Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 2 (Mk 1:3, 7-9 etc)

We now proceed to the second main component, or theme, of the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition:

    1. The Ministry of John (previous notes)
    2. The Relationship between John and Jesus
    3. Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John

This component—the relationship between John and Jesus—is more closely related to the process of development which seems to have taken place, moving beyond the simple historical tradition(s), to an early Christian interpretation regarding them.

Mark 1:3, 7-9 (Acts 1:5, etc)

According to the approach and method of study I am using, we begin here with the Synoptic tradition, represented by the Gospel of Mark, but looking also at a separate strand of tradition—namely, the early Gospel preaching as recorded in the book of Acts. Many critical commentators would seriously question whether, or to what extent, Acts genuinely preserves such early tradition. The sermon-speeches in the book are often thought to be largely the work of the author (trad. Luke), perhaps reflecting the sort of preaching familiar to him at the time (c. 70-80 A.D.). However, as I have discussed elsewhere (cf. my series on the Speeches of Acts, soon to be posted here), there are many signs that early preaching (kerygma) has, in fact, been preserved, even if one grants a substantial reworking of the material by the author (and/or the traditions he has inherited) to form the speeches as they appear in the book. The pieces related to John the Baptist prove to be useful examples in this regard, as they do not appear to be simple reproductions from the Lukan Gospel (and the Synoptics), and may, in fact, stem from a separate line of tradition. Moreover, if this truly reflects the earliest Gospel preaching, in substance, then it may allow us to glimpse something of how the Synoptic tradition came to be formed. Three key components, related to John and the Baptism of Jesus, are preserved separately in Acts:

    • 1:5 (and 11:16)—the saying attributed to John in Mark 1:8 par
    • 10:37-38—the coordination of John’s ministry (baptizing) with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mk 1:4, 9, 14 par)
    • 13:24-25—the ministry of John and the saying in Mark 1:7 par

If we add to this the citation of Isa 40:3, these pieces effectively make up the Synoptic narrative. In the Gospel of Mark, the relationship between John and Jesus is expressed at three points:

    1. The citation of Isa 40:3—Mk 1:3
    2. The saying(s) of the Baptist in Mk 1:7-8
    3. The actual Baptism of Jesus—Mk 1:9

1. Mark 1:3

The central citation from Isaiah 40:3ff has been discussed in prior notes, and will be dealt with again in the next section (on Jesus as the Anointed One).

2. Mark 1:7-8

The Synoptic parallels for the saying(s) of John are Matt 3:11 and Luke 3:16. Versions of them are also found in Acts 1:5 (11:16) + 13:25, and in John 1:26-27. It is possible that two separate sayings have been combined; this might account for some of the differences between the versions. I will discuss, in turn: (a) the variations between the versions of the saying(s), (b) the original meaning of the sayings, and (c) how the Gospel writers understood them.

(a) The Variations

The saying in Mark 1:7 is made up of two phrases:

(1) “one stronger than me comes behind [o)pi/sw] me”
(2) “I am not fit [i(kano$] to loose the strap of the (shoe)s bound under his (feet) [i.e. his shoes]”

(1) The Greek in Mark is: e&rxetai o( i)sxuro/tero/$ mou o)pi/sw mou. Here are the other versions and variations:

    • Acts 13:25b—”(one) comes after [meta/] me”
    • Luke 3:16—”one stronger than me comes” {omits “behind me”}
    • Matt 3:11—”the one coming behind me is stronger than me”
    • John 1:27a—”the one coming behind me…”

The versions in Acts and John are simpler, with no reference to the comparative i)sxuro/tero$ (“stronger”). Matthew and Luke both seem to have reworked the phrase in different ways.

