Baptism Foreshadowed in Old Testament Narratives

Reading Time: 26 mins

Old Testament narratives foreshadowed the gifts that our Father gives us in baptism.

A number of years ago I compiled the following quotes from Scripture, the early church fathers, Luther, and others that address how various Old Testament narratives foreshadowed the gifts that our Father gives us in baptism. May they enrich your understanding, as they did mine, of how the Lord has always used water and his word to bless his people.


  • Water of Creation (Genesis 1) – New Creation in Christ and His Baptism
  • Flood (Genesis 6-9) – Killing and Vivifying Flood of Baptism
  • Circumcision (Genesis 17) – The New Circumcision in Christ (Colossians 2)
  • Israelites Cross the “Font” of the Red Sea (Exodus 14) –
  • The Bloody Font of Waters at Marah (Exodus 15) – The Sweet Tree of Life in Baptism
  • Water-Rock (Exodus 17) – The Water-Giving Rock was Christ
  • Tabernacle Washing (Leviticus 14:6-7) – Bodies Washed with Pure Water
  • Red Heifer (Numbers 19) – Cleansing from Uncleanness
  • Crossing Jordan (Joshua 3) – The New Joshua Baptized in Old Jordan
  • Elijah’s Sacrifice upon Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18) – Fire out of Water
  • Naaman’s Leprosy (2 Kings 5) – Cured by a Greater Elisha
  • Elisha Lifts Axe-Head from Water through Wood (2 Kings 6) – Christ Lifts Us from Death through Water and the Wood of His Cross


TertullianDe Baptismo IV (ANF 3:670) – “[The primary principle of Baptism is that] the Spirit of God, who hovered over (the waters) from the beginning, would continue to linger over the waters of the baptized.”

St. AmbroseFrom Shadows to Reality, 74 – “Why are you plunged into the water? We read: ‘May the waters bring forth living creatures (Gen 1:20). And the living creatures were born.’ This happened at the beginning of creation. But for you it was reserved that water should bring you forth to grace, as that other water brought forth creatures to natural life. Imitate this fish, who has received less grace.”

St Ambrose De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Consider, however, how ancient is the mystery [of Baptism] prefigured even in the origin of the world itself. In the very beginning, when God made the heaven and the earth, ‘the Spirit,’ it is said, ‘moved upon the waters.’ He Who was moving upon the waters, was He not working upon the waters? But why should I say, ‘working’? As regards His presence He was moving. Was He not working Who was moving? Recognize that He was working in that making of the world, when the prophet says: ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all their strength by the spirit of His mouth.’ Each statement rests upon the testimony of the prophet, both that He was moving and that He was working. Moses says that He was moving, David testifies that he was working.”

St. JeromeHomilies 10 (FC 48:74 and ACC OT 1:6) – “In the beginning of Genesis, as it is written: ‘And the Spirit was stirring above the waters.’ You see, then, what it says in the beginning of Genesis. Nor for its mystical meaning—‘The Spirit was stirring above the waters’—already at that time Baptism was being foreshadowed. It could not be true baptism, to be sure, without the Spirit.”

Ephrem the Syrian Commentary on Genesis (ACC OT 1:6) – [The Holy Spirit] warmed the waters with a kind of vital warmth, even bringing them to a boil through intense heat in order to make them fertile. The action of a hen is similar. It sits on its eggs, making them fertile through the warmth of incubation. Here then, the Holy Spirit foreshadows the sacrament of holy Baptism, prefiguring its arrival, so that the waters made fertile by the hovering of that same divine Spirit might give birth to the children of God.”

GerhardComprehensive Explanation, 53– “Just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of the first creation and in the same way [thereby] made them fruitful, Gen. 1 and 2, so also God the Lord once more ordained the water for the regeneration [rebirth], which is at the same time the ‘other’ creation [‘new creation’] , and which through the power of the Spirit is made into a saving means of rebirth and renewal.”


1 Peter 3:18-22, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; [19] in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, [20] who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.[21] And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, [22] who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him."

