Baptism of Jesus

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The Baptism of Christ, an egg-on-poplar painting by Piero della Francesca, produced after 1437 and now in the National Gallery, London. Piero, battesimo di cristo 04.jpg
The Baptism of Christ , an egg-on-poplar painting by Piero della Francesca, produced after 1437 and now in the National Gallery, London.

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is a major event in the life of Jesus described in three of the gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. [lower-alpha 1] It is considered to have taken place at Al-Maghtas, located in Jordan.


Most modern theologians view the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist as a historical event to which a high degree of certainty can be assigned. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] Along with the crucifixion of Jesus, most biblical scholars view it as one of the two historically certain facts about him, and often use it as the starting point for the study of the historical Jesus. [7]

The baptism is one of the events in the narrative of the life of Jesus in the canonical Gospels; others include the Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. [8] [9] Most Christian denominations view the baptism of Jesus as an important event and a basis for the Christian rite of baptism (see also Acts 19:1–7 ). In Eastern Christianity, Jesus' baptism is commemorated on 6 January (the Julian calendar date of which corresponds to 19 January on the Gregorian calendar), the feast of Epiphany. [10] In the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Churches and some other Western denominations, it is recalled on a day within the following week, the feast of the baptism of the Lord. In Roman Catholicism, the baptism of Jesus is one of the Luminous Mysteries sometimes added to the Rosary. It is a Trinitarian feast in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

In the Synoptic Gospels

Mark, Matthew, and Luke depict the baptism in parallel passages. In all three gospels, the Holy Spirit is depicted as descending upon Jesus immediately after his baptism accompanied by a voice from Heaven, but the accounts of Luke and Mark record the voice as addressing Jesus by saying "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased", while in Matthew the voice addresses the crowd "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" ( Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23 ). [11] [12] [13]

After the baptism, the Synoptic gospels describe the temptation of Jesus, where Jesus withdrew to the Judean desert to fast for forty days and nights.


In Matthew 3:14, upon meeting Jesus, John said: "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" [14] However, Jesus convinces John to baptize him nonetheless. [13] Matthew uniquely records that the voice from heaven addresses the crowd, rather than addressing Jesus himself as in Mark and Luke.


Mark's account is roughly parallel to that of Matthew, except for Matthew 3:14-15 describing John's initial reluctance and eventual consent to baptize Jesus, which is not described by Mark. Mark uses an unusual word for the opening of the heavens, Greek: σχίζω, schizō, which means “tearing” or “ripping” (Mark 1:10). It forms a verbal thread (Leitwortstil) with the rending of the Temple veil in Mark 15:38, inviting comparison between the two episodes. [15]


Luke 1 begins with the birth of John the Baptist, heralded to his father Zacharias by the angel Gabriel. Six months later Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary with an announcement of the birth of Jesus, at the Annunciation. At the same, Gabriel also announces to Mary the coming birth of John the Baptist, to her kinswoman Elizabeth, who is the wife of Zacharias. Mary immediately sets out to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, and stays with her until John's birth. Luke strongly contrasts the reactions of Zacharias and Mary to these two respective births; and the lives of John and Jesus are intertwined.

Luke uniquely depicts John as showing public kindness to tax collectors and encouraging the giving of alms to the poor (as in Luke 3:11 ). Luke records that Jesus was praying when Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him. Luke clarifies that the spirit descended in the "bodily form" of a dove, as opposed to merely "descending like" a dove. In Acts 10:37–38 , the ministry of Jesus is described as following "the baptism which John preached". [16]

In the Gospel of John

Jesus (left) is being identified by John the Baptist in John 1:29. by Vannini, 17th century. Ottavio vannini, san giovanni che indica il Cristo a Sant'Andrea.jpg
Jesus (left) is being identified by John the Baptist in John 1:29 . by Vannini, 17th century.

In John 1:29–33 rather than a direct narrative, John the Baptist bears witness to the spirit descending like a dove. [11] [18]

The Gospel of John ( John 1:28 ) specifies "Bethabara beyond Jordan", i.e., Bethany in Perea as the location where John was baptizing when Jesus began choosing disciples, and in John 3:23 there is mention of further baptisms in Ænon "because there was much water there". [19] [20]

John 1:35–37 narrates an encounter, between Jesus and two of his future disciples, who were then disciples of John the Baptist. [21] [22] The episode in John 1:35–37 forms the start of the relationship between Jesus and his future disciples. When John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God, the "two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus". [16] [23] [24] One of the disciples is named Andrew, but the other remains unnamed, and Raymond E. Brown raises the question of his being the author of the Gospel of John himself. [18] [25] In the Gospel of John, the disciples follow Jesus thereafter, and bring other disciples to him, and Acts 18:24–19:6 portrays the disciples of John as eventually merging with the followers of Jesus. [18] [21]

