What Kind of Water is in the Jewish Ritual Bath (Mikveh)? (Q&A)

Q:  I just read your article on Ephesians 5:26 [The Washing of Water with the Word]. A great look at a deeply profound message. I've also been studying Jewish tradition as it relates to baptism and ritual washing. I thought that the mikveh was actually to be made up of running (i.e. living) waters rather than standing or pooled waters. Then to think about this in relationship to what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4:10:  “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’”  Very cool stuff indeed. Thanks for your insight. --Eli

A:  There are several different grades of water for ritual bathing.  Six of these are mentioned in the Mishnah in the section on Mikvaoth (“Ritual baths,” 1:1-8).  The highest grade is freely flowing water (“living water”), like that in the Jordan River where John was baptizing.  Fourth on the list, but quite common in everyday use, is the mikveh bath.  This contains 40 seahs of water, which is about 80 gallons.  These baths must be filled naturally with rainwater channeled from the roof or with water flowing in from a spring or river nearby.  Though this is standing water after it enters the mikveh, it is considered acceptable because of its source.

A constantly flowing spring of living water as described by Jesus in John 4:10 and 4:14 would be the highest grade of water.  Here it is, of course, a symbol of the purifying presence of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39).

(For more on this topic, see the Index category Baptism.)

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