Jesus Baptized. No He Didn’t. •
John 4:2 •
John 4:1-3 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. (NASB)
We are intrigued by parenthetical verse 2:
(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), (ESV)
At the risk of plunging Bible Bits into undesired baptism wars, we’d like to see what your own analysis of scripture and your commentaries have to say about this passage, especially verse 2.
First, a few straight-forward, yes/no questions:
- Does Jesus himself, personally, with his own hands, during his earthly time of ministry, baptize persons using water? Does he do so here at John 4:1-2? At 3:22? Elsewhere in the gospels?
- Do Christ’s disciples perform baptisms using water prior here at John 4:1-2? Here and elsewhere prior to the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20)? Prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2, esp. 2:37-41)?
- Do John’s disciples do the same? Does John? John alone?
Next, a question which requires a bit more analysis:
- To what extent are the water baptisms performed by John and John’s disciples merely a continuation of water purification, cleansing, and bath rituals already performed by non-Christian Jews? Do these Jewish rituals include baptisms? To what extent are John’s baptisms something new and outside the Jewish tradition?
And finally, keeping the context of John 4:2, we dissect the topic, looking for distinctions as follows:
- Compare the water baptisms performed by John with those performed by John’s disciples, and then with those performed by Christ’s disciples, and then again with those performed by Christ himself (if any).
- Compare the baptisms performed at John 4:1-3, by whatever party, with baptisms performed after the Great Commission, after the cross, and after Pentecost.
- Compare the roles and powers of both administrator and administrant, and these roles and powers as the scene changes from before the cross to after.
- In each of these three areas, consider also whether, and to what extent, at 4:1-3 and then later:
— baptism serves to prepare the administrant
— baptism serves as demonstration of the administrant’s choice of repentance?
— baptism serves as symbolic cleansing?
— baptism effects the forgiveness of sins?
— baptism is a symbolic act? Merely? Partially?
— baptism effects a real, substantive change?
— baptism effects with a force which is supernatural?
— baptism employs powers of the administrant receiving the baptism? or none?
— baptism employs powers of the administrator performing the baptism? or none?
— baptism employs powers of the risen Christ? and the Father and Holy Spirit?
— baptism’s effect is reduced, more or less, by the sinful character, more or less, of the administrator?
Keep in mind that we are interested in water baptisms in the context of the wilderness prior to the cross in John 4:1-3.
Some Scripture of Note
We offer below comments from a variety of interpreters. But first, let’s have a look at other relevant scripture. Here again is our primary text:
John 4:1-3 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. (NASB)
How does Paul’s position on performing baptisms with his own hands compare with that of John, Christ himself, and the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection?
1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (NASB)
Was Jesus himself baptizing?
John 3:22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. (NASB)
Do circumstances change at the Great Commission?
Matt 28:16-20 16 So the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated for them. 17 And when they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age.” (Lexham)
Or at Pentecost?
Acts 2:37-41 37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (NASB)
And is the baptism by John more limited in power and purpose than the baptism of Jesus? Is a second baptism necessary? One by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of the eternal Lord Christ? Were John’s baptisms in water ones of the recipient’s preparation and the recipient’s declaration of repentance? Were they Jewish cleansing rituals? Are later baptisms — performed by whomever — ones of forgiveness of sins? With this power of forgiveness transmitted, delivered, and effected by the power of the Father, Holy Spirit, and heavenly Christ?
Acts 19:3-5 3 And he [Paul] said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into the baptism of John.” 4And Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the one who was to come after him—that is, in Jesus.” 5And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Lexham)
We offer here a number of commentaries, sharing what they have to say, if anything, about the narrow verse 2 topic of “Jesus Himself was not baptizing.” Many writers do not touch verse 2 directly.
More likely to be commented on is verse 3, with speculation as to the motivation for Christ moving away from close proximity to John the Baptist and leaving the scene. Bible Bits is not here interested in this why-did-Jesus-leave question, but we will go ahead and briefly relay what commentary offers.
A typical view is that Jesus leaves the scene in order to eliminate the already present conflict between John’s disciples and his own. Another is that he does so to postpone altercations with the Pharisees to some later date. A third take on verse 3 is that Christ wants to avoid the predictable outcome that persons baptized by himself or his disciples will be thought of as having an experience somehow superior to that of those having been baptized merely by John and his team.
Perceived superiority and bragging rights aside, we are interested in any substantive differences between baptisms performed by the two “competing” groups. Did baptisms by the Jesus team do something not achieved by the John team?
We are most interested in verse 2:
(although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were)
When verse 2 receives comment, the analysis often is that Christ himself does not baptize because he has better things to do. Preaching. Teaching. Healing. Planning the next day’s itinerary and meals. Bible Bits is not enthusiastic about this interpretation. What could be more important than a baptism, if that baptism — at this point in time in the water of a wadi stream — was effectual in saving a soul? Christ can save the life of a dead child by walking into a room, or he can save her life with immersion in a brook, yes? There are no more important things to do.
We suspect instead that either Christ’s water baptisms at this point would not have been effectual for salvation (though they could have been), or, better, that Christ was allowing time for John’s preparatory water baptisms to prepare the way for his soon-to-come baptisms of forgiveness and salvation. Christ was not himself going to perform preparatory baptisms at this point. That was John’s role. His baptisms, when they began, were going to be the real salvational thing.
Verse 2 commentary sometimes remarks on matters of subtle grammatical klutziness, the necessity (or not) of the parenthetical clause, and the question of just who has the incorrect understanding regarding Jesus himself baptizing. And how does Jesus know this? And who told the Pharisees? And how antagonistic are the Pharisees towards John compared to any new and greater antagonism towards the more popular Jesus? And does Jesus possibly have a more anti-Jewish message than John?
Better commentary on verse 2 digs into the distinctions between baptisms performed by John and his disciples compared with those by Christ and his disciples, while, in the process, answering our yes/no question of “did Jesus himself baptize.” This commentary explores the question of Jesus performing water baptisms at all with his own hands, whether here at Aenon near Salim (3:22-23) in the Judean countryside, or anywhere else. The more robust commentary also explores the purpose and effectual outcome of baptisms performed at this point in Christ’s earthly ministry, prior to the coming of the Paraclete, and distinctions in purpose and effect depending on whose hands are doing the baptizing.
We’ll show you some analysis we found.
Albert Barnes and several others suggest that Jesus’ motivation for not baptizing by his own hand at Aenon is to avoid any perceived disparity in the minds of those baptized by him against those baptized by others. “My baptism is more special than yours because Jesus himself did mine himself, while yours was done by John’s disciple Sam Smith.” We at Bible Bits recognize the reality of this situation, but suggest that Jesus has deeper theological, and not practical reasons for not performing water baptisms himself at Aenon.
