Skip to main content
Bible Q

Who carried out the first baptism in the Bible?

Ceremonial washing and bathing in the Old Testament.

The Law of Moses introduced various washing of hands, feet and sometimes the whole body. This is not actual baptism, and the Greek word baptismos, washing, is also found four times in the New Testament when referring to these Levitical washings : Mark 7:4, 7:8, Colossians 2:12 and Hebrews 9:10.

Baptisma – new to the New Testament

Baptism (Greek baptisma, neuter noun for an idea or concept) is a word originating in the Greek New Testament and not occurring previously in any Greek text.  The use of baptisma, rather than Jewish baptismos, washing, suggests the idea of a whole washing – as Jesus says to Nicodemus “in water and in spirit”, probably meaning both inside and out.

The first baptisms mentioned in the Bible are those carried out by John the Baptist.

People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Matthew 3:5-6)

The first baptisms into Jesus Christ, carried out after his death and resurrection, were those on the day of Pentecost when 3,000 people were baptised (Acts 2:41). Although the 12 disciples – including the replacement for Judas, Mathia – were not rebaptised, so their baptism by John was still considered valid.

Old Testament foreshadows of baptism.

However, the idea of baptism as complete immersion goes back to the Old Testament. For example, consider the following examples.

Noah and his family were baptised (symbolically) when they were saved in the ark:

1 Peter 3:20-21 God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.

Similarly, the people of Israel were baptized, in a sense, when they crossed the Red Sea:

1 Corinthians 10:1-2 … our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

Naaman was cured of leprosy through a baptismal-like process, symbolising being cleansed:

2 Kings 5:14 So he [Naaman the Syrian] went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

Although baptism was not a requirement in the Old Testament, these examples all point forward to the baptism that would be introduced later, and that is required of all Christians (Acts 2:38). The Greek verb baptizmo, to wash to immerse, is used in Greek both for the Jewish washing (baptismos) and for the Christian immersion (baptisma). Context indicates which is intended.

One Reply to “Who carried out the first baptism in the Bible?”

  1. Ritual dipping developed between the OT and the NT (as did the concept of “demons”). The NT writers commandeered the practice in various ways. The practice probably arose out of mikveh (ritual washing) but by the NT times had the idea of “initiation as a disciple of” someone. Ie: the baptism of John made one a disciple of John. Paul says that the Jews were “baptized unto Moses.” Christians became initiated as disciples of Jesus by baptism, or as followers of the father, the son and of the holy breath. Paul feared that if he baptized, they might consider them followers of Paul/disciples of Paul.

    Paul imbued baptism with the symbolism of death and resurrection, and also with “putting off the flesh.”

    There is no one meaning. Various NT writers appropriated the symbol in various ways, and held it more or less important than others.