Baptism or Tevilah?

“And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water to fulfill all righteousness, O, then, how  much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water.” -2 Nephi 13:7 RAV, 31:5 OPV

When reading the Book of Mormon, we see baptism mentioned repeatedly throughout the book. However, Nephi and others would not have understood this as we understand baptism today. They would have understood baptism as tevilah, a full body ritual washing for cleansing rather than absolution.

The Old Ways

The idea of baptism is not new. The Torah requires washing in water, full immersion, as a means of purification in Leviticus 15:13. Some of the reasons for baptism were:

  • Converting to Israel (Judaism)
  • In preparation for temple worship, particularly the High Priest before Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:24, 16:26, 16:28)
  • Men experiencing a seminal discharge (Leviticus 15:2, 13)
  • After sexual acts (Leviticus 15:18)
  • Contact with or after carrying any animal deliberately killed for any reason other than food (Leviticus 17:15)
  • To prepare the body for burial (Ecclesiastes 5:15)
  • Coming in contact with a dead body (Numbers 19:7-8)

Looking again at Nephi, did Jesus need baptism? He didn’t need to be washed clean in the Christian sense, but he would have needed tevilah; and if Jesus needed tevilah then so do we.

Baptism Today

As Christians we view baptism through our new traditions rather than the Torah. Why then are we baptized before we are given confirmation? One reason may be because we are temples of God. We wash our bodies to be worthy of the Holy Spirit. It makes sense that God would ask people to bathe before going into a holy place, like temples, or the tabernacle before temples, in Israel. This held both spiritual meaning and helps to stop the spread of diseases.

The Israelites had access to the Holy Spirit just as Christians and Jews do today. As we wash our bodies, we are symbolically cleansed to be reborn as new people, as Christians reborn in Christ, for Jews reborn into the covenant. We use different languages, yet what we do, and why, aren’t all that dissimilar. Being baptized is not so much a New Testament Law as it is a new understanding of Torah. And there is no reason we cannot or should not be washed clean at every opportunity.

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