How, and why, did St. John the Baptist baptize Jesus?


When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, what would the baptismal formula have been? “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” wasn’t used until the 2nd Century.


Even a highly skeptical scholar like John Dominic Crossan considers it historical fact that Jesus inaugurated his public ministry with baptism performed by his cousin John the Baptist, who was “preaching in the wilderness.” There’s also wide agreement that John would have used full immersion in the waters of the Jordan River (those loud amens you hear are coming from Baptists). But as for what words John recited, the Bible doesn’t say though, yes, it doesn’t seem plausible he would have spoken Christianity’s familiar invocation of the triune God that Gerald quotes.

The Acts of the Apostles depicts three baptisms during the earliest phase of the Christian movement, each performed in the name of Jesus and not the Trinity (which is the practice of modern-day “Oneness” Pentecostals). However, the Gospel of Matthew, written in the same time frame as Acts, suggests belief in the three divine persons in the Trinity in its account of Jesus’ baptism  (3:13-17, paralleled in Mark 1 and Luke 3). As Dale Allison comments, “the Son is baptized, the Father speaks, and the Spirit descends.” Then the Trinity becomes explicit in Matthew 28:19 as Jesus directs his followers to make disciples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

So invocation of the Trinity quickly emerged in the 1st Century as a permanent feature of Christian baptism.  Scholars’ consensus is that Matthew was written sometime after A.D. 70. In addition we have the earliest church manual, the Didache, which prescribes the same Trinity phrasing for baptisms (verse 7:1). This text could have originated as early as A.D. 50 but more likely by the early 2nd Century. Also, around A.D. 56 Paul concluded 2 Corinthians with this oft-quoted Trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Of course, it took several centuries for Christianity to settle on a detailed theological explanation of the three persons in the Trinity and the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament) prescribe immersions for various purity rituals, seen today mostly in Orthodox Judaism’s mikveh bath for women following the menstrual period. In addition, an immersion ceremony is part of the traditional process for conversion of a Gentile to Judaism (with circumcision added for male converts). A traditional spoken formula is “blessed are you, Adonai, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with the mitzvoth and commanded us concerning immersion.” Jewish  immersion of converts was carried over to baptism as the rite of initiation into the Christian faith.

However, it’s important to understand that John wasn’t presiding at conversion rituals.

Continue reading "How, and why, did St. John the Baptist baptize Jesus?" by Richard Ostling.

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