Justin MartyrDialogue with Trypho (CXXXVIII 2-3) – “In the Deluge was accomplished the mystery of the salvation of men. Noah the just, with the other men of the Deluge, that is, his wife, his three sons and the wives of his sons, formed the number 8, and so showed the symbol of the eighth day on which our Christ appeared risen from the dead and which is always, as it were implicitly, the first day. For Christ, the first-born of all creation, became in a new sense the head (arche) of another race, of that which was regenerated by Him, by the water and the wood which contained the mystery of the Cross, as Noah was saved by the wood of the ark when he was carried on the waters with his family. When, therefore, the prophet says: ‘In the time of Noah I saved you,’ as I have said already, he spoke also to the faithful people of God, to the people who possess these symbols . . . . As the whole earth, according to Scripture, was flooded, it obviously was not to the earth that God spoke, but to the people who obeyed Him when He had prepared a place of rest in Jerusalem, as He showed beforehand by all these symbols of the time of the Deluge; and I mean those who are prepared by the water, the faith, the wood, and who repented of their sins, they will escape the judgement of God which is to come.”

TertullianDe Baptismo VIII (ANF 3:672) – For just as, after the waters of the deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged away—after the Baptism, so to say, of the world—a dove was the herald which announced to the earth the assuagement of celestial wrath, when she had been sent her way out of the ark, and had returned with the olive branch, a sign which even among the nations is the fore-token of peace; so by the self-same law of heavenly effect, to earth—that is, to our flesh—as it emerges from the font, after its old sins, flies the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens, where is the Church, the typified ark.”

Cyril of Jerusalem Bible and Liturgy (82) – “Some say that, just as salvation came in the time of Noah by the wood and the water, and there was the beginning of a new creation, and as the dove came back to Noah in the evening with an olive branch, so, they say, the Holy Spirit came down on the true Noah, the Author of the new creation, when the spiritual dove came down upon Him in His Baptism to show that He it is Who, by the wood of the cross, confers salvation on believers, and Who, toward the evening, by His death, gave the world the grace of salvation.”

St Ambrose De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Take another testimony. All flesh was corrupt by its iniquities. ‘My Spirit,’ says God, ‘shall not remain among men, because they are flesh.’ Whereby God shows that the grace of the Spirit is turned away by carnal impurity and the pollution of grave sin. Upon which, God, willing to restore what was lacking, sent the flood and bade just Noah go up into the ark. And he, after having, as the flood was passing off, sent forth first a raven which did not return, sent forth a dove which is said to have returned with an olive twig. You see the water, you see the wood [of the ark], you see the dove, and do you hesitate as to the mystery? The water, then, is that in which the flesh is dipped, that all carnal sin may be washed away. All wickedness is there buried. The wood is that on which the Lord Jesus was fastened when He suffered for us. The dove is that in the form of which the Holy Spirit descended, as you have read in the New Testament, Who inspires in you peace of soul and tranquility of mind. The raven is the figure of sin, which goes forth and does not return, if, in you, too, inwardly and outwardly righteousness be preserved.”

LutherFlood Prayer in Baptism Liturgy (AE 53:107-108). – “Almighty, eternal God, who according to Thy righteous judgment didst condemn the unbelieving world through the Flood and in Thy mercy didst preserve believing Noah and his family, and who didst drown hard-hearted Pharaoh with all his hosts in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of Thy Baptism, and who through the Baptism of Thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, hast consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins: We pray through Thy same boundless mercy that Thou wilt graciously behold this N. and bless him with true faith in His spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam, and which he himself has added thereto, may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of the unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom, serve Thy name at all times, fervent in spirit and joyful in hope, so that with all believers he may be made worthy to attain eternal life, according to Thy promise, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

LutherLectures on Genesis (AE 2:153) – “Baptism and death are interchangeable terms in Scripture...In accordance with this meaning, the Red Sea is truly a baptism, that is, death and the wrath of God, as is manifest in the case of Pharaoh. Nevertheless, Israel, which is baptized with such a baptism, passes through unharmed. Similarly, the Flood is truly death and the wrath of God; nevertheless, the believers are saved in the midst of the Flood...The Flood that Noah experienced was not different from the one that the world experienced. The Red Sea, which both Pharaoh and Israel entered, was not different. Later on, however, the difference becomes apparent in this: those who believe are preserved in the very death to which they are subjected together with the ungodly, but the ungodly perish. Noah, accordingly, is preserved because he has the ark, that is, God’s promise and Word, in which he is living; but the ungodly, who do not believe the Word, are left to their fate. This difference the Holy Spirit wanted to point out in order that the godly might be instructed by this example to believe and hope for salvation through the mercy of god, even in the midst of death. For they have Baptism joined with the promise of life, just as Noah had the ark.”

