Did Jews baptize their beds?

This likely won’t show up in my sermon on Matthew 3:13-17, but I did have brief excursion into textual criticism this week.

I was reading John Wesley’s treatise on baptism, in which he makes the point that Mark 7:4 mentions Jews “baptizing” beds. I went to check the current translations of the verse. The CEB included a reference to “sleeping mats” and the ESV used “dining couches” in the main text. Others left it out entirely or relegated it to a footnote.

In puzzling through that, I found this blog post by a seminary professor who argues that the textual support for the baptizing of “dining couches” is much stronger than the English translations represent. The professor’s hypothesis is that the theology of baptism — by immersion only — influenced translation decisions.

This “research” led me to this interesting blog post about Jewish hand washing customs, written for global handwashing day. It seems unlike that Jews coming back from the market place in Mark 7:4 immersed themselves in water, but rather washed their hands. I also liked this post about the ways ancient Greeks and Romans — and the subject peoples who copied them — reclined on couches as they ate.

I’m not qualified to do textual criticism. I’m just beginning to learn biblical Greek for goodness sake. But I thought this brief foray into what is a fairly small question demonstrates some of the complexity of reading and interpreting the Bible. It reminds me to be wary of having an easy confidence about my understanding of scripture.

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