Christian History

What is Baptism in the Bible?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM


John the Baptist is an important figure in all four gospels. Mark begins with John’s baptisms, Luke with the events of his birth, and John weaves him into the prologue of the incarnation as one sent from God. One thing that the New Testament does NOT begin with, is an explanation of all the things that have radically changed for Israel since turning the last page of the Old Testament. Turn from Malachi 4 to Matthew 1, and it’s a whole new world, filled with Romans, Pharisees, and Zealots. There are Synagogues, Samaritans, and Sadducees. The phrase Sea of Galilee is new, and so are Perea, the Decapolis, and Nazareth. Oral law, the Sanhedrin, and “The Traditions of the Elders” are also new. In the Old Testament, there was no such thing as Baptism.

Old Testament… no baptism.

New Testament… lots of baptisms.

Where did baptism come from? What does baptism mean? How should modern Christians respond to baptism?

Baptism in the Ancient World

To even begin to answer these questions, you have to recognize at least six things about the world of the Old and New Testaments.

First, modern readers rarely understand covenant… even when they think they do. We tend to think of covenant in terms of Abraham, Moses, and David, but actually know little about covenant itself because we develop our thinking about covenant primarily from Scripture. The problem is that Scripture records covenants, but does not explain covenants. Abraham, Moses, and David make covenants with God because covenant was a big deal already in their world and the legal genre called covenant was a powerful vehicle for the kind of faithful bond God seeks with believers. Covenant has a long history and a complexity in practice and principles that Scripture illustrates, but never specifically teaches.

Baptism is one of many ways that Israel develops for making a covenant, i.e. for ratifying a covenant. Covenant ratification is a ritual way of “signing” a “contract” that the Divine will enforce. No contract is worth anything without the right heart to keep it (I am a man of my word!) or the capacity to monitor, the presence to intimidate, and the power to punish.

When you see people eating together, clasping hands, performing circumcisions, exchanging clothes, grasping garment hems, lining a path with chopped-up animals, or making various kinds of public declarations, like, “Brother!” “Father! “I have known you!” “Love!” etc, you are watching ratification acts… covenant-making. There are covenants and covenant language on almost every page of Scripture.

There are lots of things to know about covenant and most of them will apply to baptism.

Second, baptism developed in Israel in the intertestamental period out of Jewish purification rituals like the mikva, as a way of marking the conversion of already circumcised Jewish men into more exclusive Jewish movements, like joining the Essenes. One of these groups performed the rite every morning. Baptism also provided a means of ratifying the conversion of gentile women independent of their husbands when their presence in Israel and Jewish presence among them became more common.

Third, ratification acts almost always involved symbolic death, and/or the symbolic ingestion of death curses.1 The one entering into a covenant stood before his god, and often the god of the one with whom he was making the covenant (One reason to never covenant with pagans) and with either words or actions invited those gods to destroy the one ratifying the covenant IF he or she should prove unfaithful to the covenant’s stipulations and/or their common obligations.

Fourth, water was a powerful death symbol in the ancient world. It is not an accident that the New Testament speaks of baptism in association with Moses passing through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1ff), Noah passing through the flood (1 Peter 3:20-21), and of both baptism and Jonah’s descent into the abyss with Jesus’ death and resurrection. (Matthew 12:40; Romans 6:4)

Fifth, as a death symbol, baptism also becomes a symbolic “ordeal,” i.e. a successful passage through death by divine protection. Ancient pagan law courts would commonly execute people in such a way that the gods could easily intervene to save them when doubt in the testimony against the accused remained. Yes, unlike in Scripture and Israel, you were guilty until proven innocent. Throwing them into the water all tied up was a favorite—River Ordeal—but we have a record of fire and lions being used too.

Court ordeal found expression outside the law as well. To escape certain death was a sign of divine acceptance, divine election, or divinely declared innocence. Think, of Daniel in the Lion’s den, and Shadrach and his companions in the fiery furnace. Again, we have Israel through the Red Sea, Noah through the flood, and Jonah through the depths of the sea. David before Goliath was a contest ordeal, as was Moses and Korah’s men marching into holy space before Yahweh, AND we have the incident of the blooming staff when Israelite leaders challenged Aaron’s priesthood.

Finally, sixth, while baptism became common among Jewish sects, like the Essenes (Think Dead Sea Scrolls) and even John the Baptist (thought by many to have been raised among the Essenes), Jesus used it to ratify his own followers in the New Covenant community called the Church. The New Testament church continued to practice baptism, investing the rite with even more layers of meaning after Jesus’ successful passage through actual death in His resurrection into incorruptible glory.

