Writing to the Hebrews, many of whom lived through that transitional period between the end of the Old and the beginning of the New Testament, it would come to them as no surprise to read the author’s words to the effect that “the first tabernacle . . . stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings,” (Heb. 9:10, KJV) i.e., in various washings, or more literally, “various baptisms.” No surprise was it to them that the Old Testament dispensation was milestoned with “various baptisms.” No surprise, because they, from the time of Moses, were quite conversant and familiar with the tabernacle and its many baptisms. Therefore, when on the day of Pentecost, three thousand Jews from sixteen different nations were converted, it was not the proclamation of some strange, new thing to hear Peter exhort them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins . . . for the promise is to you and to your children.” They knew very well what baptism was, namely, a cleansing, and who were to be baptized, namely, a people who were priests unto God and their seed. Nor did they fear that now in the New Dispensation the change would be such that their infant children would have nothing to do with baptism. From both the Old Testament and Peter’s words they knew better. This we intend to prove from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.
Baptism, like the gospel, is intended for God’s people in every region, whether of polar or tropical zone, whether for arctic or Saharan peoples. Baptism, just as the gospel, exactly suits the one region as much as the other. For in baptism the Lord has appointed a very simple and easy symbolism for” the church in every clime. Neither the Lord, nor His Word, makes it any more difficult to administer baptism in Baffin Land, or in Death Valley, than it is to do so in our moderate climes, or lands of perpetual summer, or comfortably and conveniently, as we do, throughout all of our churches. The Word of God speaks of baptism in terms of “various washings.” Paul testified, in keeping with this, that he was commanded, “having arisen (Gk.), be baptized, and wash away thy sins. . -. .” Then occurred another of the “various baptisms” recorded in Scripture. Washing is a simple and easy matter. Even in countries where water is scarce, the body is washed, cleansed and mollified with olive oil. In fact, oil had been a proper and suitable element used in baptism, particularly in the anointing of the priests.
This is not difficult to prove. Some, who would make the subject a controversial one, question that statement, the more knowing of them dropping the challenge to prove our point from our own confessions and liturgical standards, as though confident that faced with them we shall run into difficulty. First of all, they point to our baptism form, where “the doctrine of holy baptism” is described in its sacramental action as “This, the dipping in, or sprinkling with water.” (Ital. added). Here the charge is that we Reformed cannot make up our minds whether baptism is dipping or sprinkling, or perhaps we even imagine it is, or could be, both. The fact and truth of the matter are, that when such a disjunction is made, with dipping set over against sprinkling, you do not have two contemporaneous or almost equally ancient methods of baptism. What you have is rather an instance of custom subtly blending with biblical institution.
In the printing of our Reformed standards certain typographical errors became evident. Some, not all of these, have been corrected. One such error appears in a place containing the Apostolic Confession, omitting the word “begotten” from “and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord.” Also, there are certain expressions in the Confessions that we prefer not to use, such as in Canons V, 7, where reference is made to “a reconciled God.” We prefer to think that God never needed any reconciling, that man, the sinner, is alone the reconciled, that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself”; that Israel’s love was estranged from God, never God’s love from Israel. Also the Canons speak of God’s “permission” of falling into evil, whereas we rather agree with Calvin that the idea of a divine permission is a denial of divine providence and is a heathen dualism. At these points in our standards we make mental corrections (not mental reservations), still having throughout their extent the most perfect expression and declaration of the truth as humanly can be. These minor points in no wise mar the perfect doctrine of salvation there so indisputably declared with the utmost perspicuity. So, too, the phrase, “This, the dipping in, or sprinkling with water,” this writer prefers to read (however it may read in the original), “This, the dipping in and sprinkling with water.” For the latter alone accords with its context in the baptism form, with the Belgic Confession, and with the abundant, constant and repetitive emphasis of Scripture. First, look at Ex. 12:22, where the command is “take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood . . . andstrike (or sprinkle, according to Heb. 11:28) the lintel and the two side posts.” Notice: infallible Scripture has it, “dip and sprinkle.” Second, you have Ex. 24:6-8, the passage referred to in the “various baptisms” of