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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 3 - Verse 6
Verse 6. Were baptized. The word baptize signifies originally to tinge, to dye, to stain, as those who dye clothes. It here means to cleanse or wash anything by the application of water. See Barnes "Mr 7:4".
Washing, or ablution, was much in use among the Jews, as one of the rites of their religion, Nu 19:7; Heb 9:10. It was not customary, however, among them, to baptize those who were converted to the Jewish religion until after the Babylonish captivity. At the time of John, and for some time previous, they had been accustomed to administer a rite of baptism, or washing, to those who became proselytes to their religion; that is, who were converted from being Gentiles. This was done to signify that they renounced the errors and worship of the pagans, and as significant of their becoming pure by embracing a new religion. It was a solemn rite of washing, significant of cleansing from their former sins, and purifying them for the peculiar service of Jehovah. John found this custom in use; and as he was calling the Jews to a new dispensation, to a change in their form of religion, he administered this right of baptism, or washing, to signify the cleansing from their sins, and adopting the new dispensation, or the fitness rot the pure reign of the Messiah. They applied an old ordinance to a new purpose. As it was used by John it was a significant rite, or ceremony, intended to denote the putting away of impurity, and a purpose to be pure in heart and life. The Hebrew Word (tabal) which is rendered by the word baptize, occurs in the Old Testament in the following places, viz. :— Le 4:6; 14:6,51; Nu 19:18; Ru 2:14; Ex 12:22; De 33:24; Eze 23:15
It occurs in no other places; and from a careful examination of these passages, its meaning among the Jews is to be derived. From these passages, it will be seen that its radical meaning is not to sprinkle, or to immerse. It is to dip, commonly for the purpose of sprinkling, or for some other purpose. Thus, to dip the finger, i.e. a part of the finger, in blood—enough to sprinkle with, Le 4:6. To dip a living bird, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop, in the blood of the bird that was killed, for the purpose of sprinkling; where it could not be that all these should be immersed in the blood of a single bird. To dip hyssop in the water, to sprinkle with, Nu 19:18. To dip a portion of bread in vinegar, Ru 2:14. To dip the feet in oil—an emblem of plenty, De 33:24. To dye, or stain, Eze 23:15. To plunge into a ditch, so as to defile the clothes, Job 9:31. To dip the end of a staff in honey, 1 Sa 14:27. To dip in Jordan—a declaration respecting Naaman the Syrian, 2 Ki 5:14. The direction of the prophet was to wash himself, 2 Ki 5:10. This shows that he understood washing and baptizing to mean the same thing. To dip a towel, or quilt, so as to spread it on the face of a man to smother him, .
In none of these cases can it be shown that the meaning of the word is to immerse entirely. But in nearly all the cases, the notion of applying the water to a part only of the person or object, though it was by dipping, is necessarily to be supposed.
In the New Testament the word, in various forms, occurs eighty times; fifty-seven with reference to persons. Of these fifty-seven times, it is followed by "in" (en) eighteen times, as in water, in the desert, in Jordan; nine times by "into," (eiv,) as into the name, etc., into Christ; once it is followed by epi (Ac 2:38) and twice by "for," (uper) 1 Co 15:29.
The following remarks may be made in view of the investigation of the meaning of this word.
1st. That in baptism it is possible, perhaps probable, that the notion of dipping would be the one that would occur to a Jew.
2nd. It would not occur to him that the word meant of necessity to dip entirely, or completely to immerse.
3rd. The notion of washing would be the one which would most readily occur as connected with a religious rite. See the cases of Naaman, and Mr 7:4, (Greek.)
4th. It cannot be proved from an examination of the passages in the Old and New Testaments, that the idea of a complete immersion ever was connected with the word, or that it ever in any case occurred. If they went into the water, still it is not proved by that, that the only mode of baptism was by immersion, as it might have been by pouring, though they were in the water.
5th. It is not positively enjoined anywhere in the New Testament that the only mode of baptism shall be by an entire submersion of the body under water. Without such a precept, it cannot be made obligatory on people of all ages, nations, and climes, even if it were probable that in the mild climate of Judea it was the usual mode.
The river Jordan is the eastern boundary of Palestine or Judea. It rises in Mount Lebanon, on the north of Palestine, and runs in a southerly direction, under ground, for thirteen miles, and then bursts forth with a great noise at Cesarea Philippi. It then unites with two small streams, and runs some miles farther, and empties into the lake Merom. From this small lake it flows thirteen miles, and then falls into the lake Gennesareth, otherwise called the sea of Tiberias, or the sea of Galilee. Through the middle of this lake, which is fifteen miles long and from six to nine broad, it flows undisturbed, and preserves a southerly direction for about seventy miles, and then falls into the Dead Sea.
The Jordan, at its entrance into the Dead Sea, is about ninety feet wide. It flows in many places with great rapidity; and when swollen by rains, pours like an impetuous torrent. It formerly regularly overflowed its banks in time of harvest, that is in March, in some places six hundred paces, Jos 3:15; 1 Ch 12:15. These banks are covered with small trees and shrubs, and afford a convenient dwelling for wild beasts. Allusion is often made to these thickets in the sacred Scriptures, Jer 49:19; 50:44,
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