As an elder or synagogue leader, your job is to help guide families in the faith. For this reason we want to spend several chapters talking about the lifecycle needs of believing families. In this first chapter we want to talk about ritual immersion (baptism), since this symbolizes the start of the spiritual life of a believer.
To answer a common question, immersion is not what brings salvation. Rather, we are saved by His favor (grace) through faith, and we can be saved without ritual immersion. Yeshua told the thief on the cross (or stake) that he would be with Him in paradise, even though the thief died before he could be ritually immersed.
Luqa (Luke) 23:43
43 And Yeshua said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Yet even though immersion is not required for salvation, if we are able to get physically immersed, we should do so, as Yeshua said that it is fitting to be immersed “to fulfill all righteousness.”
Mattityahu (Matthew) 3:13-15
13 Then Yeshua came from Galilee to Yochanan at the Jordan to be immersed by him.
14 And Yochanan tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be immersed by You, and are You coming to me?”
15 But Yeshua answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.
Three Types of Ritual Washing (Ablution)
The first thing we need to know is that there are three types of ritual washing (or ablution) in Scripture. The first is the washing of the hands and feet. The second is washing the whole body. The third is not just washing the whole body, but immersing or dipping it in water. These are three different rituals, with three different purposes.
The second thing we need to know is that both Judaism and Christianity get these things wrong, for different reasons. Because there is so much confusion on this subject, we will proceed carefully, and methodically.
Ritual Hand Washing
Yahweh told the Levitical priesthood to wash their hands and their feet at the brazen (bronze) laver, lest they die. The purpose of this was probably simple sanitation.
Shemote (Exodus) 30:18-21
18 “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it,
19 for Aharon and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it.
20 When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to Yahweh, they shall wash with water, lest they die.
21 So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them — to him and his descendants throughout their generations.”
As long as we are on this topic, this commandment is probably also the basis of rabbinic ritual handwashing, called netilat hayadaim. Because Judah believes he has the authority to establish Torah to suit himself, when the first temple was destroyed and Judah went into Babylon, the rabbis probably tried to adapt this ritual to daily life (especially since it was commanded for all generations). Further, since rabbinic Jews believe their traditions carry the weight of law, they asked Yeshua why He and His disciples did not obey their tradition.
Marqaus (Mark) 7:1-5
1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem.
2 Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with [ritually] unwashed hands, they found fault.
3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.
4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.
5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with [ritually] unwashed hands?”
As we explain in other places, the reason Yeshua did not follow this tradition is that it was a corruption of Yahweh’s Torah commandment. Since the commandment had been modified, it no longer came from Yahweh, but from man. Further, it had nothing to do with sanitation.
Full Body Washing: Rahatz vs. Tabal/Tevilah
The next level of ritual purification is to wash the whole body with water. In Hebrew, this kind of washing is called rahatz (רָחַץ). It is commanded 72 times in the Tanach (Older Covenant), and its purpose is likely also hygiene.
OT:7364 rachats (raw-khats’); a primitive root; to lave (the whole or a part of a thing):
KJV – bathe (self), wash (self).
When we have normal bodily discharges, the Torah tells us to wash our whole body with water. Some examples are normal seminal emissions and a woman’s normal monthly flow. The idea is one of physical cleaning.
It is important to realize that the rabbis get this wrong. Contrary to Jewish tradition, when Yahweh tells us to wash (rahatz), we do not need to dip our bodies in a special ritual bath. Rather, we need to wash (i.e., clean) our bodies, and then wait until evening.
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 15:16-21
16 ‘If any man has an emission of semen, then he shall wash [rahatz] all his body in water, and be unclean until evening.
17 And any garment and any leather on which there is semen, it shall be washed with water, and be unclean until evening.
18 Also, when a woman lies with a man, and there is an emission of semen, they shall bathe [rahatz] in water, and be unclean until evening.
19 ‘If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.
20 Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean.
21 Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe [rahatz] in water, and be unclean until evening.”
