The New Testament gives four examples where Old Testament events or rituals are connected with baptism. Two cases are one time events in the Old Testament that are explicitly associated with baptism in the New Testament. These events will be discussed in this blog post. In both of these cases, the household(s) of the believers are included in the baptism with the parents. The other two cases are rituals involved with Israel’s purification system, which will be discussed in the next post.
The first example occurs in 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul is warning the church not to fall away in disbelief as Israel did.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5 1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Paul is pointing out very clearly that the crossing of the Red Sea was a baptism for Israel. He is also making the manna and water provided in the wilderness analogous to the Lord’s Supper. The people were actually drinking from Christ, the spiritual rock which followed them. Who underwent this baptism? ALL of Israel, children and infants included. What God was doing in the Red Sea was consecrating an entire people (nation) to Himself. This is what God is doing in Christian baptism, consecrating people, marking them out as His own. And when Israel underwent their inaugurating baptism as the people of God, when they ate God’s food and drink in the wilderness, they did so with their children participating right along side them.
The second example occurs in 1 Peter 3:
1 Peter 3:18-22 18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God,having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
This passage places Christian baptism into correlation with the great flood. In the flood, God judged the world, but in real sense he also saved Noah and his family by separating them out of the perverse generation to which they belonged. He made Noah a new Adam, the head over a new creation. And as with the Red Sea, Noah’s household went with him. The text of Genesis 6 clearly focuses solely on Noah’s righteousness before God. Neither his wife, nor sons, nor their wives get a mention until Genesis 6:18: “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” Then again in 7:1: “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.’” If the language of households sounds familiar, it’s probably from the discussion in Part 7 of this series concerning all the household baptisms in the book of Acts. And just like Lydia’s household, we don’t get an explicit statement of the believing status of Noah’s household – although we can assume they were willing enough to help build the ark and then enter it when the time came.
This understanding of the flood and the Red Sea lends depth to our understanding of Christian baptism. In this, we can see that Christian baptism is an act of separation out of the world. As I have stated previously, it marks us out; it sets us apart as belonging to God. Is there any sense in which baptism saves us? Well, Peter says there is – “baptism now saves you”. In the context, neither the flood nor Red Sea effected the inward regeneration of every single person involved. It seems clear based on Ham’s behavior in Genesis 9 and Noah’s response that Ham was not a righteous guy. And Paul’s entire point in 1 Corinthians 10 is that most of the Israelites that were baptized in the Red Sea, who fed on and drank from Christ rebelled against God and died in the wilderness. So I think a guarantee of inward regeneration and final salvation is not in keeping with the point Peter is trying to make. On the other hand, both the flood and the Red Sea were salvation experiences for the people of God, judgement upon God’s enemies, and entrance into something new that God was doing. In Noah’s case, it was the whole world made new, and in Israel’s case it was newly formed nation consecrated entirely to God. I think it helps greatly to think of Christian baptism in the light of these categories.