LEAVING THE DOCTRINE OF BAPTISMS #4
LEAVING GOD’S COMMANDMENT
BASIC TEXT FOR SERIES: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms (βαπτισμων, baptismosG909), and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1, 2, KJV)
“To baptize” is Anglicized baptizoG907 and baptismosG909, “to immerse”
“To leave” is Anglicized aphesisG863, “a letting go.”
In our Hebrews 6 text, the word for “leaving” basically means in Greek “a letting go.”
A "letting go" (aphesisG863) can refer to different actions such as “leaving by abandoning.” In Mark 7:8 this same Greek word aphesisG863 is translated in various versions of the New Testament as “forsaken”, “abandon”, “have stopped following”, “leave to”, etc.
“Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen (a-niptoG3538), hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash (Gr. niptoG3538 means “wash only hands or feet” like the priests of the temple and not “body”) their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash (baptizōG907 means “immerse”), they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing (baptismosG909 means “immersing”) of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen (a-niptoG3538) hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside (aphesisG863) the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing (baptismosG909) of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:1-9).
Our English word “leave” is appropriate for aphesis because it has the same meaning. “Leave” has developed historically as a composite of such meanings from different language sources. They include the meanings, “to stop, cease; give up, relinquish, abstain from having to do with; discontinue, come to an end.”* As we prepare for meditation upon Hebrews 6:1, 2 let’ s look at a people who “left” Bible baptisms in the latter sense and in so doing abandoned God’s commandment. *etymonline.com.
Did the Pharisees and elders of the first century believe in baptisms? According to Jesus they did. They had their own doctrine of baptizing for cleansing from everything they came in contact with.
THE PHARISEE MYTH. When we hear anyone teach on the subject of the Pharisees that Jesus encountered, it is usually that they were very strict, in fact, too strict in “obeying” the Law of Moses. “They required works instead of faith, and Jesus condemned them for it.” We’ve heard this taught, but this is a manufactured myth and is neither in Holy Scriptures or in secular writings. I have never read where Jesus ever accused the Pharisees of being strict in obedience to the Law of Moses except in prejudicial commentaries.
Rather, in one instance Jesus accuses them of teaching, for example, the commandments of the elders for their baptizing in water. What did the Pharisees teach about water baptism?
“For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash (baptizōG907) they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing (baptismosG909) of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables” (Mark 7:3,4). The tradition of the elders required baptism before eating. The people were to baptize their bodies as well as table vessels and furniture before eating.
Let’s look at what Jesus said about that teaching:
“Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing [baptismosG909] of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9).
Had the Pharisees actually worshipped God with the elders’ tradition of baptizing oneself and baptizing (baptismosG909) pots and cups and tables? Jesus said that they had.
What had they done to the real commandment of God? They had “laid it aside.” That is, they had “left” (aphiēmiG863) it in order to “hold”, get possession of, their tradition.
THE LAW OF MOSES AND PURIFICATION. Actually, the Law of Moses which Jesus obeyed did instruct that people were made unclean by contact with ceremonial uncleanness. And the Law also provided purification by immersing of one’s body and even the “wood” cups in water. [Earthenware were to be broken]. However, the Law was specific with what was declared to be unclean and when one had to wash. It was not the same as the Pharisaic rules.
Biblical Cleansing by water: The defilement that required bathing self would be for skin disease (Leviticus 14:8, 9; Numbers 19:7, 8), genital discharges (Leviticus 15:5-24; 27), and contamination by a carcass and unclean flesh (Leviticus 11:40; 17:15,16; 22:6).
Inanimate Things to be Cleansed by water: “And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherein any work is done, it must be put into water” (Leviticus 11:32). “And the vessel of earth, that he toucheth which hath the issue, shall be broken: and every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water” (Leviticus 15:12; 11:33).
Origin of Elders’ Traditions. Perhaps the experience from the Gentile Babylonian captivity in the 5th Century BC made the Jewish leaders so violated and contaminated by the unclean Gentiles that they made up rules based on the Mosaic purification laws but expanded its application to everyday activity. A statement from a Babylonian Amora in the fourth century B.C., (R. Nahman Isaac), said, they "decreed that pagan ‘children’ should be considered impure." About 65 years before Jesus was born, an assembled Jewish synod that was dominated largely by the intense nationalistic school of Shamnai legislatively “extended the status of levitical impurity.”i Such would have officially formulated the washing rules. And they would have expected all Jews to obey their rules.ii
An accompanying prayer that’s said during the ritual washing is “Blessed be Thou, O Lord, King of the universe, who sanctified us by the laws and commanded us to wash the hands.”iii iv
However, Jesus told the Pharisees that their baptisms were contrary to God’s commands. Why? Undoubtedly it was because God through Moses forbad (Deuteronomy 4:2) man from adding to God’s commands: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”
Jesus was faithful Himself to the Law of Moses during His earthly ministry. He commanded the Jews to repent of their sins (against God’s Law given through Moses, Matthew 5:17-20). In fact, Jesus had answered His own temptation in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4b). And that’s period. Not proceeding from man’s mouth. No additions, including our opinions.
Jesus condemned man’s “leaving of the commandment of God” by their teaching from other traditions for worshipping God. In self examination, where does that put us in our worship?
ii In Judaism, ritual washing, or ablution, takes two main forms. A full body immersion in a mikveh, and a netilat yadayim which is the washing of the hands with a cup.
References to ritual washing are elaborated in the Mishnah and Talmud
iii Lane Cited. New International Commentary on the New Testament by David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary.