From the Beginning

A STORY OF "TIME" by Trevor Topsfield


Baptism is a word straight out of the Koine Greek language, which is the original language of The New Testament.

There has been no attempt to translate it into English; therefore it is easy to assume that those who originally translated the Greek into English did not understand what βαπτιξω (baptisw) meant in context with its use, so they used a transliteration instead.

Baptism is never found in The Old Testament because it was originally written in Hebrew and there is no such word in that language.”

This was my understanding many years ago, but I would like to think that with further research comes a modification to what I perceived was true, but now I realise added information needs to be explained.

John the Baptist was the first mentioned in the New Testament to baptize any one,

While the first impression of Baptism might be a variation of being submerged in water, there are other times it has nothing to do with water.

βαπτιξω is used to describe what happens to a ship when it sinks, it is overcome with water or it is overwhelmed.

So to simplify it I will substitute “βαπτιξω” with “overwhelm” and see if this will make more sense.

John the Baptist was there as a voice of one calling in the desert “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40;3) NIV). While John was claiming Isaiah 40;3 as the reason he was baptizing in the wilderness and his authorization, the baptizing itself needed to be authorized, if this were not true he could simply be someone taking advantage  of a prophecy which would not be the first time that has happened.

This “baptism” is part of a sacrifice stated in Numbers chapter 19; at this point the sacrifice of the Red Heifer needs to be read as the sacrifice involves submersing in a mixture of water and the ashes of the burnt animal. In the Old Testament it is called “bathing” as it is written in the Hebrew language, but when mentioned in the New Testament it was called baptism as John had taken some of the ashes of a red heifer, mixed them with water to become the water of cleansing, and used for the purification of sin, as mentioned in the sacrifice of the red heifer.

The Red Heifer

 To understand the sacrifice of the red heifer found in Numbers chapter 19 we need realise it is the requirement of the law.

Now the law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves (Hebrews 10:1)(NIV).

 So the sacrifice of the red heifer is the shadow of some good thing in the future, so what is it a shadow of?

 I will let the cat out of the bag right now and then give the details; the red heifer is the shadow form of the Church.

The Church and Judaism are two totally different organisations and because the Jews proclaimed the coming of Christ using the Hebrew language, and the Church proclaims the reality of Christ using the Greek language. Therefore, not only did one function before Christ and the other after him, nothing each one said sounded anything like the other.

 The red heifer had to be without defect or blemish and in principle so is the Church as it is righteous through its faith in Jesus. 

It was not like the other animals in the Jewish community that pulled carts, ploughs or carried wood, it had never worked in its life, it had always rested in all God has achieved. While there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, resting in the work of God is something the Church should have in common with the Jews.

 The Israelites had to take the calf to the priest Eleazar who would take it outside the camp; outside the camp means it has nothing to do with Israel and slaughter it in his presence.

 Eleazar had to see the calf die which means he saw the end of the calf, so the reality he saw was the end of the Church.

This reality will occur the day Jesus Christ returns to the earth and terminates the Church by calling every member both past and present to come up and be with him (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

  In Daniel chapter 9 there is a timetable which means God still owes the Jews seven years which will occur after the Church has finished its stint as God’s representative.

 Eleazar takes some of the blood of the heifer on his finger and sprinkles it at the front of the Tent in recognition of the service it has given.

While he watches the heifer is to be burnt, its hide, flesh, blood and offal. Nothing is spared, the good, bad, and the ugly is all burnt.

Onto the burning animal some cedar, hyssop and scarlet wool is thrown to modify the ashes as they will be used later.

 The cedar wood will give the ashes durability.

 Hyssop has often been used at the completion of certain events and it was after Jesus had been judged for the sinfulness of the world that he said he was thirsty, so those around him lifted up sponge full of vinegar on a hyssop branch. Like the saving work of Christ the Church will have finished all it was commissioned to do.

 Scarlet wool is the shadow of identification as it was used when in Genesis 38:28 a midwife was in attendance at the birth of twins. Because the firstborn has certain responsibilities and privileges it was important to know which of the babies was first. In this case a hand appeared so the midwife tied a scarlet thread on it, the hand was retracted and then the other baby was born. However there was no dispute who was the firstborn. In the same way these ashes belong to the Church.

