Throughout the New Testament, beginning with John the Baptist, the concept of baptism is portrayed historically with minimal explanation for what it is or why it is happening. This is continued through the writings of Paul.
It leads me to believe none of the writers thought to really answer the following question: What is baptism and why is it significant?
This is corroborated somewhat by the fact that John the Baptist was actively baptizing people before Christ. Clearly people understood some meaning here.
Interestingly, Grudem's Systematic Theology is silent on this issue. Grudem focuses intensely on the Christian and historical Christian perspective on baptism, but not that of the pre-Christ culture.
So my question is:
- What was the historical context and meaning of baptism around the time of Christ?
Matthew 3:5-12, NIV
People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”