In the Bible we find Baptism suddenly appearing for the first time in that action of John the Baptist which, according to one way of reading Mark I.I, was ‘the beginning of the Gospel’. The Evangelists speak of Baptism not as a strange rite invented by John, but as something so familiar that it requires neither detailed description nor careful explanation.
To readers of the present day, however, the sudden appearance of Baptism at the beginning of the New Testament is a source of bewilderment which can easily lead to the kind of false interpretation of Scripture that underlies the Baptist movement et hoc genus omne.
It is therefore necessary to try to discover all we can as to the origin and significance of this strange rite.
The New Testament uses two cognate nouns: βάπτισμα and βαπτισμóς. βάπτισμα is found only in the New Testament and in Christian writers, and in the New Testament is used only of Baptism, whether it be John's Baptism or Christian Baptism. βαπτισμóς is used in the New Testament meaning a special form of ‘washing’. It occurs only at Mark 7.4, Heb. 6.2 and 9.10. In all these cases the reference is to ritual washings either of persons or of things. It is never used of Baptism in the New Testament, though Josephus, the only profane author to use the word, applies it to John's Baptism (Ant. xvii.v.2).