In the Gospel of the Nazarenes

According to the non-canonical Gospel of the Nazarenes, the idea of being baptized by John came from the mother and brothers of Jesus, and Jesus himself, originally opposed, reluctantly accepted it. [26] Benjamin Urrutia avers that this version is supported by the Criterion of Embarrassment, since followers of Jesus would not have invented an episode in which Jesus changes his mind and comes to accept someone else's plan. Plus, the story came from the community that included the family of Jesus, who would have guaranteed the authenticity of the narrative. [27]


Part of the ancient Madaba Map showing Bethabara east of the Jordan River Sapsaphas Madaba.jpg
Part of the ancient Madaba Map showing Bethabara east of the Jordan River
Al-Maghtas ruins on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River are the location for the Baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist. Bethany (5).JPG
Al-Maghtas ruins on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River are the location for the Baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist.

The Gospel of John (John 3:23 ) refers to Enon near Salim as one place where John the Baptist baptized people, "because there was much water there". [19] [20] Separately, John 1:28 states that John the Baptist was baptizing in "Bethany beyond the Jordan". [19] This is not the village Bethany just east of Jerusalem, but is generally considered to be the town Bethany, also called Bethabara in Perea on the Eastern bank of the Jordan near Jericho. [20] In the 3rd century Origen, who moved to the area from Alexandria, suggested Bethabara as the location. [28] In the 4th century, Eusebius of Caesarea stated that the location was on the west bank of the Jordan, and following him, the early Byzantine Madaba Map shows Bethabara as (Βέθαβαρά). [28]

The biblical baptising is related to springs and a Wadi (al-Kharrar) close to the Eastern site of the Jordan River, [29] not the Jordan itself. [30] The pilgrimage sites, important for both Christians and Jews have shifted place during history. The site of Al-Maghtas (baptism, or immersion in Arabic) on the East side of the River in Jordan has been deemed the earliest place of worship. This site was found following UNESCO-sponsored excavations. [31] Al-Maghtas was visited by Pope John Paul II in March 2000, and he said: "In my mind I see Jesus coming to the waters of the river Jordan not far from here to be baptized by John the Baptist". [32] The Muslim conquest put an end to the Byzantine buildings on the east bank of the Jordan River, the later reverence took place just across the river in the West Bank at Qasr el Yahud. [33]


The baptism of Jesus is generally considered as the start of his ministry, shortly after the start of the ministry of John the Baptist. [34] [35] [36] Luke 3:1–2 states that: [37] [38]

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea ... , the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

There are two approaches to determining when the reign of Tiberius Caesar started. [39] The traditional approach is that of assuming that the reign of Tiberius started when he became co-regent in 11 AD, placing the start of the ministry of John the Baptist around 26 AD. However, some scholars assume it to be upon the death of his predecessor Augustus Caesar in 14 AD, implying that the ministry of John the Baptist began in 29 AD. [39]

The generally assumed dates for the start of the ministry of John the Baptist based on this reference in the Gospel of Luke are about 28–29 AD, with the ministry of Jesus with his baptism following it shortly thereafter. [37] [38] [40] [41] [42]


Stained glass window of Jesus' baptism by Tiffany. Baptism of Christ by Tiffany.jpg
Stained glass window of Jesus' baptism by Tiffany.

Most modern scholars believe that John the Baptist performed a baptism on Jesus, and view it as a historical event to which a high degree of certainty can be assigned. [2] [3] [4] [5] James Dunn states that the historicity of the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus "command almost universal assent". [7] Dunn states that these two facts "rank so high on the 'almost impossible to doubt or deny' scale of historical facts" that they are often the starting points for the study of the historical Jesus. [7] John Dominic Crossan states that it is historically certain that Jesus was baptised by John in the Jordan. [6]

In the Antiquities of the Jews (18.5.2) 1st-century historian Flavius Josephus also wrote about John the Baptist and his eventual death in Perea. [43] [44]

The existence of John the Baptist within the same time frame as Jesus, and his eventual execution by Herod Antipas is attested to by 1st-century historian Flavius Josephus and the overwhelming majority of modern scholars view Josephus' accounts of the activities of John the Baptist as authentic. [45] [46] Josephus establishes a key connection between the historical events he recorded and specific episodes that appear in the gospels. [45] The reference in the Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus to John's popularity among the crowds (Ant 18.5.2) and how he preached his baptism is considered a reliable historical datum. [47] [48] Unlike the gospels, Josephus does not relate John and Jesus, and does not state that John's baptisms were for the remission of sins. [47] [48] [49] However, almost all modern scholars consider the Josephus passage on John to be authentic in its entirety and view the variations between Josephus and the gospels as indications that the Josephus passages are authentic, for a Christian interpolator would have made them correspond to the Christian traditions. [50] [51]

