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more excellent system of worship, faith, and conduct, than that to which they had hitherto been accustomed; Maimonides Issure Biah, cap. 13. Lightfoot Hor. Heb. in Matt. iii, 6.
Hence, as it is declared by Maimonides and other Jewish writers, arose the baptism of proselytes, or of the Gentile converts to the religion of the Jews. It was a principle well understood amongst that people, that, as it was with the Israelite, so it should be with the proselyte; see Num. xv, 15; and, accordingly, as the Israelites had entered into their covenant by cumcision, baptism, and sacrifice," the same introduetory rites were considered indispensable to the proselyte. According to the traditions of the Rabbins, circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice, were enjoined on every male, and the two latter on every female convert from heathenism to the Jewish faith. It was a trite axiom, as Lightfoot informs us, that no man could be a proselyte until he was circumcised and baptized. In the Babylonish Gemara, (part of the Talmud) we find the following disputation. “The proselyte who is circumcised and not baptized, what are we to say of him? Rabbi Eliezer says, Behold he is a proselyte; for so we find it was with our fathers (the Patriarchs,) that they were circumcised and not baptized. He that is baptized and not circumcised, what are we to say of him? Rabbi Joshua says, Behold he is a proselyte; for so we find it is with females. But the wise men say, Is he baptized and not circumcised ? or, is he circumcised and not baptized ? He is no proselyte until he be circumcised
2 The proselytes were of two descriptions: proselytes of the gate, who forsook idolatry and worshipped the true God, but did not conform to the Jewish law; and proselytes of justice, who went further, and embraced the whole legal and ceremonial system. It was the latter only who were baptized.
and baptized;" Jevamoth, fol. 46, 2. Lightfoot Hor. Heb. in Matt. iii, 6.
Maimonides, who was a man of extraordinary sense and learning, and was deeply versed in the laws and customs of the ancient Jews, has stated a variety of particulars respecting the baptism of proselytes. It appears that, about three days after circumcision, the convert to Judaism was conducted, during the day time, to a confluence of waters, whether natural or artificial, sufficiently deep to admit of entire immersion. Having been placed in the water, he was instructed in various particulars of the Jewish law, by three scribes of learning and authority, who presided over the whole ceremony; and, when these doctors had received his promises of a faithful adherence to the Jewish institutions, and had fully satisfied themselves respecting his motives and condition of mind, he completed the immersion of his whole person by dipping his head. He then ascended from the water, offered his sacrifice to the Lord, and was thenceforward considered as a complete Jew, and as a new or regenerate man; Issure Biah, cap. 13, 14. Wall on Infant Baptism, p. xliv. Selden de Synedriis, lib. i,
I am aware that the existence of the rite of proselyte baptism, before the Christian era, is disputed by some of the learned, on the ground that such a rite is not specifically mentioned either in the Old Testament, or in the most ancient uninspired writings of the Jews; but this omission is very far from being sufficient to prove the negative; and the doubt which it occasions appears to be very greatly out-balanced by positive evidences in favour of the antiquity of the practice. It seems necessary shortly to glance at these evidences.
1. The Jewish writers, who make mention of the baptism of proselytes, expressly describe it as an ordinance practised among their countrymen at a date long prior to the Christian era. Thus, it is said in the Talmud, that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was baptized as a proselyte; Tract. Repudii, Hammond on Matt. iii. From Maimonides we learn that the baptism of proselytes was practised from age to age, after the Israelites themselves had been initiated into their covenant in the days of Moses; and, again, he makes mention of the proselytes in the time of David and Solomon, as of persons who had been baptized; Issure Biah, cap. 13.