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible (1830s) on v.2:
Though Jesus himself baptized not – The reason why Jesus did not baptize was probably because, if He had baptized, it might have made unhappy divisions among his followers: those might have considered themselves most worthy or honored who had been baptized by Him. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:17.
Bullinger declares that Jesus simply did not baptize with his own hand, but then points to John 3:22, which, on its face, declares that he did.
E.W. Bullinger’s Companion Notes (1909)
Though = And yet.
baptized. It was not the practice of Jesus to baptize. Imperf. Tense.
not. Greek. ou. App-105. Compare John 3:22.
The Cambridge commentary notes that it is the Pharisees, not writer John, who are mistaken. It also reads the King James Version (AV) as implying that gospel writer John (or an editor of John) is correcting himself.
Cambridge Greek New Testament:
ποιεῖ κ. βαπτ. Is making and baptizing; the very words of the report. This is important for the meaning of John 4:2, which is a correction not of S. John’s statement, but of the report to the Pharisees: in A.V. the Evangelist seems to be correcting himself.
By the way, here is the Authorized Version / KJV, referred to by Cambridge. Does the gospel writer John seem to be correcting himself, or is he correcting the Pharisees? We do not see whatever it is that Cambridge sees:
1When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, 2(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) 3He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee. (KJV)
1Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. (NASB)
1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. (ESV)
Constable declares that Jesus was himself “baptizing with his disciples.” And picks up on a first use of “Lord.”
Thomas Constable. Verses 1-3 This sentence provides the background for what follows. Jesus returned to Galilee from Judea, where He had been baptizing with His disciples, because the Pharisees were becoming increasingly aware of His broadening influence among the Jews. He wanted to avoid unnecessary premature conflict with them. This is the first time the writer described Jesus as “the Lord.” This was appropriate in view of the superiority of Jesus that both Johns had just established ( John 3:28-36).
Matthew Henry exemplifies the observation that Christ did not want to personally baptize while John was doing so, to prevent the expected outcome that those baptized by Jesus would view their baptisms as superior to or more fashionable than those performed by John:
Matthew Henry: II. That he baptized those whom he made disciples, admitted them by washing them with water; not himself, but by the ministry of his disciples, John 4:2. 1. Because he would put a difference between his baptism and that of John, who baptized all himself; for he baptized as a servant, Christ as a master. 2. He would apply himself more to preaching work, which was the more excellent, 1 Cor. 1:17. 3. He would put honour upon his disciples, by empowering and employing them to do it; and so train them up to further services. 4. If he had baptized some himself, they would have been apt to value themselves upon that, and despise others, which he would prevent, as Paul, 1 Cor. 1:13, 14. 5. He would reserve himself for the honour of baptizing with the Holy Ghost, Acts 1:5. 6. He would teach us that the efficacy of the sacraments depends not on any virtue in the hand that administers them, as also that what is done by his ministers, according to his direction, he owns as done by himself.
Note above Henry’s comment regarding the “virtue” in the hand of the person performing the baptism. This subject was one of controversy and schism in the 2nd century church. More on this later.
Contemporary commentator David Guzik asserts that Jesus did not baptize:
David Guzik. b. Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples): Jesus’ work of baptism was first referred to in John 3:22. Jesus considered it important to also do John’s work of baptizing as a demonstration of repentance and cleansing in preparation for the Messiah. Here we learn that in the actual baptizing work, Jesus delegated that work to His disciples.
i. This also means that when the disciples began the practice of Christian baptism on Pentecost (Acts 2:41), their prior experience of baptizing was in connection with repentance, cleansing, and identification with the Messiah’s work.
ii. “By baptizing, He attested the unity of His work with that of the forerunner. By not Himself baptizing, he made the superiority of His position above that of John the Baptist to be felt.” (Godet, cited in Morris)
Another recent commentator, Chuck Smith, wonders if Jesus baptizes only his own disciples:
Now when the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (though Jesus himself baptized none, but his disciples,) (Jhn 4:1)
Now this can mean one of two things. Jesus baptized not, but His disciples, or, He only baptized His disciples; or, He didn’t baptize at all, it was only His disciples who were baptizing. So, you have a choice. But when Jesus heard that the Pharisees had heard these things,
He left Judea (Jhn 4:2),
David Brown, of Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, declares that Jesus did not perform the symbolic perform water baptisms with his own hand:
David Brown on v.2:
Jesus baptized not–John being a servant baptized with his own hand; Christ as the Master, “baptizing with the Holy Ghost,” administered the outward symbol only through His disciples.
John Gill reflects on Syrian commentator Nonnus, and asserts that Jesus saved his personal, more powerful, baptisms for later, adding that it would be rather silly to baptize with his own hands in the name of himself. Gill declares that Jesus had other things to do during this preparatory phase. Bible Bits is a great fan of John Gill:
John Gill on v.2:
Though Jesus himself baptized not
And therefore as Nonnus observes, it was a false report that was made to the Pharisees; at least in part, so far as concerns the act of baptizing: though it may be this is observed, not so much to show the falsehood of that report, as to correct what is said of Christ’s baptizing; lest it should be understood, as if he baptized in his own person; whereas he did not, that not so, well comporting with his greatness and majesty: wherefore “the king did not baptize in water”, as Nonnus expresses it, but left that for his disciples and servants to do; he had other and greater work to perform, as to preach the Gospel, and work miracles, heal diseases, cast out devils And besides, had another sort of baptism, of a more excellent nature to administer, namely, the baptism of the Spirit; and since water baptism is administered in his name, as well as in the name of the Father and of the Spirit, it does not seem that it would have been administered with that propriety by himself, in his own name; add to which, as is also observed by others, it might have occasioned contentions and disputes among the baptized, had some, been baptized by Christ, and others by his disciples; the one valuing themselves on that account, above the others. The Persic version indeed suggests, as if both Christ and his disciples baptized, rendering the words thus, “Jesus was not alone who baptized, but the disciples also baptized”: whereas the truth of the matter is, that Christ did not baptize in water at all:
but his disciples;
they baptized in his name, and by his orders, such who were first made disciples by him.
