Matthew 3:7-15

In verse 3:15, Jesus says it is “fitting for us”, not “fitting for me,” in speaking about his intention to be baptized by John. John’s imperfection was no impediment to God’s use of him to, “fulfill all righteousness.” I instantly thought of all the difficulty some go to in order to say that Mary must have been born without a sin nature in order to be the proper vessel for Jesus’ birth. In light of this passage, we see that that is false, as we see that our weakness does not disqualify us from God’s service.

In verse 3:13, there is a construction I was unfamiliar with: “…του βαπτισθηναι υπ’ αυτου…” That’s a genitive article (“the”) with a passive infinitive (“to be baptized”), followed by the phrase “by him”, commonly connected with a passive construction. In this case, we have what is known as an articular genitive infinitive of purpose. In short, it means intention. Jesus came to John intending to be baptized. It was not haphazard. Jesus was purposefully identifying with the people he would soon call family – brothers and sisters, with his church – a body washed through his life, death and resurrection. He was sinless, with no need to be baptized, “to [in view of] repentance,” (3:11) but his identifying with his people separates him from the Pharisees and Sadducees who were warned by John (3:7) about their false pretences and lack of real spiritual heritage; a lack of spiritual connection with the God of their ancestors.

John says simply that fruit would prove their repentance real. On the other hand, John recognizes Jesus as sufficient, more than he himself. He forbids Jesus to be baptized, and Jesus corrects him saying that it will fulfill God’s will, “all righteousness.” This has nothing to do with obedience to a scriptural ordinance. It has nothing to do with fulfilling prophecy, even. It is Jesus responding to God’s purposes and voice, apart from any requirement or obligation.

Looking again at 3:11, some say that John preached a “baptism to repentance,” implying that John meant that baptism brings salvation or that baptism is required for salvation.  But looking at 3:8 we see how John understood his baptism. “Produce fruit worthy of repentance…” he says, to prove oneself able to identify with God’s people in baptism. Other New Testament passages make it clear that fruit is a sign of transformation, not a requirement to “earn” a right standing with God. Baptism is identification, both as John saw it, and as Jesus used it. It is not a requirement in the Old Testament, but a pattern recognized by Jesus as declaring and associating oneself with the unique and made-holy people of God.

That word “worthy”, in 3:8 is Greek αξιον, and means:
1.    worth as much, comparable in weight
2.    befitting or congruous, corresponding to a thing or
3.    of one who has merited worth
Per Thayer’s Lexicon (see www.blueletterbible.com), Matthew has in mind definition 2. “Produce fruit befitting/congruous-with/corresponding-to repentance.” Note that this is different from the word used by John when he says he is not “worthy” in 3:11. This word is ικανος, a word which properly means, “reaching” or “attaining to”, giving the idea of sufficient in size or sufficient in ability. The word that comes to mind in the context of 3:11 is “qualified”. John recognizes that he does not have the character of Jesus or the ability to bring repentance as Jesus does. He is not even qualified to bear his sandals!

For comparison passages in multiple versions, see biblos.com.

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About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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1 Response to Matthew 3:7-15

  1. Pingback: WOTD, ικανός « σφοδρα - exceedingly

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