As a protestant, and specifically along baptist lines of theology, I was always taught and have always believed that baptism is an outward sign of an inward change. It is a public declaration that one has decided to follow Christ and live life for Him from that point on. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, though it is a spiritual act of faith. When I read the verse above, it seems unclear what John was preaching, though. Is it the baptism or the repentance that brings about the forgiveness of sins? At the time that he is baptizing, Christ has not yet died and resurrected, so why is John baptizing? What does it mean? I was always taught that it is a metaphor for Christ's death and resurrection and our death to the world and life in Him. You are dunked under the water, symbolizing death, and brought back up, symbolizing the resurrection and new life you have in Christ. But when John was doing this, Christ had not yet died and risen again. Is it prophetic symbolism? There is plenty of that in scripture, but is this part of it? Where did the whole notion of baptism come from? It turns out that I have a lot of questions.
I certainly won't be able to answer all of my own questions in a single morning, a single blog post, but I can do a little more research, particularly on the references to baptism in the book of Mark, since that's where I read today.
The second mention of baptism in the book of Mark, at least according to my handy concordance reference at the back of my Bible, comes from Christ's own mouth during the Great Commission. He says,
Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Matthew's version of the Great Commission is slightly different, though baptism is certainly part of it.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Which brings me to wonder what else Matthew has to say on the subject of baptism. It looks like the first mention of baptism is in Matthew, chapter 3 verse 11. John baptizes with water for repentance, but one will come after him who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. More interesting to me, though, is just a few verses later where Jesus insists on being baptized by John. He says,
"Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness."
How does baptism fulfill all righteousness? Especially in Jesus? Wasn't he already righteous to begin with? And where did the custom of baptism come from? It appears to just be mentioned casually in its scriptural debut. But who came up with the idea? Is there something in the old testament where the sacrifice must be baptized or ceremonially cleansed before it can be used as an atonement for sins?
Clearly I have some more reading and researching to do.