By the way, Nonnus was a 9th century Syrian church leader who wrote his own commentary on John in Arabic which survives in an Armenian translation. Nonnus specifically states that Jesus not only does not baptize at 4:1-2, but does not baptize at 3:22 either:
Nonnus of Nisibus (translated by Robert Thompson)
And there he went around with them and baptized. (3:22b)
The Savior himself did not baptize, although the evangelist shaped his narrative in that way, but to him he ascribed the baptizing by the disciples because of his commanding them. What the evangelist clearly declared later testifies to these sayings: Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples (John 4:2) And why was that? Because it was not yet the time for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This John had said: He will baptize you with the Spirit (Mark 1:8) For the baptism of the disciples was like that of John the Baptist, not like that when they baptized later, after the resurrection of Christ from the dead and his giving such power and honor, when they recognized him truly to be the Son of God. Therefore the latter were baptisms of forgiveness and renewal; but those before the cross, of confession and repentance.
Fourth century preacher and theologian John Chrysostom declares that the qualifying “Jesus did not baptize” of 4:2 applies also to 3:22. Like others here, he marks the distinction between Christ’s supernatural baptism by the Spirit and the preparatory baptism of any and all of the others. Chrysostom observes that whatever rivalries might occur between the two teams of disciples, John’s ministry of baptism included additional acts of preaching and exhorting that Christ the man and Son of God was indeed infinitely greater than John. He goes on to answer our question regarding the merits of baptisms performed by Jesus’ disciples’ verses John’s disciples:
John Chrysostom on John 3:22. (~390) “And He came and His disciples into the land of Judea, and there He tarried with them (and baptized).”
1. Nothing can be clearer or mightier than the truth, just as nothing is weaker than falsehood, though it be shaded by ten thousand veils. For even so it is easily detected, it easily melts away. But truth stands forth unveiled for all that will behold her beauty; she seeks no concealment, dreads no danger, trembles at no plots, desires not glory from the many, is accountable to no mortal thing, but stands above them all, is the object of ten thousand secret plots, yet remains unconquerable, and guards as in a sure fortress these who fly to her by her own exceeding might, who avoids secret lurking places, and sets what is hers before all men. And this Christ conversing with Pilate declared, when He said, “I ever taught openly, and in secret have I said nothing.” (John 18:20) As He spoke then, so He acted now, for, “After this,” says the Evangelist, “He went forth and His disciples into the land of Judea, and there He tarried with them and baptized.” At the feasts He went up to the City to set forth in the midst of them His doctrines, and the help of His miracles; but after the feasts were over, He often went to Jordan, because many ran together there. For He ever chose the most crowded places, not from any love of show or vainglory, but because He desired to afford His help to the greatest number.
Yet the Evangelist farther on says, that “Jesus baptized not, but His disciples”; whence it is clear that this is his meaning here also. And why did Jesus not baptize? The Baptist had said before, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Now he had not yet given the Spirit, and it was therefore with good cause that he did not baptize. But His disciples did so, because they desired to bring many to the saving doctrine.
And why, when the disciples of Jesus were baptizing, did not John cease to do so? Why did he continue to baptize, and that even until he was led to prison?
Ver. 23 . ‘John also was baptizing in Aenon’; and to add,
Ver. 24 . ‘John was not yet cast into prison,’
For to say these things was to declare that until that time he did not cease to baptize. But wherefore did he baptize until then? For he would have made the disciples of Jesus seem more reverend had he desisted when they began. Why then did he baptize? It was that he might not excite his disciples to even stronger rivalry, and make them more contentious still. For if, although he ten thousand times proclaimed Christ, yielded to Him the chief place, and made himself so much inferior, he still could not persuade them to run to Him; he would, had he added this also, have made them yet more hostile. On this account it was that Christ began to preach more constantly when John was removed. And moreover, I think that the death of John was allowed, and that it happened very quickly, in order that the whole attention of the multitude might be shifted to Christ, and that they might no longer be divided in their opinions concerning the two.
Besides, even while he was baptizing, he did not cease continually to exhort them, and to show them the high and awful nature of Jesus. For He baptized them, and told them no other thing than that they must believe in Him that came after him. Now how would a man who acted thus by desisting have made the disciples of Christ seem worthy of reverence? On the contrary, he would have been thought to do so through envy and passion. But to continue preaching gave a stronger proof; for he desired not glory for himself, but sent on his hearers to Christ, and wrought with Him not less, but rather much more than Christ’s own disciples, because his testimony was unsuspected and he was by all men far more highly esteemed than they. And this the Evangelist implies, when he says, “all Judea and the country around about Jordan went out to him and were baptized.” (Matthew 3:5) Even when the disciples were baptizing, yet many did not cease to run to him.
If any one should enquire, “And in what was the baptism of the disciples better than that of John?” we will reply, “in nothing”; both were alike without the gift of the Spirit, both parties alike had one reason for baptizing, and that was, to lead the baptized to Christ. For in order that they might not be always running about to bring together those that should believe, as in Simon’s case his brother did, and Philip to Nathanael, they instituted baptism, in order by it to bring all men to them easily, and to prepare a way for the faith which was to be. But that the baptisms had no superiority one over the other, is shown by what follows. …
Charles Ellicott remarks on gospel writer John the Evangelist’s correction of the false understanding of the Pharisees. He notes the possibility that — we suppose — some later editor of the book of John might have inserted the correction, a correction made to repair a misunderstanding by John the writer himself.
Charles Ellicott on v.2:
Though Jesus himself baptized not.—This is a correction, not of the writer’s statement, but of the report carried to the Pharisees. The form of the report is quite natural. John did personally baptize, and when multitudes thronged him, it is probable that his disciples assisted. Greater numbers still (John 3:26) were thronging to the baptism administered ministerially by the disciples of Jesus. (Comp. Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5; 1 Corinthians 1:15-17.) They had been drawn to Him by His teaching and miracles in Jerusalem and the country round about, and they spoke of receiving His baptism. But the writer cannot let the report appear in his Gospel without correction. There was a reason which they did not know for the fact that Jesus did not baptize with water, for it was He “which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33) and this power His disciples had not yet received (John 7:39).
There is a follow-up question regarding the false understanding of the Pharisees: Did the Pharisees tolerate the baptisms by John because they understood John was performing water baptisms, and such baptisms are acceptable in Judaism? And did the Pharisees also tolerate (incorrectly) water baptisms performed by Jesus (did they actually?) because of this false understanding? If the Pharisees were to understand that Jesus was performing God-reserved supernatural baptisms for forgiveness of sins — though he wasn’t yet doing this, at least not here at 4:1-2 — then their anger would have been highly inflamed. In any event, Jesus left the area before this question could be tested.
The Expositors commentary points out that had Jesus personally performed baptisms, we likely wouldn’t be performing baptisms in church today. The meaning and effect wouldn’t be the same. Let’s consider this:
Let the effect and purpose of John’s water baptisms be represented by X. Let the effect and purpose of Jesus’ supernatural baptisms of the Spirit be represented by Y. Let the effect and purpose of baptisms performed today by church clergy be represented by Z.
