The Creation Story and the Meaning of Baptism

Here’s a quick thought on one of the symbolic meanings of baptism.

In Mormonism, water can symbolize evil and the domain of the devil. It can also symbolize mortality. Similarly, for the ancient Hebrews, water symbolized chaos and disorder. Genesis is the account of God subduing the primordial waters of chaos and creating order and life out of them.

To my knowledge, none of the baptismal scriptures explicitly refer to either of these symbolisms. But the scriptures do explicitly describe baptism as rebirth, as participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and as the death of the old wicked man and the rebirth of the new man of God. The water symbolisms fit with those descriptions of baptism.

In one way of looking at it, the baptism ceremony recapitulates the plan of salvation (like the endowment also does). By the power of God, and with our consent, we go into a world of sin and mortality. Our fall–our immersion–is complete. But God reaches down and lifts us back up into His presence.

In another way, we totally submit our old sinful self to chaos and disintegration. Out of this chaos God makes a new order of creation–our new self.


Posted at the Jr. Ganymede.

20 thoughts on “The Creation Story and the Meaning of Baptism

  1. Pingback: The Creation Story and the Symbolism of Baptism | Junior Ganymede

  2. I’ve heard of the children of Isreal coming out of Egypt through the red sea being a “type” of baptism. I’d like to think of baptism as the inverse as well.

    We are being delivered through the waters from captivity and from other dangerous spiritual influences into the promised land, but only if we continue with faith and endure to the end.

  3. I see no more symbolism in baptism than in throwing salt over my left shoulder. To me, baptism exploits the physical properties of water that are unknown to today’s science. That’s why we have baptisms for the dead. They must be performed in our physical world, as much as it would be convenient to have a symbolic ceremony in the spirit world.

  4. Adam: This is right on and makes the correct connections that would have occurred to the Jewish Christian who encountered baptism. Well done!

  5. Geoff,

    Slightly disagree with the waters symbolizing evil. Sometimes they can, but they don’t have to.

    God was the one who cursed the waters, not Satan who usurped it.
    The scripture says that “The Lord…decreed… the destroyer rideth upon the face thereof…”

    You can assume that the water symbolize evil in this verse, and you can assume that Satan is the destroyer in this verse, but those are assumptions.

    During the passover, the Lord sent his messenger “the destroyer” (Exodus 12). I do not believe “destroyer” in Exodus 12 = Satan, and therefore it is likely that “destroyer” in DC != Satan as well. During the flood, (Gen 6;7) God promised to destroy man, all the earth (6:13) and all flesh (6:17). Destruction is not always evil

    I don’t think, from a scriptural standpoint, we’re justified in invoking spiritually dangerous characterizations of water from its own attributes. e.i., the cursing isn’t eternal in a time sense, it’s eternal from a who did the cursing sense. There was a time when water was not cursed, and there may be a time again when it’s not.

  6. PC, I think you mean “Adam,” but I’ll take it anytime somebody slightly disagrees with me. It’s much better than the usual full-throated denunciations. :)

  7. Blake and others,
    thank you so much for your kind response.

    Chris,

    That is another interesting parallel. The Jaredites and the Nephites also fit that pattern.

    Bradley,

    as delightfully ingenious as I find your suggestion that baptism is actually a kind of technology, I’m afraid it just won’t do. Against it are the fact that the individual performing the baptism has to be authorized by God, whereas chemistry doesn’t care if you have the priesthood; the fact that baptisms can be performed vicariously, whereas engineering can’t; and the fact that scripture passages explicitly discuss baptism in symbolic terms–some of which I cite in my post.

