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Matthew 3:13-17

May 17, 2011
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The two other problems with the baptism of Jesus scene  in Matthew are a) the historical correlation of Jesus’ and John’s ministries and b) the absence of such a scene in the Gospel of John.

We learn from 1st-century historian Josephus that the death of John the Baptist took place before the war between Herod and Aretas of Nabataea. I’ve seen these events dated from 35 to 37. If we can assume execution of John took place within a few years before, we have a very short span between John’s death and the traditional death of Jesus in 33. However, Jesus’ death in 33 is not established by any strong evidence, from what I gather, and a short ministry for Jesus wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, either.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) do not seem to give any indication that Jesus’ ministry was lengthy. I think the idea that his ministry was lengthy comes from frequent references to yearly feasts in the Gospel of John, as well as taking Luke 3:23 and John 8:57 together. If John (the Gospel) is implying in the latter verse that Jesus was about 45 years old; then the New Testament, as an inerrant, theological construct, is saying that Jesus’ ministry lasted 15 years up to that point. Besides saying that Jesus started his ministry at 30, Luke implies that the baptism by John was right at the beginning.

So far, no problem. This just requires the ministry of John the Baptist to be lengthy, as well, or Jesus’ crucifixion to have been about the year 40. I strongly doubt if such a late date for the crucifixion is chronologically acceptable. I also really don’t see a lengthy ministry for John being illustrated by the Gospels; but then, I don’t think they say Jesus’ ministry lasted 15 years, either. I must confess to never having gone through the feasts of the Gospel of John and counted the necessary years. We would be left, then, with a choice between Luke’s record of Jesus’ age at 30 or John’s “not yet fifty.”

These are just some scattered thoughts on this problem. I don’t have strong opinions for any particular interpretation. I will be looking further into these things in the future, no doubt, and I would advise you to consider them also.

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