Mikvah, Mikvaot, Mikveh

The Question: Did you know that Christian baptism is fashioned after the Jewish bridal mikvah?

My Response: Outwardly, Christian baptism certainly does resemble the Jewish Bridal Mikveh, and I suppose that arguments could be made that our Christian ordinance seems to have its roots in the Jewish ritual.

There are significant differences between the Jewish ritual immersion and baptism as understood by Christians and other groups. In Judaism, immersion in mikveh (living water) was commanded by God as a necessary requirement for ritual cleanliness. John the Baptist's baptism for repentance had nothing to do with ritual cleanliness but was a sign of turning away from one's sinful ways. Catholics and certain other religious bodies who wrongfully call themselves Christian, consider baptism, by infusion, immersion or some other means as a sacrament by which one's former sins are forgiven and he is saved, regenerated and admitted into the Body of Christ.

For Bible-believing Christians, baptism is a public manifestation of an inner faith, a symbolic identification with Christ's death, burial and resurrection. For the Bible-believing Christian, baptism has nothing to do with his salvation. It is an event that takes place sometime after his regeneration. No lustral water is used. There is no cleansing from sin.

3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
--Romans 6:3-6

Catholic baptism would appear to be one of the many perversions of Judaism so prevalent in Roman Catholic practice and doctrine. Sure, the Roman church teaches essentially the same things about baptism as does the Bible, but then she adds to that teaching such things as faith is received through baptism and that baptism results in the forgiveness of sin:

978 When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them.... Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil [Roman Catechism I, 11,3.]--Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

This is very reminiscent of the Jewish mikveh, a ritual full immersion cleansing required of all converts to Judaism. Like the Catholic baptism, lustral water is used in the mikveh. In common with Catholic baptism, the mikveh cleanses the candidate of all sin. The Catholic baptism requires witnesses, as does the Jewish mikveh for the convert. See what I mean?

But the mikveh ritual was not limited just to spiritually cleansing proselytes or brides prior to their weddings. In ancient Israel, mikveh was a really important factor in Jewish life.

Mikveh means 'the gathering of the waters.' The Bible student first encounters the word in Genesis 1:10b, where the Lord says, “and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas.” Because of this reference, the ocean is considered a legitimate mikvah. BTW, did you know that the lustral water used by the Jews in the mikveh is salted, just like the sea? A commonality with Catholic 'holy' water.

Mikvah of the Synagogue of Sarasota

In the Halacha (Jewish Law), mikveh refers to the waters used for ritual immersion. The Mishnah tells us that Ezra decreed that every male should immerse himself before prayer or study. Just like today, there were groups in ancient times who felt that they could do better than what was required of them. The Essenes, for example, went into the mikvah so they would be ready when Messiah came. In the Talmud, the Essenes and similar groups are identified as 'tovelei shaharit,' which translates to 'dawn bathers.' Such groups were known to the Early Church Fathers, who referred to them in Greek as 'hemerbaptists,' or 'daily bathers.'

The Halacha lists three areas requiring ritual immersion:

1. Immersion (baptism) was one of three prerequisites for conversion to Judaism. The others were circumcision and sacrifice (Maimonides, Hilkh. Iss. Biah xiii. 5).

2. Ritual purification by immersion was required of a woman after her monthly period (Leviticus 15:28)

3. Cooking and eating utensils made by non-Jews must be ritually purified by immersion before use. (R.J. Zwi Werblowsky and Geoffrey Wigoder, Edd., Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, © 1966, Holt Rinehart p-263).

Orthodox Jews and some others still visit the mikvah for ritual immersion before Yom Kippur as a sign of purity and repentance. Many immerse themselves before Shabat in order to better appreciate the holiness of the day.

In ancient times, Jews considered mikveh so important that they would construct mikvaot even before building their synagogues. Why were the mikvaot so important? Simply because ritual purification was believed necessary to prepare priests and others for their worship and duties.

Before the High Priest could conduct services or enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he first had to be ritually purified. Priests could not participate in the Temple service without first being ritually purified in the mikvah. No scribe could write the name of God until he had undergone ritual purification. Anyone entering the Temple complex was required to undergo ritual purification. There were other occasions requiring mikveh, but these are examples enough. The laws of mikveh were rigidly adhered to, even during the terrible years of war (66-73 AD) (Josephus, “Wars,” 4:205)

In the Temple complex were several mikvaot. The Midrash (2:5) tells us one was located in the Chamber of Lepers in the northwest corner of the Court of Women. Mikvaot for priestly use were scattered about the Temple, even in underground vaults (Commentary to Tam. 26b; Tam. 1:1). There were mikvaot reserved for the High Priest. The Mishnah mentions two of these high priestly bathes, one of which was in the Water Gate. The other was on the roof of the Parva Chamber (Mid. 1:4; Mid. 5:3).

A mikvah was on the Mount of Olives, to be used prior to burning the red heifer. This was reached by means of a ramp that reached from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount. This was an elevated structure, so as to avoid uncleanness from the graves in the valley below. Archeologists have located 48 other mikvaot in the vicinity of the Monumental Staircase leading into the Temple Complex.

Today, in Roman Catholicism, we see the continuing corruption of the ancient Jewish practice. Jews are required to ritually purify themselves prior to participating in many of the rites of their faith. For this purpose, mikvaot were readily available for their use. In today's Roman Catholic churches, mini-mikvaot are located at each entrance. Of course, these are not used for full immersion, but they do hold lustral water into which Catholic fingers are dipped prior to making the ritual 'sign of the cross' on breast, shoulders and forehead.

A number of so-called Protestants known to me and even more Catholics I know are not aware that dribbling water on the head is not the only option for Catholic baptism. There are provisions for baptisms under conditions of emergency and/or sudden death situations that may not even involve use of water at all. As this statement from the website of a Catholic parish church informs, full immersion is not only an option for routine baptisms, but actually is the preferred method.

Baptismal Font at St. Joseh Catholic church

As one enters the side door near the altar one finds the baptismal font and pool. At St. Joseph we consider this the "main" entrance since we must pass the sign and symbol of our rebirth into the life of Christ as members of the Body. We practice both infusion and immersion baptisms. For infants under the age of seven the parents choose which form they wish to use. Infusion is the method we are most familiar with and is done with the child being held over the font while water is poured over the child's head. The Church, however, prefers immersion since the action of being submerged in the water speaks more clearly to the understanding that baptism is a "dying and rising" with Christ. The baptismal pool, then, becomes the "burial ground" for our old selves who are raised to new life in Jesus through baptism. When this method is chosen for infants they are baptized nude with the presider (priest or deacon) standing in the pool.Virtual Tour, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Placentia, California.

Judaism teaches that full immersion in a mikvah is a requirement for ritual cleanliness. Catholicism, which considers itself to be Judaism fulfilled, teaches that baptism—by infusion, immersion, desire or blood—is necessary for salvation and admittance into the Catholic Church. The Scriptures teach that “works of righteousness” do not save; that salvation is a work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Who are you going to believe?

But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.--Titus 3:4-7

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