How should a Christian be baptized? Immersion or sprinkling? Infant or adult? Christians often differ on particulars, but perhaps we miss a bigger picture.

During creation, God divides chaotic waters and calls them the deep (tehom) or the abyss according to the Greek translation (Genesis 1:6-8). Demons fear that abyss (Luke 3:31), and ultimately God will throw Satan into it (Revelation 20:1-3). Mankind is safe from those primeval waters because God creates “dry land” (yabbashah, Genesis 1:9).

God destroys the wicked world in Noah’s day by means of waters from the great deep (tehom/abyss). When God covers the earth with those deadly waters, it looks as it did during initial creation. In grace, God provides salvific space through Noah’s ark.

Where else does God divide waters? Exodus 14:16 says that God divides the waters of the Red Sea and makes “dry land” (yabbashah). During that miracle, Pharaoh’s army perishes in the waters of the “tehom” (Exodus 15:5). Dry land is the salvific space over which Israel passes and finds life. The Egyptians presume on God’s grace and perish in those deadly waters.

Joshua repeats Moses’ miracle passing over dry land (yabbashah) into a promised, Eden-like land (Joshua 4:22). Elijah and Elisha repeat this same miracle at the Jordan when each one divides the waters (2 Kings 2:8, 14).

At Jesus’ baptism, Jesus comes to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan (John 1:28), which is the exact site of the Joshua, Elijah and Elisha miracles.

So what does Jesus’ baptism mean? You might expect that Jesus would part the waters and go into the promised land. But he doesn’t. He enters those waters. If you support sprinkling, you probably see it this way: John the Baptist (a Levite) washes Jesus (30 years old, Luke 3:23) inaugurating Jesus’ ministry just like Moses (a Levite) washed Aaron who then became high priest. Normally, priests entered service at 30 years old (Numbers 4:2-3; Exodus 29:4). If you support immersion, Jesus enters waters like the Egyptians at the Red Sea. He is bearing the judgment of God for his people.

On either view, Jesus has become the salvific space.

It would not surprise me if Jesus were sprinkled and immersed. God presents Jesus as the new ark (notice the dove in both stories). He is the new Moses, the new Elisha, and the new Joshua who leads God’s people back to restored Eden.

In Revelation 15:2, God’s people apparently pass through fiery waters of the abyss! They sing the song of Moses like Israel after the Red Sea. Someone has held back the waters of death and brought them safely through.

Perhaps we all can find common “dry ground” in the person of Jesus.