(2) Mark’s version has added the participle ku/ya$ (“bending [down]), probably for dramatic emphasis: “I am not fit, (even) bending (down), to loose the strap…”. The other versions:

    • Acts 13:25b—”I am not worth(y enough) [a&cio$] to loose the (shoe) bound under (his) feet”
    • Luke 3:16—nearly identical to Mark
    • Matt 3:11—”I am not fit to pick up the (shoe)s bound under (his feet)”
    • John 1:27a—”I am not worth(y enough) [a&cio$] that I should (even) loose the strap of his (shoe)s bound under (his feet)”

Interestingly, as with the first phrase (1), John’s version has a point in common with the saying in Acts—a mark, perhaps, of an early detail which was preserved in two strands of tradition. It is conceivable that the variant i(kano/$ vs. a%cio$ could be the result of different ways of translating an original Aramaic version of the saying (cf. M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 3rd ed. [Oxford: 1967], pp. 144-6).

The saying in Mark 1:8, follows the second phrase of the saying in v. 7 by establishing a contrast between John and the “one coming”; here is the version in Mark:

“I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in [e)n] the holy Spirit”
e)gw/ e)ba/ptisa u(ma=$ u%dati, au)to\$ de\ bapti/sei u(ma=$ e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|

The other Synoptics (Matt 3:11 / Luke 3:16), are very close to the Markan saying, but share three key differences:

    • Both use a me\nde/ construction—i.e. “on the one hand…on the other…”
    • Each includes the saying corresponding to Mk 1:7 in the middle of the saying corr. to Mk 1:8—i.e. “I dunk you in water…, but the one coming… he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”
    • Each adds “and (in) fire”—”he will dunk you in the holy Spirit and (in) fire

For those commentators who hold that Matthew and Luke have each made use of Mark, these common differences suggest that here they depend on a different source (so-called “Q”). This is likely since the saying which follows (Matt 3:12 / Lk 3:17) is also “Q” material. Matthew has also included the words “unto repentance” (ei)$ meta/noian)—”I dunk you in water unto repentance [lit. change of mind], but he…”.

Interestingly, the version in Acts (1:5, par 11:16) represents a saying by Jesus, indicating something which Jesus had told his disciples about John:

“(On the one hand) John dunked in water, but (other other hand) you will be dunked in the holy Spirit” (1:5)

It uses the same me\nde/ comparative construction as the “Q” (Matt/Luke) version of the saying (cf. above). At the same time, the passive form of the second verb (baptisqh/sesqe, “you will be dunked”) is a bit surprising. Given the version in the Synoptics, we might have expected Jesus to say “I will dunk you…”. Instead, the passive verb suggests that a “divine passive” is meant—i.e. God as the assumed actor. With regard to the sending of the Spirit, early Christian tradition variously describes this as being both the work of God the Father and Jesus.

The version in John (Jn 1:26 & 33) shows a more substantial reworking of the tradition, which will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

The numerous differences and variations in these sayings may seem strange—even troubling—to readers who expect more uniformity in the inspired writings of the New Testament. However, in many instances, as here, it is actually a strong indication of the authenticity and historical reliability of the traditions (on objective grounds). The differences may be seen, in large part, as a marker of very early traditions (Levels 1-3, cf. the Introduction) which have been independently transmitted, and preserved, in multiple strands of the wider Gospel Tradition.

(b) The original meaning of the sayings &
(c) How the Gospel writers understood the sayings

These points will be discussed in the next note.

3. Mark 1:9

Mk 1:9 narrates the Baptism of Jesus itself, which will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming notes. The event is summarized simply:

“And it came to be in those days (that) Yeshua came from Nazaret in the Galîl and was dunked into the Yarden (river) under [i.e. by] Yohanan”

We will see how the Gospel writers adapt this basic account, beginning with Matthew (in the following note). The Baptism of Jesus, as recorded in the Synoptic tradition, is comprised of three distinct statements:

    • Reference to the Baptism itself (v. 9)
    • The visual/visionary phenomena which took place upon Jesus’ being baptized (v. 10)
    • The voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s son (v. 11)

The last two statements belong more properly to the third section of our study on the Baptism—Jesus as the Anointed One. Despite the theological (and Christological) aspects of these details, they are surprisingly consistent within the early Gospel tradition, and, in and of themselves, have undergone relatively little development. However, the Gospel writers have each handled them in distinctive ways, as we shall see.

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