Is X = Z? Or is Z something different? Do church baptisms of water today, performed by ordinary clergy, have a purpose and effect different than those of John and his disciples?
We will not speculate further here on this.
Expositors Greek New Testament on v.2:
Here John inserts a clause corrective of one impression which this statement would make: καίτοιγε … αὐτοῦ. καίτοιγε is slightly stronger than “although,” rather “although indeed”. Hoogeveen (De Particulis, p. 322) renders “quanquam re vera”; see also Paley, Greek Particles, pp. 67–8. τοι is the old form of τῷ, “hereby,” “truly,” “in fact”. The clause is inserted to remind us, as Bengel says, that “baptizare actio ministralis (cf. Paul’s refusal to baptise). Johannes minister suâ manu baptizavit, discipuli ejus, ut videtur, neminem; at Christus baptizat spiritu sancto.” So too Nonnus, who says that the king did not baptize with water. “By leaving the baptism of water to the apostles, He rendered the rite independent of His personal presence, and so provided for the maintenance of it in His Church after His departure,” Godet.
Henry Alford dismisses the common suggestion that Jesus didn’t want the recipients of his baptisms to take away undesired bragging rights. He does give the Jesus-had-other-things-to-do explanation, which to us perhaps makes sense for Paul but not for Christ. He also brings up the issue of church offices, pointing out that these had not yet been established, and therefore had not been given statutory powers:
Alford, Henry. Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. on v.2:
Probably for the same reason that Paul did not baptize usually (1 Corinthians 1:14-16); viz. because His office was to preach and teach — and the disciples as yet had no office of this kind. To assume a further reason, e.g. that there might not be ground for those whom the Lord himself had baptized to boast of it, is arbitrary and unnecessary. “Johannes, minister, sua manu baptizavit; discipuli ejus, ut videtur, neminem. At Christus baptizat Spiritu Sancto.” Bengel.
The more contemporary commentator Rhoderick Ice suggests that the very human disciples of John may have complained to (?) or otherwise been the party who informed the Pharisees about the greater attention Jesus was receiving in the countryside.
Rhoderick Ice in his Bible Study New Testament (1974), on vv.1-2:
More disciples than John. The jealous friends of John (John 3:26) may have told the Pharisees about this. (Actually, Jesus himself did not baptize anyone.) Had Jesus done so, those personally baptized by him might have mistakenly claimed some foolish honor (which is Paul’s thought, 1 Corinthians 1:14-15), The disciples did the actual work of baptizing, but Jesus DID IT BY PROXY through them. He still does!
Bengel also alludes indirectly to decisions which later must be made when men establish and build Christ’s church, and decide on offices and roles and where to place the baptismal pool. Bengel is the only analyst we found who declares that John’s disciples did not themselves baptize. And he notices (we think) that Jesus himself did not baptize with water, as he will later do the real thing with the Holy Spirit:
J.A. Bengel’s Genomon of the New Testament (1897), on v.2:
(ἰησοῦς, Jesus) So the [Vulg.] Lat. ἰησοῦς αὐτός is the reading of the Greeks [B: also of the old Lat. ab: αὐτὸς ἰης. is that of AD: and K inserts ὁ]; αὐτὸς ὁ ἰησοῦς, Chrysost.— οὐκ ἐβάπτιζεν, did not baptize) To baptize, a ministerial action: Acts 10:48, “He, Peter, commanded them to be baptized” [sc. by subordinate ministers]; 1 Corinthians 1:17, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel.” John, being a minister [subordinate to Him], baptized with his own hand; his [Johns] disciples, as it seems, baptized none. But Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit.(71)
We saw David Brown earlier. Here are J, F, and B together, asserting that Jesus himself did not baptize with water. Only his disciples did.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary Critical and Explanatory (1878):
Jesus baptized not — John being a servant baptized with his own hand; Christ as the Master, “baptizing with the Holy Ghost,” administered the outward symbol only through His disciples.
That was the short version of JFB. The unabridged JFB adds the thought regarding Jesus’ baptisms being perceived as more fashionable or brag-worthy:
(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) (Though [ kaitoige (G2544 }, or, ‘And yet’] Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.)}] John, being but a servant, baptized with his own hand: Jesus, as the Master, whose exclusive prerogative it was to baptize with the Holy Spirit, seems to have deemed it fitting that He should administer the outward symbol only through His disciples. Besides, had it been otherwise, undue eminence might have been supposed to attach to the Christ-baptized.
We like John Lightfoot (1675). He says nothing at 4:2 but has this to say at 3:25:
25. Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.
[A question about purifying.] I. Question, Syriac, inquire: which calls to mind that which is so perpetually in use amongst the Talmudic authors; R. N. inquired of R. N. Whence that also, as familiarly used, If you ask I will tell you. If the word in this place be taken according to this scholastic use of it, as it may very well be, then we may expound this passage thus:
The disciples of John, having heard that Jesus did baptize also, they with the Jews inquire, what sort of purifying resulted from the baptism of Christ; whether that purified more than the baptism of John. They inquire jointly, Doth Jesus superinduce a baptism upon the baptism of John? and John his upon the baptisms or washing of the Jews? Whither will this purifying at last tend? and what virtue hath this of Jesus’ beyond that of John’s?
II. Or, if you will, suppose we that this be a dispute betwixt the disciples of St. John and the Jews about the legal purifications and the baptism now introduced: there is no doubt but both parties contended to the uttermost of their power.
John Lightfoot above uses the word “purifying.” Does he use this word in its sense of symbolic cleansing, or is he referring to full-force washing away of sins? First century Jews would have had no problem (in many circumstances) with the former. The latter would be heresy.
Note also the distinction between purifying, preparing, and repenting, each of which are possible motivations for baptism. Conceivably, and with a bit of creativity, one could devise a first baptism to signal preparation, a second baptism to signal repentance, and a third baptism to allow God’s Holy Spirit to wash away sins. The applicant could perform the first by himself, then go to John’s team for the 2nd, and to Jesus for the 3rd. Lightfoot is engaging in this sort of thought process as he wonders out-loud in his comment above.
We do not fully grasp what Lightfoot is getting at, but he does touch on our question comparing the effect of John’s team baptisms verses Christ’s team baptisms.
Next, John Trapp reminds us that Jews had long performed baptisms (or was it merely ceremonial cleansings? is there a difference?), but also goes on to say that there is no Old Testament prescription for baptism. Is this true? We believe it is.
Trapp then declares that the virtue within the hands of the baptizing official have zero impact on the efficacy of baptism. The minister adds nothing. If the minister is a bum, that means nothing. Christ does everything.
