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Please Note: Absolutely nothing on this website should be taken as anti-Church or anti-Rabbinic. I am not anti-anything or anti-anyone. I am only pro-Torah and pro-Truth (see “Philosophy”), but sometimes the Truth upsets our long-held beliefs. I know it certainly upset mine! For example, see “Why Isn’t My Theology Consistent Throughout the Website?”

Developing a
Systematic Messianic Theology

“The purpose of careful theological formulations is not to put barriers in the way of people who are seeking salvation, but to define clearly the truths upon which genuine [Biblical] faith rests, so that people will not be misled by false doctrines.” [Bowman]

“It must be clearly and unequivocally stated that theology cannot save you. Only faith in Messiah Yeshua can save you. Theology can only give you sound doctrine.” [RLS]

Unless otherwise specified, throughout the Theology section of my website I use the term “Torah” in the wider sense of including the entire body of inspired Scripture: both the Tanakh and the Apostolic Writings. I personally do not consder any other so-called “sacred writings” either inspired by God or authoritative for the Believer’s walk of faith. Thus, I do not consider the Mishnah (the “Oral Torah”) as part of Torah. You should make up your own mind.

[Explanations of rabbinic citations are HERE]


What the Bible Teaches About
(Believer’s Baptism)
MMin Dr. Ari Levitt-Sawyer
ארי בּן לוי
ThM, ThD, DMin, MA, MBA

ContentsLesson 1Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Appendix

Barukh atta, Adonai Elohenu, Melekh ha-Olam, Vitzi-Vanu al ha-Tevilah. Blessed are You, ADONAI our God, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding immersion in a mikvah. [the brakah for immersion]

Lesson One:
The Types or Kinds of “Baptism” in Scripture

And Yeshua came up and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

In this lesson:

Evangelical Christianity’s View of Baptism

The Mention of Baptism in Scripture

Ceremonial Washings

Proselyte Immersion (Tevilah)

Yochanan’s Tevilah

Yeshua’s Tevilah Witnessed by Yochanan

Ruach HaKodesh “Baptism”

The Tevilah of (or by) Ruach HaKodesh

The Tevilah with (or in) Ruach HaKodesh

Before we can adequately address the issue of Believer’s Baptism we first need to understand that what Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptizer) and the Shliachim (Apostles) practiced and taught, and what was practiced by the early Messianic Believers, was not Christian baptism as practiced by the Church today, but rather the Jewish practice of tevilah [lit. immersion], which is the total immersing of one’s self in “living water” such as a stream (like the Jordan River) or a lake. If no stream or lake were available, as at the Temple grounds, a mikvah (container of living water conforming to specific requirements) was provided. Christian baptism is very loosely based upon this concept, but has been significantly changed from the practice followed by the early Messianic Believers. Whereas Christian baptism is performed upon the individual by another, generally a member of the clergy, tevilah is the total immersion of one’s self, and may may or may not be observed by official witnesses.  [See also “Yeshua’s Immersion.”]

Evangelical Christianity’s View of Baptism

“Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord s Supper.”[1]
Theologically, baptism may be defined as an act of association or identification with someone, some group, some message, or some event. Christian baptism means identification with the message of the Gospel the person of the Savior, and the group of believers.”[2]

The Mention of Baptism in Scripture

Biblical doctrine makes a distinction between six kinds of “baptisms” or “washings” (two translations of the same Greek [βαπτίζω (baptizó), dip, submerge, immerse; or βάπτισμα (baptisma), the act of immersing] or Hebrew [רַחְצָה (rachtsah), a ritual washing; or טְבִילָה (tevilah), a full body immersion in a mikveh] word) that are addressed in the Sacred Text. These are:

[1. the ceremonial washings of objects under the tradition of the Pharisees;

2. the ceremonial self-immersion of individuals required by Torah:
a. prior to entering the Temple grounds;
b. of Priests and Levites at their ordination, at the beginning of each day of Temple service, and several times during the service day;
c. of women following their monthly menses and after delivering a child;
d. of individuals who have been cured of specific illnesses;
e. of individuals who have become ritually “unclean” by coming into contact with “unclean” persons or objects;

3. the self-immersion (tevilah) of proselytes (converts) to Judaism;

4. the “baptism” of Yochanan[3] the Immerser;

5. the “baptism” of Ruach HaKodesh[4] (the Holy Spirit); or “real” baptism, and

6. the ceremonial immersion (tevilah) of Believers, or “ritual” baptism.

Only the last of these is the subject of this paper, though the others will be mentioned briefly as point of identification or as they relate to the Believer’s ritual immersion.

