great emphasis on purity and purifying rites. These rites normally involved immersion, though the term baptizo does not seem to appear in their writings. It is quite possible that such a rite was used to initiate members into the community. Along with the rite, the Essenes at Qumran emphasized repentance and submission to God’s will.
At some point close to the time of Jesus, Judaism began a heavy emphasis on ritual washings to cleanse from impurity. This goes back to priestly baths prior to offering sacrifices (Leviticus 16:4 ,Leviticus 16:4,16:24 ). Probably shortly prior to the time of Jesus or contemporary with Him, Jews began baptizing Gentile converts, though circumcision still remained the primary entrance rite into Judaism.
John’s Baptism John the Baptist immersed repentant sinners: those who had a change of mind and heart (John 1:6 ,John 1:6,1:11 ). John’s baptism—for Jews and Gentiles—involved the same elements later interpreted in Christian baptism: repentance, confession, evidence of changed lives, coming judgment, and the coming of the kingdom of God through the Messiah, who would baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11 ). John thus formed a purified community waiting for God’s great salvation.