GerhardComprehensive Explanation (17-18) – “Gen. 7 describes the Flood [German: “Sin-Flood”], through which all flesh on earth perished. It is a type of Baptism, as perceived from Psalm 29:10. . . Gen. 8 reveals that Noah, along with a few others, was preserved in the ark during the time of the Flood. Also, [it reveals] how he let a raven fly out, which never returned; contrarily, a little dove returned to the box with an olive branch, v. 8. This is a type of holy Baptism. 1 Ptr. 3:20-21, ‘Through which (Noah’s ark) a few, that is, eight souls, were kept by means of water; so also water now saves us in Baptism, which is signified by the former.’ Just as only those who were kept alive through the Flood, while contrarily all the others perished, so also we may be preserved to eternal life only through the Sacrament of holy Baptism, since we become members of the Church through it. So also the hellish, black raven of the devil must abandon the baptized person; and conversely, the Holy Spirit comes upon him and brings peace and comfort to his conscience—just as he descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove at His Baptism, Mat. 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32.”


Cyril of Jerusalem – Bible and the Liturgy (63) – “After faith we, like Abraham, receive the spirirtual seal (sphragis), being circumcised in Baptism by the Holy Spirit.”

Asterius of Amasea Bible and the Liturgy (65) – “Why did circumcision take place on the eighth day? Because during the first seven, the child was wearing swaddling clothes, but on the eighth, freed from these bonds, he received circumcision, sign of the seal (sphragis) of the faith of Abraham. And this also typified the fact that, when we have carried the seven days of life, that is to say, the bonds of sin, we should, at the end of time, break these bonds and, circumcised by death and resurrection, as if on the eighth day embrace the life of the angels. And it was to teach Christians that, even before they wrap them in swaddling clothes, they should mark their children with the seal (sphragis) by Baptism in the circumcision of Christ, as St. Paul says: ‘In Him you were circumcised with a circumcision not made by the hand of man, buried with Him in Baptism, as in the circumcision of Christ,’ [Colossians 2:11-12].”

Luther Lectures on Genesis (AE 3:87) – “Christ is baptized, not in order to be made righteous. . . but as an example, so to speak, for us, in order that He may precede us and we may follow His example and also be baptized. In almost the same way circumcision is a sacrament for the descendants of Abraham because, since they have the promise, they are made righteous by believing this promise and making use of the sacrament in faith. . . Thus circumcision was enjoined upon Abraham in order that for his descendants it might be a sacrament through which they would be made righteous if they believed the promise which the Lord had attached to it.”

Gerhard Comprehensive Explanation (13-14) – “A circumcision without hands occurs, for the circumcision in the OT was a type for holy Baptism. Just as God the Lord established a covenant with the one who was circumcised, Gen. 17:10, so also Baptism is a covenant of a good conscience with God, 1 Ptr. 3:21. Just as the Lord God in the outward circumcision simultaneously also inwardly cut off the heart’s foreskin, Deu. 30:6, so also is our sinful flesh at the same time inwardly subdued and killed through the outward water of Baptism.”


1 Corinthians 10:1-3, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; [2] and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; [3] and all ate the same spiritual food; [4] and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ."

TertullianDe Baptismo IX (ANF 3:673) – “How man, therefore, are the pleas of nature, how many the privileges of grace, how may the solemnitities of discipline, the figures, the preparations, the prayers, which have ordained the sanctity of water? First, indeed, when the people, set unconditionally free, escaped the violence of the Egyptian king by crossing over through water, it was water that extinguished the king himself, with his entire forces. What figure more manifestly fulfilled in the sacrament of Baptism? The nations are set free from the world by means of water, to wit: and the devil, their old tyrant, they leave quite behind, overwhelmed in the water.”

Didymus the BlindDe Trinitate II:14 (Shadows to Reality, 178) – “The Red Sea receives the Israelites who did not doubt and delivered them from the perils of the Egyptians who pursued them: and so the whole history of the Flight from Egypt is a type of the salvation obtained through Baptism. Egypt represents the world, in which we harm ourselves if we live badly; the people are those who are now enlightened (=baptized): the waters, which are for these people the means of salvation, represent Baptism; Pharaoh and his soldiers are the Devil and his satellites.”