 There were three men who came in contact with the heifer or its ashes and all were defiled by them, so they will have to go through a cleansing process but there is a ritual in place to achieve it. Anything to do with the function of the Church will contaminate Judaism and those who belong to it.

While the Church and Judaism have common interests, they must stay separated as it would only confuse the issues if any try to combine the two together.

 However, just as we of the Church can learn certain things through understanding the Hebrews of Old Testament and knowing it is in shadow form. The same can be said of the Jews as they learn from the reality as stated in the Greek language of the New Testament. To acknowledge this and also the 2000 years of experience someone is to take the ashes of the red heifer and store them in a clean place outside the camp so they can be mixed with water and it will become the water of cleansing , and used for the purification of sin.

 The reason this has become a topic of conversation is that red heifers are extremely rare so this sacrifice has not always been possible because the lack of them. But a few years ago one was born in Israel sparking rumours that it might be about time the Church is coming to an end. This has caused a certain fear among some people as there is a general assumption that the last seven years of the Jews functioning as God’s people is not going to be pleasant.

While the sacrifice of the red heifer might indicate the nearness of the Church’s end, there are plenty of signs to suggest the same thing from the New Testament.

 The logical conclusion is that even if these predictions are all wrong, faith in Jesus Christ is the only solution as whatever way it goes everyone comes to an end.

So that is the story of “The Red Heifer” I wrote some months ago.

What this means if John the Baptist used the ashes of the burnt heifer mixed with water, then the liquid was for the purification of sin.

John was a voice calling in the desert (which was authorized by Isaiah 40;3). The message was “Make straight the way for the Lord” (Matthew 1:23)(NIV).

Given the fact that Israel was under the 4th stage of discipline, (Leviticus 26:14-35) (NIV) meant that they were on the verge of the 5th stage which actually happened in 70AD. So the baptism John was performing was to purify those participants from sin, which in effect made straight the way for the Lord.

Therefore the water used in his baptisms had some ashes of a burnt red heifer mixed with it, and so this set the precedence so that baptisms were designed to teach that it was for the purification of sin and centered on the salvation of the person being baptized so he could appreciate the coming of Jesus Christ.

At this point we can only look to the New Testament to understand baptisms, however it is difficult to find many clues of its meaning.

The Gospel of John introduces John the Baptist with the priests and Levites sent by the Jews to ask him who he was. (John 1:19)

Are you Elijah? This is an interesting question as the Greek words that make up this question have been given a “D” rating by the Textual Criticism experts, this means there is a high degree of doubt they were written by John.

So I will ignore that question, but the next one is legitimate. Are you a prophet?

John’s answer was “no”; John the Baptist was a voice in the wilderness making way for Jesus Christ.

One of the reasons the Jews took any notice of John’s actions was that there was a prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 that there would be such a voice.

Another reason was that it would appear that men of importance throughout Jewish history performed this ritual but these events were not recorded in The Old Testament under the term of baptism. Still another was the fact that the sacrifice of the red heifer was involved as its ashes were mixed in the water John was baptizing with. But the connection was not made by the translators of the Greek.

For John the Baptist to have had an impact on the Jews who were his main target, he would need to do something that important people have done in the past so he could be identified with them (The Jews were sticklers for tradition).

Some of the most important people in Jewish history were the prophets, they would have had some form authorization and it would appear as though baptism was one of them. It would have been pointless for John the Baptist to do anything that was not recognizable by the Jews of his day.

To add some weight to this idea is that baptisms are never mentioned in The New Testament, as a ritual in early Churches that were established in Paul’s era, but it appears to me they were a transition component that linked the early Christians and the Jews. The Church was new only in the fact that it was established on the reality of the “Cross”, while Judaism looked forward to the promised “Sacrifice”. Faith in Jesus Christ however it was taught, is the common factor in both systems.

John the Baptist in Luke 3:16 explained that he baptized with water, he overwhelmed with it when they were submerged in it. But Jesus Christ who is more powerful will baptise or “overwhelm” them with fire which is a reference to Hell for those who fail to believe in him. Jesus will also baptize or overwhelm them in the Holy Spirit which refers to the filling of the Spirit when those who do believe are in fellowship with God. While being overwhelmed by the Spirit they will produce the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience ect. ect. (Galatians 5:22)

When John is the subject; some baptisms refer to water, another to fire and of course we can be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit

The King James Version of The Bible set many of the standards that more modern versions have adopted. One thing that some of them have continued with is the transliteration of “βαπτιξω” to baptism in the “English”.