What is Baptism?

Now, baptism is the second oldest Christian ceremony. The oldest is communion… but that’s a story for another day. When your pastor discusses the need for believers to be baptized, he is continuing the ancient tradition of public profession of faith in Christ and the use of a highly symbolic ratification act to seal the believer’s covenant with God and Christ.

Once upon a time, we would stand in court, ready to testify. We would put our hand on a Bible. They would say, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” We would say, “I do.” That “swear” and “so help me God,” was the threat part to a heart that believed God was real and, thus, had the capacity to monitor, the presence to intimidate, and the power to punish. The joke on a godless nation is that we have removed the “so help me God,” part. Thus, such promises have no power for getting at truth greater than the fear induced by the court’s own capacity to monitor, presence to intimidate, and power to punish… which is highly limited.

To take baptism is to say, “I swear to follow and obey Christ, the true Christ, and nothing but the true Christ, so help me God.”

1Some ratification acts embodied ideas of “oneness” in addition to, or instead of, death images.

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Christian History Studying the Bible

Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? 5 Facts about the Resurrection

Author: Kevin Richard Ph.D., Managing Writer for Foundations by ICM


Resurrection as History

The Bible is a historical text but at the same time, the Bible is theological history. It reveals the Triune God of Christianity and the plan of redemption for all creation, but it does so in space and time, in the annals of history. Central to Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and while this pillar of the faith is spiritually and theologically significant, it was also a historical event. This is important because, in history, the events surrounding the life of Jesus are, as New Testament scholar Mike Licona has suggested, an “object of study.”1 That is the purpose of this blog, to look at the resurrection of Jesus from a historical point of view and answer three questions:

  1. How do we study the resurrection from a historical perspective? Minimal Facts Approach
  2. What is the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead? The 5 Minimal Facts
  3. What does it all mean? The Religious Significance


Minimal Facts Approach

Philosopher and Christian Apologist Gary Habermas has developed what he calls the “Minimal Facts” approach to the resurrection of Jesus. The Minimal Facts (MF) approach, as Habermas states, “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones.”2 Habermas notes there are around 12 facts that could be considered but he normally narrows down the scope to 5. He chooses these 5 because nearly all scholars agree on them and from them, you can make the case for the resurrection of Jesus.3 The five minimal facts are:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
  3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed.
  4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed.
  5. The tomb was empty.

Let’s briefly unpack each of these minimal facts and then discuss why they collectively give us good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.


The 5 Minimal Facts

In this section, we will look at the five minimal facts in question and offer a little explanation for each of them.


1. Jesus Died By Crucifixion

This one may seem obvious but to get a resurrection you first need someone to die. That Jesus died by crucifixion is one of the strongest attested minimal facts. You would be hard-pressed to find someone in academic circles that affirms Jesus did not die by crucifixion. The Romans were notoriously brutal in this capital form of punishment and they were extremely efficient in the process. Furthermore, the Bible says that in order to make sure Jesus had died, a spear was thrust into his side (John 19:34). It does not seem likely that Jesus could have endured such a brutal and vicious beating and execution “attempt” and survived.  


2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.

Notice the wording here. This minimal fact does not necessarily affirm that a risen Jesus actually physically appeared to the disciples; rather, it affirms that the disciples believed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them. This belief was a life-changing event and caused a radical transformation in their lives. There are a number of suggestions as to what the disciples actually saw. Some say that the disciples were hallucinating or that they saw what Dr. Habermas has coined “Jedi Jesus.”4 But both of these claims deny what the New Testament affirms, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. The disciples proclaimed a risen Lord who ate with them (Lk. 24:42-42) and were able to be touched – consider the story of Thomas being able to touch Jesus’ pierced scars (John 20:24-29). 


3. The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed

This minimal fact is interesting because you have a person who was very zealous for Judaism suddenly have a change of behavior after an encounter he claims was with the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15:8). No one can doubt that following his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul became an ardent ambassador for this new movement called Christianity. Something happened on that road. Paul believed the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and called him to take the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul would be beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and eventually put to death for his proclamation of Jesus. This encounter with Jesus changed his life and because of it, the Gospel came to the Gentiles.


4. The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed

The James in question here was one of Jesus’ four brothers (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). From those passages in the Gospels, we know that Jesus’ brothers were skeptical of their half-brother, Jesus. They even mocked Jesus during his ministry. We also know that this same James became one of the religious leaders of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21; Gal. 1:18-19).5 So what caused this change of heart? We learn from Paul that after Jesus’ death, he appeared to his brother James. From this encounter, although the event is not explicitly described in the Scriptures, we can infer that James believed that he had encountered his risen half-brother, the person he now believed to be the risen Lord! Having encountered the resurrected Jesus, James went from a skeptic to one of the main leaders of the church in the same city where Jesus was crucified!


