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Baptism and Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:9-13)

Analysis and Commentary


John Baptizes Jesus

John Baptizes Jesus

    9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 12 And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. 13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
    Compare: Matthew 3:13-17; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 3:21,22; Luke 4:1-13


Jesus is Baptized by John the Baptist

This is the first appearance of Jesus in the earliest gospel account — full-grown and ready to begin his ministry. We have nothing here about Jesus’ conception, birth, or childhood — all very popular stories which play important roles in Matthew and Luke. If these were known events, why did Mark skip them?

Mark also skips is why Jesus is being baptized by John. The other baptisms were done for the remission of sins — was this something needed by Jesus? According orthodox Christian tradition, Jesus was sinless and wouldn’t need baptism for such a reason.

But what other reason could there be? Some scholars argue that this is a tradition about Jesus which predates the idea that he was sinless — or that he was God. It is argued that what we are reading about here is Jesus being appointed to a particular, holy position within his lifetime instead of being destined for it from before birth (again, notice the lack of information about Mary, his mother, being informed about his identity while she was still pregnant).

The words spoken by the voice from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son,” seem to come from Psalm 2:7, of which the second line is “today I have begotten you.” Mark leaves this out, so it’s not clear whether he held the “adoptionist” position which taught that Jesus was just a regular man who was “adopted” during his baptism to be God’s son. The author of Hebrews, though, does include both lines, further indicating just how common this position may have been among early Christians. It is little wonder that Matthew changed the scene to have the spirit address the entire crowd.

Upon baptism the Holy Spirit evidently descends upon Jesus. Although being baptized alongside others would suggest Jesus’ solidarity with others, this points to his separation and distinctness. The text is specific that this is something that Jesus sees, but does this mean that no one else was aware of it? And if John is unable to baptize people in the Holy Spirit (v. 8), why did the Holy Spirit appear at the baptism — was John mistaken about his abilities?

Presumably the voice from the heavens is God. In this account, God speaks directly to Jesus (the same can be found in Luke 3:22), but when these events are described in Matthew 3:17, God addresses those present at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved son.” Does this again suggest that in this very early account by Mark, only Jesus is aware of what is going on and everyone else is kept in the dark? Given the way Jesus continually tells his apostles to keep quiet about his identity, this is not implausible. Most likely, though, the announcement is included here for the benefit of Mark’s audience.

Both of the formulation in Mark and that in Matthew played a role in the development of the early Christian heresy known as “adoptionism.” According to this doctrine, Jesus was an ordinary human being who was “adopted” by God as his son at the point of his baptism. An unsympathetic person might even suggest that Jesus is experiencing a religious hallucination — lots of people think that God speaks to them and singles them out for a special cause. What made Jesus right?


More: Jesus’ Temptation and Testing in the Wilderness

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