“That Ye Shall Baptize”

Alan C. Miner

According to Gary Walker, in just twenty-two verses containing the opening remarks of the Savior, the word baptism (or one of its forms) occurs nineteen times. (3 Nephi 11:22--12:2.) Without valid baptism by one having authority from the Lord, we could not return to dwell with the Father and the Son and be one with them. Baptism is, in the literal and eternal sense, a unifying ordinance between God and his people. Hence, the principle of unity as exemplified in the Godhead was connected with the instructions regarding baptism: "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" (3 Nephi 11:27). [Gary Lee Walker, "The Downfall of the Nephite Nation: Lessons for Our Time," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 151]

“I Give Unto You Power that Ye Shall Baptize This People”

According to Warren and Ferguson, Bishop Diego de Landa, who arrived in Yucatan on the heels of Cortes and before the smoke of battle had cleared away, was surprised to learn that baptism had been practiced, as a "rebirth," for many centuries prior to the time of Columbus. Baptisms were performed in the name of the Messiah or Fair God. . . . In his book The Conquest of Yucatan, Frans Blom, a pioneer Mesoamerican archaeologist-explorer, says that the ancient Mayan baptismal rite "was in some ways more elaborate than Christian baptism, but contained the same fundamental ideas." (79)

Knowledge of baptism -- a special symbol of the cleansing, rebirth, and regeneration of the individual -- was widespread in Mesoamerica. Thomas Lopez Medel, in a document written in 1612 concerning Mesoamerica, also mentions the ancient baptismal rite:

There was also practiced and used among the Yucatecan Indians a certain kind of baptism which although it was not obligatory nor general among all, was held in repute. . . And when they had already attained to six or seven years, the time when they were to be baptized was discussed with the priest, and the day . . . appointed. By this and other similar ceremonies which had been observed in Yucatecan Indians and in others, some of our Spaniards have taken occasion to persuade themselves and believe that in times past some of the apostles or a successor to them passed over to the West Indies and that ultimately those Indians were preached to. (226)

The Maya term for the ceremony, caput sihil, means "to be born anew." The meaning of this Maya term is confirmed from the central-mesa account of Sahagun. This "rebirth" in water was one of two requisites to the attainment of "glory" of the kingdom of God in Mesoamerica. Bishop Landa said that by baptism and by "a well ordered life" the Mayas hoped to attain the kingdom. [Bruce W. Warren and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, The Messiah in Ancient America, pp. 16-19]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary