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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Bath, Bathing

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BATH, BATHING.—The immersing or washing of the whole person may be a matter of cleanliness, or of luxury, or of religious observance, or of health.

(1) Cleanliness per se may be set aside. It is possible to be cleanly with less elaborate apparatus; and the majority in OT (or even NT) times would have ‘neither privacy nor inclination’ for bathing. (2) Luxury in the classical world (diffused even among the people, under Roman influence, at least subsequently to NT times) included plunge-baths and much besides. When Greek culture tried to invade Judaea under Antiochus Epiphanes (circa (about) 168 b.c.), it doubtless brought Greek bathing establishments with it. And when Western culture came in resistlessly under Herod (b.c. 40–4), it must have introduced the practice in many places; cf. an anecdote of Gamaliel ii. in Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 18, 53. (3) Religious observance, under OT law, according to Professor Kennedy (art. ‘Bath, Bathing’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible i. 257b), required a partial washing, or a washing with water rather than bathing. ‘The Heb. of the OT does not distinguish’ between bathing and a partial washing. ‘Both are expressed by רָחַץ.’ However, Schürer insists that Talmudic usage codifies the custom which had long been in vogue; and Kennedy grants that ‘the bath became,’ even ‘for the laity … an all-important factor in the religious life.’ Nay, proselyte baptism must be earlier than the NT, and it requires a bath, tĕbîlâh (tâbal is used in one unambiguous OT passage, the miracle of Naaman’s cleansing, 2 Kings 5:14). We hear also of daily bathing among the Essenes (Josephus BJ ii. viii. 5). And, finally, John’s baptism was by immersion (as was that also of the early Christian Church, Acts 8:38, Romans 6:3-4). (4) The use of mineral baths for health’s sake is always popular. There are remains of such baths near Tiberias; those at Gadara and at Callirrhoë were very celebrated in ancient times. John 5:2-7 gives us an example of such bathing, though Christ’s miracle dispensed with the waters of Bethesda. In another passage (John 9:7) we have a partial washing (at the Pool of Siloam) as a stage towards completion of a miracle.

Thus bathing was well enough known in NT times. Our Lord’s language in John 13:10 turns on the distinction between bathing (the whole person) and washing (the feet). Quite conceivably a Christian sacrament might have grown out of this incident. Nothing is more impressive at Oberammergan than the threefold journey of the Christus round the company—so it is represented—ministering to the disciples (1) the feet-washing, (2) the bread, (3) the cup. See, further, artt. Bason, Purification.

Robert Mackintosh.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Bath, Bathing'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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