In contrast, the Hebrew word for immersing or dipping oneself in water is called tabal (טבל). Ritual immersion is called tevilah (טְבִילָה).
OT:2881 tabal (taw-bal’); a primitive root; to dip, to immerse:
KJV – dip, plunge.
While rahatz implies physical cleansing, tevilah can include physical cleansing, but does not necessarily include physical cleansing. Rather, to fulfill rahatz, one can merely dip in and out of the water, and this is how it is treated both in rabbinic Judaism and in the Nazarene faith. (That is, it is not a ritual bath but a ritual dip, dunk, or plunge.)
Tabal and Rahatz are Not Connected
Rabbinic Judaism makes a connection between rahatz and tevilah that does not exist in Scripture. For example, rabbinic Judaism incorrectly rules that anywhere the Torah says to wash (rahatz), we must perform ritual immersion (tevilah). This may have to do with Judah’s penchant for adding what they call “fence laws” to the Torah. Alternately, it might also be a misunderstanding of 2 Kings 5, where Elisha told Naaman the Aramean to go and wash (rahatz) in the Jordan, and Naaman chose to immerse (or dip) himself instead.
Melachim Bet (2 Kings) 5:13-14
13 And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then when he says to you, ‘Wash [rahatz], and be clean’?”
14 So he went down and dipped [tabal] seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of Elohim; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Yet it is important to note that while Naaman chose to immerse himself, he could have hypothetically chosen to pour water on himself, because the command was to rahatz, not tabal.
We also know that when the Torah says to rahatz it does not imply immersion, because Yahweh told Moshe to wash (rahatz) Aharon and his sons at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and there was no immersion pool.
Shemote (Exodus) 29:4
4 “And Aharon and his sons you shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and you shall wash [rahatz] them with water.”
Further, the way the language reads, it was not that the priests would wash themselves, but that they would be washed. This does not speak of immersion, but of a “bucket and sponge” situation. Therefore, Judah’s ruling that every command to rahatz wash must be fulfilled by tevilah immersion is not correct.
Tabal Means Dip to Load Up (Not Wash)
The word tabal (טבל) is found 16 times in the Tanach, and apart from Naaman in 2 Kings 5, only one of them has anything to do with immersing of human flesh in water. This is Joshua 3:15, where the feet of the priests were immersed in water. Yet this is not full immersion.
Yehoshua (Joshua) 3:15
15 And as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped [נִטְבְּלוּ] in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest)….
When the feet of the priests were immersed or dipped in the water, there was no washing going on. Rather, it was a simple statement that their feet were in water.
Consider that in every other instance where the word tabal (טבל) is used, it has to do with dipping something other than a human body in some liquid (such as blood, oil, food, etc.), and no washing is taking place.
The first use of the word tabal is in Genesis 37:31, where Joseph’s tunic was dipped in the blood of a kid of the goats. The goal here was not to cleanse it, but to load it, or to stain it. Further, since this is the first use of the word in Tanach, the Law of First Mention tells us that this is how the word is normally used.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 37:31
31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped [וַיִּטְבְּלוּ] the tunic in the blood.
The second example is similar, indicating that something was stained with blood.
Shemote (Exodus) 12:22
22 “And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it [וּטְבַלְתֶּם] in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.”
The rest of the examples read similarly, which tells us that contrary to Jewish tradition, when the Torah tells us to wash (rahatz), tevilah immersion is not required. This very good to know if there is a drought or a limited-water situation (Elohim forbid). For example, even if you only have a bucket of water and a sponge, you can still clean the body after normal discharges (such as a seminal discharge, or a woman’s monthly flow).
However, rahatz washing will not work when there is an abnormal bodily discharge. When there is an abnormal bodily discharge we need to use the third type of ritual ablution, which is ritual immersion with living water. But before we can talk about ritual immersion with living water, first we need to know what qualifies as living water.