Because (baptism) is not translated, there seems to be some confusion where the English word “baptism” should be used.

In Matthew Chapter 20 Verses 22+23 both “baptism” and “baptized” are used in both verses, however in both these verses no form of “βαπτιξω” is found in The Greek of New Testament.

This can be seen if we compare The King James version with The New International where “baptism” is not found in both these verses.

V22 (KJV) “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him. We are able.

V22 (NIV) “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said unto them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. (NIV)

V23 (KJV) And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

V23 (NIV) Jesus said unto them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right hand or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

Often in The King James version the translators have added English words to try and clarify the meaning of the text, but when they do they put these extra words in italics. However, this has not been done with any of the “baptism” words found in Matthew 20:22+23.

This would indicate the translators thought that the original Greek words which do not include any form of “βαπτιξω ” fitted their understanding of what “baptism” meant to them.

I will not try to explain the message behind these two verses, only to say there seems to be no connection to any form of baptism, as the lack of “βαπτιξω ” would indicate.

It is easy to conclude nothing from this passage as the word “baptism” has six mentions, but not found at all in original Greek language.

It is difficult to understand exactly the message Matthew has written in Chapter 20 Verses 22+23 if the actual Greek text is not analyzed.

The purpose of this discussion is to demonstrate how little we learn from The New Testament on this subject, because it does not give us any background of its original use. To add to our frustration there is no information of any consequent function of it within the early Churches.

1 Corinthians 10:2 does not help clarify the subject of “Baptisms” for in 1Corinthians 10:2. it says that when the Jews passed through the Red Sea they were baptised into Moses, however just to confuse the issue even more ”εβατισθσαν” which is 3 persons plural aorist tense, indicative mood, passive voice of βαπτιξω has been given a “C” rating by our Textual Criticism experts so they say there is considerable doubt it is legitimate.

If and where there is any confusion over what “Baptism” is, it can easily be traced back to the translators who apparently did not understand “βαπτιξω ” enough in the first place to translate it.

However John the Baptist knew exactly what he was doing.

When Jesus went to John to be baptized, (Matthew 3:-) John said “No Jesus you got it wrong, I need to be baptized by you”.

John preached the baptism of repentance and the purification of sin, (Mark 1:4) just as they were overwhelmed by water and ashes in the ritual of John’s baptism; the reality was that they were overwhelmed by repentance. To be remorseful is a meaning of repentance, therefore when they were being baptized by John they were remorseful of their sinfulness and therefore appreciating the coming of the Messiah. (Matthew 3:6)

When Jesus wanted to be baptized by John; John refused because John knew Jesus had no need to be remorseful. In the case of Jesus the water represented his commitment to the salvation of mankind, (he was overwhelmed by it) with a reaction from the Father after his Baptism, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (NIV) (Matthew 3:17)

Before his death Jesus himself did not baptize, except his disciples. (John 4:2)

However after that and at the beginning of the Church, the disciples remembered how he said he would baptise with the Holy Spirit. This happens to every believer so they are overwhelmed by him. Another term sometimes used for the overwhelming of the Spirit is called the filling of the Spirit. When the believer is in fellowship he is filled with Spirit and overwhelmed by him to produce love, joy, peace, ect. (Galatians 5:22)

The Book of Acts of the Apostles is a transition between the Jews and the Church and therefore there are some things belonging to Judaism that were used by the Church in this time. However there is no record of the ritual of baptism being carried in the newly formed Churches in the rest of The New Testament except as a misuse of it in 1 Corinthians.

Paul thanks God he did not baptize any of the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 1:14-17) as they have used their baptism as a badge of superiority. Some throughout their Church were saying “I was baptized by Paul”, others “I was baptized by Apollos”, some said “I was baptised by Crispus” then there were those who said “I was baptised by Gauis”. What made Paul a little mad was that baptisms were dividing Church.

To conclude; I think Baptisms were carried out for the Jews benefit for the period of time until the 5th stage of discipline was administered in 70 AD.

Trevor Topsfield


Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.


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