St Ambrose De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “There is also a third testimony, as the Apostle teaches us: ‘For all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea.’ And further, Moses himself says in his song: ‘Thou didst send Thy Spirit, and the sea covered them.’ You observe that even then holy baptism was prefigured in that passage of the Hebrews, wherein the Egyptian perished, the Hebrew escaped. For what else are we daily taught in this sacrament but that guilt is swallowed up and error done away, but that virtue and innocence remain unharmed? You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, and that a kindly cloud, which cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. At last it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Highest overshadowed her, when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. And that miracle was wrought in a figure through Moses. If, then, the Spirit was in the figure, is He not present in the reality, since Scripture says to us: ‘For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’”

LutherFlood Prayer in Baptism Liturgy (AE 53:107-108; for full text see above under “Flood”) – “Almighty, eternal God . . . who didst drown hard-hearted Pharaoh with all his hosts in the Red Sea and didst lead Thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of Thy Baptism . . . .”

LutherLectures on Genesis (AE 2:153) – “Baptism and death are interchangeable terms in Scripture...In accordance with this meaning, the Red Sea is truly a baptism, that is, death and the wrath of God, as is manifest in the case of Pharaoh. Nevertheless, Israel, which is baptized with such a baptism, passes through unharmed. Similarly, the Flood is truly death and the wrath of God; nevertheless, the believers are saved in the midst of the Flood...The Flood that Noah experienced was not different from the one that the world experienced. The Red Sea, which both Pharaoh and Israel entered, was not different. Later on, however, the difference becomes apparent in this: those who believe are preserved in the very death to which they are subjected together with the ungodly, but the ungodly perish. Noah, accordingly, is preserved because he has the ark, that is, God’s promise and Word, in which he is living; but the ungodly, who do not believe the Word, are left to their fate. This difference the Holy Spirit wanted to point out in order that the godly might be instructed by this example to believe and hope for salvation through the mercy of god, even in the midst of death. For they have Baptism joined with the promise of life, just as Noah had the ark.”

Gerhard Comprehensive Explanation (9-10) – “The word ‘Baptism’ is also used [in relation to] the deliverance of the children of Israel from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, which the Lord God carried out for them through Moses. The action is called a ‘Baptism’ first and foremost because it was a type of our own Baptism. For just as the Israelites were led out of the land of Egypt through the Red Sea, so also we were rescued from spiritual enslavement to the hellish ‘Pharaoh’ through the salvation-giving water of Baptism. Conversely, just as Pharaoh and his whole horde were drowned in the Red Sea, so also the Old Adam with all his lusting and doings is drowned in holy Baptism. Subsequently, this leading out of the Red Sea is called a Baptism because the Israelites became bound by faith and obedience through this wondrous action by God and by His servant Moses. So also, in similar fashion, we became obligated to a life of service and obedience to Christ our Savior through holy Baptism.”

Vigil of Easter Lutheran Worship Agenda (82) – “O God, You once delivered Your people Israel from bondage under Pharaoh and led them in safety through the Red Sea, thereby giving us a picture of our Baptism. Grant that we may ever be faithful to Your baptismal promise, live in its grace, and show forth to all people Your desire that all should be made the children of Abraham; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”


TertullianDe Baptismo (ANF 3:9) “Again, water is restored from its defect of ‘bitterness’ to its native grace of ‘sweetness’ by the tree of Moses. That tree was Christ, restoring, to wit, of Himself, the veins of sometime envenomed and bitter nature into the all-salutary waters of Baptism.”

St Ambrose De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Marah was a fountain of most bitter water: Moses cast wood into it and it became sweet. For water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no avail for future salvation, but, after it has been consecrated by the mystery of the saving cross, it is made suitable for the use of the spiritual layer and of the cup of salvation. As, then, Moses, that is, the prophet, cast wood into that fountain, so, too, the priest utters over this font the proclamation of the Lord’s cross, and the water is made sweet for the purpose of grace. You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes; that which is not seen is more really seen, for the object of sight is temporal, but that other eternal, which is not apprehended by the eye, but is discerned by the mind and spirit.”

Johann Gerhard -- Comprehensive Explanation (18) – “In Exo. 15:25 Moses sank a [piece of] wood into bitter water. The water turned sweet and refreshed the Israelites in the arid desert. In varying degrees, this could also be likened to Baptism, for Christ, the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2), similarly sinks Himself with all His merits into the water of Baptism. Thereupon, it becomes a rich-in-grace Water of Life that is able to quench our soul’s thirst.”