John Trapp (1868), on vv.1-2
1 When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,
Ver. 1. Baptized more disciples] Baptizing was used by the Jews before John or Christ took it up, from which custom, though brought in without commandment, our Saviour authorizeth a seal of entering into his rest; using the Jews’ weakness as an allurement thither.
2 (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)
Ver. 2. Jesus himself baptized not] A sweet comfort, that Christ is said not to baptize those whom the disciples baptized. The sacraments administered by ministers are no less effectual than if we had received the same from Christ’s own hands.
Matthew Poole declares that Jesus had better things to do than baptize with water, namely, to preach. He points out the essential fact that it is this preaching which places the applicant into position to receive the baptism. He reminds us that preaching does not have the purpose of making us more educated about scripture, but of gathering people in line for their souls to be saved. May Bible Bits never forget this!
Matthew Poole (1685), on v.2
For he himself did not personally baptize any, but left it to his disciples, himself attending to the greater work of preaching the gospel, by which men and women were made fit for the ordinance of baptism.
We like word studies and therefore we like A.T. Robertson. He points out that the “Jesus did not baptize” line applies also to 3:22, which, on its face, says that Jesus does perform baptisms. He also saves us from reading the rest of the gospels and searching for examples of Jesus and others performing baptism, as he has done this already, and tells us this doesn’t happen until the Great Commission.
A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures (1933), on v.2:
Verse 2 Although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples (καιτοιγε Ιησους αυτος ουκ εβαπτιζεν αλλ οι ματηται αυτου — kaitoige Iēsous autos ouk ebaptizen all’ hoi mathētai autou). Parenthetical explanation that applies also to John 3:22. Imperfect tense means that it was not the habit of Jesus. This is the only N.T. instance of καιτοιγε — kaitoige (and yet indeed), compound conjunction (καιτοι — kaitoi in Acts 14:17; Hebrews 4:3) with intensive particle γε — ge added. This is the last mention of baptism under the direction of Jesus till the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). It is possible that Jesus stopped the baptizing because of the excitement and the issue raised about his Messianic claims till after his resurrection when he enjoined it upon his disciples as a rite of public enlistment in his service.
Church history and writing-of-the-church-fathers compiler Phillip Schaff offers one of our longest treatments of 4:2, using most of it address the timing of John the Baptist’s imprisonment and the possibility that Jesus left the region not only to escape the Pharisees (many commentators mention this) but also to leave space for John to continue his prepatory work in with unnecessary controversy. John’s remaining time is short. We are not interested here in the imprisonment question, or the timing issue per se, but we do note Schaff’s observation that John’s role was preparation and he needed time to perform this role.
Phillip Schaff (1890).
John 4:1-3. When therefore the Lord perceived that the Pharisees had heard, Jesus maketh and baptizeth more disciples than John, (though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) he left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. The object of these verses is to explain the reason why Jesus now left Judea for Galilee. How long He had remained in Judea we are not informed (see the note on chap. John 3:22), being only told that in the country districts the success of His ministry had excited the notice of the Pharisees (of Jerusalem), and had led to comparisons between the two teachers who had so suddenly appeared in the land. It will be observed that the circumstances described in this verse are substantially the same as those brought before us in the words of the disciples of John after their disputation with the Jew (chap. John 3:26). They said to their master that to Jesus all were coming,-that is, by plain inference, more were flocking to Jesus than to the Baptist. It is only necessary to allow a short interval of time for the diffusion of the news, and we are brought to the state of things presented here. If, then, there is this close connection between chap. 25, 26, and the opening of the present chapter, it seems impossible to believe that the imprisonment of the Baptist can have taken place in the interval, when in chap. John 3:24 the Evangelist expressly refers to the fact that John was as yet at liberty. The imprisonment is nowhere expressly mentioned by him; but while it is very easy to understand such an omission if the event fell in one of those intervals which separate so markedly the successive narratives of his Gospel, it would be strange if, in a closely connected paragraph, he should first record that the imprisonment had not yet taken place, and then, although the event took place at the very time, pass over it in silence. It seems, then, much more natural to interpret the words heard by the Pharisees as meaning that Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John is making and baptizing, than to suppose the contrast to be between the present action of the one and the past ministry of the other,—as if the words were, ‘Jesus maketh more disciples than John used to make. ‘Hence we regard the ministry of John as still enduring at the period to which this verse relates. The journey into Galilee now alluded to is not, therefore, that recorded in Matthew 4:12, which was taken after the imprisonment of John. (See further the note on John 6:1.) On the determination of this question rests the explanation of our Lord’s departure from Judea. If John had now been delivered up to his foes, the Evangelist’s meaning might be that Jesus withdrew from a persecution which those who had successfully opposed the Baptist would surely raise against. One whose success was even greater. But such a meaning is beset with difficulties, for there would be something strange and unlike the style of this Gospel in so brief an allusion to the avoidance by our Lord of open hostility at this early period of His ministry; and it would not be easy to see why the Pharisees should be expressly mentioned and not ‘the Jews.’ If, however, we take the view defended above, that the Baptist was still pursuing his course, these difficulties disappear. Not to escape from persecution, but to put an end to comparisons which (however true in fact) were mischievously used, Jesus retired from the land in which John was teaching and baptizing. True, He must increase and John must decrease; but the hour for the close of John’s preparatory labours had not yet come, and the purposes of Jesus Himself would be best furthered by the complete accomplishment of the Baptist’s mission. Individuals might be removed from the circle of John’s disciples and be received by Jesus (see chap. John 1:37); but a general impression of this kind could not be made until a certain work of preparation had taken place. For His own sake, therefore, it was not desirable that this preparation – work should prematurely close. Again, we shall thus better understand the mention of the Pharisees. That class had rigidly and suspiciously inquired into John’s right to assume the position of a prophet, and the report which they now heard might well rouse them to renewed action in their character of defenders of the faith and religious practice of their nation. Any such action on their part could hardly fail at this stage to be injurious, even if it were directed against John and not against Jesus Himself. But there was no reason to think that their opposition would be limited to the Baptist Jesus, too, would have His work interrupted by their embittered feeling. Not, therefore, to avoid His enemies, but to transfer His labours to freer and more open fields, did our Lord withdraw from Judea at this time. The remarkable indirectness of the language of this verse is explained by the writer’s wish to seize the very moment at which the withdrawal from Judea became necessary. The sojourn of Jesus in the neighbourhood of John’s sphere of action brought out John’s distinct confession of the relation in which he stood to his Lord. That was for the present enough; and the sojourn terminated at the very moment when it threatened to be the means of injuring the Baptist’s work, and of precipitating the open conflict between Jesus and the Jews.—It seems most natural to take the word ‘knew’ or ‘perceived’ as referring, not to information obtained, but to supernatural knowledge (compare chap. John 2:24-25). Most seemly, therefore, is the designation of Jesus here as ‘the Lord’—a rare usage with John, who commonly employs the personal name Jesus. Because He was the Lord, not man only, He discerned the first stirrings of hostility in the minds of the Pharisees and the occasion which gave them birth. Afterwards the name Jesus occurs, because the Evangelist quotes the very words of the report,—a report indeed containing an incorrect statement, set right in the parenthesis which follows. But there was nothing unnatural in the error.