5. The tomb was empty

The Gospels attest that the tomb of Jesus was empty and the stone rolled away. This claim of an empty tomb would have been easy to disprove if the body had still been there. People would have known where Jesus was buried as his body had been given to Joseph of Arimathea and he and Nicodemus helped to secure Jesus’ body in Joseph’s personal tomb (John 19:39-40). There is also evidence to suggest that the tomb was empty in the religious leaders’ response to the testimony of the soldiers on guard. Instead of telling them to produce the body to counter the claims of the disciples, they instead told them to spread a story that the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Matt 28:11-15). This implies that the religious leaders knew the tomb was empty and had to come up with a story to cover the truth.


A Unifying Explanation

It was stated previously that the Minimal Facts were chosen because the majority of scholars agree with these facts. It should be noted that this is not the same as saying “the majority of scholars believed Jesus actually rose from the dead.” There is still skepticism by some even though the historical facts are agreed upon. The facts still need an explanation though, something that joins them all together. Something happened following the death of Jesus. Skeptics have tried to come up with alternative theories to explain away these facts but none of them do a sufficient job of accounting for these minimal facts. The best explanation of what happened is that Jesus resurrected bodily from the grave, spoke and ate with the disciples, appeared to James and Paul, and commissioned the Church to go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20).


The Religious Significance

Lastly, we must consider the question “what does it all mean?” Historical facts are not “brute facts” meaning they do not carry with them their own interpretation. There is an extra step we have to take to go from “Jesus resurrection from the dead” to “Christianity is true and the resurrection is one of the central tenets of the faith.” The resurrection event requires interpretation, it is both a historical and a religious event. This is why it was said that the resurrection of Jesus is theological history. 

The theological significance of the resurrection is vast but here we will close with this specific point. The resurrection shows that Christianity is true because it affirms everything that Jesus said and did prior to his death. Jesus claimed to be God, he claimed to be on a mission from the Father, he performed miracles, he forgave sins, he ushered in the Kingdom of God, and he even predicted that he would be killed and would rise again. Why do we believe all of this? Because 3 days after Jesus was crucified, the Father raised him from the dead. We have good historical, evidential reasons to believe it’s true!


1Mike Licona,The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, (Downers Grove,Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 30.
2Gary Habermas and Michael Licona,The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, (Kindle Edition:Kregel Publications, 2004), Loc. 330 of 4050.
3Ibid., Loc. 380 of 4050.
4This is a reference to Star Wars and scenes where Jedi appear to Luke Skywalker after theyhave died. The first example would be in The Return of the Jedi when Obi-Wan Kenodi appears and talkswith Luke Skywalker while he is training on Dagobah. The second is at the celebration on Endor also inReturn of the Jedi where Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi and Master Yoda all appear to LukeSkywalker. In both these scenes the deadJedi appear in this “phantasmal” form. They are there andpresent to Luke but not embodied.
5James was one of the chief spokespersons at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

Christian History

What is the History of Easter?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Writer for Foundations by ICM


What is the history of Easter? We can all agree about where it started – with the resurrection of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago. But where does Easter fit in, and what’s with all the bunnies and eggs? Many recent studies have concluded that Easter is based on ancient pagan celebrations, that the date and perhaps especially the name of Easter are pagan through and through. In this estimation, Christians merely adopted the pagan holiday and attached the story of Jesus to it. In this blog, I want to introduce you to a counterpoint to this pop history. 

How it All Began?

To summarize the popular premise, at least the most common among many, “Easter” got its name from a pagan goddess named Eostre. This Eostre is a semi-mythical figure dating back thousands of years before Christ. She was a ruler to whom were ascribed the traits of a god – specifically a god of fertility and life. It is said that a yearly festival was established in her honor and that eggs and rabbits were part of that celebration. 

Fast forward a few thousand years and pagan people across the world still celebrated this holiday. Christians, with the best intentions in mind, co-opted this holiday but replaced Eostre with Christ because…you know…resurrection and life. Seemed like a good fit. So Easter became a Christian holiday in much the same way as Christmas (we have a blog about that, too!). At least, that’s what we’re told. 

What’s In a Name?

But let’s talk about that name for a moment. This seems to be the central point of contention for those who argue for the pagan roots of Easter. Did early Christians use the name Easter? Certainly not. Originally, Easter was called Pascha. This name refers to the Jewish Passover, not an ancient fertility goddess.2 In fact, for the early Church, Pascha was simply Passover after the resurrection of Jesus. Pascha comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning ‘to pass over,’ and refers back to the Exodus story.