Tertullian – De Baptismo (ANF 3:9) – “This is the water which flowed continuously down for the people from the ‘accompanying rock;’ for if Christ is ‘the Rock,’ without doubt we see Baptism blest by the water in Christ. How mighty is the grace of water, in the sight of God and His Christ, for the confirmation of Baptism! Never is Christ without water: if, that is, He is Himself baptized in water; inaugurates in water the first rudimentary displays of His power, when invited to the nuptials; invites the thirsty, when He makes a discourse, to His own sempiternal water; approves, when teaching concerning love, among works of charity, the cup of water offered to a poor (child); recruits His strength at a well; walks over the water; willingly crosses the sea; ministers water to His disciples. Onward even to the Passion does the witness of Baptism last: while He is being surrendered to the cross, water intervenes; witness Pilate’s hands: when He is wounded, forth from His side bursts water; witness the soldier’s lance.”

St. Gregory of Elvira – Tract. XV, pp. 165f – “When the Israelites were thirsty in the desert, Moses struck the rock with his wooden staff and water gushed forth; and this foretold the sacrament of Baptism. The Apostle teaches that the rock is a type of Christ, when he says: They drank of the rock which followed them and that rock was Christ. This water which gushed forth from the rock was a type of the water which was to issue from the side of Christ (John 7:37) in the sacrament of Baptism to be a saving refreshment to those who were thirsty. We know that Our Lord, the fountain of living water, springing up to eternal life, when he hung upon the cross, not only shed his blood from his pierced side but also a torrent of water: he indicated in this way that his Bride the Church was formed from his side, as Eve was formed from the side of Adam . . . .”

Johann GerhardComprehensive Explanation (18-19) – “In Exo. 17:6 the water springs out of the rock so that the Israelites could be quenched of thirst and be vitally sustained. To some extent, this can also be [a type of] Baptism since the Rock was Christ, 1 Cor. 10:9. Out of Christ’s side flowed blood and water, John 19:34, thereby signifying both Sacraments. Since all of Baptism’s power originates from Christ’s merit, we are shielded from eternal thirst through the water of Baptism.”

LutherSermons on Exodus (St. L. Ed. III) – Luther links the Rock with Christ (quoting 1 Cor 10), and says that when Christ was pierced, out flowed grace and the Holy Spirit. He also notes that the rod is preaching, which must be active to release the benefits of Christ for the life of the world.


Hebrews 10:19-22, “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, [20] by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, [21] and since we have a great priest over the house of God, [22] let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

John of Damascus Orthodox Faith 4.9 (FC 37:346) – “A first baptism was that of the flood [of Noah] that cut away sin. A second was that by the [Red] Sea and the cloud, for the cloud is a symbol of the Spirit, while the sea is a symbol of the water. A third is that of the [Levitical] law, for every unclean person washed himself with water and also washed his garments and thus entered into the camp. A fourth is that of John, which was an introductory baptism leading those thus baptized to penance, so that they might believe in Christ.”

Johann Gerhard -- Comprehensive Explanation (19) -- “In Exo. 30:18; 38:8; 40:7 God directs Moses to craft a brass hand pan with brass feet, set it between the tabernacle and the altar, and place water in it so that Aaron and his sons might wash in it whenever they wanted to enter the tabernacle so that they might not die. To some degree this can also be [a type of] Baptism. For just as none of the priests was to enter the tabernacle back then unless he had first washed with this water, so also anyone who wants to enter the eternal tabernacle must first be washed from sin through holy Baptism.”

Johann Gerhard – Comprehensive Explanation (20) – “In 1 Kings 7:23 Solomon made a huge cast sea in his temple since Moses in his day let a brass hand basin be made. It was for the specific purpose that the priests wash themselves in it whenever they wanted to go into the temple to perform offerings. The sea, or huge water tub (for the Hebrews call any large accumulation of water ‘a sea’), is also a type of holy Baptism. In Rev. 4:6 a glassy sea like unto crystal was before the throne of the lamb.”