Jesus might easily be represented as baptizing (compare chap. John 3:22), because His disciples could only have acted in His name and by His authority. The Pharisees could not know why He should abstain from performing the act Himself: we know that His baptism was not with water but with the Holy Ghost, and ‘the Holy Ghost was not yet given’(chap. John 7:39).
Such, then, were the circumstances amidst which Jesus ‘left’ Judea and retired into Galilee. The word used for ‘left’ is interesting, and confirms our interpretation. It means literally Met go, Let alone; ‘and it is hardly possible not to feel that by his use of it the Evangelist would direct our attention to the fact that Israel’s rejection of God’s mercy was, in the wisdom of the Divine arrangements, the cause why it was itself rejected, and the other nations of the world called.-It should be added that we have assumed throughout that AEnon and Salim were situated in Judea, so that both Jesus and the Baptist were at this time in the same region of the country. If Salim was near Scythopolis, in Samaria (which seems very unlikely), the argument is not seriously affected. In any case, it is clear that for the time Jesus wished to remove His sphere of labour from the immediate view of the Pharisees by a retirement into Galilee.
The Fourfold Gospel touches a number of issues: John’s disciples had no commission to baptize; Jesus alone can delegate baptismal power; Jesus did not baptize with his own hands; there would have been a bragging-rights effect had Jesus done so (though that’s not the reason he did not do so); Jesus baptizes with the Spirit; in water baptism, the administrant provides no effect; in Spirit baptism, Jesus provides the entire effect.
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton in their Fourfold Gospel (1914), on v.2:
(Although Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples). Jesus, as divine Lawgiver, instituted baptism, and his disciples administered it. We nowhere hear of the disciples of John administering baptism. In fact, the Baptist, like the disciples of Jesus, baptized under a divine commission, and could not delegate the power to others. It was the office of Jesus to commission others to this work, not to perform it himself. Had he done so, those baptized by him might have foolishly claimed for themselves some peculiar honor by reason thereof (1 Corinthians 1:14,15). Jesus was the spiritual baptizer, in which baptism the efficacy lies in the administrant; but water baptism, the efficacy of which lies rather in the spirit of the one baptized than in the virtues of the administrant, Jesus left to his disciples.
Vincent says Jesus did not baptize:
Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (1914), on v.2:
Though ( καίτοιγε )
Literally, and yet. The report of Jesus’ baptizing brought to the Baptist by his disciples is corrected.
The imperfect tense: it was not His practice to baptize.
Daniel Whedon rejects the idea that John uses verse 2 to correct the Pharisee’s false understanding expressed in verse 1 (even though it may have been true), and instead asserts that verse 2 is there to inform us, the reader, that Jesus delegated water baptism to administrators:
Daniel Whedon in his Whedon’s Commentary (1909), on v.2:
Jesus… baptized not—As baptism was a lower and external ministry, Jesus (as Paul subsequently) reserved himself for preaching and teaching. John does not say this to show that what the Pharisees heard was false, but to inform us that Jesus baptized by agents, according to the maxim Qui facit per alium facit per se, Whoso does by another does by himself. It was the office of Jesus to baptize with the Spirit; of his ministers to baptize with water. His was the real, theirs the symbolical baptism.
Third century church father Tertullian observes that Jesus did not perform water baptisms himself, and that these baptisms officiated by others served the role of the applicant’s profession of repentance. Our excerpt comes from Tertullian’s long treatise “On Baptism.” Note that when Tertullian wrote, our Bible had no verse numbers.
from Tertullian on Baptism. early 200s.
CHAP. X.–OF JOHN’S BAPTISM.
We have spoken, so far as our moderate ability permitted, of the generals which form the groundwork of the sanctity of baptism. I will now, equally to the best of my power, proceed to the rest of its character, touching certain minor questions.
The baptism announced by John formed the subject, even at that time, of a question, proposed by the Lord Himself indeed to the Pharisees, whether that baptism were heavenly, or truly earthly: about which they were unable to give a consistent answer, inasmuch as they understood not, because they believed not. But we, with but as poor a measure of understanding as of faith, are able to determine that that baptism was divine indeed, (yet in respect of the command, not in respect of efficacy too, in that we read that John was sent by the lord to perform this duty,) but human in its nature: for it conveyed nothing celestial, but it fore-ministered to things celestial; being, to wit, appointed over repentance, which is in man’s power. In fact, the doctors of the law and the Pharisees, who were unwilling to “believe,” did not “repent” either. But if repentance is a thing human, its baptism must necessarily be of the same nature: else, if it had been celestial, it would have given both the Holy Spirit and remission of sins. But none either pardons sins or freely grants the Spirit save God only. Even the Lord Himself said that the Spirit would not descend on any other condition, but that He should first ascend to the Father. What the Lord was not yet conferring, of course the servant could not furnish. Accordingly, in the Acts of the Apostles, we find that men who had “John’s baptism” had not received the Holy Spirit, whom they knew not even by hearing. That, then, was no celestial thing which furnished no celestial (endowments): whereas the very thing which was celestial in John–the Spirit of prophecy–so completely failed, after the transfer of the whole Spirit to the Lord, that he presently sent to inquire whether He whom he had himself preached, whom he had pointed out when coming to him, were “‘HE.” And so “the baptism of repentance” was dealt with as if it were a candidate for the remission and sanctification shortly about to follow in Christ: for in that John used to preach “baptism for the remission of sins,” the declaration was made with reference to future remission; if it be true, (as it is) that repentance is antecedent, remission subsequent; and this is “preparing the way.” But he who “prepares” does not himself “perfect,” but procures for another to perfect. John himself professes that the celestial things are not his, but Christ’s, by saying, “He who is from the earth speaketh concerning the earth; He who comes from the realms above is above all;” and again, by saying that he “baptized in repentance only, but that One would shortly come who would baptize in the Spirit and fire;” — of course because true and stable faith is baptized with water, unto salvation; pretended and weak faith is baptized with fire, unto judgment.
CHAP. XI.–ANSWER TO THE OBJECTION THAT “THE LORD DID NOT BAPTIZE.”