Ceremonial Washings

According to the tradition of the Pharisees (see “Takanot”), which is followed by observant Jews today as it was in Biblical times, objects used for worship, pots and dishes used around the home, and, of course, the hands of the faithful Jew are required to be put through frequent and complex ceremonies of washings in order for them to be considered kasher (or kosher), or ceremonially clean and acceptable for use. Religious items can be used only for their designated purpose, and household pots can only be used for certain kinds of foods. For example, a pot that is used to contain any type of dairy product can never be also used for meat. And before any food may be eaten, the hands must first be washed in the prescribed manner following a rather complex ceremony. During this ceremony, if any water comes into contact with any [ceremonially] unclean portion of the arms or body and then runs down into the [ceremonially] clean portion of the hands, the hands are now unclean and the ceremony has to be started from the beginning. It was this ceremonial process that the Pharisees were referring to when they rebuked the Yeshua and His talmidim (disciples) for eating with “unwashed” hands (Mark 7:1-5; Luke 11:37-39).

Proselyte Immersion (Tevilah)

When a Gentile (a non-Jew) becomes a convert to Judaism it is necessary for a man to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant, and for both men and women to ceremonially immerse themselves in “living water.” This tradition, called tevilah (the Hebrew word for immersion), continues to the present in both the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish traditions.[5]

During the period of the Second Temple [c. 537-63 B.C.] the regulations regarding conversion became fully formalized. The Rabbis fashioned the laws of conversion after the regulations of Torah [the instructions given to Moses by Adonai at Sinai] relating to purification after occurrences that render a person ritually unclean. These are outlined in Leviticus 15. An offering had to be brought. A male wishing to bring such an offering had to be circumcised. Both male and female had to undergo immersion as an act of cleansing.
Orthodoxy demands circumcision for males, by a Mohel [a person who has been specifically trained in the laws and technique of Milah, or circumcision] and in the presence of a rabbinical court of three. Both males and females have to undergo submersion in a mikvah [a special pool filled with living water, which must be in contact with the groundwater of a stream or rainwater caught in a cistern; immersion in a stream or ocean is also acceptable], also in the presence of a rabbinical court. If it is a woman, the rabbis wait until she is full submerged. Her companion then indicates the fact and the rabbis quickly verify it. Some hold that it is sufficient for the rabbis to be in an anteroom and listen to the ripple of the water.
On emerging from the water, the convert speaks the blessing: Barukh atta, Adonai Elohenu, Melekh ha-Olam, Vitzi-Vanu al ha-Tevilah. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, He who has commanded us concerning immersion.[6]

What is significant for us to observe here is the physical process of this immersion and its significance in Israelite culture. When tevilah is performed, the individual has already bathed and donned fresh new clothing. He/she then enters the mikvah and completely immerses him/herself. The water of the mikvah is a type of Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit), so the individual wants to be totally surrounded and engulfed by the Spirit (or the symbol of the Spirit.)

When a pagan came to belief in HaShem, the true God of the Bible, that individual was “adopted” into the family of Avraham, Yitz’chak, and Ya`akov (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). HaShem changed Ya'akov’s name from “Supplanter” to “Israel” (“one who wrestles with HaShem”). So the pagan who came to faith in Hashem was brought into the family of Israel (Ya'akov). It was a legal adoption process, and once completed, the person was no longer a pagan but a full Israelite, and the person was said to be “born again” as an Israelite. It is no wonder that Nicodemus was confused (John 3:1-9) when Yeshua[8] told him that he must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven-- he was a natural-born Israelite; how was it possible for him to become an Israelite again?

Yochanan’s Tevilah

While proselyte tevilah provided a ritual cleansing for those who had been born “unclean” (i.e., not Jews), the tevilah of Yochanan the Immerser was specifically an “immersion of repentance” (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4) and an identification with his message that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Those who were performing tevilah (immersing themselves) under Yochanan’s supervision were ritually “unclean” because they had turned away from obedience to Torah. Yochanan’s message was that they needed to turn away from their path of disobedience, and return or turn toward God and obedience to Torah, and their sins would be forgiven. They were expressing their repentance (return to God and His Torah; Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5) and their desire for forgiveness. They were making a public testimony of their faith in the coming Kingdom, and declaring that they were unworthy (“unclean”) to enter that Kingdom. It was also a preparatory and symbolic act, as it prepared the one performing tevilah for the ministry of the One who was yet to come, and it symbolized the judgment that He would bring. Those who rejected Yochanan’s tevliah of repentance would surely suffer being “baptized” (i.e., immersed or totally overwhelmed) by the coming judgment.

A direct link is established through Jesus’ own baptism by John; some of Jesus’ disciples had almost certainly been baptized by John (John 1:35-42); Jesus, or some of his disciples, seems to have continued John’s practice at the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry (John 3:22-26; but 4:1-2); and in the cases of the disciples at Pentecost and of Apollos, it was evidently not thought necessary to supplement their Johannine baptism by baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 2; 18:24-28).[7]

That immersion was the form of Yochanan’s “baptism” is supported-- in addition to the actual definition of the word tevilah and its Greek equivalent baptisma (baptisma) -- by the Revelator’s statement that Yochanan was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there (John 3:23), the much water being necessary both to effect full immersion that was required by Torah, and also to fulfill the requirements of “living water” for the mikvah.

