The post on Judaizing from earlier this week generated lively discussion, and the theme will certainly be continued. While I am putting together further thoughts on the topic, I wanted to share my most exciting new insight for the week (or longer than that). Quite possibly this is not news to anybody except me, but either way here goes:
I have always wondered why, toward the end the Nicene Creed, we seem to place a strong vocal emphasis on the word “one” – as in, “I believe in ONE baptism for the remission of sins.” That the sacrament of baptism should only take place once in a Christian’s life made sense in general as an affirmation the magnitude of God’s power to save. It further seems aligned with the ecumenical perspective that valid (that is, Trinitarian) baptism should be one and the same for all Christians, uniting all. But was there anything else to this emphasis?
The rite of baptism, of course, is based on Jewish ritual purification by bathing in a mikveh. This is surely part of why, when John preached to the Jews to accept baptism, the response was overwhelmingly positive: purification in running water in anticipation of approaching God (Whose ways John was making straight) was a concept Jews firmly understood. But within Judaism, baptism or ritual purification was practiced regularly; it was required after any instance in which a person became unclean – whether through contact with the dead, sexual impurity, menstruation, crime, etc. – or in preparation for the Day of Atonement. Just as sacrifice was needed regularly to atone for sin, baptism was needed regularly to renew one’s fitness for contact with the holy and for dwelling among God’s holy people.
Thus the importance of the single baptism in Christ parallels that of the single Sacrifice. Both purification and atonement are complete once and for all in Christ; there is no need to resort to them again and again as humanity continues to fall into sin, for sin itself has been conquered.
I’d love any comments on this interpretation, especially if you have reason to believe it is incorrect or overstated. If it is correct, then the practice of single baptism – rather than baptism in general – is yet another instance in which a deeper understanding of Judaism clarifies our understanding of Christian theology and practice.