2. There was a marked resemblance in several leading particulars between the baptism of proselytes, as described in the Talmud and by Maimonides, and the baptism practised by John and the early teachers of Christianity. The baptism of the proselytes was a complete immersion, and was appointed to take place in a confluence of waters. The baptism of John and of the Christians is generally allowed to have been of the same character. “John baptized in Ænon, near to Salim, because there was much water there," John iii, 23; and when the Ethiopian was to be baptized, we read that he and Philip went down or descended into the water," and afterwards, that they " came up out of the water,” Acts viii, 38, 39. It has, indeed, been remarked that, as the proselyte dipped his own head, he might be considered as baptizing himself, whereas the convert to Christianity was baptized by the minister who converted him; and the disciples of John were baptized by that prophet. But, I apprehend, the supposed difference in this respect is merely imaginary; for, although the proselyte plunged his own head in conclusion of the rite, he might properly be described as being baptized by the persons who placed him in the water, and who arranged the whole ceremony.
Accordingly, I observe that the Jews speak of “ baptizing” their proselytes, just as Christians make mention of “ baptizing” their converts. Again,-during the act of baptism, the proselyte was instructed, and made to stipulate for himself by the scribes; Selden de Syned. lib. I, cap. iii, p. 785; that the same circumstances now attend the rite of baptism, as practised among Christians, is well known; and that they have been, from very early times, the accompaniments of that ceremony, is generally allowed; see Macknight and others on I Pet. iii, 21. Again,--when the proselyte was baptized, the rite was frequently administered, not only to himself, but to his family. So also it appears to have been with the early baptism of the Christians: we read, that Lydia was baptized with her household; that Paul baptized "the household of Stephanas;" and that, when the jailer at Philippi became convinced of the truth of Christianity, he and “all his” partook together of the same ceremony; Acts xvi, 15. 33; I Cor. i, 15. Gemara Babyl. Chetub. c. i, fol. 11, &c. Wall, p. xlix. Again,—the proselyte, who had entered into covenant by circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice, was considered as a new man; or, to adopt the language of the Jews, as "a child new born;" Gemara, Jevamoth, c. iv, fol. 62, 1. Maim. Issure Biah, cap. 14; Wall, p. lvii: and of this new birth, or introduction to a better and purer faith, immersion in water was evidently used as the expressive sign. So it is notorious, that the genuine convert to the faith of Christ is ever represented, in the New Testament, as one regenerate, or born again; and baptism, as employed by John and the apostles, was a type or representation of this regeneration. These points of resemblance between the proselyte baptism of the Jews, and the baptism of the Christians, are so important and so striking, as to render it nearly indisputable that the one baptism was borrowed from the other. Since, therefore, it is altogether incredible that the Jews should borrow one of their leading ceremonies from the Christians, whom they despised and hated, there can be little reasonable doubt that the baptism of John and the Christians was derived from the proselyte baptism of the Jews; and that, of course, the latter was of a date anterior to Christianity.
4 Even as they circumcise and baptize proselytes, so do they circumcise and baptize servants who are received from Gentiles, &c.; Maim. Issure Biah, cap. 13. “When a proselyte is received, he must be circumcised, and when he is cured, they baptize him in the presence of two wise men,” &c.; Talmud Babyl. Mass. Jedamoth, fol. 47,
3. Our Saviour's discourse with Nicodemus is considered (and I think with justice,) to contain an allusion to the baptism of proselytes; for he there describes conversion under the figure of a second birth-a birth of "water and of the Spirit.” Here there is a precise accordance with the known Jewish doctrine respecting proselytism; and, after having thus treated of that doctrine, and applied it in a spiritual sense, our Lord adverts to the want of intelligence displayed by Nicodemus on the subject, as to a surprising circumstance; “ Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?"
4. Although the baptism of proselytes is nowhere expressly mentioned in the Old Testament, it was the natural, and, indeed, necessary, consequence of the admitted principle of the Jewish law, that unclean persons of every description were to be purified by washing in water, and of the custom, which so generally prevailed amongst the ancient Jews, of effecting this washing by immersion. On whatever occasion the rite of baptism was employed,- whether as a preparation for religious service, or for the removal of uncleanness, or as a type of conversion to a holier faith