Did Jesus Really Baptize — and If So, How?

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by Neil Godfrey

brodie-johnHere’s a little comment I just left at another discussion forum. Thought it might be of interest to a few readers here.

The question being addressed is, Did Jesus Baptise people?

The passage under discussion is John 3.22-4.3

[22]After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.
[23] John also was baptizing at Ae’non near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized.
[24] For John had not yet been put in prison.
[25]Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying.
[26] And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.”
[27] John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.
[28] You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.
[29] He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.
[30] He must increase, but I must decrease.”
[31] He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all.
[32] He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony;
[33] he who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.
[34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit;
[35] the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.
[36] He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.
[John 4:1]
Now when the Lord knew 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),
[3] he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

John 4:2 stands as a gauche contradiction to 3:22 — hence the question: Did Jesus himself baptize?

My response was to toss in an interpretation from the left field. It’s from Thomas L. Brodie’s commentary on John. His proposed interpretation references other passages, in particular the following:

John 1:33

And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.

John 4:3-7

he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

It is commonplace for scholarly interpreters to say that John 4:2 (explaining that Jesus did not baptize after all) is a later editorial insertion. A maverick view comes from Thomas Brodie who has a quite different perspective. 

Brodie suggests that Jesus was indeed baptizing as per 3:22 but not with water. The following verses describing John’s baptizing activity place a special emphasis on his need for water to perform the task (3:23 — “because there was much water there”). Moreover, advises Brodie, keep in mind John 1:33 where John explains that while he was baptizing with water Jesus would be baptizing with the Spirit.

But then in 4:2 Jesus is no longer baptizing. Editorial additions attempting to make corrections to a text tend to make a better fist of harmonizing their contradictory statements. If the editor wanted to say Jesus himself was never baptizing then why not do so at 3:22 with a smoother explanation and not an apparently blunt and gauche contradiction some verses later? (Brodie cites other scholars for this particular observation.)

Rather, Brodie proposes, Jesus is wearing out and having to hand over the job to his disciples — and this segues into the ensuing passages of an exhausted Jesus asking for water at a well.

The explanation works reasonably well if we treat John’s anecdotes as largely symbolic and all foreshadowing his death etc. Compare the Cana miracle of wine etc prefiguring his death and the new order that was to take over once he was gone from the scene. Similarly we have with Jesus’ exhaustion another intimation of Jesus’ death and departure and his work being taken over by his disciples.

Two other details: Brodie points out the way Jesus is portrayed as having a relationship with his disciples whereas with John there is no comparable picture — those who come to him for baptism are an nondescript “they came to him to be baptized”. Jesus is always depicted “with” his disciples.

And when Jesus came to the well, wearied, to ask for water, it was the sixth hour — another proleptic reference to his death:

John 19:14-16

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.


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Neil Godfrey

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27 thoughts on “Did Jesus Really Baptize — and If So, How?”

  1. I think the reason for the ambiguous and uncertain nature of the teaching regarding Jesus baptizing is found in 1 Corinthians 1. There Paul explains that he, Paul, did not come to baptize but to proclaim the gospel. “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” I think this is another example of the writings and example of Paul serving as a model for the creation of the literary figure of Jesus. It is also an example of further elaboration on the stories of Mark, Matthew and Luke. The passages in John are really an exegesis of the passage in Corinthians in dramatic form. Notice it is a Jew who disputes with John the Baptist, and the Pharisee’s knowledge of Jesus baptism that causes Jesus to leave or desist. The same theme exists in Paul’s statement in Corinthians.

  2. Brodie: further evidence that John was a theological drama, or at any rate a collection of (unfinished?) “scripts”, drafts which take some “facts” or “themes” also found in the Synoptics, plus other material, to a “different level”. Whether any of it was ever literally staged is lost to the recesses of time.

    See also Mark W. G. Stibbe (2002), George L. Parsenios (2010) & “The Gospel according to Seneca” on-line at

    1. Are you saying Brodie’s view is that John was a theological drama, collection of scripts, etc? I don’t understand the connection of your comment with the post.

      1. I simply suggest that his book (added to Hitchcock, Stibbe, Culpepper, Parsenios &c), which is the CONTEXTUAL connection with this particular extract, gives some support to the view that John was composed as a theological drama. One need not go along with the entire, dated thesis of the mythicist J.M.Robertson (who knew about plays).

        Since there is also evidence of layers, revisions and lacunae in the gospel, there were probably incomplete drafts (not necessarily separate single scripts for scenes or monologues) before the “publication” of the text we now have, which was nevertheless quite a literary achievement – with or without contemporary models.

        I welcome discussion, and refutation, of my opinions. But if you don’t understand my probable reasons for posting them, and find them totally irrelevant or uninteresting, why bother to print them at all?

