Jewish Proselyte Baptism
From the time of Abraham to the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were the chosen people of God. They were the only people on the face of the earth who knew the one, true God. From Abraham, God raised up this nation to be his voice to the entire world. It was to them that God introduced Himself, gave his laws and commands. His manifest presence was confined to the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle and later the temple. The only way for a human being to know and understand God was to be born a Jew, or to become a Jew through conversion. Here is where we introduce ourselves to the term proselyte. In the simplest sense, this word means convert. In our context here, a proselyte is a non-Jewish person becoming a Jewish person.
There was process through which a non-Jew could become a Jewish proselyte, and that process involved three things. A sacrifice, circumcision, and baptism. The sacrifice was a heifer or a pair of turtledoves. It was brought to the priest and given as a burnt offering to God.
The next thing that had to take place was circumcision. Now, out of sensitivity, I won’t be graphic with this. I think most of us probably understand what circumcision is. It is a cutting away of a piece of flesh from a man’s body. This is usually done with an infant who is 8 days old, thus the pain isn’t remembered. But an adult male, who wanted to become a Jewish proselyte had to undergo this procedure, regardless of his age. This circumcision was a really strange thing that was done to separate the Jewish people from every other nation. It was their distinguishing mark, the permanent, irreversible brand on their body that designated them as the only people on earth who were in covenant relationship with God.
Finally, after the circumcision wound had healed the proselyte had to go through the final step, which was baptism. The person was stripped of all of their clothes, completely naked. They then went into the water, and dipped themselves being sure to fully immerse their entire body in the water. They were very careful that not one bit of their flesh remained dry. When males were baptized, the priest was present. When females were baptized, they were attended by other females while the male priest or rabbi stood outside the door.
Once this process had been completed, the proselyte was now considered to be a Jew in every way. He had fully renounced his previous life, his previous nationality, all allegiances he had to his previous life ceased to exist, he was fully Jewish. He or she was not someone who had simply added Jewish-ness to his old identity. In a sense, the Gentile died when he went under the water and a new person with a new name, and a new identity was born when he came out of the water.