Ok, but everyone calls it Easter these days, right? Not nearly. Most Eastern Christians call it Pascha, and the word for Easter in many non-English languages translates to Pascha (e.g, Spanish Pascua, Italian Pasqua, Portuguese Páscoa, and Romanian Pasti). Calling it “Easter” is a Western, Anglo addition likely deriving from one of many German words. 

Think about it. If the original name is not Easter but rather this name was added later by Western, Anglo society, then the very idea that Easter is a pagan holiday because it has a pagan name is an entirely anglo-centric argument. Think about it, the argument is essentially saying ‘It’s pagan because English-speaking peoples call it by a pagan name’…that does not seem like a good argument. It ignores the long history of what the church has called the celebration of the resurrection and it ignores the reality that its origins are Middle-Eastern. 

So, even if the word Easter is pagan (and this is a big if, but one that we don’t have space to talk about here), that doesn’t make Easter, or rather Pascha, a co-opted pagan celebration. 

How Was the Date of Easter Determined?

But what about the date of Easter? Isn’t it based on the pagan Eostre celebration? Going hand-in-hand with the discussion of the name of this holiday, the timing of our celebration centers on Pascha, or the paschal moon, not on an ancient holiday. In the early church, the timing of Easter was a point of considerable debate. The prevailing sentiment of the Church, however, was that the Christian Pascha celebration was to be celebrated separately from, and in most cases after, Passover.

Why does this matter? Because it is abundantly clear that the date for Easter is based on the Jewish festival, not the pagan holiday. While originally the idea was that Easter should be celebrated after Pascha because Jesus ate the Passover meal before going to the cross, a change in calendars meant a change in dates. When the West switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the original connections faded, but the idea remained. The date of Easter is far from having a pagan origin.

Where Do the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs Come From?

The argument that Easter is a co-opted pagan holiday is perhaps strongest in regard to some of its peripheral elements – bunnies, eggs, lambs, etc. Some are easier to explain than others. The lamb, for instance, has clear connections to the Christian story.

But what about the brightly-colored eggs? How are they religious? Well, ancient Easter practices included the season of Lent where certain foods were forbidden, including eggs. As a result, when Easter came and the restrictions were lifted, it became customary to give an egg as a gift. As the custom grew in popularity, the eggs began to be painted or decorated. In Russia, the tradition was so widespread that the nobility would gift egg-shaped, jeweled ornaments – think of the Faberge Eggs. So, far from being pagan symbols of fertility, eggs merely celebrated the fact that people could start eating whatever they wanted again.

Ok, then what about the Easter Bunny? Surely that must be pagan, or at the very least entirely commercial? To that objection I could merely concede as there is much less evidence for the religious roots of the bunny… and yet, even he likely came in through the Church. 

You see, as the Lent tradition mentioned above was practiced by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, early protestants rejected the practice of giving up certain foods before Easter. Instead, some protestant groups began what could be seen as a very early Christian meme meant to poke fun at their Catholic neighbors. So, as the joke goes, why don’t Catholics eat eggs until Easter? Because the Easter Bunny hides them. In some accounts, the bunny itself even lays the eggs, but I won’t even try to speak to the religious significance of that.

What is the History of Easter?

Putting this all together, Easter, or rather Pascha, is thoroughly Christian and dates to the beginning of the second century A.D. at the very latest. The date of Easter has Jewish and Christian roots, and even the elements that seem least religious have cultural and historical significance for Christians. Only the name, Easter, appears to have pagan roots, but even that is likely a historical coincidence as the word Easter more likely derives from one of many Christian terms (such as the German word for Resurrection). 

The oft-cited pagan history of Easter is anglo-centric and anachronistic. It lacks a basis in real history, instead of creating a pop history. Don’t fall into the trap this Easter season when you see popular theories showing up on your social media feed. Celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with confidence knowing that the church, from its inception, has considered this the most sacred of days of the Faith.


1Also known as Queen Semiramis, wife of Nimrod, who later became known as mother goddess Ishtar or Eostre.
2The main historical evidence that ties the word Eostre with Easter comes from an 8th-century monk named Bedewho briefly mentions the connection in one of his writings

Christian History Studying the Bible

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Author: Jonathan Pruitt, Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM


Sometime around 33 A.D., in the springtime, Jesus was crucified on a cross. He endured the most brutal and torturous form of capital punishment is perhaps all of human history. Today, many people throughout the world recognize the Cross as the symbol of the Christian faith. This is appropriate since the Bible clearly teaches that the death of Jesus is absolutely central to the gospel, the good news that Jesus tasked His followers to believe and proclaim. The Apostle Paul says, “that Christ died for our sins” is of “first importance.” But what is the meaning of the Cross? Why did Jesus have to die?

