The Baptism of Jesus Christ: Syntax and Exegesis Matthew 3:17


Matthew 3:17

When the crowds came to John for baptism they confessed their sins (Mat. 3:6). But Jesus makes no confession, he is praying (Luke 3:21). The only voice heard at Jesus' baptism is indeed a confession but it is the Father's confession of Jesus' identity. There is a sense in which this baptism is the inauguration of the king. The exclamatory phrase καὶ ἰδοὺ again turns the reader's attention to another new and unexpected event.1 The prior event was visible, this second event is auditory. A voice is heard coming out of the heavens. The anarthrous φωνὴ most likely focuses on the character of the voice rather than trying to classify it in other ways.2 The prepositional phrase ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν concludes with the ablative of source.3 The verbal participle λέγουσα functions as an indicative verb and reveals the content of the voice's statement.
The content of the message is primarily that of identification. This announcement identifies for the reader, and presumably for those standing by, just exactly who Jesus is. The demonstrative pronoun οὗτός referring to Jesus plays a crucial role in revealing Matthew's intent concerning the disputed dative pronoun αὐτῷ4 as well as helping to discern whether or not the crowds and even John the Baptist were able to hear and see these miracles as opposed to them being merely subjectively experienced by Jesus alone. Both Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22 use the definite pronouns σὺ and σοὶ where Matthew uses οὗτός and the relative pronoun ᾧ. This would appear to indicate in Mark and Luke that the Father was speaking directly to Jesus. While in the similar occurrence of a voice from heaven speaking in John 12:28-ff the people did not understand the voice, there is no indication in either of the other synoptic gospels whether the people surrounding the area understood this voice or not. Matthew apparently opted to change the pronouns in order to clarify that the identification was for the benefit of the people. The voice declares to all who are gathered that, "This one is my beloved son".
The NIV, CJB5 and NJB6 are unique in translating ὁ ἀγαπητός as a compound predicate nominative with ὁ υἱός, treating the nominative article as a pronoun. The classic second attributive position however should take precedent here so that ὁ ἀγαπητός modifies ὁ υἱός μου. The description of Jesus as the beloved son of God is particularly important in view of Jesus' mission as expressed in John 3:16. Jesus came to die for the world of people whom God loved. The fact that God loved the son elevates the sacrifice made to an even higher plain. The transaction of salvation is not the trading of one barely liked individual (the Son) for a multitude of that which is beloved. This is an undeserved exchange of one super-precious being for another loved group of beings.
The phrase, "my beloved son," is a direct quotation from the Messianic Psalm 2:7 which is called a royal enthronement Psalm by Blomberg7 It was here that God the Father commissions Jesus as the king of the Jews. Even as David was anointed years before he could assume the throne and endured suffering beforehand, so also Jesus was anointed and suffered prior to his yet pending and final enthronement. The identity of the voice is now certain. With a fuller knowledge of Christology it becomes immediately evident that the voice is none less than God the Father. It is certainly not an angel as the bystanders of John 12:28-ff thought that voice might be.
The second phrase ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα is a direct quotation from Isaiah 42:1. Hagner considers both quotations as allusions to the Isaiah passage which is a statement concerning the anointing of the servant of God with the Spirit in order to enable the servant to accomplish his task.8 The preposition ἐν with the dative of interest ᾧ9 functions with the gnomic aorist εὐδόκησα to express that God has always approved of Jesus and thus of course continues to do so. There is a great deal of dispute regarding the classification of this term.
A.T Robertson debates whether this is gnomic or timeless aorist stating that the gnomic is not clear.10 Brooks and Winbery describe it as a dramatic aorist believing that it puts a greater emphasis on "recent attainment."11 However, there is more in view than simply the baptism of Christ. As the introduction to his ministry the statement of God's pleasure in Jesus establishes that the life and person-hood of Jesus up until this point have been acceptable.
When a lamb is selected for slaughter it must first be deemed acceptable by the offerer. Thereupon it is then separated from the flock and set apart for ministry. Here at the outset of Jesus' ministry he is being set apart for slaughter. This baptism serves as a ceremonial selection of the lamb of God – thus God's statement declaring that Jesus has achieved and retains the Father's pleasure. Jesus will repeatedly refer to the Father's love and pleasure for him throughout his ministry.12
Burton argues against this is functioning as a culminative aorist, preferring to call it a comprehensive historical aorist. He writes, "But against this is the absence of any adverbial phrase meaning up to this time, which usually accompanies an Aorist verb used in this sense."13 The term "usually" however does not mean "always." Burton's main argument seems to be a problem with the aorist in some way indicating that Jesus at one point became acceptable to God thus suggesting in some way that there might be a point when he was not. He therefore argues against interpretations which would refer to Jesus becoming acceptable during his life on earth or during his eternity. He finally chooses to refer to this as "an Inceptive Aorist equivalent to an English Perfect. [which] judges the existing result to be only suggested by the affirmation of the past fact."14
However the gnomic aorist appears to best fit the requirement that Jesus is not really described as "becoming acceptable" but rather emphasizes that Jesus simply is acceptable and pleasing to the Father and always has been.15 The term εὐδόκησα expresses a fullness of approval. It is not that the Father looked down and approved just then of Jesus. But there is a full and complete approval of all that Jesus is and has been which is communicated.
Both phrases are also repeated in the transfiguration narrative in Matthew 17:5 with the addition of ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ, "listen to him." Both instances, the transfiguration as well as the baptism, form a different aspect of the end goal of Christ's earthly ministry. The baptism symbolizes his death, burial and resurrection (compare Rom. 6:3-4). While the transfiguration prefigures his glorification after the resurrection. In each instance the Father proclaims the identity of and his love for his son.
One can hardly miss the baptism of Jesus Christ as a significant theological event marking one of the few locations in the gospels where the Trinity is uniquely present and active. Davies and Allison speculate that this text is responsible for the proliferation of Trinitarian baptismal texts throughout the New Testament. To which purpose they write:

"Mt 3:16-17, which was interpreted by later Christian theology as depicting the supreme manifestation of the Trinity, is only one of several NT baptismal texts in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present; see Mt 28:16-20; Jn 1:33-4; Acts 2:38-9; 10:38; 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:4-6; 1 Pet 1:2 … Why the NT should contain so many triadic baptismal texts is far from obvious. But the ultimate cause could be the story of Jesus baptism by John, in which God the Father speaks to his Son and the Holy Spirit comes upon him."16

As all three persons of the Trinity are represented in these last two verses of the passage. So too at the close of his gospel Matthew records the baptismal formula which mandates disciples be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Indeed it seems quite intentional on Matthew's part to set the entire earthly ministry of Jesus within the inclusio of a Trinitarian baptismal event.

1See also the prior discussion on καὶ ἰδοὺ p. 24.

2Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek. p. 68.

3compare Brooks and Winbery p25

4See discussion p. 25.

5David H. Stern. Complete Jewish Bible. (Clarksville, MD:Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. 1998), Matthew 3:16.

6The New Jerusalem Bible. Edited by Henry Wansbrough. (New York: Doubleday, 1985)

7Blomberg, Craig. vol. 22, Matthew, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1992), p. 82.

8Hagner, WBC p. 59.

9Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vols. 5-9 Edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 Compiled by Ronald Pitkin., ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), 2:740.

10Robertson, Grammar p. 837.

11Brooks and Winbery p. 102-103

12See for instance John 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 15:9

13Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, 3rd ed. (Edinburg: T. & T. Clark, 1898), p. 29.

14Burton, Syntax p. 29.

15Hagner, WBC p. 59.

16W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. (London; New York: T&T Clark International. 2004), p. 340.