BedeOn the Tabernacle 2.11 (ACCS III:237) – “Now [Moses] declares that the ashes of the victims (which ought to be taken as a great mystery) are ‘the sprinkled ashes of a red heifer,’ which (as the apostle also bears witness) sanctified ‘those who have been defiled, so that [their] flesh is made clean.’ He also understands that the sacrament of the Lord’s passion, which saves us by purifying us forever, is prefigured in these ashes. Thus the burning of a red heifer designates the actual time and event of Christ’s passion, and the burnt ashes which were kept for the cleansing of those who were unclean suggest the mystery of that same passion which has already been completed, by which we are daily purged from our sins.”

Cyprian Letter 69.12 (FC 51:254) – “‘The water of sprinkling is a purification.’ From this it appears that the sprinkling with water is also equal to the life-giving bath.”

Johann GerhardComprehensive Explanation (19-20) – “In Num. 19:2 God commands that a red cow be slaughtered and totally burned. This burned cow’s ashes were then mixed with flowing water to make a sprinkling-water which would purify the unclean. This sprinkling-water is also a model of holy Baptism, for the blood of Christ, which was roasted on the stem of the cross in hot love, is sunk with all its power into Baptism’s water. Thus it becomes a wholesome sprinkling water through which we are washed from all uncleanness.”


OrigenHomilies on Joshua IV:1 (Shadows to Reality, 269) – “And you who have just abandoned the darkness of idolatry, and wish to give yourself to the hearing of the Divine Law, then it is that you begin first to leave Egypt. When you have been included in the number of the catechumens and begin to obey the precepts of the Church, you have passed over the Red Sea. And if you come to the sacred font of Baptism and if in the presence of the Priests and Levites you are initiated into those venerable and noble mysteries which are known only by those permitted to know them, then, having passed over the Jordan while the priests are ministering, you shall enter the land of promise.”

Cyril of Jerusalem Bible and Liturgy (101)– “Jesus [=Joshua] son of Nave, in many ways offers us a figure (typos) of Christ. It was from the time of the crossing of the Jordan that he began to exercise his command of the people: this is why Christ also, having first been baptized, began His public life. The son of Nave established twelve (men) to divide the inheritance: Jesus sent twelve apostles into the whole world as heralds of the truth. He who is the figure saved Rahab the courtesan because she believed; He who is the reality said: ‘The publicans and courtesans will go before you in the kingdom of God.’ The walls of Jericho fell at the mere sound of the trumpets at the time of the type; and because of the word of Jesus: ‘there shall not remain one stone upon a stone,’ – the temple of Jerusalem is fallen before our eyes.”

Gregory of NyssaDe Baptismo (Shadows to Reality, 271-272) – “Too long have you rolled in the mire: hasten—not at the voice of John, but of Christ—to my Jerusalem. For indeed the river of grace flows everywhere. It does not rise in Palestine to disappear in some nearby sea: it spreads over the whole earth and flows into Paradise, flowing in the opposite direction to those four rivers which come from Paradise, and bringing in things far more precious than those which come forth. Those rivers carry perfumes, the fruit of the culture and the germination of the earth: this river brings in men, begotten of the Holy Spirit. . . . Imitate Jesus, the son of Nave. Bear the Gospel, as he bore the ark. Leave behind the desert, that is, sin: cross the Jordan, and hasten to the life according to the commands of Christ; hasten to the land which brings forth the fruits of joy, where flow, as was promised, milk and honey. Overturn Jericho, your former way of life, and do not let it be built up again. All these things are types for us, all prefigures truths which are now revealed.”

Luther -- Exposition of Deuteronomy (AE 9:42-43) – “The fact that Moses does not cross over the Jordan to the land of promise but is commanded to turn it over to another leader is an outstanding hidden lesson to the effect that the law leads nothing to perfection, as it is said to the Hebrews (7:19). For the law does not give the spirit of grace, and therefore it does not lead into the kingdom of God, where the true inheritance of the Lord is. Moses kills two kings on this side of Jordan; that is, the law humbles sinners, shows them that they are slain, and leaves nothing alive, that is, no trust in anything, since it leads to hell and is the ministry of death. Cattle and goods, however, are safe; they come in as booty. For the law does not kill the man bodily, but it kills the trust of his heart; when that is dead, then a man surrenders whatever he is and has into the service of the law as booty, and the miserable wretch lives with all his powers as a captive of the law. But since the Law does not preach forgiveness of that sin which it had provoked through its ministry, therefore it is forced to die in the land of Moab outside the kingdom of God. Since it is not right to teach the demand of the killing Law among the people of freedom, but the gift of the life-giving Spirit, therefore the whole Law collapses here, so that nothing is left of it, and man does not even know where it is buried. Joshua, however, denotes Christ, because of his name and because of what he does. Although he was a servant of Moses, yet after his master’s death he leads the people in and parcels out the inheritance of the Lord. Thus Christ, who was first made under the Law (Gal. 4:4), served it for us; then, when it was ended, He established another ministry, that of the Gospel, by which we are led through Him into the spiritual kingdom of a conscience joyful and serene in God, where we reign forever.”


