Baptism and Betrothal

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Baptism and Betrothal

Subject: Baptism articles

Dear Pastor Ari,

I very much enjoyed reading your articles on Baptism. I am a pastor in an Evangelical Presbyterian church in Michigan and gleaned a lot from your writing. As I have been preparing for an upcoming sermon, the Lord has demonstrated to me how much the term baptism is referring to Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the NT. Rom 6, Gal. 4, Eph. 4, and Col. 2.

Quick question. Why wouldn’t 1 Peter also be baptism of the Holy Spirit as well?

Thx. and blessings!

Pastor x. x. [identity concealed for privacy]
Associate Pastor, [church identity concealed for privacy]


Dear Pastor “Timothy,”

If you are referring specifically to 1 Pet. 3:21, I would agree with you that that Peter is referring to Believer’s Mikvah, the immersion of a new Believer in Messiah in water, again as a symbol of what has already transpired in the Believer’s life. Not that the actual water, or even the act of immersion, has any efficacious power at all, but that it is the outward symbol of the completed work of Messiah as applied to the Believer by Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit).

I particularly like Dr. David Stern’s translation in the Complete Jewish Bible: “This also prefigures what delivers us now, the water of immersion, which is not the removal of dirt from the body, but one’s pledge to keep a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah.”

The act of water baptism, I believe, is very closely related to the ancient Jewish practice of betrothal.[1]* [This is in itself a lengthy study I hope to address some day on the web site — but for now, the “Reader’s Digest” version will have to suffice.] The Scriptures are full of this marriage symbolism. God repeatedly calls Israel His “bride,” and “the ecclesia” (erroneously translated as “church”) is called “the Bride of Messiah.” [Question to ponder: if Yeshua is God, is He a polygamist? Does He have two brides? Or does “the Church” become “grafted in” to “Israel His bride”?]

In the betrothal process, a young man would take a fancy to a young woman, and would ask his father to go “buy” her for him. The boy’s father would meet with the girl’s father, and the “bride price” would be negotiated. Then the boy and his father would write out the ketubah, or marriage contract [the Torah is in many respects God’s ketubah with Israel]. The boy would go to the girl’s home and present her with the ketubah and a cup of wine. After reading the ketubah, if the girl accepted its terms and conditions, she would drink the cup of wine, indicating her acceptance [her “pledge to keep a good conscience” toward him, and to keep herself pure until he returned for her].

The boy would then pay the bride price [“You have been bought with a price.” (1 Cor. 6:20)] and recite the to the girl the ritual phrase, “I’m going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2,3). [And he would not drink wine with her again until after the marriage was consummated, usually about a year later.]

He would then leave and begin construction on the new rooms that would form an addition to his father’s house, which would become the couple’s “apartment.” The son would never know when his father would consider the construction complete, but when the father was satisfied with the new apartment, he would tell the son to go claim his bride.

The son would then immediately gather his part of the wedding party and set out to the girl’s home, usually in the evening. A “forerunner” [the “best man”] would be sent ahead of the groom, and as he approached the girl’s home, he would blow the shofar. The bride would hear the sound of the shofar and don her bridal clothes, and go out to meet her bridegroom. The bridesmaids, who hopefully had their lamps filled, would light them and go out to join the wedding party. The wedding ceremony would be immediately performed, followed by the seven-day wedding feast.

The symbolism here is striking, and serves to interpret several of the Lord’s parables, as well as to explain many of His actions at the Passover Seder he shared on the night He was arrested.

By accepting and drinking the cup, the talmidim [disciples], on behalf of all Believers who would come later, accepted Yeshua’s ketubah and became “betrothed” to Him. [According to John’s gospel, Judas left before the ketubah was offered and accepted.]

And I feel that what Peter was trying to say in 1 Pet. 3:21 is that water baptism is the Believer’s initial pledge to accept Yeshua’s ketubah and became “betrothed” to Him. This pledge is re-affirmed each time the Believer partakes of the “Lord’s Supper” portion of the Passover Seder.

Although I haven’t yet taken the time to address the subject on the website, I take very literally the concept of the “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal. 6:15 — same word, translated differently). Again, as David Stern renders them: “Therefore, if anyone is united with the Messiah, he is a new creation — the old has passed; look, what has come is fresh and new.” “For neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is being a new creation.”

I believe that through the process of regeneration Ruach HaKodesh takes one form of creation, a sinner, and places that sinner positionally “into Messiah” where the sinner literally becomes a new form of creation (a new “species” if you will), called in Scripture a “Saint” … one who has been literally transformed and sanctified (set apart for God’s special use). I also believe that this concept figures heavily into the concept of “eternal security” — how can a butterfly ever return to being a caterpillar? — the transition is permanent.

As alluded to in my Baptism study, though not spelled out in any particular detail, I believe this transformation process is part and parcel of the process of salvation. The caterpillar enters the cocoon, “dies”, and re-emerges as a butterfly. Yeshua died, entered the tomb, and emerged in His resurrected and glorified body which He will wear for all eternity. Just so, the new believer performs a reenactment of this process [which has already occurred on the spiritual plane] when he or she is placed beneath the waters of the mikvah and emerges to walk as a “new creation in Messiah.”

I hope these additional comments prove helpful to you.

Shalom in Messiah!!

Dr. Ari Levitt-Sawyer

_______________

    1. The Rabbinical process of converting to Judaism (a tradition not supported by Scripture) which has been practiced since well before Yeshua’s time consists of taking a Hebrew name, circumcision (for men), offering a sacrifice in the Temple (one obviously can’t do that part without a Temple), and immersion (tevilah) in a mikvah. The proselyte enters the mikvah as a goy (Gentile), and emerges as a Jew. Since the inception of this practice, the Jews have called this process being “born again” (as a Jew). Is is no wonder that Nakdimon (Nicodemus) was confused (John 3:4) when Yeshua told him that he must be “born again.” He was already a Jew, a member of the Jewish supreme court! How was it possible for him to be “converted” to Judaism? Yeshua must obviously have been referring to something else, but how can a man re-enter the womb? So what was Yeshua talking about? [RETURN]

See also Gerut (Conversion).

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