John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the country of Judaea, and all they of Jerusalem; And they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
John the Baptist was certainly not a Baptist in the modern sense of the word. John was a Jewish prophet of YHWH during the Roman era. According to the Gospels, he “preached the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins.” The Greek word translated here as “remission” is “aphesis” which means, “freedom, pardon, liberty, forgiveness”. John preached that through confession, repentance and baptism, people could be forgiven or pardoned of, have freedom or liberty from, their sins. According to the above verse, people came from all over Judea, including the city of Jerusalem, and sought baptism, “confessing their sins”, their “hamartia” in Greek, meaning “offenses”.
And he preached, saying, There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you in water; But he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit.
According to The Gospel of Mark (GoMark), John baptized them in water, but foretold of one that would come after him who would baptize them “in the Holy Spirit.” In Mark’s version of this story, John never identifies who this person would be or acknowledged that Jesus was this one.
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in the Jordan.
John the Baptist preached that forgiveness of sins could be obtained through confession, repentance and baptism. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Therefore Jesus sought forgiveness of his sins through repentance and baptism, according to the author of GoMark.
And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: and a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.
That is the end of GoMark’s story of the baptism of Jesus. After being submerged, Jesus came “up out of the water”, saw the heavens open and “the Spirit as a dove” descended upon him. A voice from heaven spoke to Jesus and said, “Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.”
For a Christian, it might be difficult to imagine that Jesus could have ever committed any type of “hamartia” or sin that would require repentance or forgiveness. For a human being, it is not difficult at all to realize that following the confession, repentance and forgiveness for a life led astray, a moment of clarity or enlightenment is often exactly what happens when the heavens open up and the light shines in. It is not difficult to imagine that from this ethereal experience, one can find new purpose in life.
Just as it might be difficult for a Christian to envision, it was also apparently troubling to the later gospel authors as well, who borrowed from GoMark and modified their source to meet their own theological motives. The author of GoMatthew obviously saw a problem with it because he made it a point to change the message, in a few ways. The first thing that he did was create a sense of urgency.
Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
The author of GoMatthew then adds a brief apocalyptic speech by John the Baptist that is also not included in the Markan version.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
In this speech, John addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees that were coming to be baptized. He called them “offspring of vipers” who are fleeing from the wrath to come. He warns that their Abrahamic roots will not save them. He says that “even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees”, using an agricultural metaphor to describe that these events were soon to happen, imminence. He then tells them that all the bad trees will be cut down and thrown into the fire. This apocalyptic tirade is not included in the Markan version. The author of GoMatthew then modifies what his Markan source provided, continuing the apocalyptic motif, again adding the theme of fire and another agricultural metaphor.
I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.
The wheat is gathered and saved; the chaff is gathered and burned. Jesus is now introduced and we see another example of GoMatthew modifying his source.
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John would have hindered him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? But Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffereth him.
Unable to reproduce the idea that Jesus might have committed some “sin” needing repentance, the author has John immediately recognize the significance of Jesus and take the subservient role saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”
In GoMatthew’s version, John the Baptist immediately recognizes Jesus as his superior. However, the author seemed to forget this later in his gospel, when he added another story that would have made sense in the Markan perspective, but absolutely none from the Matthean perspective. From prison, John the Baptist sends messengers to inquire of Jesus:
Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?
The dilemma with this inquiry is that it is not found in GoMark. It is however paralleled in GoLuke, but it doesn’t make sense from the Lukan perspective either. The author makes John the Baptist the cousin of Jesus and recognizes the significance of Jesus in the womb, before either were born. (Luke 1:44)
And Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him; and lo, a voice out of the heavens, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Just as in GoMark, Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens were opened “unto him” and “he” saw the spirit, now “of God” descending down and upon him. The voice of heavens now says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”, not “Thou art my beloved Son”, as reported by GoMark. The voice is no longer talking to Jesus, but to someone else, perhaps John, perhaps the crowd.
If one wants to have a good time in the Christian Bible, one can look at the two other Gospel authors and see how they dealt with the dilemma. They can be found in GoLuke 3 and GoJohn 1. What one will notice is that neither actually relays the baptism of Jesus. GoLuke includes, almost verbatim, the apocalyptic speech of John the Baptist. GoJohn has changed the story into a “testimony” by John the Baptist, saying “I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (GoJohn 1:34), a statement never made by John the Baptist in GoMark.
*Quotations taken from the American Standard Version