  8. PC,

    I believe that we are justified in assuming that one of the symbolic associations of water is with evil:
    *the ancient association of water with primordial chaos is also an association with evil–there is no clear distinction between chaos and evil anciently–just as in the D&C, good and order are associated;
    *water is associated with mortality in scripture, and mortality and evil also go together–the spiritual fall and the physical fall are one;
    *it is well known that the Old Testament does not have a clear representation of Satan, so what Exodus says is not dispositive–in any case, I see no real problem with scriptures that state that the destruction Satan does is at God’s behest, since there are similar scriptures about, e.g., the Assyrians–there are other scriptures in the D&C where the “destroyer” refers to the enemy of God and his servants, see http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/101.51-54?lang=eng#50 — “Destroyer” was a name for the devil in Joseph Smith’s day — for whatever authority it may possess, the Church’s guide to the scriptures identifies Satan as the destroyer, http://lds.org/scriptures/gs/destroyer.p2?lang=eng&letter=d — the sentis communis of the Saints has been that the destroyer referred to in D&C 61 was Satan.

    I agree that water doesn’t always and everywhere symbolize evil in the scriptures. I don’t even think that it symbolizes evil in every association with baptism either. Baptism has multiple symbolic meanings and in some of them water is neutral or even positive.

  9. Adam G – regarding the Jaredites and the Nephites, what I just noticed the other day was that they were “driven forth before the wind” to a land which had been promised to them. I was thinking about that term wind, and the interplay with the word spirit. The day of pentacost with the rushing wind, and the same in the Kirtland temple the wind was linked with the outpouring of the spirit.

    Your reference of the similar “baptism” pattern carrying the Jaradites and the Nephites across the waters adds a little more interest in that light.

  10. This is exactly how I’ve always seen it. Furthermore, I always took the same symbolism to the washings and anointings, wherein the sacrifice is cut is certain places (just like the OT) and then healed with oil.

  11. Adam, I forgot that… I just can’t get the image of Moses and his staff immediately parting the red sea from pop culture out of my mind. But you’re right it reads, “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night”

    Adds some more thoughts…

  12. Adam, if the waters of baptism are symbolic of evil, then it seems to me baptism loses it’s symbolism as a cleansing ordinance. Waters cleanse the body, and baptism cleanses the spirit from sin. But if the waters are evil, it would be hard to see them as cleansing.

    But I think it’s an interesting idea. It’s similar to Paul’s idea that baptism symbolized burial in the earth, which obviously denotes a place of darkness and death. So going into the water does also represent dying spiritually, and then being reborn in the pattern of the resurrected Christ.

  13. I’ve always thought the water-is-bad connotation was simply a function of water and its relation to life and death. Specifically, if you consider the seas 2000+ years ago (or less!) many people who went out to the sea never returned. I’d imagine plenty of fatherless families or mothers who lost their sons to the sea thought of the sea as a terrible place.

    Evil is probably not a word I’d describe it because it really suggest demonic, but I think fallen, dangerous, filled with destruction, etc. So in that sense Nate, it seems to work with baptism. If you’re “dying” in the water of baptism, it’s definitely a place where things are destroyed.

    D&C 61:15 and 16 refer to the waters in the last days, “Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.
    And it shall be said in days to come that none is able to go up to the land of Zion upon the waters, but he that is upright in heart.”

    I’m not suggesting this speaks of baptism, but if you think about what is supposed to “die” in the water of baptism, it is those parts of the natural man we want to overcome. So that when we come out of the water, we are (ideally) left with what is upright in heart. It’s not too crazy to suggest the similar parallel with the last days, those who are filled more with the natural man than the love of God will not make it through that journey across the water.

    It would also seem to suggest the water is both a dangerous destroyer and a purifier. Not sure if I’m reaching too far to tie these ideas together though, but there is clearly some connection through water/death/purification and ending up in the promised land (whether that’s Israel, America, Church membership, or the Celestial kingdom)

  14. Sorry to confuse names Geoff and Adam. I like you both, but you are separate individuals… I’ll try to be more careful.

  15. Splendid, Adam. I believe Orson Scott Card tapped into this chaotic void face of water in his depiction of the agent or embodiment of chaos the Unmaker in his Alvin Maker series.

    I enjoy perhaps no geographical feature more than a monumental waterfall. Herein lies a tension between the slow, relentless, erosive faculty of water and the ability of the gorge to bind the water once it has fallen. Even as it self-destructs, a waterfall is renewed.

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