Why do you baptize?
John 1:19–28 (NIV): 19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize* if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
*baptizo (Greek)- immersion
When did baptism even become a thing?
“The mikvah, also spelled Mikveh, or Miqwe, (“collection [of water]”), in Judaism, a pool of natural water in which one bathes for the restoration of ritual purity. The Mishna (Jewish code of law) describes in elaborate detail the requirements for ritually proper water and for the quantity of water required for ritual cleansing. In former times, a mikvah was so essential to each community of Jews that, if necessary, a synagogue could be sold to finance its construction.”
The Mishna (the oral Jewish law) was developed into a book during the second century C.E. after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. After 130 years, the Mishna was constructed out of necessity and they returned to using aids of worship away from Jerusalem. According to Jewish practice, the idea of a “mikveh” was developed in the mid-500’s B.C.E. during the time of captivity in Babylon. That means that these ideas were developed by those like Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra, and Malachi. Then, it was a process of conversion, a pagan becoming a Jew. Thus, the question posed to John the Baptist then makes more sense. John was baptizing Jews, which made no sense to the Jewish leaders. But why the messianic ties in the next question? Well, that’s related to Torah!
Deuteronomy 18:15–22 (NIV): 15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
17 The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.
This passage is connected to Moses and the parting of the Sea of Reeds, going into and through the waters out of captivity (both literal as to leaving slavery and figurative as to leaving a culture that celebrated gods other than the One True God). They were “washed” of the filth when the crossed through the parting waters.
John then goes onto explain his role and his calling:
- He baptized with water for repentance.
- The Messiah is here, but I am not Him.
- I will reveal who He is when God speaks to me.
- He will usher in another baptism, of the Holy Spirit, another baptism promised in the Old Testament.
 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “mikvah.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 14, 2008. https://www.britannica.com/topic/mikvah.