Mayim Chayim (Living or Running Water)
Numbers 15:1-13 describes a situation in which a man or a woman has an abnormal discharge (either of semen or an abnormal menses). In Hebrew, this is called zav. To cleanse zav, first the man or woman washes (rahatz) with water. Then, after he or she is washed and healed, he or she must count seven more days and then wash in mayim chayim (מַיִם חַיִּים). This translates literally as living water, but is often translated as running water, or springing water.
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 15:13
13 ‘And when he who has a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, then he shall count for himself seven days for his cleansing, wash his clothes, and bathe his body in running water (בְּמַיִם חַיִּים); then he shall be clean.”
What is this living water? The first time we find this term in Torah, it refers to a spring-fed well.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 26:19
19 Also Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found a well of running [springing] water there.
Since this is the first time we encounter this word in Scripture, the Law of First Mention tells us that living water is at least ideally defined as a natural spring-fed source of flowing water, such as a flowing spring. However, it can also include rivers or lakes which are fed by springs. Further, since these all typically feed to the ocean, the ocean itself also qualifies as living water.
What then shall we say? We may use ordinary sources of water for the purposes of normal cleansing (rahatz). No special ritual bath is required. However, when there is an abnormal physical discharge it implies an abnormal spiritual condition, which requires cleansing in living (or springing) water, or some source of water fed by a spring. This is why we see Yochanan Hamatbil (John the Immerser/Baptist) immersing in the Jordan (which is a river fed by springs).
Yochanan (John) 1:28
28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where Yochanan was immersing.
John 3:23 also tells us that Yochanan Hamatbil was immersing in “Aenon near Salim” because there was much water there.
Yochanan (John) 3:22-23
22 After these things Yeshua and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and immersed.
23 Now Yochanan also was immersing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were immersed.
Strong’s Greek Concordance tells us that Aenon is the Greek word corresponding to the Hebrew word Ayin, meaning a spring of water.
NT:137 Ainon (ahee-nohn’); of Hebrew origin [a derivative of OT:5869, place of springs]; Aenon, a place in Palestine:
When we follow the reference to OT:5869 we see that it corresponds to the Hebrew word Ayin, meaning a fountain (as the eye of the landscape).
OT:5869 `ayin (ah’-yin); probably a primitive word; an eye (literally or figuratively); by analogy, a fountain (as the eye of the landscape):
It also corresponds to OT:5871.
OT:5871 `Ayin (ah’-yin); the same as OT:5869; fountain; Ajin, the name (thus simply) of two places in Palestine:
This shows us that those who immerse converts into the faith tend to seek out flowing water (especially water flowing from springs), because these help to cleanse not only from physical impurities, but also from spiritual impurities. That is also why both rabbinic and Nazarene Judaism (i.e., Nazarene Israel) require immersion in a source of living waters when new converts come into the faith.
Yahweh-Yeshua as the Fountain of Living Waters
Yahweh tells us He is the fountain of living waters.
Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 2:13
13 ‘For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns — broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Hewn cisterns are symbolic of man-made religions which are not in connection with the living waters of the Spirit. And consider also:
Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 17:13
13 O Yahweh, the hope of Israel,
All who forsake You shall be ashamed.
“Those who depart from Me
Shall be written in the earth,
Because they have forsaken Yahweh,
The fountain of living waters.”
Yeshua tells us that He can give us the living water of the Spirit, and that this living water will become in us a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.
Yochanan (John) 4:10-14
10 Yeshua answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of Elohim, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water?
12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
13 Yeshua answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,
14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Since living water represents the Spirit, this is why any source of water used for tevilah immersion must be connected to a source of living water.
What Makes a Mikveh?
With this background, let us talk about the requirements for a ritual immersion pool.
In Hebrew, a ritual immersion pool is called a mikveh or mikvah (מִקְוֶה / מקווה). This word refers to a collection (or pool) of water. (The plural of mikveh is miqvaot, מקואות.) Neither the written nor the archaeological record shows any reference to man-made miqvaot prior to the start of the first century BCE (the century before Yeshua). However, during the first century BCE, man-made miqvaot began to proliferate both in the land of Israel, and in Jewish communities in the diaspora. (The reasons for this are unclear, but it seems likely that they wanted to provide ritual baths closer to the temple, and also closer to their synagogues, especially in the cities.)
