Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Old and New Baptismal Prayers

And when he [Alma] had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world. (Mosiah 18:13)
These words are different from the baptismal prayer that we say today, but I think we can benefit by studying the difference between this one and our current one.

Alma’s baptismal prayer is valuable to know about because it shows that the covenant of baptism used to be explicitly stated during the prayer. The terms of the covenant are simple.

  • serve God until our mortal life ends,
and He will:
  • pour out His Spirit upon us and
  • grants us eternal life through the redemption of Christ.
We quote Mosiah 18:8-10 with all that stuff about bearing each other’s burdens, mourning with the sad, standing as a witness of God, etc. because it makes it easier to see what kinds of specific acts are meant by the phrase “serving God.” (I don't think that list was meant to be an all-inclusive list, but rather a list of examples.)

It is not known whether the prayer Alma used was a traditional one passed down over generations, but the one we use now is similar to another one in the Book of Mormon that was given by Christ to the Nephites after His resurrection.
23 Verily I say unto you, that whoso repenteth of his sins through your words, and desireth to be baptized in my name, on this wise shall ye baptize them—Behold, ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them.
24 And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying:
25 Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

26 And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.
27 And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one. (3 Nephi 11:23-27)
The baptismal prayer that Jesus gave is much shorter (and thus much more easily memorized). It covers the authority of the baptizer, where that authority comes from, what the act is, and to whom one is being baptized. Since it doesn't explicitly state the covenant, it is assumed that the baptized person understands they are participating in a covenantal act, whereas in Alma's baptismal prayer, baptism is referred to as a testimony that a covenant has already been made with God earlier. (Innnnnteresting...)

The baptismal prayer we use today is slightly different from the one Jesus gave to the Nephites, but in most particulars it is the same. The one we use today was still revealed from Jesus, but it was given to Joseph Smith.
The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. (Doctrine and Covenants 20:73)
Here the words were changed from "having authority from" to "having been commissioned of." To me, this adds a layer of meaning. "Having authority from" to me evokes the idea of someone being given a badge to act, like police officers. "Having been commissioned" adds the idea of an artist who is given a commission to do a particular work for someone. This is conveys how people who baptize do it under presiding authority that emanates up the chain of priesthood all the way to Jesus Christ.

Something that is interesting about the newer Nephite baptismal prayer is that Jesus says it is in His name, but when He gives it, He says, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” It is odd that the specific name of Jesus Christ is not in that list, and instead He is “the Son.” I wondered why. After thinking about it for a while, it seemed to me that “the Son” was being made into a name just as important as the name “Jesus Christ.” (This reminded me of the temple.) Perhaps it is used in the baptism prayer to subtly reinforce the principle that baptism is a rebirth to become a son (or daughter) of God and also to show that Jesus submitted to be baptized as an example.

It is notable that Jesus explains to the Nephites why the Father and the Holy Ghost are included in the “in the name of” clause of the prayer. He says it is because He is one with the Father. What a neat thing it would be to be one and united like that in purpose, will, and action with the Godhead! Ultimately that is what we’re aiming for—to return to be united with them in heaven. We won’t be able to stay unless we also become united with their purpose, will, and action. So maybe the naming of all three members of the Godhead is a promise of eternal life with them. Being born again to "sonship" by baptism is the first step to becoming re-united with them.

Alma's baptismal prayer also mentions all members of the Godhead, but they are scattered throughout. The authority comes from “Almighty God,” which I assume must be the Father, and the Spirit of the Lord is promised, and the redemption of Christ is mentioned as the way to eternal life. The newer baptismal prayer unites the members of the Godhead into one clause. Could this be another way of expressing how they are united in purpose?

In Alma's baptismal prayer, the authority comes from "Almighty God," but in the new prayer, the authority and commission is from Jesus Christ. I think this is meant to show how Christ had ascended up and gained the power to draw all men unto Him.

Is there anything that you notice about the difference between the baptismal prayers? What do you learn from those difference?


Vader said...

"Having been commissioned" makes me think of military officers, who receive a commission to act in the authority of POTUS. Not sure i really see much distinction from 'authority'.

My speculation is that Alma was winging it. Christ later gave a set prayer, and told the Nephites that He was doing it so that they wouldn't argue over the best words to use.

Anonymous said...

I think that I'm noticing the same things you mentioned - the timing of each baptismal prayer in relation to when Christ came to the earth.

We know that the sacrament is a way that we renew our baptismal covenants. It is the way we reflect on the atonement offered to us by the Savior. It is a remembrance of His body that was bruised and blood that was shed for us.

Before Christ, in OT times, they didn't take the sacrament, but offered sacrifices. This is another ordinance, much like baptism, that seem to do the same function, but is a little bit different (okay, in the case of the sacrifice/sacrament A LOT different) before and after Christ's coming to the earth.

So...maybe there is something about the timing. I can't think of any example of the wording of a baptismal prayer anywhere else.

Also...I love how you mention "The Son." This is truly a most interesting thing...My wheels are turning, but I'm not sure where they're headed yet!

Michaela Stephens said...

Vader, "commissioned" in the sense of a military officer is a very good point. Glad you brought that up!
Also, I wondered too if Alma was winging it; its nice to find someone else suspected the same thing. I think you may be right that there were disputations over the best words to say.

thatgoodpart, great point about sacrifices.

Also, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" is said in the temple sealing ordinances. I suspect that "the Son" there is used to subtly remind of that important family relationship as eternal families are formed.