In John 3 Jesus was baptizing people and John’s followers got into an argument with a Jewish man about purification. Could water baptism have been born out of this Jewish rite of purification? Does it mean that our spirits are now clean like purification meant that their bodies were clean for ceremonies? I was just curious trying to understand how the argument came up during the time of water baptism.
I believe John adapted the water baptism from the Jewish rite of purification called the Mikvah. It consisted of being immersed in flowing (living) water before undertaking an important change in one’s life. It could mark the beginning of a time of special service to God, a marriage, the circumcision of a son, or some other such event. This explains why Jesus asked to be baptized at the outset of His ministry (Matt. 2:13-15). He was about to undertake a time of special service to God.
As John practiced it the water baptism symbolized the change of heart a Jewish person made when turning from trying to attain righteousness by religious works to recognizing the need for a Savior. For some, the water baptism came to symbolize the death of the old person (going under the water) and his or her re-birth as a new creation (coming back up). Others see it as a model of our death and resurrection.