Gregory of Nyssa – On the Baptism of Christ (NPNF 2nd Series, 5:522) – The marvelous sacrifice of the old Tishbite [Elijah] that passes all human understanding, what else does it do but prefigure in action the Faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and redemption? For when all the people of the Hebrews had trodden underfoot the religion of their fathers, and fallen into the error of polytheism, and their king Ahab was deluded by idolatry, with Jezebel, of ill-omened name, as the wicked partner of his life, and the vile prompter of his impiety, the prophet, filled with the grace of the Spirit, coming to a meeting with Ahab. He withstood the priests of Baal in a marvelous and wondrous contest in the sight of the king and all the people. By proposing to them the task of sacrificing the bullock without fire, he displayed them in a ridiculous and wretched plight, vainly praying and crying aloud to gods that were not. At last, invoking His his own and the true God, he accomplished the test proposed with further exaggerations and additions. For he did not simply pray and bring down the fire from heaven upon the wood when it was dry, but exhorted and enjoined the attendants to bring an abundance of water. And when he had poured out, three times, the barrels upon the cut wood, he kindled at his prayer the fire from out of the water, that by the contrariety of the elements, so concurring in friendly cooperation, he might show with superabundant force the power of his own God. Now herein, by that wondrous sacrifice, Elijah clearly proclaimed to us the sacramental rite of Baptism that should afterwards be instituted. For the fire was kindled by water thrice poured upon it, so that it is clearly shown that where the mystic water is, there is the kindling, warm, and fiery Spirit, that burns up the ungodly, and illuminates the faithful. Yes, and yet again his disciple Elisha, when Naaman the Syrian, who was diseased with leprosy, had come to him as a suppliant, cleanses the sick man by washing him in Jordan, clearly indicating what should come, both by the use of water generally, and by the dipping in the river in particular. For Jordan alone of rivers, receiving in itself the first-fruits of sanctification and benediction, conveyed in its channel to the whole world, as it were from some fount in the type afforded by itself, the grace of Baptism. These then are indications in deed and act of regeneration by Baptism. Let us for the rest consider the prophecies of it in words and language. Isaiah cried saying, “Wash you, make you clean, put away evil from your souls;” and David, “Draw nigh to Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed.” And Ezekiel, writing more clearly and plainly than them both, says, “And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be cleansed: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I give you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh, and my Spirit will I put within you.”


OrigenHomilies on Luke 33 (Bible and Liturgy, 111) – “No one was purified except Naaman the Syrian, who was not of Israel. See that those who are washed by the spiritual Elisha, Who is our Lord and Savior, are purified in the sacrament of Baptism and cleansed of the stain of the letter (of the law). It is you to whom it was said: ‘Arise, go to the Jordan and wash, and your flesh will be renewed.’ Naaman arose, departed, and, when he had washed, carried out the figure (mysterium) of Baptism. And his flesh became like that of a child. Who is this child? He who is born in the bath of regeneration.”

St Gregory of Nyssa Bible and Liturgy (112) – “When Elisha sent Naaman the leper to wash himself in the Jordan, and when he cleansed him from his sickness, he suggested what was to come, both by the general use of water and by the special baptism in the river. In fact, alone among rivers, the Jordan received the first-fruits of sanctification and blessing, and poured out, like a spring, the grace of Baptism on the whole world.”

