The Baptism of Jesus Christ: Syntax and Exegesis Matthew 3:13


Matthew 3:13

Grammatically the passage is introduced by the temporal adverb Τότε which serves to connect these events to the introduction of the then unknown Messiah which John delivers in Matthew 3:11-12. It also demonstrates that the current passage occurs not long after John's announcement. Of the eighty-nine times Matthew uses τότε, more than half of the time its use is to draw a close chronological connection or to point out a response to the prior section. As has already been noted1 Dr. Hoehner dates the coming of John the Baptist to the year 29AD and the resultant baptism of Jesus during the summer or fall of the same year.2
The appearance of Jesus is significant in this passage because it is his first autonomous activity. As far as Matthew's gospel is concerned we have only seen him as a secondary participant up to this point. His birth, move to Egypt and subsequent move to Nazareth have all been actions centered in his mother and Joseph. Now for the first time, Jesus becomes the central actor. By tying the introduction of Jesus then to the activity of John the Baptist, Matthew effectively demonstrates for his Jewish readers that Jesus is fulfilling the Messianic prophecies of scripture (Matthew 3:3, Isaiah 40:3).
The reader is drawn into the scene by the same historical present verb (παραγίνεται) which is used in the first verse of the chapter concerning John. So that as John came dramatically onto the scene with a distinctive purpose, so also does Jesus.

While Matthew informs that Jesus came from Galilee, the parallel passage in Mark 1:9 is more specific concerning Jesus' geographic origin as being from the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. The three day3 journey would have been about sixty miles,4 no doubt entirely on foot. He ultimately arrived ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰορδάνην. Perschbacher5 calls this an accusative of motion towards. However Brooks and Winbery demonstrate that the preposition ἐπὶ with an accusative is likely to be functioning as an adverbial accusative of measure6 marking the termination of Jesus' journey at the Jordan. While the NET7 adds the word "river" for clarity, it also renders the accusative Jordan as though it were locative, "…to be baptized by him in the Jordan river."
The NLT8 similarly renders the accusative Ἰωάννην and its associated prepositional phrase πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην as though it were an adverbial accusative of manner, "to be baptized by John." While needlessly clarifying the role of John as the baptizer it also conceals the fact that Jesus came to him; which is probably intended to parallel the coming of all the people to John (πρὸς αὐτὸν) in verse 5. "The use of the preposition πρὸς with the accusative case … sometimes comes close to the dative of indirect object…"9 This is in keeping with the normal use of the preposition as described by ANLEX10 and Zodhiates.11 Thus the prepositional phrase πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην functions as the indirect object of the verb παραγίνεται indicating that Jesus came to John who was at the Jordan. The full force of Jesus coming "to John at the Jordan" is reflected in the HCSB12, NASB9513 and the NKJV.14
The reason that he came is expressed in the purpose clause τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ᾽αὐτοῦ. The genitive article stands before the infinitive as a genitive of purpose.15 Barclay mentions an unnamed early writer16 who, "suggested that Jesus came to be baptized only to please his mother and his brothers, and that it was in answer to their entreaties that he was almost compelled to let this thing to be done."17 However the next verse offers its own reasons. Righteousness is at stake and fulfilling it requires the lesser to baptize the greater. That is a move which John will try to prevent.

1See under CONTEXT above. p4.

2Hoehner, Chronological Aspects pp. 37, 44.

3Based on an average traveling speed of two to three miles per hour for an adult.

4William MacDonald and Arthur Farstad, Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995), Mt 3:13.

5Wesley J. Perschbacher D.MIN. New Testament Greek Exegesis: BI 383 Study Guide. (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1992), p. 112.

6James A. Brooks and Carlton L. Winbery. Syntax of New Testament Greek. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 1979), pp. 53,66

7Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006; 2006), Mt 3:13.

8Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible : New Living Translation., "Text Edition"–Spine., 2nd ed. (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), Mt 3:13.

9Brooks and Winbery p. 157-158

10"literally, to show motion toward a person or thing to, toward; after verbs of going…"
Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker's Greek New Testament library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000), p 330.

11"With the acc., marking the object toward or to which something moves or is directed. …Of place, thing, or person meaning toward, to, unto, as if in answer to the question "Whither?" With the acc. of place, thing, person: … Particularly of motion or direction after verbs of going, coming, departing, returning…"
Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary : New Testament, electronic ed. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000, c1992, c1993), G4314.

12The Holy Bible : Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), Matthew 3:13.

13New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Matthew 3:13.

14The New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Matthew 3:13.

15Richard A. Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach. (Nashville, TN:Broadman & Holman Publishers. 1994), p. 168.

16It is possible that the writer in question is Jerome: "Gospel according to the Hebrews (in Jerome, Against Pelagius III.2). – The mother of the Lord and his brothers said to him, "John the Baptist baptizes for the forgiveness of sins; let us go and be baptized by him." But he said to them, "In what way have I sinned that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless, perhaps, what I have just said is a sin of ignorance."
Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr, Gospel Parallels-NRSV : A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, With Alternative Readings from the Manuscripts and Noncanonical Parallels.; Text Used Is the New Revised Standard Version, 1989.; The Arrangement Follows the Huck-Lietzmann Synopsis, Ninth Edition, 1936. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1992). footnote from §6.

17The Gospel of Matthew : Volume, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), p. 59.