Let us be careful to differentiate between what Jewish tradition says and what the Tanach says with regard to miqvaot. The Mishna dedicates an entire section to miqvaot (Tractate Mikvaot). It correctly says that in order to make a proper tevilah, a mikveh must be connected to a spring or well of naturally occurring water (i.e., water that comes from Yahweh). It also correctly extrapolates that it can be a pool that is supplied by a river or lake which has a natural spring as its source. However, beyond that there is a mixture of both positive and negative.
Earlier we saw that rabbinic Judaism incorrectly says that every ritually impure condition requiring rahatz must be cleansed with full body immersion (tevilah). That is, rabbinic Judaism teaches that before husbands and wives can have normal marital relations, the wife must perform tevilah (and not just rahatz) after her monthly flow. Judaism also says that the husband also needs a tevilah after marital relations in order to be ritually clean. Because of this mechanistic mindset, rabbinic Jews feel the need to perform a ritual dip often—and because of that their standing rule is to establish the mikveh before they build the synagogue. Further, if the existing mikveh dries up they will even sell and relocate the synagogue.
In contrast, we believe that tevilah is not necessary when the Torah requires only rahatz. Rather, we believe rahatz serves the purpose of ordinary bodily cleansing, and that tevilah is only needed for ritual purification in cases requiring cleansing from spiritual impurity. That is, we believe tevilah is necessary in the final stage of cleansing from a zav, and also when converting to the faith (which is also a form of being cleansed from ritual impurity). There is a spiritual foreshadowing of this when Israel left Egypt, and passed through the Reed (Red) Sea.
Ivrim (Hebrews) 11:29
29 By faith they passed through the Reed Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.
Even though they walked on dry ground, in a sense they were submerged under the water (or the waterline). When they came up they belonged to Yahweh.
What Makes an Immersion?
Yeshua commands us to go into all nations and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them in His name.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 28:19-20
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them in My name,
20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amein.
[To learn why we immerse only in Yeshua’s name, see “Immersion in Yeshua’s Name Only”, in Nazarene Scripture Studies Volume 3.]
There is much we could say here, but the main thing is to realize that immersion is not a simple “checklist task” that automatically guarantees salvation. Rather, it is symbolic of ritual death and rebirth. When we submerge under the water, we are to die to the old man of flesh, so that we can arise reborn into newness of spiritual life in Yeshua.
Romim (Romans) 6:3-4
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were immersed into Messiah Yeshua were immersed into His death?
4 Therefore we were buried with Him through immersion into death, that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
To be immersed into Yeshua’s death is to die to our flesh, and its desires. From then on we must remain in Him, and Him in us, and let Him be the one to lead us in all that we do. If this indwelling of the Spirit does not come, then ritual immersion is meaningless.
We also need to realize that immersion itself is only a ritual, and does not automatically cause us to be filled with His Spirit. Rather, after we are immersed we must ask for the infilling of His Spirit, and keep asking until we get it. In Yeshua’s case this happened right away, but notice that even so, there were still two steps. The first step was His immersion, and the second step was the infilling of Yahweh’s Spirit.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 3:16
16 When He had been immersed, Yeshua came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of Elohim descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.
To use my own case as an example, I was called to repentance on June 6th, 1999, but I did not receive the infilling of the Spirit for several months. Although I dedicated myself to Him immediately when He called me to repentance, I still had to learn how to submit myself and my life to His Spirit. Once I learned how to submit and open myself to Him, the Spirit fell.
Finally, once we have received the Spirit, we need to learn how to walk in the Spirit.
Galatim (Galatians) 5:16
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Galatim (Galatians) 5:24-25
24 And those who are Messiah’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
Even after we receive the Spirit, there is still a lifelong task of sanctification. If we do not quench the Spirit, then even though we begin as newborn babes in the word, we will learn to grow and become mature in the faith, so that we desire to help build His kingdom, and serve others.