Is New Testament baptism in the Old Testament?


Baptism is an ordinance of the new covenant that symbolizes entry into the new covenant just as circumcision symbolized entry into the old.

Christians since Jesus’s resurrection have been commanded to be baptized to identify their inclusion in God’s new covenant (Matt. 28:18-20). Even one’s salvation is symbolized by using the illustration of baptism (Rom. 6:3-5). And water is an important symbol in the Bible. It's present at creation when “darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). Led by Joshua, the Israelites entered the Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan River (Josh. 3:1-17). Elisha began his ministry after Elijah parted the Jordan by striking its waters with his robe (2 Kings 2:7-8). John the Baptist baptized with the baptism of repentance that foreshadowed the work of Christ (Acts 19:4). And Jesus tells us he is the living water (John 7:37-38). But particularly in the Old Testament, let's look at three primary scenes that foreshadow baptism: the flood and Noah, the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea, and Jonah’s deep sea experience.

The Flood

1 Peter 3:20-21: …because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Through the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17), Peter links the New Testament believer’s salvation with the story of Noah. He recognizes that Noah and his family going through the waters of the flood symbolizes new covenant baptism. According to 1 Peter 3:20-21, baptism saves not as a work (“not as a removal of dirt from the body”), but through the grace of God alone (“as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”). (Please see, “Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22” below.)

God made an “everlasting covenant” with Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:9) and he is still faithfully fulfilling it. Even today we see a rainbow as symbolizing God’s “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:15-17) between Noah and all creation. The new covenant is eternal as well (Heb. 5:9; 9:12, 14-15; 13:20; cf. “everlasting covenant,” Gen. 17:7, 13, 19; 2 Sam. 23:5; 1 Chron. 16:17; Psa. 105:10; Isa. 24:5; 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 50:5; Ezek. 16:59-60; 37:26). (Please see, “The Re-Newed or New Covenant?” below. Of note, Moses also had an ark (Exod. 2:3); please also see, “Why did the Ark require pitch?” below.)

The Red Sea Crossing

1 Corinthians 10:1-2 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

Circumcision had been suspended while Israel wandered in the wilderness (cf. Josh. 5:2-7). Paul sees this suspension as a foreshadowing of new covenant baptism by the sprinkling the children of Israel in the Red Sea crossing. And in the new covenant, we observe the permanent suspension of circumcision, and the permanent new covenant ordinance of baptism given (Col. 2:11-12; cf. Gal. 3:25-27). Please see, “Colossians 2:11-12 and Baptism” below.

In the Red Sea crossing, Moses, a type of Christ (please see, “Moses - a Type of Christ?” below), led Israel through the Red Sea and the entire household of God was baptized. Today, God still baptizes his entire house, as the promise is to believers and their children (Acts 2:39; cf. 1 Cor. 7:14). (Please see, “What are Oikos Baptisms” and “Holy Children of Unbelievers” below.)

It is important to also keep in mind that Moses and Israel followed the glory cloud of God in their deliverance (Exod. 14:19-20). The glory cloud was darkness to the Egyptians but light for the Children of Israel. In a similar manner “the Way” (Acts 9:2; cf. John 14:6) is darkness to unbelievers but light to believers (John 1:9-12). Today the church still follows Christ but many mock it. However, there is still power in covenant obedience. (Please see, “Baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2” below.)

Jonah’s Resurrection From the Deep

Luke 11:30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

While Jonah is a sign of the resurrection of Christ (Matt. 12:40), his own resurrection indeed was from out of deep water. In the book of Jonah we're told he had run away from God's call. He went down to Joppa (Jonah 1:3) and down into a ship (Jonah 1:3, 5), then down into the sea (Jonah 1:15), and then he went down into the belly of a great fish for three days (Jonah 1:17). So, Jonah went, down, down, down and God delivered him, bringing him up, up, up from the water. As Jonah describes it, “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me … yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jonah 2:5-6). This is just how Paul describes the believer’s identification with baptism:

Romans 6:3-5 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death [down]? We were buried [down] therefore with him by baptism into death [down], in order that, just as Christ was raised [up] from the dead [down] by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life [up]. For if we have been united with him in a death [down] like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection [up] like his.

So, while the ordinance of baptism is not taught in the Old Testament, it most certainly foreshadows it.

Related Links

The Re-Newed or New Covenant?
Moses - a Type of Christ?
Why did the Ark require pitch?
Mark 16:16 and baptismal regeneration?
Acts 2:38 and Baptism
Baptism in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2?
Colossians 2:11-12 and Baptism
Noah, Baptism, and Hell - 1 Peter 3:18-22
What are Oikos Baptisms?
Holy Children of Unbelievers
Explaining Baptism in Children's Language
Is infant baptism a real baptism or just a dedication to the Lord?
Should I baptize my child myself?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).