Heb. 9, where Moses “took the blood . . . with water . . . and sprinkled both the book and all the people.” “Moreover, he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels,” which baptisms (Heb. 9:10) or sprinklings (Heb. 9:13, 19, 21) signified purging and purifying (Heb. 9:13, 14, 22). Moses effected all these baptisms by the dipping of hyssop in the blood and the following sprinkling action. Third, in Lev. 4:6, “the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle” it. The dipping action of the finger was not the baptism. The priest so doing did not baptize his finger! The dipping was merely preparatory to the baptism which was effected by the sprinkling. Fourth, in the 17th versed of this chapter the same idea is expressed; “dip andsprinkle.” Fifth, in Lev. 9:9, Aaron “dipped his finger in the blood and put (smeared) it upon the horns of the altar.” Sixth, in Lev. 14:6-7, it is: “dip them . . . in the blood . . . and sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed.” Seventh, in. v: 16, “the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and sprinkle of the oil.” Eighth, in vv. 26 and 27 it is, “the priest shall pour of the oil . . . and . . . sprinkle” it. Ninth, in v. 51, there is the baptism of a house where it is again “dip andsprinkle.” Tenth, in Mum. 19:18-21, “a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it” on the tent of an Israelite, his household articles, and the persons with him, so baptizing and thus purifying them. Underscore also in this chapter the words “sprinkle” (6 times), “wash” (5 times), “bathe” (3 times), “purify” (4 times) and “be clean,” all of which point. directly to the central meaning of baptism, which is purification.
From these ten passages, it is abundantly evident thatScripture does not allow for two methods of baptism, providing for either a dipping in water, or a sprinklingwith water. Nor does Scripture use its prepositions in such an indifferent manner with respect to baptism. Further, if the word “or” must be understood in the referred to liturgical phrase in our baptism form, then so must the word “either.” This makes it, “either the dipping in water, or sprinkling with water teaches us. . . .” But the phrase in the baptism form is not a combination of either early or gradually adopted custom and plainly evident biblical practice as divinely commanded. The biblical weight of evidence is heavy for “This, the dipping in and sprinkling with water.”
“Various baptisms” are also on record as not only performed by washing with water, as in Ex. 29:4, but also with oil poured on the head, (v. 7) and by sprinkling the oil and the blood upon Aaron’s sons (20, 21). Here, too, baptism was performed by merely smearing the blood on the lobe of the right ear, on the thumb of the right hand, and on the great toe of the right foot. The priests were regarded as covered from head to foot with blood, without any necessity of dipping or plunging their entire body into it. So they were viewed as covered with the blood of the cross. The blood on the ear signified the consecration of all the believer’s intellectual, mental and spiritual faculties. The blood on the thumb reminded him of the dedication of all his works to God, while the blood on his toe denoted the sanctification of his walk. It is to be noted, in v. 12, that there is a baptism of the brazen altar by pouring of the blood. This same washing, pouring and sprinkling is treated again in Lev. 8. Take note also of Lev. 16, and such expressions as “sprinkle the blood . . . because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel,” as “wash,” “bathe” and “atonement for the holy sanctuary . . . for the altar, for the priests and for all the people.” All these persons and things mentioned were baptized. To cleanse them the water of purifying was ordered to be sprinkled upon them (Num. 8:7). When any dipping is mentioned, it is not of the person or thing baptized, but an act performed by the baptizer to administer his baptism.
It must be now quite clear that all these “various baptisms,” so familiar to the Jews, really of both testaments, are but types of the true and real baptism accomplished with the sprinkling of Christ’s blood and the pouring of His Spirit. Who does not realize that Jesus taught that His death on the cross was a baptism? In fact, it is the baptism, (Mark 10:38f) of which water baptism is but the sign. Who does not realize that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was a baptism? In fact, it is an aspect of the one true baptism. (cp. Acts 2and I Cor. 12). Our Heidelberg Catechism comports with this, teaching that the ideal and real baptism is in “the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross,” and that baptism with water is a sign of it, signifying our having been “washed by His blood and Spirit.” So we are taught that baptism is a figure of regeneration, as we were washed in Christ’s blood, which He shed (poured out) for us by His sacrifice on the cross and renewed us by the Holy Spirit (HC, Lord’s Day 26). So the “various baptisms” were the Old Testament’s adumbrations of the New Testament’s “one baptism.”Eph. 4:5. Therefore, the New Testament, with its baptismal record, we may be confident, will be found in perfect harmony with the Old Testament as just examined.