“But behold, “say some, “the Lord came, and baptized not; for we read, ‘
And yet He used not to baptize, but His disciples! ‘ ” As if, in truth, John had preached that He would baptize with His own hands! Of course, his words are not so to be understood, but as simply spoken after an ordinary manner; just as, for instance, we say, “The emperor set forth an edict,” or, “The prefect cudgeled him.” Pray does the emperor in person set forth, or the prefect in person cudgel? One whose ministers do a thing is always said to do it. So “He will baptize you” will have to be understood as standing for, “Through Him,” or” Into Him,” “you will be baptized.” But let not (the fact) that “He Himself baptized not” trouble any. For into whom should He baptize? Into repentance? Of what use, then, do you make His forerunner? Into remission of sins, which He used to give by a word? Into Himself, whom by humility He was concealing? Into the Holy Spirit, who had not yet descended from the Father? Into the Church, which His apostles had not yet founded? And thus it was with the selfsame “baptism of John” that His disciples used to baptize, as ministers, with which John before had baptized as forerunner. Let none think it was with some other, because no other exists, except that of Christ subsequently; which at that time, of course, could not be given by His disciples, inasmuch as the glory of the Lord had not yet been fully attained, nor the efficacy of the font established through the passion and the resurrection; because neither can our death see dissolution except by the Lord’s passion, nor our life be restored without His resurrection.
Writing in the first half of the 3rd century, Origen mentions the event of Christ baptizing near John, but does so as he discusses perceived discrepancies between John’s gospel and the other three. Bible Bits is not interest in those here, but our verse of interest enters into Origin’s topic:
Excerpt from Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John first half of 3rd century (203-250)
Book X, Chapter 6:
“With John again the Pharisees know Jesus to be baptizing with His disciples, adding this to His other great activities; but Jesus of the three does not baptize at all. John the Baptist, too, with the Evangelist of the same name, goes on a long time without being cast into prison. With Matthew, on the contrary, he is put in prison almost at the time of the temptation of Jesus, and this is the occasion of Jesus retiring to Galilee, to avoid being put in prison. But in John there is nothing at alI about John’s being put in prison.”
Origin also analyzes at length the issues of Pharisee interest in John’s identity (is John the Christ?), interest in John by the priests and Levites, John the Baptist’s theological relationship with Christ, and the purpose and meaning of John’s baptism of others.
Origen addresses the relative powers of John’s baptism vs Jesus’ disciples baptism, and the importance of the Pentecost:
Origen, from Book 6.17
This view receives confirmation from the narrative recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, which shows the Spirit to have descended so manifestly on those who receive baptism, after the water had prepared the way for him in those who properly approached the rite.
Simon Magus, astonished at what he saw, desired to receive from Peter this gift, but though it was a good thing he desired, he thought to attain it by the mammon of unrighteousness. We next remark in passing that the baptism of John was inferior to the baptism of Jesus which was given through His disciples. Those persons in the Acts who were baptized to John’s baptism and who had not heard if there was any Holy Ghost are baptized over again by the Apostle, Regeneration did not take place with John, but with Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the layer of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit; for the Spirit now comes in addition since it comes from God and is over and above the water and does not come to all after the water. So then, our examination of the statements in the Gospel according to Matthew.
John Calvin addresses a long-running church controversy regarding the Godliness, or lack thereof, of the administrant’s hands with the assertion that the hands are irrelevant. Calvin also asserts that Jesus did not baptize with his own hands, to demonstrate that His powers and his Spirit are transmitted well-enough by the hands of ordinary ministers:
John Calvin writing on John (early 1500s), on v2:
Though Jesus himself baptized not. He gives the designation of Christ’s Baptism to that which he conferred by the hands of other, in order to inform us that Baptism ought not to be estimated by the person of the minister, but that its power depends entirely on its Author, in whose name, and by whose authority, it is conferred. Hence we derive a remarkable consolation, when we know that our baptism has no less efficacy to wash and renew us, than if it had been given by the hand of the Son of God. Nor can it be doubted that, so long as he lived in the world, he abstained from the outward administration of the sign, for the express purpose of testifying to all ages, that Baptism loses nothing of its value when it is administered by a mortal man. In short, not only does Christ baptize inwardly by his Spirit, but the very symbol which we receive from a mortal man ought to be viewed by us in the same light as if Christ himself displayed his hand from heaven, and stretched it out to us. Now if the Baptism administered by a man is Christ’s Baptism, it will not cease to be Christ’s Baptism whoever be the minister. And this is sufficient for refuting the Anabaptists, who maintain that, when the minister is a wicked man, the baptism is also vitiated, and, by means of this absurdity, disturb the Church; as Augustine has very properly employed the same argument against the Donatists.
Calvin mentions Augustine.
Augustine of Hippo penned a small book defending the catholic church against the beliefs and practices of a splinter group which came to be known as the Donatists. The Donatists taught (in addition to other doctrinal challenges) that baptism was ineffectual if the administrator himself lacked sufficient holiness and was not served by the Holy Spirit. Augustine devotes a substantial portion of On Baptistm, Against the Donatists on the relative efficacy of John’s baptisms compared with that of Christ, the effect and non-effect of baptism by the hand of John, the necessity of rebaptism having been baptized only by John, the non-necessity of rebaptism after being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the continued non-necessity of rebaptism if one has been baptized by the hands of unrighteous, unGodly clergy. In the case of the Donatist controversy, the church weighed the matter of baptisms performed by criminal and wicked hands of certain clergy in the 3rd century church.
We quote tiny portions of Augustine from the seven “books” in On Baptism, Against the Donatists (~400).
Excerpt from Book IV, Chapter 22: Augustine declares the baptism of John to be one of expressing the humility of the recipient, as Christ himself expressed humility when receiving the baptism by John. Further, the later baptism of Christ himself (not by water, but by the Spirit) is both infinitely more power and also necessary, whether one has been previously baptized or not, and no matter how upright one’s character:
Augustine, Against the Donatists, (~400) Excerpt from Book IV, Chapter 22:
Nor do I conceive that the function of baptizing was assigned to John, so that it should be called John’s baptism, for any other reason except that the Lord Himself, who had appointed it, in not disdaining to receive the baptism of His servant [Matt 3:6,13], might consecrate the path of humility, and show most plainly by such an action how high a value was to be placed on His own baptism, with which He Himself was afterwards to baptize. For He saw, like an excellent physician of eternal salvation, that overweening pride would be found in some, who, having made such progress in the understanding of the truth and in uprightness of character that they would not hesitate to place themselves, both in life and knowledge, above many that were baptized, would think it was unnecessary for them to be baptized, since they felt that they had attained a frame of mind to which many that were baptized were still only endeavoring to raise themselves.