One of the arguments in favour of the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John is that it is a story which the early Christian Church would have never wanted to invent, typically referred to as the criterion of embarrassment in historical analysis. [5] [6] [52] Based on this criterion, given that John baptised for the remission of sins, and Jesus was viewed as without sin, the invention of this story would have served no purpose, and would have been an embarrassment given that it positioned John above Jesus. [5] [52] [53] The Gospel of Matthew attempts to offset this problem by having John feel unworthy to baptise Jesus and Jesus giving him permission to do so in Matthew 3:14–15 . [54]

The gospels are not the only references to the baptisms performed by John and in Acts 10:37–38 , the apostle Peter refers to how the ministry of Jesus followed "the baptism which John preached". [55] Another argument used in favour of the historicity of the baptism is that multiple accounts refer to it, usually called the criterion of multiple attestation. [54] Technically, multiple attestation does not guarantee authenticity, but only determines antiquity. [56] However, for most scholars, together with the criterion of embarrassment it lends credibility to the baptism of Jesus by John being a historical event. [54] [57] [58] [59]

Artistic depictions

While the gospel of Luke is explicit about the Spirit of God descending in the shape of a dove, the wording of Matthew is vague enough that it could be interpreted only to suggest that the descent was in the style of a dove. Although a variety of symbolisms were attached to doves at the time these passages were written, the dove imagery has become a well known symbol for the Holy Spirit in Christian art. [60] [61] Depictions of the baptismal scene typically show the sky opening and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove towards Jesus. [62]


The reformer Martin Luther wrote a hymn about baptism, based on biblical accounts about the baptism of Jesus, "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" (1541). It is the basis for a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7 , first performed on 24 June 1724.

See also

Events in the
Life of Jesus
according to the Gospels
GaudenzioFerrari StorieCristo Varallo2.jpg

Portals: P christianity.svg Christianity Bible.malmesbury.arp.jpg Bible

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  1. The John's gospel does not directly describe Jesus' baptism.

Related Research Articles

Gospel of Mark Book of the New Testament

The Gospel According to Mark is one of the four canonical gospels and one of the three synoptic gospels. It tells of the ministry of Jesus from his baptism by John the Baptist to his death and burial and the discovery of the empty tomb – there is no genealogy of Jesus or birth narrative, nor, in the original ending at chapter 16, any post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. It portrays Jesus as a heroic man of action, an exorcist, a healer, and a miracle worker. Jesus is also the Son of God, but he keeps his identity secret, concealing it in parables so that even most of the disciples fail to understand. All this is in keeping with prophecy, which foretold the fate of the messiah as suffering servant. The gospel ends, in its original version, with the discovery of the empty tomb, a promise to meet again in Galilee, and an unheeded instruction to spread the good news of the resurrection.

John the Baptist 1st-century Hebrew preacher and later Christian saint

John the Baptist was a Jewish itinerant preacher in the early 1st century AD. Other titles for John include John the Forerunner in Eastern Christianity, John the Immerser in some Baptist traditions, and the prophet John (Yaḥyā) in Islam. He is sometimes alternatively called John the Baptizer.

Ænon site, mentioned in the Gospel of John (3:23) as the place where John the Baptist was baptizing

Ænon, more commonly written Aenon, is the site mentioned by the Gospel of John as the place where John was baptising after his encounter with Jesus.

Nativity of Jesus Birth of Jesus

The nativity of Jesus, nativity of Christ, birth of Christ or birth of Jesus is described in the Biblical gospels of Luke and Matthew. The two accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, his mother Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was descended from King David and was not his biological father, and that his birth was caused by divine intervention.

Jesus in Christianity Jesus in Christianity

In Christianity, Jesus is believed to be the Son of God and in many mainstream denominations the second Person of the Trinity. Christians believe that through his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, God offered humans salvation and eternal life. He is believed to be the Jewish messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity. These teachings emphasize that as the Lamb of God, Jesus chose to suffer on the cross at Calvary as a sign of his obedience to the will of God, as an "agent and servant of God". Jesus died to atone for sin to make humanity right with God. Jesus' choice positions him as a man of obedience, in contrast to Adam's disobedience.

Historical Jesus is the reconstruction of the life and teachings of Jesus by critical historical methods, in contrast to Christological definitions and other Christian accounts of Jesus. It also considers the historical and cultural contexts in which Jesus lived.

Jesus The central figure of Christianity

Jesus, also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.