Yeshua’s Tevilah Witnessed by Yochanan

A brief note on Yeshua HaMashiach’s[9] tevilah under Yochanan’s supervision is in order. Since Yeshua was (and eternally is) God incarnate, and therefore by His very nature is eternally free from sin, His tevilah could not possibly have been a tevilah of repentance for forgiveness, since He obviously had absolutely nothing for which He needed to repent from or for which He needed to be forgiven. If Yeshua’s tevilah was not a tevilah of repentance, then what was it?

Yeshua said that He had not come to do away with Torah (God’s divine instruction, frequently misinterpreted as “the Law”), but rather that Torah might be fulfilled [completed or correctly interpreted] (Matt. 5:17). Torah requires that before a man can enter the priestly service (which begins at age 30) he must first be ceremonially washed by self-immersion (undergo tevilah) in living water, representing cleansing for service, and anointed with oil, representative of the presence of Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) (Exod. 29:4,7; Lev. 8:6,12). This significance is not missed by Dr. Luke, who carefully points out that Yeshua was about thirty years of age when He began His ministry (Luke 3:21-23). When Yochanan served as the witness to Yeshua’s tevliah, Torah concerning the tevilah for priestly service was fulfilled (Matt. 3:13-15); when Ruach HaKodesh descended at that tevilah (Matt. 3:16-17), the anointing was fulfilled not in type, as with earthly priests, but in the reality which is represented by that type.

It is of significant interest that when the priesthood was first established Aharon (Aaron), the first High Priest, and his sons were washed (immersed) for their priesthood under the supervision of the only prophet of God living at that time, Moshe (Moses). When Yeshua was immersed for His priesthood, He was immersed under the supervision of  the only prophet of God (besides Himself) living at that time, Yochanan.

It is also of interest, further supporting the mode of Yochanan’s baptism, that at the time of Mashach the “washing” for the priesthood was that of ha-Tevilah in a Mikvah, which, as we have seen immediately above, is identified by Judaism as immersion.

For additional details on Yeshua’s tevilah, see “Yeshua’s Immersion: to Fulfill All Righteousness.”

Ruach HaKodesh “Baptism”

An adequate discussion of Ruach HaKodesh’s “Baptism” is far beyond the scope of this brief paper. In summary, however, there are two simultaneous events which occur at the moment of salvation which may be understood as the baptism of Ruach HaKodesh (“Holy Spirit baptism” or the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”), neither one of which has anything whatsoever to do with any of the so-called “sign gifts” or other supernatural manifestations, as claimed by those in the Charismatic movement of Christianity.

The Tevilah of (or by) Ruach HaKodesh

In the first event (first in terms of discussion, not in terms of occurrence, since both occur simultaneously) the baptizing Agent (the Person who performs the tevilah) is Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) and the medium of baptism (that into which the immersion occurs) is Yeshua HaMashiach. Most Christians are familiar with the term “in Christ” or “in Mashiach” (Rom. 8:1; 1Cor. 1:30; Col. 1:2; 1Thess. 4:16; 1Pet. 5:14; et al.), but the author has met very few who have been able to effectively articulate what it means for a believer to be “in Christ.”

The baptism of Ruach HaKodesh (i.e., the Holy Spirit’s baptism) is to be rightly understood as that operation by which the individual believer is brought into organic union with Messiah.[10]

This is the real and true baptism, of which the tevilah (water baptism) is only a symbol or a testimony.

This operation is itself the very process of salvation, which occurs when, immediately upon coming to a saving faith in Yeshua HaMashiach as the Unique Son of God (which by its very definition includes acceptance of Him as one’s personal Savior and Lord), Ruach HaKodesh takes the sinner out of the world (kosmos or world order), of which HaSatan is god (2Cor. 4:4; John 12:31), and literally places (immerses or baptizes) him or her into the Body and Bride of Yeshua (Rom. 6:3; 1Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27), which is the true and invisible Miqra (the called-out Assembly of Believers, or “Church”)[11] (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2,9). The effect of this operation is that the believer is organically and vitally joined to the Lord and thus has become a partaker of the standing, merit, and perfect worthiness of Messiah.[12]

To be baptized (immersed) into Messiah’s Body is to come under the power and Headship of Messiah; it is to be joined unto the Lord, to be identified with Him, to partake of what He is and what He has done not for a moment, but unalterably.[13] This is the real and true “baptism,” of which the ritual tevilah (water baptism) is only a symbol or testimony.

