John's Baptism as Jewish Proselyte Baptism: The History and Character of Jewish Proselyte Baptism as Background for Understanding John's Baptism
Date of Award
Restricted Access Thesis
College of Theology, Arts, & Sciences
Michael A. Thomas, PhD
Christian baptism is not a novel practice by John the Baptist and used by Jesus Christ as a missional tool. Christian baptism is instead a product of the clash between Jewish and Christian notions of righteousness before God. Christians, who held as their Jewish Brothers did, that all are sinners and in need of repentance, invite in contrast any and all to the baptismal font. Breaking with much of Jewish Custom in the 2nd Temple Period (539 BC-70 AD), John's baptism was for all sinners and Christ's commission of his disciples sought to evangelize all by baptizing. This baptism is an initiatory ritual that is for all people regardless of birth, race, or ethnicity.
Judaic baptism, on the other hand, was the precursor to Christian baptism and the fount from which Christianity derives much of its baptismal theology. IT is continuous with Christianity in its initiatory theology, its covenantal language, the physical action of baptism and the requirement of baptism for entrance into the community.
Christian baptism, however, departs from Judaic baptism over the question of who should be baptized. For Christians (John the Baptist), all people are to be baptized since all are in need of repentance and washing in preparation for the impending kingdom regardless of whether they are a Jew or not. On the other hand, Judaic baptism was only for proselytes. John the Baptist criticizes the Jews for their misunderstandings for who should be baptized.
The thesis seeks to demonstrate the theological continuity in the baptismal praxis between Judaism and Christianity. It will demonstrate that the origins of Christian baptism are fundamentally Judaic. These Judaic roots form the practical and theological roots of Christian baptism in the sacramental sense: that the practices of ablutions (the act of ritual water purification) and of eschatological community are not new to Christianity but existed previously and are derived from Judaism and Christian eschatological ideas emerged. John the Baptist and Jesus Christa proclaim that the reign of God was imminent and this fact demanded the repentance of all people in preparation for this new age. Building upon the Jewish ritual for admittance to the covenant people, baptism was extended and recast as the ritual--both for Jew and Gentile--to enter a new community that constituted under the new reign of God--the people of the kingdom of God.