Life of Jesus in the New Testament life of Jesus as told in the New Testament

The life of Jesus in the New Testament is primarily outlined in the four canonical gospels, which includes his genealogy and nativity, public ministry, passion, resurrection and ascension. Other parts of the New Testament – such as the Pauline epistles which were likely written within 20–30 years of each other, and which include references to key episodes in Jesus' life, such as the Last Supper, and the Acts of the Apostles, (1:1–11) which includes more references to the Ascension episode than the canonical gospels - also expound upon the life of Jesus. In addition to these biblical texts, there are extra-biblical texts that Christians believe make reference to certain events in the life of Jesus, such as Josephus on Jesus and Tacitus on Christ.

Matthew 3 Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3

Matthew 3 is the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It is the first chapter dealing with the ministry of Jesus with events taking place some three decades after the close of the infancy narrative related in the previous two chapters. The focus of this chapter is on the preaching of John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus.

Matthew 3:11

Matthew 3:11 is the eleventh verse of the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The verse occurs in the section relating the preachings of John the Baptist. In this verse he predicts that he will be followed by someone much greater than himself. The main theme of this verse is that John will soon be supplanted by a much greater figure and that John's water baptism is just a preparation for the much greater baptism by fire and spirit that will occur under the second coming of the Christian messiah Jesus, an original Christian concept that, according to Jewish scholars, lacks any fundament in the Hebrew scripture.

Matthew 3:13

Matthew 3:13 is the thirteenth verse of the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The verse introduces the section describing the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

Matthew 3:16

Matthew 3:16 is the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. Jesus has just been baptized by John the Baptist and in this verse the Holy Spirit comes to him like a dove.

New Testament places associated with Jesus

The New Testament narrative of the life of Jesus refers to a number of locations in the Holy Land and a Flight into Egypt. In these accounts the principal locations for the ministry of Jesus were Galilee and Judea, with activities also taking place in surrounding areas such as Perea and Samaria.

Ministry of Jesus

In the Christian gospels, the ministry of Jesus begins with his baptism in the countryside of Roman Judea and Transjordan, near the river Jordan, and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry. A chronology of Jesus typically has the date of the start of his ministry estimated at around AD 27–29 and the end in the range AD 30–36.

The historical reliability of the Gospels refers to the reliability and historic character of the four New Testament gospels as historical documents. Some believe that all four canonical gospels meet the five criteria for historical reliability; and others say that little in the gospels is considered to be historically reliable. Almost all scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus, and the only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. Elements whose historical authenticity is disputed include the two accounts of the Nativity of Jesus, the miraculous events including the resurrection, and certain details about the crucifixion.

Return of Jesus to Galilee

The Return of Jesus to Galilee is an episode in the life of Jesus which appears in three of the Canonical Gospels: Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14 and John 4:1-3, 4:43-45. It relates the return of Jesus to Galilee upon the imprisonment of John the Baptist.

Calling of the disciples story from the Gospels

The calling of the disciples is a key episode in the life of Jesus in the New Testament. It appears in Matthew 4:18–22, Mark 1:16–20 and Luke 5:1–11 on the Sea of Galilee. John 1:35–51 reports the first encounter with two of the disciples a little earlier in the presence of John the Baptist. Particularly in the Gospel of Mark, the beginning of the Ministry of Jesus and the call of the first disciples are inseparable.

Baptism has been part of Christianity from the start, as shown by the many mentions in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles.

Holy Spirit in Christianity The third person of the Trinity in trinitarian Christianity

For the majority of Christian denominations, the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the third person of the Trinity: the Triune God manifested as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; each entity itself being God. Nontrinitarian Christians, who reject the doctrine of the Trinity, differ significantly from mainstream Christianity in their beliefs about the Holy Spirit. In Christian theology, pneumatology refers to the study of the Holy Spirit. Due to Christianity's historical relationship with Judaism, theologians often identify the Holy Spirit with the concept of the Ruach Hakodesh in Jewish scripture, in the belief Jesus was expanding upon these Jewish concepts. Similar names, and ideas, include the Ruach Elohim, Ruach YHWH, and the Ruach Hakmah. In the New Testament it is identified with the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth, the Paraclete and the Holy Spirit.

Al-Maghtas Archaeological site

Al-Maghtas, meaning "baptism" or "immersion" in Arabic, or Bethabara, is an archaeological World Heritage site in Jordan on the east bank of the Jordan River, officially known as Baptism Site "Bethany Beyond the Jordan" (Al-Maghtas). It is considered to be the original location of the Baptism of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist and has been venerated as such since at least the Byzantine period.


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Baptism of Jesus
Preceded by
Ministry of John the Baptist,
further preceded by
Finding in the Temple
New Testament
Succeeded by
Temptation of Jesus