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Matthew 3:4-17

May 17, 2011

If the following of John the Baptist was as great as the Gospels indicate, (cf. Matt. 21:26, Mark 1:5) and John was preaching much of the same message as Jesus, it would be truly amazing if the leadership of Israel was as unresponsive to Jesus as the Gospels clearly describe. What’s more amazing, of course, is that miracles also supposedly did not command in-depth consideration of Jesus’ claims from the Jewish people and leaders.

It is not clear what John real teachings were or even what his exact teaching were according to the Gospel portrayal. It is interesting that much of the material Matthew and Luke share against Mark describes John as an ideal preacher of righteousness. However, although the material giving this portrayal is not found in Mark, the same description of John can be found in that book, as well. This is, I think, one of the major things to consider when researching the nature of the origin of Mark and the common material of Matthew and Luke (the so-called “Q material”).

One of the frequent features of the common material in Matthew and Luke is its absence of exact scenes. Matthew 3:7 says that John was talking to the Pharisees and Sadducees when he uttered the “brood of vipers” phrase; Luke 3:7 (a rare instance when the chapter/verse markings of the Gospels lead to the same episode) says that John was referring to all of his listeners. So while the phrase is the same and is attached to John, its exact use is inconsistent.

This doesn’t mean there is a contradiction here, but this would surely be an awkward way to address people. Why specifically refer to the Pharisees and Sadducees as a brood of vipers, if everyone else is a viper, too?

The “baptism of fire” is probably the same thing as the “burning up the chaff”; in other words, both baptisms are not being encouraged here. However, this isn’t clear enough for me to be sure.

The baptism of Jesus has been put into the Q material, but I don’t know why. There isn’t a single detail about the baptism that’s not also given in Mark. The passage might also be classified as Q material if it was implied by (and therefore not independent of) other Q material, but I can’t remember right now of any such case.

The baptism of Jesus brings up three different problems. First, why did Jesus even need to be baptized? Second, when could this have taken place? Third, how is this consistent with the Gospel of John?

What did baptism mean, anyway? Luke (3:3) says John was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Does this mean baptism gave a forgiveness of sins, consummated the process of forgiveness of sins, or merely symbolized the forgiveness of sins? And in whatever case, why was Jesus baptized? Matthew has Jesus say that baptism was appropriate “to fulfill all righteousness.” The reason for this isn’t given.

I’ll save problems two and three for later.

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