Instructions Concerning Immersion

Because of its antiquity and authentic Jewish voice, the halachah of Didache 7 can serve as a model for the immersion of new Gentile believers into Messiah today.


DidacheJul 11, 2017

DidacheJul 11, 2017


    Organized baptism for a pilgrims in river of Jordan. (Image © Bigstock)

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First Fruits of Zion is proud to announce the completion of a Messianic Jewish translation and commentary on the Didache entitled The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles. You can order this now. The Didache is sixteen chapters long and there are exactly sixteen Sabbaths between Shavu’ot and Rosh HaShanah. In turn, it presents a perfect opportunity to study one chapter of the Didache a week throughout the summer. We will be presenting a blog each week previewing some of the commentary of The Way of Life.

At this point in the Didache, Gentile believers have completed the training in the Two Ways (chapters 1-6), and now they are ready to be initiated into the Messianic community through immersion.

Chapter 7 presents legal instructions for carrying out the immersion procedure. Its contents represent the earliest legal instructions for immersion outside the New Testament, and it is probable that they are older than much of the New Testament itself. Additionally, chapter 7 begins what many refer to as the liturgical, or ritual, section of the Didache, which comprises chapters 7-10.

Immersion Instructions

Concerning immersion, immerse in this way. (Didache 7.1)

Most striking about the immersion injunctions is their simplicity. The Didache deals only with the type of water to be used and the rules for fasting beforehand:

The Didache’s teaching about the water to be used for baptism is attention grabbing, primarily because it’s so different than the way Paul wrote about baptism. We’re familiar with Paul’s highly theological, and even esoteric, comments on baptism. In contrast, the Didache’s advice is purely pragmatic, even mundane. [1]

The instructions are completely devoid of theological or mystical teachings about being born again or the death of Messiah. They read more like a section out of the Mishnah than from one of Paul’s epistles.

While this certainly lends evidence to the antiquity of the material, at least two other reasons exist for this archaic simplicity. First, as we pointed out early on, the Didache’s teaching is focused on practical application rather than on theology. The hope of its authors is that “right practice would lead to right experience, and right experience would lead to right theology.” [2] While the Didache does not discredit the spiritual meaning of immersion, its thrust is on making sure that the procedure is done properly. [3]

Second, as Jonathan Draper points out, these types of instructions are exactly what we would expect to see “in a Jewish community admitting Gentiles into its fellowship. The concern is fundamentally with ritual purity.” [4] In the early Messianic Jewish community, it was essential that Gentiles be admitted into fellowship in a state of purity and that issues of ritual ablution be dealt with. This is the focus of chapter 7 specifically as it pertains to regulations surrounding “living water,” which was the cornerstone of Jewish immersion and ritual purity.

Conclusion

Because of its antiquity and authentic Jewish voice, the halachah of Didache 7 can serve as a model for the immersion of new Gentile believers into Messiah today. The injunctions for a training period beforehand, the specification of water types, and preliminary fasting can serve as a blueprint for meaningful practice that is rooted in the teachings of the apostles. Additionally, if we move slightly beyond the original intent of the authors of the Didache, these instructions can also serve as a guideline for non-Jews wishing to implement some of the Torah’s regulations on ritual purity in their lives. The Didache’s guidelines can help us recover apostolic practice regarding immersion ceremonies in general, not just immersion for the sake of initiation into the Yeshua movement.

Footnotes:
  1. Tony Jones, The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2009), 99.
  2. Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50‒70 C.E. (New York, NY: Newman, 2003), 282.
  3. Jonathan A. Draper, “The Holy Vine of David Made Known to the Gentiles through God’s Servant Jesus: ‘Christian Judaism’ in the Didache,” in Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts (Matt Jackson-McCabe, ed.; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2007), 269.
  4. Ibid.
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About the Author: Toby Janicki is the director of the 12-21 youth initiative, as well as a teacher and writer for First Fruits of Zion. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has authored several books including God-Fearers and a comprehensive commentary on the Didache titled: The Way of Life. More articles by Toby Janicki

Related Resource

The Way of Life

The Way of Life is a brand new commentary on the Didache, published by Vine of David. This is a major work from a Messianic Jewish perspective on an ancient New Testament-era manuscript that will benefit both Messianic Jews and Gentiles who desire to study the priorities and life of the earliest believers in Yeshua.

Preview pages from the book and watch several related videos.

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