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[Synoptic-L] Re: Jesus' Baptism

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  • Kym Smith
    Dear Jim West, On June 1 you wrote:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2004
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      Dear Jim West,

      On June 1 you wrote:

      <<<I've read the commentaries, thought about the possible reasons for it's inclusion in the tradition, and still cannot find a satisfactory explanation as to why the early Church thought it necessary to relate the story of Jesus baptism. Matt 3:13ff has the account. John the Baptist himself cannot understand the "whyness" of the event. And what the heck does Jesus mean when he says "it fulfills all righteousness..." Huh????? How does baptism fulfill all righteousness?>>>

      I have restricted myself to reading only for some time but I feel I need to speak here – and preferably only once. I was disappointed that Jeffrey’s original response was not given the detail it requested but more disappointed that, in all the posts to this topic, no one seems to have given a reasonable answer to your original question. This is a Synoptic Problem list so an answer that does not concern itself with that issue may not be appropriate and may be the reason none have answered directly. However, Jim’s question seems to me to be more in the line of why would any of the Synoptics include it and Matthew in particular who, as Jim points out, seems to be saying that ‘John the Baptist himself cannot understand the "whyness" of the event.’ I do not have access to Bultmann so I do not know what I am supposed to be avoiding and I may just give a fairly standard view that you have already dismissed.

      To address Matthew only, i.e. Matt 3:13ff, John’s words to Jesus indicate two things at least. The first is that Jesus did not come as a stranger to John. The second is that John knew sufficient about Jesus to know that his (Jesus’) righteousness so far exceeded his own that, when it came to a baptism of repentance (Mt 3:2,6,11), he needed to be baptized by Jesus. How John knew Jesus this way can only be speculated about, but it is clear that he did know him. John’s comment does not necessarily indicate that he did not know why Jesus came to him for baptism (though the Fourth Gospel confirms that he could not be certain of Jesus’ Messiahship until after the baptism – Jn 1:31-33), all it says for sure is that, compared to Jesus, John saw himself as in greater need of repentance.

      Jesus’ response that "...it is fitting to fulfil all righteousness" must relate to Jesus identification with the rest of humanity. It is only as Jesus identifies with humanity in its sinfulness – which is indicated by his submitting to a baptism of repentance and fulfilled ultimately on the cross – that he can enter into and exhaust its judgment. Just as Jesus’ death was a vicarious act of atonement for us, so, in his baptism, we see that he vicariously repented also, he repents for us.

      Matthew also included Jesus’ baptism because there he was anointed for the public phase of his work as Messiah. Matthew’s account of the baptism cannot be read apart from its allusions to the Old Testament. We know that Matthew is keen to show Jesus as fulfilling the Messianic expectations of the OT. The voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased", takes us immediately to Ps 2, esp. vv.7ff.

      At his baptism Jesus is declared by God to be his Son (as per Ps 2) and endowed with the Spirit for the work he was to accomplish (Matthew does not say this directly but if, as I suspect, Mark’s account was already out, the descent of the Holy Spirit on him was already known. Matthew does, however, detail the temptations which Mark had not). The baptism was the first public declaration Jesus’ Messiahship. Even if it was veiled to others who were present, it was not veiled to John the Baptist. It was one of the most significant events in Jesus’ life.

      The question, Jim, ought not to be ‘Why did Matthew include this event?’ but ‘How could he do anything but include it?’

      Enough from me!


      Kym Smith

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