Friday, September 27, 2013

Mark 7:4 & the “washing [baptidzo] . . . of tables:” Baptism is still Immersion in the Baptizing of Tables or Dining Couches

Mark 7:4-5 reads:

4* And when they come from the market, except they wash [baptidzo], they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing [baptismos] of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

Many who reject the fact that the verb baptize necessarily requires immersion—a fact which is validated by the other 79 instances of the verb in the New Testament (Matt 3:6, 11, 13–14, 16; 20:22–23; 28:19; Mark 1:4–5, 8–9; 6:14; 7:4; 10:38–39; 16:16; Luke 3:7, 12, 16, 21; 7:29–30; 11:38; 12:50; John 1:25–26, 28, 31, 33; 3:22–23, 26; 4:1–2; 10:40; Acts 1:5; 2:38, 41; 8:12–13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:47–48; 11:16; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:3–5; 22:16; Rom 6:3; 1 Cor 1:13–17; 10:2; 12:13; 15:29; Gal 3:27), as well as the lexica—argue that in Mark 7:4-5 it is evident that baptize does not mean immerse.  “The Jews certainly did not immerse tables!”  it is argued;  “clearly they must have simply sprinkled or poured water on the tables.”  This argument sounds plausible at first, but, in fact, it simply is not the case.  The “tables,” or “dining couches” (kline, see BDAG—the word is used elsewhere in the NT for “beds”—remember that the first century custom was to recline to eat, not sit at a table of the modern sort), were indeed immersed by the Jews.

In the words of the scholarly but very theologically liberal—and so hardly biased towards Bible-believing Baptists— Hermeneia commentary:

Verse 4b also mentions the custom of immersing dining couches.75 In the biblical period, most beds consisted of a mat, a quilt to lie upon, and a covering. The wealthy had ornamental bed frames that were raised above the floor. The beds of the poor probably included only a wicker mat and the owner’s day clothes.76 The situation was probably similar in the first century ce. Leviticus mentions that beds may become unclean and implies that they are to be dismantled and immersed, then being unclean until evening (Lev 15:4, 21, 23, 26). M. Kelim 19.1 presupposes the practice of immersing beds.78[1]

The following two citations from the Jewish Mishna provide representative proof from the original sources that the Jews immersed their tables/dining couches/beds:

Kelim 19:1      A.        He who unties the bed [mittah—a word used for “reclining at feasts” (Dictionary of Classical Hebrew), that is, for a “dining couch”] to immerse it-he who touches the ropes is clean.
            B.        The rope-from what time is it [regarded as] connected to the bed?
            C.        From [the time] that one will have knotted three [rows of] meshes with
            D.        And he who touches [the rope] from the knot and inwards is unclean. From the knot and outwards he is clean.
            E.         The loose ends of the knot-he who touches on [that part which is] needed for it is unclean.
            F.         And how much is needed for it?
            G.        R. Judah says, “Three fingerbreadths.”

Miqwaot 7:7   A.        [If] one immersed the bed [Heb. mittah] therein,
            B.        even though its legs sink down into thick mud—
            C.        it is clean,
            D.        because the water touched them before [the mud did].
            E.         An immersion pool, the water of which is [tool shallow [to cover the body]—
            F.         one presses down,
            G.        even with bundles of wood,
            H.        even with bundles of reeds,
            I.          so that the [level of the] water may rise—
            J.         and he goes down and immerses.
            K.        An [unclean] needle which is located on the steps of the cavern—
            L.         [if] one stirred the water to and fro—
            M.       after a wave has broken over it,
            N.        it is clean.

It is evident that baptidzo has its normal meaning in Mark 7:4-5, and that the “tables” or dining couches of the passage were indeed immersed by the Jews.  Mark 7 is the best attempt by the opponents of the Baptist doctrine of believer’s immersion to get out of the necessity of the plain meaning of baptidzo as dipping or immersion.  Since this attempt fails, the advocate of sprinkling or pouring is left without even a decent appearance of Biblical support for his position, but is immersed in trouble and drowning in difficulties.



The following citation from John Gill’s Commentary on Mark 7:4 provides further ancient evidence:

Ver. 4. And when they come from the market, &c.] In Beza's most ancient copy, and in one of Stephens's, it is read as we supply, "when they come": wherefore this respects not things bought in the market, a sense favoured by all the Oriental versions, for many of them could not be washed; but the persons of the Scribes and Pharisees, who when they came from market, or from any court of judicature, immersed themselves all over in water, according to the true sense of the word baptizw, here used: for,

   ``if the Pharisees touched but the garments of the common
     people, they were defiled, all one as if they had touched
     a profluvious person, hlybj Nkyruw, "and needed

and were obliged to it {u}: hence, when they walked the streets, they walked on the sides of the way, that they might not be defiled by touching the common people {w}:

wherefore, except they wash, they eat not, or immerse themselves in water, as well as used, Mydy tlybj, "immersion of the hands", or washing of the hands by immersion; and which, if only intended, is sufficient to support the primary sense of the word, "baptizo":

and, many other things there be which they have received to hold; by tradition from their elders;

as the washing of cups and pots, brazen, vessels, and of tables: and here the word baptismov, "baptism", is rightly used in its proper and primary signification; for all these things were, according to the traditions of the elders, washed by immersion:

   ``in a laver, (they say {x}) which holds forty seahs of
     water, which are not drawn, every defiled man dips
     himself, except a profluvious man; and in it Nyamjh Mylkh lk
     ta Nylybjm, "they dip all unclean vessels";''

"as cups, pots, and brazen vessels": very particularly brazen vessels are mentioned, because earthen ones that were unclean, were to be broken {y}; which were all washed before eaten in, even on a sabbath day, and that by dipping {z}:

   ``"dishes", in which they eat at evening, (i.e. of the
     sabbath,) they wash them, to eat in in the morning; in the
     morning they wash them, to eat in at noon; at noon they
     wash them, to eat in at the "minchah"; and from the
     "minchah", and forward, they do not wash again: but
     "cups", and "jugs", and "pots" they wash, and it goes
     through all the day; for there is no fixed time for

All such vessels, whether had of a Gentile, or an Israelite, or even a wise man, were to be immersed before used {a}.

   ``He that buys a vessel for the use of a feast, of Gentiles,
     whether molten vessels, or glass vessels--Nlybjm, "they
     dip them", in the waters of the laver; and after that they
     may eat and drink in them: and such as they use for cold
     things, as "cups", and "pots", and "jugs", they wash them,
     Nlybjmw, "and dip them", and they are free for use: and
     such as they use for hot things, as "cauldrons" and
     "kettles", ("brazen vessels",) they heat them with hot
     water, and scour them, Nlybjmw, "and immerse them", and
     they are fit to be used: and things which they use at the
     fire, as spits and gridirons, they heat them in the fire
     till the crust (the covering of rust, or dirt) falls off,
     Nlybjmw, "and dip them", and they may be lawfully made use
     of. This is the immersion with which they immerse vessels
     for a feast, bought of Gentiles; and after that they are free
     for eating and drinking; for the business of uncleanness
     and purification is only from the words of the
     Scribes--and none are obliged to this immersion, but
     molten vessels for a feast, bought of Gentiles; but if he
     borrows of Gentiles, or a Gentile leaves in pawn molten
     vessels, (made of cast brass, or iron,) he washes, or
     boils, or heats in the fire, but need not immerse them;
     and so if he buys vessels of wood, or vessels of stone, he
     washes, or boils them, but need not dip them; and so
     earthen vessels need not be immersed; but those that are
     covered with lead, are as molten vessels, hlybj Nykyruw,
     "and need immersion".''

And not only such that were bought of Gentiles, but even that were made by Jews, and scholars too, were to be immersed in water.

   ``Vessels, (they say {b},) that are finished in purity, even
     though a disciple of a wise man makes them, care is to be
     taken about them, lo! these ought to be immersed:''

and also "tables", at which they eat; and because their posture at them were lying, reclining, or leaning: hence the word klinwn, is used for them here: these were capable of defilement in a ceremonial sense, according to the traditions of the Jews: one of their rules is this {c};

   ``every vessel of wood, which is made for the use of
     vessels, and of men, as, Nxlwvh, a "table", a bed, &c.
     receive defilement.''

And there were several sorts of tables, which, by their laws, were unclean, or might be defiled by the touch of unclean persons, or things: so they say {d},

   ``a table, and sideboard, which are made less, or covered
     with marble, if there is a space left, in which cups may
     be set, they may be defiled. R. Judah says, if a space is
     left, in which may be put pieces, i.e. of bread or flesh:
     a table of which the first of its feet is taken away is
     clean; if the second is taken away it is clean; if the
     third is taken away it may be defiled.''

Again {e}, every vessel of wood, that is divided into two parts, is, clean, excepting a double table, &c., i.e. a table which consisted of various parts, and were folded together when it was removed: and these were washed by covering them in water; and very nice they were in washing them, that the water might reach every part, and that they might be covered all over; that there might be nothing which might separate between them and the water, and hinder its coming to them: as for instance, pitch being upon a table, whether within or without, divided between that and the water; and when this was the case, it was not rightly washed {f}: but to washing tables by immersion, there is no objection; wherefore, to perplex this matter, and give further trouble, it is insisted on that the word should be rendered "beds"; and it must be owned that it is so rendered in the Syriac, Persic, and Ethiopic versions, (in the Arabic version the clause is omitted,) and in many modern translations: and we are contented it should be so rendered. And these beds design either the couches they lay, or leaned upon at meals; or the beds they slept in at nights: these were capable of being polluted, in a ceremonial sense; for of such pollution, and such washing, are we to understand these traditions: for those things regard not the bare washing of them when naturally unclean, when they ought to be washed; and it is the custom of all people to wash them when this is the case. A bed, and bedstead, are capable of such pollution as soon as they are shaved with a fish skin, or are completed without polishing {g}; that is, as soon as they are finished; and there are several ways by which they are defiled. A bed is defiled, tm amj, "by one that is defiled with the dead" {h}; that is, who has touched a dead body, and he sits upon the bed, or touches it, he defiles it. Again, a bed that is made to lie upon, is defiled, ordm, "by treading" {i}; that is, it is defiled if a man, or a woman, that has a "gonorrhoea", or a menstruous woman, or one in childbirth, or a leper, should sit, stand; lie, hang, or lean upon it; yea, if any thing should touch it, which has been touched by any of these. Also, a bed which is not made for to lie upon, but to lay a dead body on, is defiled in the same way; and so are even the pillow and bolster {k}. Now these were to be washed when they had received any defilement, and that by immersion. Their canons run thus:

   ``hjm, "a bed", that is wholly defiled, if hlybjh, "he dips"
     it, part by part, it is pure {l};''

again {m},

   ``hjmh ta wb lybjh, "if he dips the bed in it", (the pool of
     water,) although its feet are plunged into the thick clay
     (at the bottom of the pool), it is clean.''

If it should be insisted upon, that it ought to be shown and proved, that the very bolsters and pillows on which they lay and leaned, were washed in this way, we are able to do it:

   ``ytokhw rkh, "a pillow", or "a bolster" of skin, when a
     man lifts up the ends, or mouths of them, out of the water,
     the water which is within them will be drawn; what shall he
     do? Nlybjm, "he must dip them", and lift them up by
     their fringes {n}.''

In short, it is a rule with the Jews, that

   ``wheresoever, in the law, washing of the flesh, or of
     clothes, is mentioned, it means nothing else than the
     dipping of the whole body in water--for if any man wash
     himself all over, except the top of his little finger, he
     is still in his uncleanness {o}.''

So that the evangelist uses the words baptizw and baptismov, most properly, without departing from their primary and literal sense; nor could he have used words more appropriate and fit. Various rules, concerning these things, may be seen in the treatises "Celim" and "Mikvaot". Hence it appears, with what little show of reason, and to what a vain purpose this passage is so often appealed to, to lessen the sense of the word baptizw, "baptizo"; as if it did not signify to dip, but a sort of washing, short of dipping; though what that washing is, is not easy to say, since vessels and clothes are in common washed by putting them into water, and covering them with it: this passage therefore is of no service to those who plead for sprinkling, or pouring water in baptism, in opposition to immersion; nor of any disservice, but of real use to those who practise immersion, and must confirm them in it. Nor need they have recourse to a various reading, which one of the manuscripts in the Bodleian Library furnishes with, which is, unless they are sprinkled; which reading must be wrong, not only because, contrary to all other copies, but also to the usages of the Jews in the washing of themselves.

{u} Maimon. in Misn. Chagiga, c. 2. sect. 7.
{w} Ib. Hilch. Abot Tumaot, c. 13. sect. 8.
{x} Ib. Hilch. Mikvaot, c. 9. sect. 5.
{y} Maimon. Hilch. Mikvaot, c. 1. sect. 3.
{z} T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 118. 1. Vid. Maimon. Hilch. Sabbat, c. 23. 7.
{a} Maimon. Hilch. Maacolot Asurot, c. 17. sect. 3, 5, 6.
{b} Maimon. Hilch. Abot Hatumaot, c. 12. sect. 6.
{c} Ib. Hilch. Celim, c. 4. sect. 1.
{d} Misn. Celim, c. 22. sect. 1, 2.
{e} Ib. c. 16. sect. 1.
{f} Misn. Mikvaot, c. 9. sect. 5. Maimon. Hilchot Mikvaot, c. 8. sect. 2.
{g} Misn. Celim, c. 16. sect. 1. Maimon. Hilch. Celim, c. 5. sect. 1.
{h} Maimon ib. c. 27. sect. 8.
{i} Misn. Celim, c. 18. sect. 5, 6. & c. 24. sect. 8. Maimon. ib. c. 27. sect. 7.
{k} Misn. Celim, c. 23. sect. 4.
{l} Maimon. Hilch. Celim. c. 26. sect. 14.
{m} Misn. Mikvaot, c. 7. sect. 7.
{n} Ib. sect. 6. & Celim, c. 16. 4.
{o} Maimon. Hilch. Mikvaot, c. 3. 2.

75 On the translation of κλίνη here as “dining couch” rather than “bed,” see BAGD, s.v. κλίνη; James G. Crossley, “Halakah and Mark 7.4: ‘… and Beds,’ ” JSNT 25 (2003) 433–47.
76 Milgrom, Leviticus, 1:909.
ce Common Era
78 See also m. Miqw. 7.7. These mishnaic passages use the term מטה (“bed” or “dining couch”) rather than משׁכב (“bed”), the term used in Leviticus 15. The LXX translates משׁכב (“bed”) with κοίτη (“bed”). Crossley has argued that מטה (“bed” or “dining couch”) is roughly equivalent to κλίνη (“bed” or “dining couch”) and that v. 4 shows that Mark had precise knowledge of the Law (“Halakah and Mark 7.4”).
[1] Collins, A. Y., & Attridge, H. W. (2007). Mark: A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (349). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

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