Excerpt from Book IV, Chapter 26: Augustine says that the matter of Paul’s rebaptism of those who had been previously baptized in water prior to Christ’s death on the cross deserves an extended examination:
A few things still remain to be noticed in the epistle to Jubaianus; but since these will raise the question both of the past custom of the Church and of the baptism of John, which is wont to excite no small doubt in those who pay slight attention to a matter which is sufficiently obvious, seeing that those who had received the baptism of John were commanded by the apostle [Paul] to be baptized again [Acts 19:3-5] they are not to be treated in a hasty manner, and had better be reserved for another book, that the dimensions of this may not be inconveniently large.
Excerpt from Book V, Chapter 9: Augustine recognizes that the baptism of John is an earthly baptism, and a more limited thing that the supernatural baptism of the Christ:
Now we must see what is said of the baptism of John. For “we read in the Acts of the Apostles, that those who had already been baptized with the baptism of John were yet baptized by Paul,” simply because the baptism of John was not the baptism of Christ, but a baptism allowed by Christ to John, so as to be called especially John’s baptism; as the same John says, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” [John 3:27]
Excerpt from Book V, later in Chapter 9: Augustine declares that John’s water baptism during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry is merely for repentance, and only preparatory for the eventual remission of sins. Bible Bits finds we have to read the great early church thinker several times before we can makes sense out of what he says, as at first glance Augustine seems to assert that John’s baptism is itself effectual in the remission of sins. Augustine reminds us also of Christ’s humility manifest in the recipient’s humility, and repentance, during the baptism by John.
For to none of the prophets, to no one at all in holy Scripture, do we read that it was granted to baptize in the water of repentance for the remission of sins, as it was granted to John; that, causing the hearts of the people to hang upon him through this marvelous grace, he might prepare in them the way for Him whom he declared to be so infinitely greater than himself. But the Lord Jesus Christ cleanses His Church by such a baptism that on receiving it no other is required; while John gave a first washing with such a baptism that on receiving it there was further need of the baptism of the Lord — not that the first baptism should be repeated, but that the baptism of Christ, for whom he was preparing the way, might be further bestowed on those who had received the baptism of John. For if Christ’s humility were not to be commended to our notice, neither would there be any need of the baptism of John; again, if the end were in John, after his baptism there would be no need of the baptism of Christ.
In On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Augustine refers often to the teachings of church bishop Cyprian of Carthage, active about 150 years prior to the episcopacy of Augustine. At issue (among other things) was the re-baptism (or not) of Christians who had recanted their faith during Roman persecution, and re-baptism (or not) of Christians whose baptism was administered by the hands of unGodly church clergy.
First, Augustine asks rhetorically that if John’s baptism effected all the things delivered by a baptism by Christ, then what is the point of a second baptism by Christ:
Book V, Chapter 10. I ask, therefore, if sins were remitted by the baptism of John, what more could the baptism of Christ confer on those whom the Apostle Paul desired to be baptized with the baptism of Christ after they had received the baptism of John?
Okay. We get this. The next piece is a bit more tricky.
Augustine next suggests that if John’s baptisms were ineffectual to forgiveness — and John is as Godly a man as has ever walked the earth — then how in the world can the baptisms performed by criminal and wicked church clergy in the time of Cyprian be thought of as having the salvational effect which John’s did not have.
Augustine answers this dilemma by noting that both John and the unrighteous clergy perform under the umbrella of Christ’s holy church. Or rather, that if the bad clergy do, then surely Godly John did.
But if sins were not remitted by the baptism of John, were those [evil] men in the days of Cyprian better than John, of whom he [Cyprian] says himself that they “used to seize on estates by treacherous frauds, and increase their gains by accumulated usuries,” through whose, administration of baptism the remission of sins was yet [nevertheless] conferred [even those these administrators were terrible men]? Or was it because they [these bad clergy] were contained within the unity of the Church? What then? Was John not contained within that unity, the friend of the Bridegroom, the preparer of the way of the Lord, the baptizer of the Lord Himself? Who will be mad enough to assert this? Wherefore, although my belief is that John so baptized with the water of repentance for the remission of sins, that those who were baptized by him received the expectation of the remission of their sins, the actual remission taking place in the baptism of the Lord….
In any event, says, Augustine, John’s baptisms delivered only the expectation of eventual forgiveness, and then by the supernatural baptism of Lord Jesus.
We will conclude our excerpts from Augustine with a passage which quotes our Bible Bits text. This comes not from On Baptism, Against the Donatists but instead from Augustine’s Answer to the Letters of Petilian, the Donatist (~400).
Augustine proceeds down a line of inquiry regarding the effectiveness of the gospel message when preached by those who act contrary to it. We pick this up at the point where he brings Judas into the discussion. Augustine notes that when Jesus and his disciples were working nearby John’s group, the traitor Judas was surely performing baptisms along with everybody else. Even Judas, says Augustine, has no power to stifle the preparatory and repentance effects of disciple-lead baptism, or the remittance of sin effect of baptism by Christ. The good message of the gospel is good, says the bishop, regardless of the goodness or badness of the hand by which it is delivered:
Excerpt from Book III, Chapter 55 in Answer to the Letters of Petilian, the Donatist (~400):
See, however, what the same apostle [Paul] has said: “For if I do this thing willingly,” he says, “I have a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me;” as though he were to say, If I, being good, announce what is good, I attain unto it also myself; but if, being evil, I announce it, yet I announce what is good. For has he in any way said, If I do it against my will, then shall I not be a dispenser of the gospel? Peter and the other disciples announce the good tidings, as being good themselves. Judas did it against his will, but yet, when he was sent, he announced it in common with the rest. They have a reward; to him a dispensation of the gospel was committed. But they who received the gospel at the mouth of all those witnesses, could not be cleansed and justified by him that planted, or by him that watered, but by Him alone that gives the increase. For neither are we going to say that Judas did not baptize, seeing that he was still among the disciples when that which is written was being accomplished, “Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples.” Are we to suppose that, because he had not betrayed Christ, therefore he who had the bag, and bare what was put therein, was still enabled to dispense grace without prejudice to those who received it, though he could not be an upright guardian of the money entrusted to his care? Or if he did not baptize, at any rate we must acknowledge that he preached the gospel. But if you consider this a trifling function, and of no importance, see what you must think of the Apostle Paul himself, who said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”
We will stop here, having provided quite a bit of commentary on John 4:1-3 and the topic of John’s and Jesus’ baptisms in the Judean wilderness.
If you choose to reply, please cite scripture, provide analysis found in good commentaries, and stick closely to our topic.
And always read the actual Bible for yourself! God bless you!