[B-Greek] Acts 10:48 (Was B-Greek Question)

Iver Larsen iver at larsen.dk
Sat Apr 22 16:18:53 EDT 2006


> This may illustrate one of Carl's points on voice. It also illustrates
> that texts need to be read from within the culture or shared framework
> of author and audience.

Looking at the 77 instances of BAPTIZW in the GNT, at the most 3 are middle in sense, the rest are active or passive.

> A person should ask how a first century Judean might read the passage.
> Baptism/tevila, after all, was a common Jewish practice, for some a
> daily practice, for others an occasionally ritual cleansing, and also
> practiced with prosolytes. Archaeologically, we have miqvaot (baptism
> pools) all over the Land. Not just the massive installations around
> the temple, but at Qumran, and next to an olive press at Gamla in the
> Golan (showing 1st century halachic practice), and in such Hellenistic
> cities as Tsipori, to illustrate the cultural spread.

I think we should first and foremost ask how the word is used in the NT, rather than trying to squeeze the text into a 
Jewish mold, where it does not fit.
The normal word in the NT for the common Jewish miqvah cleansing is hAGNIZW (John 11:55, Acts 21:24, etc.)
Only two times is the verb BAPTIZW used in a sense that corresponds to this common Jewish practice.
One is Mark 7:4 where the aorist middle is used: BAPTISWNTAI. Here there is no indication of any agent, and it is 
implied that the people themselves perform the cleansing. (The noun BAPTISMOS is also used in this verse for Jewish 
ritual cleansing, although the reference is to cleansing of things, not people. There are different BAPTISMOI - Heb 
9:10, but only one BAPTISMA - Eph 4:5).
The other is Luke 11:38. Here the word is passive in form, but probably middle in sense. It is not clear to me from this 
text whether the cleansing was only for the hands or whether the intention was a complete immersion in a miqvah.

> Culturally, the person "baptising someone else" is functioning as a
> witness and a teacher. Contrary to endless debates, they did not dunk
> or pour (or sprinkle). The person being baptised went down with their
> own motor skills while the teacher was a witness. Now many people on
> the list will read Acts 8:35ff as putting Phillip in the water itself,
> but that is not a necessary reading if one starts with the cultural
> pictures just described. As for the Greek here, the PAQHTIKH
> experiencer/passive would be naturally read as MESH middle.

As far as I can see these claims are not supported by the texts we have in the NT.
If you can tell us more about the use of baptism with proselytes, that may help us to see the development from one of 
the many Jewish BAPTISMOI to the new Christian BAPTISMA.

In John 1:25 The Baptist is challenged as to why he is performing baptisms. Was he the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?
It seems clear that if someone was baptized by such a leader, one would become a disciple of that leader. It appears to 
be a one-time initiation rite, not a routine miqvah cleansing. Rabbis did not baptize their disciples, did they? It 
would have to be someone very special.

In Acts 19:4, some disciples are asked EIS TI OUN EBAPTISQHTE?
Again, this cannot refer to a common miqvah cleansing, but must be a discipleship initiation. Paul was expecting them to 
have been baptized into the name of Jesus, but they responded by saying that their baptism was TO IWANNOU BAPTISMA.
Paul then explained that John's baptism was a preliminary initiation rite that dealt with repentance from sins, so in 
some ways it was similar to a miqvah cleansing, but it may also have had an element of discipleship. Paul goes on to 
explain that John the Baptist had not wanted his disciples to be his disciples forever, but they should come to faith in 
Jesus Christ and follow him. All who decided to be disciples of Jesus were to be baptized into the name of Jesus (and 
the Father and the Holy Spirit) as a sign of their allegiance to him. That was not a daily or repeated occurrence, but a 
once and for all initiation rite, and therefore quite different in meaning and function from a miqvah cleansing.
Those disciples of John were then baptized into the name of Jesus to show that they were now his disciples.

It may be helpful to read Hebrews again and hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, especially chapters 6-9.
Heb 9:8-10 has an important comment on these Jewish cleansing ceremonies:
"The Holy Spirit is making clear that the way into the holy place had not yet appeared as long as the old tabernacle was 
standing. 9 This was a symbol for the time then present, when gifts and sacrifices were offered that could not perfect 
the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They served only for matters of food and drink and various washings (BAPTISMOI); 
they are external regulations - DIKAIWMATA SARKOS - imposed until the new order came." (NET)

Since there is a paradigm shift from Jewish cleansings to Christian baptism, one should be careful not to read into the 
NT a traditional Jewish order that has been replaced by a new order.

Iver Larsen 

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