St Ambrose De Mysteriis III (NPNF Second Edition 10:318) – “Lastly, let the lessons lately gone through from the Kings teach you. Naaman was a Syrian, and suffered from leprosy, nor could he be cleansed by any. Then a maiden from among the captives said that there was a prophet in Israel, who could cleanse him from the defilement of the leprosy. And it is said that, having taken silver and gold, he went to the king of Israel. And he, when he heard the cause of his coming, rent his clothes, saying, that occasion was rather being sought against him, since things were asked of him which pertained not to the power of kings. Elisha, however, sent word to the king, that he should send the Syrian to him, that he might know there was a God in Israel. And when he had come, he bade him dip himself seven times in the river Jordan. Then he began to reason with himself that he had better waters in his own country, in which he had often bathed and never been cleansed of his leprosy; and so remembering this, he did not obey the command of the prophet, yet on the advice and persuasion of his servants he yielded and dipped himself. And being forthwith cleansed, he understood that it is not of the waters but of grace that a man is cleansed. Understand now who is that young maid among the captives. She is the congregation gathered out of the Gentiles, that is, the Church of God held down of old by the captivity of sin, when as yet it possessed not the liberty of grace, by whose counsel that foolish people of the Gentiles heard the word of prophecy as to which it had before been in doubt. Afterwards, however, when they believed that it ought to be obeyed, they were washed from every defilement of sin. And he indeed doubted before he was healed; you are already healed, and therefore ought not to doubt.”

GerhardComprehensive Explanation (20) – “In 2 Kings 5:14 Naaman, upon the bidding of the prophet Elisha, washed himself in the Jordan, and was cleansed of his leprosy because of that. This is a type of holy Baptism for Christ, the Head of the Church, let Himself be baptized in the Jordan . . . and thereby sanctified the Jordan and all other water so that it washes us from sin in holy Baptism.”


Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho LXXXVI 6 (Bible and Liturgy, 109) – “Elisha threw a piece of wood into the stream of the Jordan. By this means, he retrieved from the water the iron of the axe with which the sons of the prophets wished to cut the wood to build their house. So our Christ has ransomed us at Baptism from our heaviest sins by His crucifixion on the wood and Baptism in the water.”

IrenaeusAgainst the Heretics V 17:3 (ANF 1:545)– “By means of a tree we were made debtors to God, [so also] by means of a tree we may obtain the remission of our debt. This fact has been strikingly set forth by many others, and especially through means of Elisha the prophet. For when his fellow-prophets were hewing wood for the construction of a tabernacle, and when the iron [head], shaken loose from the axe, had fallen into the Jordan and could not be found by them, upon Elisha’s coming to the place, and learning what had happened, he threw some wood into the water. Then, when he had done this, the iron part of the axe floated up, and they took up from the surface of the water what they had previously lost. By this action the prophet pointed out that the sure word of God, which we had negligently lost by means of a tree, we should receive anew by the dispensation of a tree.”

TertullianAdv. Jud. 13 (ANF 3:170) – “Again, the mystery of this ‘tree’ we read as being celebrated even in the Books of the Reigns. For when the sons of the prophets were cutting ‘wood’ with axes on the bank of the Jordan River, the iron flew off and sank into the stream; and so, on Elisha the prophets’s coming up, the sons of the prophets beg of him to extract from the stream the iron which had sunk. And accordingly Elisha, having taken ‘wood,’ and having cast it into the place where the iron had been submerged, forthwith it rose and swam on the surface, and the ‘wood’ sank, which are the sons of the prophets recovered. Whence they understood that Elijah’s spirit was presently conferred upon him. What is more manifest that the mystery of this ‘wood,’ –the obduracy of this world had been sunk in the profundity of error, and is freed in baptism by the ‘wood’ of Christ, that is, of His passion; in order that what had formerly perished through the ‘tree’ in Adam, should be restored through the ‘tree’ in Christ?”

Didymus the BlindBible and Liturgy (109) – “By Elisha, the man of God, who asked: ‘Where did the axe fall in?’ is prefigured the God coming among men Who asked of Adam: ‘Where are you?’ By the iron fallen into the dark abyss is prefigured the power of the human nature, deprived of light. By the wood taken and thrown into the place where lay the object of the search is symbolized the glorious Cross. The Jordan is immortal Baptism. Indeed, it is in the Jordan that He Who made the Jordan deigned to be baptized for us. Finally, the iron which floated on the waters and came back to him who lost it, signifies that we mount by Baptism to a heavenly height and find again the grace of our old and true home country. If anyone argues that this passage is not prophecy of Baptism, what purpose, then, did the sacred writer have in writing down the passage?”

GerhardExplanation (239) – “As the children of the prophets wanted to fell some trees, the iron [head of the ax] fell into the water; thereupon, the iron floated to the top. The entire human race had fallen into deep, eternal damnation and was unable to rescue itself. Christ, the heavenly Elisha, came with the wood of His cross and lifted us up again.”