Baptism of Jesus

Baptism of Jesus

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist. In these accounts, John preaches repentance before the coming judgment, baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and the imminent arrival of one far greater than he. Jesus comes to the Jordan River and is baptised there by John. After the baptism, the heavens open, the holy spirit like a dove descends, and a heavenly voice acclaims Jesus is his Son. Jesus then goes into the wilderness where the devil tempts him, and when he returns he begins his ministry. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God [ and : "These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing". As well as the evidence from archaeology and early pilgrims accounts. This site was visited by Pope John Paul II in March 2000, and in 2007 a documentary film entitled "The Baptism of Jesus Christ - Uncovering Bethany Beyond the Jordan" was made about it.

Both locations appear on the Map of Madaba:

* Western Bank as Bethabara, (House of the "Ford", or of the "Crossing")

* Eastern Bank as Aenon or Sapsaphas ("Place of the Willows")

The baptismal scene

In Luke Jesus is watched as one of a large crowd who had come to see John and is baptised before them, while Matthew makes no mention of anyone besides John and Jesus being at the scene. The scene opens in Luke and Matthew with John delivering a polemic apparently against the Pharisees and Sadducees who are present. Luke and Matthew then re-join the account of Mark, which does not contain the polemic, by portraying Jesus as going down to John and being baptised by him.

The polemic

Once John has been introduced into the narrative, both Matthew and Luke have him immediately described as meeting a group of people, and calling them a "brood of vipers", urging them to repent. That Mark does not contain this lecture while the other two synoptics do has led scholars to believe that this section comes from the Q document. Luke has John addressing the people that have come to see him in general, while Matthew has him address the Pharisees and Sadducees in particular. According to several scholars, the presence of the Pharisees and Sadducees does not indicate their intent to join John's movement, but rather their wish to investigate it and decide whether it is a threat to their own power. The historicity of their joint presence at this event has been questioned that the concept of indulgences had grown, and these new translations played an important role in Martin Luther's and other Protestants' reappraisal of these practices. Today the word is universally translated as "repentance" and the Catholic doctrine is grounded more in theology than in this passage. For the same reason that John's humility in the face of Jesus is often doubted,fact|date=June 2007 John, whose movement appears to have remained far more significant at the turn of the first century than Christianity was,fact|date=June 2007 is often considered by non-Christian scholars to never to have made such a prediction about his successor, it instead being pious forgery by the authors of the synoptics.fact|date=June 2007

The importance of John

Matthew and Luke describe Jews coming from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the areas around the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist preach. This description is considered quite historically credible as it is backed up by Josephus. In his Antiquities of the Jews he says of John the Baptist that the "others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved by hearing his words" [] . At the time Josephus was writing, around 97 AD, John the Baptist seems to have been an exceptionally more significant figure than Jesus - while John is frequently mentioned, hardly anyone appears to have mentioned Jesus at all, in all of Josephus' writing, there are only two very short passages which could possibly refer to Jesus, and these are heavily disputed with most scholars seeing them as forgeries.

Unlike Luke and Mark, Matthew has John being hesitant about baptising Jesus, with John stating that Jesus should be the one baptising him, though it doesn't exactly state why. The Gospel of the Nazoraeans, a text which has very strong similarities to Matthew, adds a clarification to this story, stating that it was because of Jesus' sinlessness that John felt he was the one who should be baptised. In the environment the author of Matthew is presumed to have been writing in there would still have been many followers of John the Baptist who felt he was equal to or superior to Jesus. And while the followers of John are often presented as becoming followers of Jesus, the ancient Mandaean religion, which survives much reduced to the present day, claims to originate in a direct line from the followers of John, without being tainted by following Jesus.

Baptism and John

The origins of John's baptism ritual are much discussed amongst scholars. While various forms of baptism were practised throughout the Jewish world at this time, only those of John the Baptist and Qumran are associated with an eschatological purpose, leading many scholars to connect John to the group that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Qumran, however, baptism was a regular ritual for individuals rather than the one-time event that the synoptics present it as. Obviously that the synoptics describe John as baptising people in the once-off form could simply be due to them putting a spin on John's historic behaviour due to being motivated to present him in accordance with Christian theology.

John the Baptist is described by Mark, Luke, and Matthew as referring to a successor, who will baptise with "the Holy spirit and with fire". While John is presented as describing this successor as coming "after" him, the word usually translated "after" does not have a chronological meaning, but means instead "after in sequence". It is often used to indicate that the one following is a disciple of the previous one (e.g., bibleref|Matthew|4:19), but it also can simply mean "behind" (bibleref|Matthew|16:23) or "after" (Luke 19:14, "after him"). At the time, the disciple of a Rabbi would be expected to perform menial chores, but as sandals were considered unclean, a view still persisting in the Middle East today, not even a disciple would deal with them, only the lowest slave. Thus when the text has John presenting himself as not worthy to carry/untie the sandals of his successor, he is presenting himself as extremely lowly in comparison.

"Fire" was often a symbol of wrath, and so linking the "Holy Spirit" with it superficially appears to clash with portrayals of this "Spirit" elsewhere in the New Testament as a gentle thing. Some translations avoid using the word "fire" due to this, but when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, it appeared that several of its texts make the connection between "Holy Spirit" and wrath, and so most scholars now see the wording here as original, and the other portrayals as misinterpreted. See also Acts 2.