Christians have reflected on this question for nearly two thousand years. In that time, the church has uncovered several different reasons for the Atonement or death of Christ. These different reasons are ultimately harmonious and complementary; they are like the facets of a diamond. Each facet reveals something important and beautiful about the meaning and purpose of the Cross. 


Facet 1: Jesus’s Death as Ransom 

Key verse: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 

The Bible tells us that Jesus’s death was a ransom. The Old Testament provides some context for the biblical notion of “ransom.” Perhaps the most vivid example comes in the book of Ruth. In this story, we meet Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth’s husband had died, as well as her sons, and she was left alone and suffering. Fortunately, the law outlined the role of a “kinsman-redeemer,” who would be legally obligated to redeem by ransom a family member who had been sold into slavery (Lev. 25:47-55).  Boaz ransomed or redeemed Ruth, buying back her former husband’s property and marrying Ruth, saving her from a life of poverty and hunger. Throughout the Old Testament, “to ransom” often has the sense of “buying back.” 

In the New Testament, Jesus says that He has come to give his life as “ransom for many.” Paul says that Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). But who did God pay ransom to? Some have suggested that God paid Satan the ransom, but that is not supported by the Bible. Instead, we should think of God as satisfying the demands of His own righteousness in order to be our redeemer; He “bought us back” so that we might be free. 


Facet 2: Jesus’s Death as Victory over Evil

Key verse: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:14). 

The Bible also tells us that by his death, Jesus gained victory over the powers of evil. The very first prophecy in the Bible foreshadows this victory. After God created Adam and Eve, they were tempted by the serpent, who is Satan (cf. Rev. 12:9). Though Adam and Eve sinned, in Genesis 3:15, God said that a descendant of Eve would someday “crush the head” of the serpent. God promised that He would decisively defeat the devil through a human person. Christ, who is both fully God and fully man brought this about. By his death, Jesus freed humanity from the power of Satan. But Christ also demonstrated his power over death itself. Though Christ died on the Cross, the Father raised Him again, proving that death itself is “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). By the Cross, Christ defeats both sin and death; He crushes the head of the serpent. As the Bible says, “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). 


Facet 3: Jesus’s Death as Moral Example 

Key verse: “To this, you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

The Cross also shows us what God is like and how we should live. The Bible says that Jesus died for us because He loves us (cf. Rom. 5:8). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a shepherd who left his entire flock to seek and save a single lost sheep. The shepherd searches for the missing sheep until he finds it and he “joyfully puts it on his shoulders” (Luke 15:5). Like the shepherd, Jesus says that He has come to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The Cross shows us the love of God. 

The Cross also shows us what sort of life we should live. By dying on the Cross, Jesus shows that He is obedient to God’s will. And Jesus shows us how we ought to love others. Love is not merely a feeling and godly love may require personal sacrifice. Like Jesus, we may need to give of ourselves, whether that be our money, time, or even our lives. But, we also know that God sees what we do, that He is a just God, and He will reward us for following his commandments (1 Pt. 1:4).  


Facet 4: Jesus’s Death as Substitutionary Atonement 

Key verse: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness…” (Romans 3:25a). 

Jesus also died as a substitute for sinners. In the Old Testament, Israel sacrificed animals to cover their sins. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would slaughter a goat as a sin offering. This was for the “wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites–all their sins” (Lev. 16:21). This did not take away the guilt of sin (cf. Heb. 10:4), but it does show us that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). 

Sin is a great offense to the holiness and justice of God (cf. Hab. 1:13). God could not simply forgive sin because He is a God of justice. He would be like a judge who let a convicted murderer go free. A judge that ignores the law would be no judge at all. But because God loves us, He paid the penalty of sin Himself by sending His Son to die in the place of sinners. In this way, God shows Himself to be “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). God is God of holiness and of love; both features of God’s character are seen in the Cross of Jesus Christ. 



Jesus died on the cross for many reasons. Each of these reasons reveals something about who God is and why Jesus’ death was necessary. Jesus died to ransom and redeem us from death. He died to demonstrate His power and ultimate victory over sin and death. The Cross shows us that God loves us and wants us to live a life of obedience to God and love for others. Finally, Jesus’s death makes atonement for our sin so that we can be right with God. Without the Cross, we would be doomed to suffering and death. But because of it, we can live forever with God.