        I may still hazard comments in future, but you have of course an absolute editorial right to dismiss them as “unconnected” with any particular thread and therefore exclude them from view.

        1. The post is about an alternative interpretation of passages relating to whether or not Jesus baptized. If there are other topics you wish to discuss this is not the forum, I’m sorry.

          1. Silly old impertinent me, I foolishly thought my post was relevant to your paragraph: “The explanation works reasonably well….disciples”. (Cf. e.g. D. Butler Pratt, “The Gospel of John from the Standpoint of Greek Tragedy” on-line @ http://www.jstor.org/stable/3140795).

            The baptism by Jesus was a symbolic fiction within a larger theological drama, but I shall say no more and “kindly leave the stage”.

            1. The question of whether Jesus baptized is — at least for me and this is where there may be confusion — at least for me it is a textual, not historical, question. Does the text say that Jesus baptized or not is not the same as asking whether a real person external to the text and a real person in history actually literally did baptize.

              The Jesus I am discussing lives entirely in the words of the texts. His actions and teachings are entirely literary — by simple definition. That is the level at which I always think of these things.

              Whether these texts also represent in any way a real person and real events outside the texts is a quite different question that does not particularly interest me here. Yes, it would be an interesting question to pursue in its own right, but I don’t see any means by which to pursue it given the state of evidence we have.

              I think I should make this perspective clearer in future posts, sorry. It’s been a long time since I have been engaged with the question of whether the text’s characters and narratives represent any particular historical counterparts.

              1. The “plot” has the disciples superseding John by baptizing under the direction of the spiritually superior Jesus without his personal hands-on participation, as clarified by a characteristic textual “parenthesis”.

  3. One thing DSS proved though that how common the practice of Ritual immersion with water in that era
    just look at the Community rule scroll’s description of Baptism which look not much different than Christian one..

    >It is by the Holy Spirit of the community in his [God’s] truth that he can
    be cleansed from all his iniquities. It is by an upright and humble spirit that
    his sin can be atoned. It is by humbling his soul to all God’s statutes, that
    his flesh can be cleansed, by sprinkling with waters of purification, and by
    sanctifying himself with waters of purity. (1QS 3.7–9)

    1. The questions raised by the proposal that a later editor/redactor added the contradictory words are 1. why he (has to be a ‘he’ to cause such confusion) did not attempt to smooth out the contrary statements with some form of explanatory words and 2. why he waited till so many verses later before deciding to introduce the contradiction. Damion unfortunately leaves those two questions hanging.

      1. The point I am trying to make is that there doesn’t appear to be a contradiction in English. Jesus never baptized. Just as in John 19:1 “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him” (ESV)…Pilate didn’t do the flogging. Therefore the two verses are consistent with the idea that Jesus didn’t baptise. Greek exegesis might prove this harmonization a flop…

  4. In the Mandaean literature, baptism takes place in “rivers of light”. There is also a question of wonderment among Mandaeans: “Who can pound fire out of stone?” John baptizes in rivers of light, water leads to light and stone leads to fire. How can water lead to light and stone lead to fire? These are questions for a physicist. These are Mandaean secrets. The Mandaeans are descendants of John the Baptist who taught by day and healed by the moon.

    1. Now here is something interesting — electrically charged particles in the magnetotail. Why would the magnetotail be important? Keeping in mind that John the Baptist taught by day and healed by the moon, which doesn’t have to mean by night. You may notice that when you read that John the Baptist taught by day and healed by the moon, you automatically thought, by night. But I don’t think that’s right. I think John healed by the fullest moons of the month. In Judaism it is very important to observe and count the moons. John the Baptist and Jesus were of the Nazarite tribe, so they both healed.


    2. 1) The Mandaeans / Subba claim to be descended from JB, just as the Roman church claims to be descended from Peter. Claiming is not the same thing as being;

      2) The Mandaeans / Sabaeans / Masbuthaeans (& c.f. Josephus’ Essene mentor, Banus) were daily ritual bathers;

      3) Nothing written about JB, or about Theudas if you want to equate him with JB, or about Oannes if you want to equate his mythology with JB’s ministry, is related to healing;

      4) Baptizing and healing/exorcism are presented in the gospels as two distinct activities;

      5) Please don’t cite NASA articles you clearly haven’t the slightest comprehension of.

      1. I imagine many NASA articles available are written intentionally for folks who don’t have the slightest comprehension: Congress, NASA administrators, the Public.
        The brightest full Moon would be on the same side of the Earth as the magnetotail, although the Baptist might have had to allow for the moon’s five degree inclination to the ecliptic.