It is worth noting that John baptising by water and his successor by fire has parallels with Sumerian mythology. Enki, who the Babylonians later knew as Ea, had become known as Oannes by the time of John, and "Oannes" is almost identical to "Ioannes", which is how the name of John the Baptist is spelt in the original Greek of the New Testament. Enki/Oannes was the god of (pure) water, and although the first god, the god of creation, over time he lost significance, while the sun god grew more important. Hence in folklore of the period in the surrounding region, Oannes, god of water, was superseded by the god of the sun, the god of fire. That this folklore surrounding Oannes may have influenced a narrative built around a historic figure named Ioannes, is of course somewhat tenuous, though the connection is frequently made by those who question the Historicity of Jesus.

Non-canonical and heterodox accounts

Jesus' baptism figures into noncanonical accounts and into some beliefs considered heretical by orthodox Christianity.


Adoptionism, the belief that the man Jesus was adopted as the Son of God, was one of two popular Christologies in the 2nd century. One type of adoptionism, such as that held by the Jewish Christian Ebionites, held that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. The other type held that Jesus became the Son of God at his resurrection.


The first-century proto-Gnostic Cerinthus taught that the Christ (a spirit) came to the man Jesus at his baptism, remained distinct from him (while guiding and teaching him), and then left him at the crucifixion.


Scholars of the historical-critical method, while questioning other elements of the Gospel narratives, generally agree that the historical Jesus was baptized by John. Like the crucifixion, it meets what they call the criterion of multiple attestation and the criterion of embarrassment. Even scholars who credit very little of the Gospel narratives, such as Paula Fredriksen, affirm the historicity of Jesus' baptism.

*Multiple Attestation: Three canonical Gospels and various non-canonical sources agree that John baptized Jesus. The fourth canonical Gospel and other canonical and non-canonical sources also attest to John's ministry of baptism. Josephus, for example, recounts John's ministry. Thus Jesus' baptism meets this criterion, while less well-attested elements of the Gospels, such as the Massacre of the Innocents, do not.

*Embarrassment: Scholars of this method give special credence to Gospel accounts that are "dissimilar" to the image that early Christians generally portray of Jesus. This why some refer to this criterion as that of "dissimilarity". Since Jesus was said to be without sin (and not in need of baptism) and to be greater than John, early Christians would have had no motive to invent such a scene, which would have been an embarrassment to them. The last-written Gospel does not mention Jesus' baptism. Thus Jesus' baptism meets this criterion, while more glorifying elements of the Gospel narratives, such as his virgin birth, do not.

"The Logia of Yeshua", by Guy Davenport and Benjamin Urrutia, footnote 2, pages 50-51, commenting on the Gospel of the Hebrews, a non-canonical gospel extant only in fragments quoted by other writers, in which, according to Jerome, Jesus' family suggested that he be baptized ("The mother of the Lord and his brothers said to him, 'John the Baptist baptizes for the forgiveness of sins; let us go and be baptized by him.' But he said to them, 'In what way have I sinned that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless, perhaps, what I have just said is a sin of ignorance.'"), [ [ The Gospel of Hebrews from Throckmorton and Barnstone ] ] says: "Many early Christians seem to have been embarrassed by the fact that Yeshua ( Jesus ) was baptized by Yohannan ( John the Baptist ). The Gospel of John neglects to mention this baptism ... The Synoptics try several ploys. Yohannan says "he" should be baptized by Yeshua, and not the other way around. Misleading hints are given that someone else, not Yohannan, performed the Immersion. Scholars in general (except for Robert Graves and Joshua Podro ...) take for granted that the story of Mariam [ Mary ] and Yeshua's brothers persuading a reluctant Yeshua to be baptized belongs to the same category ... [but] this story would "add" to the embarrassment ... The idea for this very important step in Yeshua's life comes from somebody else ... Yeshua changes his mind. He admits he may be guilty of a sin after all."



*Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." "The Anchor Bible Series." New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
*Clarke, Howard W. "The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel." Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
*Guy Davenport, and Benjamin Urrutia, "The Logia of Yeshua". Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1996.
*France, R.T. "The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary." Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
*Gundry, Robert H. "Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art." Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
*Guthrie, Donald. "The New Bible Commentary." Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.
*Hill, David. "The Gospel of Matthew". Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
*Hurtago, Larry W. "Generation of Vipers." "A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature." David Lyle Jeffrey, general editor. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
*Jones, Alexander. "The Gospel According to St. Matthew." London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965.
*Malina, Bruce J. and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. "Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels." Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.
*Murray, John. "Christian Baptism." Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1962.
*Schweizer, Eduard. "The Good News According to Matthew." Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
*Pastor Jong" Are You Truly Born Again Of Water And The Spirit." Korea Hephziba Publishing

External links

* [ Jewish Encyclopedia: Jesus: Influence of John the Baptist]
* [ The New Life Mission's explanation of baptism]
* [ UNESCO: The Baptismal Site (Bethany beyond the Jordan)]
* [ The Baptism of Christ - Uncovering Bethany beyond the Jordan - 47 min Documentary]

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