The Baptism of Jesus Christ: Syntax and Exegesis Matthew 3:14


Matthew 3:14

The conjunction δὲ serves to move the reader off of the main event of the baptism onto a dialog between Jesus and John.1 The article ὁ begins the sentence and in the case of Ἰωάννης not being part of the text as discussed in "Textual Variants" above (p6) would function as a pronoun . The force of δὲ as an adversative conjunction would then become a "switch-reference device"2 indicating that the speaker indicated by the article is no longer Jesus requesting baptism but rather has become John trying to prevent Jesus. Either way it is clear that John is now the speaker whose actions and speech exhibit a misunderstanding of what exactly Jesus is coming for. The baptizer rightly perceived a moral mismatch between himself and Jesus and thus when Jesus came to him, he tried unsuccessfully to stop him from being baptized.
Matthew is the only synoptic writer to comment on this discussion. Some commentators seem to think Matthew inserted the discussion to protect against the opinion that Jesus had sins to repent of. The verb διεκώλυεν is a tendential imperfect3 indicating that John's attempt at prevention was at least vocal. Most modern versions adequately capture the incomplete and unsuccessful nature of John's attempt by saying in some way that John "tried" to stop Jesus. The KJV however simply translates it almost as an historic aorist using the archaic "forbad".
The adverbial complimentary participle λέγων describes how it was that John tried to prevent Jesus' baptism. There is no indication either in favor of or against John pushing Jesus away or otherwise physically attempting to stop his cousin. Nevertheless it was a passionate speech which John must have begun with Jesus. The personal pronoun ἐγὼ intensifies the contrast4 between John (ἐγὼ) and Jesus (σοῦ); and effectively demonstrates John's apparent dismay that Jesus would come to him.
While it seems evident that his argument is based on Jesus not needing baptism, the first reason given is John's personal acknowledgment of sin. "I have need…," John says, placing the noun χρείαν5 in the forward position for emphasis. Keener argues that John was seeking a baptism which is different in kind than that which John had been offering "…John recognized that Jesus had come to bestow the Spirit in fuller measure than even he as a prophet had received, and he desired this baptism…"6 But John 1:33 indicates that John the Baptist was not fully aware of Jesus' identity until after the baptism. Therefore it could not have been his knowledge of Jesus being the Christ which motivated this statement. John must have had some other knowledge of Jesus.
Considering that John and Jesus were cousins it is more than likely that they had been exposed one to the other over the prior 30 years. It could be argued that Elizabeth would surely have told John repeatedly about the unique birth of Jesus and thus pointed to his identity. But the greater weight must be given to the Johanine indication that the Baptist remained uncertain concerning the Messiah's identity until he saw the dove.
While they were separated by many miles we could at the very least consider that from the time of 12 years and beyond, Jesus and John would have accompanied their parents to the Holy City for the three pilgrimage feasts which were required of every male in Israel. It is hard to comprehend that at such festive times, extended family would remain separated by what had become minimal distance. Thus at least sporadically John had been exposed to the character of Jesus. He was not therefore at this point seeking the Spirit and fire baptism which he personally announced in Matthew 3:11. Standing in the Jordan river with his cousin, John saw his own need for baptism as he presented his own confession,7 and subsequently requested to be baptized (βαπτισθῆναι). Young identifies this as an epexegetical use of the infinitive explaining what is meant by the noun χρείαν.8
In the second half of his protest John registers his awe with Jesus with the question: "Καὶ σὺ ἔρχη πρός με?" The καὶ is not merely connective but serves (contrary to Young9) to provide a contrastive sense translated best as "and yet."10 The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), NAB and the NET, bring out the full contrast of the καὶ translating it properly. Both personal pronouns σὺ and με are emphatic11 which helps to illuminate the contrastive sense of the καί. The verb ἔρχῃ is a perfective present indicating that Jesus came and at the time still remained in front of John. The brief prepositional phrase πρός με simply indicates that Jesus came to John for the understood purpose of baptism.
It is almost impossible to miss the irony of the Baptist needing to be baptized. That fact alone however does give the reader a sufficient reason to pause and consider just who this Jesus might be to create such a response. In a literary sense the reader is now leaning forward in his seat in order to hear what comes next. The reader will not be disappointed.

1Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek. p. 183.

2Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek. p. 59.

3Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek . p 114. Compare Brooks and Winbery p. 93.

4A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Logos, 1919; 2006), p 677.

5Robertson calls this an accusative absolute (Grammar p. 1392.)

6Craig S. Keener, A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 132.

7Fredric W. Farrar, The Life of Christ (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1874, 1875, 1999), p. 111.

8Intermediate New Testament Greek p. 175. Compare Brooks and Winbery p. 141.

9Young classifies this use of καὶ as "conclusion" preferring the translation "Since I have need to be baptized by you, then [καὶ] why do you come to me?" Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek p. 189.

10Confer L.S. καί, and Robertson-Grammar: "The context gives other turns to καί that are sometimes rather startling. It is common to find καί where it has to bear the content 'and yet.' … Cf. also Mt. 3:14, καὶ σὺ ἔρχῃ πρός με;"
Robertson, Grammar p. 1182.

11Robertson, Grammar p. 234.