The Tevilah with (or in) Ruach HaKodesh

In the second event (which occurs simultaneously with the first), the Tevilah (Baptism) in or with Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit), the baptizing Agent is Yeshua HaMashiach and the medium of baptism is Ruach HaKodesh. There are six passages of Scripture which speak to this experience (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5) in which, also simultaneous with the moment of salvation, by the authority of Yeshua HaMashiach, Ruach HaKodesh is given fully, completely, and irrevocably to all those who believe, and to come under the Spirit’s power and influence, as every Believer does when he/she believes, is to have been baptized (totally “immersed”) by that influence. This gift is the new birthright and, being possessed by all, indicates that all who are saved are under the power of Ruach HaKodesh, which fact is, according to the strict meaning of the word βαπτίζω [baptizo], a baptism (explained in Lesson 2).


  1. The Baptist Faith and Message, Article VII. The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, 1963. [BACK]

  2. Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 422, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1986. [BACK]

  3. Yochanan is the Hebrew form of the Baptizer’s name, and it is the name that Gabriel instructed his father to give him. It is therefore the name by which this author will refer to him. As nearly all of the individuals in the Bible are Jewish, the author strives to use the Hebraic rather than the Hellenistic (Greek) form of Biblical names, just has he would hope that others would use his own name correctly rather than using some foreign version of his name. It is the author’s conviction that God never intended for the teachings of Yeshua (aka “Jesus”) and the Shliachim (Apostles) to be interpreted as a new religion-- or a Gentile religion-- but rather as a correction and completion of Biblical Judaism (as contrasted with Rabbinic Judaism). Therefore the Hebrew Names and Titles of Deity are also used to refer to the One True God of the Bible to positively distinguish Him from the false gods of the world’s religions. [BACK]

  4. Ruach HaKodesh: the Hebrew Name for the Second “Person” (Manifestation) of the Godhead. The phrase literally means “Holy Breath.” [BACK]

  5. It is also currently (August 2000) being given serious consideration for adoption by the Messianic Jewish Movement. (See “Messianic Gerut.”) [BACK]

  6. Rabbi Leo Trepp. The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, pp. 248-252. [BACK]

  7. Douglas, J.D. et al. “Baptism,” The Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1980, pp. 172-174. [BACK]

  8. Yeshua (יְשׁוּעָה) is the Hebrew word for “salvation.” It is the name that Gabriel instructed His mother Miriam to name Him (Luke 1:31; 2:21) and it is the name by which He was addressed by all His friends and family. It is therefore proper that those who would call Him a friend should use His given Name both when speaking to Him and when referring to Him. [BACK]

  9. Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ) is the Hebrew word for “anointed,” and is commonly translated into English as “Messiah.” The Hebrew prefix “ha” is the definite article “the.” The Greek translation is “Christos,” which has been Anglicized as “Christ.” As Biblical Hebrew does not use vowels, there are many variations in the phonetic spelling. [BACK]

 10. Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1975, v. 3, p. 337. [BACK]

 11. The word “church” is a very unfortunate, problematic, and totally false translation of the Greek work ecclesia, which is in turn a valid translation of the Hebrew word miqra, both of which literally mean “called out” or “called out ones” (with the definite article). There is absolutely no valid linguistic reason for either the word ecclesia or the word miqra to be translated into English as “church.” If an appropriate “shorthand” word were to be used, probably the most appropriate term would be “the Elect” which is precisely the term used both in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures, incorrectly called “Old Testament”) and in the Apostolic Scriptures (incorrectly called “New Testament”) for those individuals to whom the traditional Christian Church refers to as “Old Testament Saints” as well as for those individuals to whom the traditional Christian Church refers to as “New Testament Saints.” A careful search of the Bible will reveal that God makes no distinctions between His Elect before the cross and His Elect after the cross. Both become “the Called Out” by God’s sovereign election, and both are heirs to the Promise based on their faith in Mashiach’s completed work of Redemption. Those Saints before the cross looked forward to that event, albeit with incomplete understanding; those Saints after the cross look back to that event. The only distinction that God makes is between those who are justified by the Blood of Yeshua, and those who are not. Those who are justified are a part of Israel, and are full heirs to the covenants; those who are not justified are not a part of Israel and have no part in the covenants. Believing Jews and Believing Gentiles are therefore united in Mashiach’s Body. The traditionally-accepted Christian distinction between “the Church” and “Israel” is therefore totally unfounded; the actual distinction is between national Israel, “the Elect,” and the unbelieving Gentiles. [See more HERE.] [BACK]

 12. Chafer, op. cit., v. 6, p. 142. [BACK]

 13. Ibid., v. 6, p. 140. [BACK]

Revised and updated on Friday 31 December 2021

Page last updated on Tuesday, 26 September 2023 01:32 PM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
Major content changes are identified as "Revisions”)

Anxiously awaiting Mashiach’s return

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