    3. In Justin’s mid second century work, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 88, we read that when Jesus stepped into the Jordan to be baptized a fire engulfed the river. I wonder if we see here two opposing accounts of Jesus’ baptism. Is the river on fire view an attempted rebuttal to an earlier view that baptism was a rite representing the death of the old self — as we find in Paul? The fire element (inspired by the promise he was to baptise with spirit and fire?) was an alternative view more fitting for the Saviour of later Christians — one that showed the baptism was something Jesus had total power over, turning it into a miraculous demonstration of his identity, in order to bury any association with ritual cleansing for the Saviour?

      You are interested in finding naturalistic explanations. That approach assumes the gospels are describing in a convoluted way real historical events. I think it is more valid to accept the accounts as they are — miraculous and supernatural — and understand what they meant as such for those who wrote about them.

      1. A good explanation of the account in Justin. However, is the story of an actual baptism of Jesus by John likely to have arisen originally if there were no real Jesus to whom it happened? Your guess is as good as anyone’s.

        Qumran “baptisms” may have some relevance, unlike the late Mandean literature.

        1. The historicity question gets in the way of serious analysis of the literature as we have it.

          There’s no guessing in any of my arguments. It’s about treating the literature of the Gospels and narrative traditions in the Christian community by the same standards and subject to the same criteria as are any other stories and traditions, whether those stories and traditions are found in novels, philosophical treatises, historical or biographical works, or gospels. Where have you ever seen a post here that is nothing more than a guess about historicity? Just imagining possibilities and likelihoods is a pointless game. That’s not how scholarly study of the evidence works. Unless, perhaps, one is indoctrinated by the nonsense of some essentially apologist type biblical academics who demonstrate no knowledge at all of the fundamentals of historical research or literary criticism that are the bread and butter of other fields.

          1. Historical research regarding ancient events and narratives whether they refer to religious or any other communities does consider possibilities. Quite true that Christian preoccupations dominate the NT origins field, but not always or necessarily.

            What about the possible existence of John the Baptist or Apollonius of Tyana or Zoroaster? The evidence can be examined by atheist historians like any other alleged figure in history.

            What about the origins of the Mandeans and their literature, for example? These can be investigated just like (say) the Druids, the Incas or the Arctic Shamans.

            1. I really don’t follow you. I’m talking about doing what historians and literary critics do to all documents. Forget religion, historicity, myth, or whatever outside the texts. I don’t understand the preoccupation with who was real and who wasn’t — unless one is a believer in the historicity of such a person. But that question does not interest me and has nothing to do with this post. As I said, the question of whether Jesus baptized is entirely a question about what the text says. There is no reason whatever to start to go off into the stratosphere and wonder did Jesus or Peter Pan or Heracles or Moses or Samson or David or King Arthur really exist. If I want to discuss that question I’ll do so. But it has nothing to do with this post. Time to move on.

              1. Much of the critical analysis of NT and OT literature, its forms and relationships, for decades past has come from scholars with a theological grounding.

                There are non-Christian historians who neither start nor conclude with the fixed idea view that Jesus is merely a fictional construct like Peter Pan, and who think his alleged activities may have some connection with the literature about him.

                When the late anti-Christian Hyam Maccoby, just for one example, discounts the original exposition of the myth theory by George Wells on the grounds that the sayings attributed to Jesus were so typically Pharisaic that they were probably not manufactured by Gentiles long after 70 CE, is such a view to be dismissed as of no significance, even if mistaken?

                Such considerations may not be immediately relevant to the one specific issue of “baptism” in the fourth gospel, but they might have been of interest, however slender, to Vridar bloggers, though not at all to you personally as now affirmed.

                May we take it that any contributions which might imply, however indirectly, that Jesus actually existed as an historical personality, are ipso facto unwelcome here?

              2. May we take it that any contributions which might imply, however indirectly, that Jesus actually existed as an historical personality, are ipso facto unwelcome here?

                That is utter baloney, David. I expect a higher reading comprehension of readers here. If not, then go elsewhere. I try to consistently ask commenters to stick to the topic and avoid getting on their hobby horses with every comment. You have refused to comply way too often.

                I also expect them to grasp the fundamentals of arguments raised that challenge their perspectives and that try to clarify what the posts here are trying to do and the perspective I take on these things. You clearly don’t get it or don’t want to get it.

                Go away and tell everyone how hard done by you have been here because you have only been able to get away with violating comment policy for so long, for months and months, and not forever.

                Yes, you’ve finally pushed my patience too far! After all the effort I’ve put into trying to explain clearly to you what we are all about here — you are too deaf to hear or comprehend and turn around and infer such excrement as you do in this comment.

                You have not the slightest clue about the difference between idle speculation and serious evidence-based reasoning, and your misapplication of the likes of Maccoby only underscores that fact. I have been patient in pointing out the difference and how to apply scholarship in a serious way but you are simply deaf. I’ve tried in vain for many many comments. A waste of time.

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