The Baptism of Jesus Christ: Textual Analysis

Textual Analysis


3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan River in order to be baptized by him. 3:14 But John attempted to prevent him by saying, "I am the one who has a need to be baptized by you and yet you come to me?" 3:15 But answering, Jesus said to him, "right now you must permit it, for it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness in this way." Then he permitted him. 3:16 Now, when Jesus had been baptized, he immediately came out of the water. And behold! The heavens were opened for him and he saw the Spirit of God as a dove, coming down and landing on him. 3:17 And behold! There was a voice out of the heavens saying "this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." – Matthew 3:13-17


The baptism of Jesus is the first appearance of Jesus since he was 12 years old in the temple and marks the beginning of his ministry. Dr. Harold Hoehner convincingly marks the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry as "sometime in AD 29" with Jesus' ministry beginning very shortly after the beginning of John the Baptist's; most likely during summer or autumn of that year.1 The baptism of the people of Israel stands as a sudden and dramatic shift of God's people towards him in a new and generally unexpected way. Concerning this move of Jewish baptism Barclay wrote:

"It is the fact that never in all history before this had any Jew submitted to being baptized. The Jews knew and used baptism, but only for proselytes who came into Judaism from some other faith. It was natural that the sin-stained, polluted proselyte should be baptized, but no Jew had ever conceived that he, a member of the chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God's salvation, could ever need baptism. Baptism was for sinners, and no Jew ever conceived of himself as a sinner shut out from God. Now for the first time in their national history the Jews realized their own sin and their own claimant need of God,. Never before had there been such a unique national movement of penitence and of search for God."2

Yet for perhaps months the people of Israel had been coming from great distances to be baptized by John the Baptist whose prophetic garb and powerful preaching had shamelessly confronted sin and yet graciously accepted the repentant sinners. As John labors in anticipation and watches (John 1:31) for the revelation of Messiah, Jesus comes to him.

Textual Variants

In the following section from the UBS43 there are a number of textual variants. Those which will be discussed are set apart in bold.
Mat. 3:13 Τότε παραγίνεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰορδάνην πρὸς τὸν Ἰωάννην τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι ὑπ᾽αὐτοῦ. 14 ὁ δὲ Ἰωάννης διεκώλυεν αὐτὸν λέγων, Ἐγὼ χρείαν ἔχω ὑπὸ σοῦ βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ σὺ ἔρχῃ πρός με; 15 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Ἄφες ἄρτι, οὕτως γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην. τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτόν. 16 βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὐθὺς ἀνέβη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν [αὐτῷ] οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν [τὸ] πνεῦμα [τοῦ] θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν [καὶ] ἐρχόμενον ἐπ᾽αὐτόν· 17 καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα.

The thirteenth verse is textually stable. The Swanson Westcott-Hort4 (WHO) has Ἰωάνην instead of Ἰωάννην. The change in spelling is textually unimportant there is no impact on meaning.

Concerning the fourteenth verse neither the Tischendorf5 (TIS) nor the WHO include Ἰωάννης, however this does not change the meaning of the verse but merely permits the initial ὁ in the rest of the versions to function as a pronoun to which John from the prior verse serves as the antecedent.

More variants come to play in the fifteenth verse. Scriveners TR6 (SCR) has εἶπε instead of εἶπεν. The presence or absence of the movable ν does not change the meaning. Additionally the WHO exchanges the prepositional phrase from πρὸς αὐτόν (to him) for the dative αὐτῷ (to him). The meaning here is also the same.
Whereas UBS4/NA277/ Robinson-Pierpoint Majority text8 and others use the adverb οὕτως, SCR uses οὕτω which is merely a variant spelling. The Bibleworks9 WHO which has combined with the NA2610/27 variants reflects the common spelling while the Logos11 version12includes the variant. Finally there is no difference in the extant portion from P67.13 None of the variants present a difference in meaning.
In the sixteenth verse still more variants surface. Yet only one would have a significant impact on meaning. The Byzantine Majority Textform14 (BYZ) as well as SCR drops the δὲ and adds a καὶ to the start of the verse. Because both conjunctions are essentially there to keep the storyline moving there is no significant impact on meaning. The BYZ and SCR both transpose ἀνέβη εὐθὺς verses the εὐθὺς ἀνέβη of the UBS4. Aside from a negligible impact on potential emphasis there is no impact on meaning.
The most notable variant concerns the presence or absence of αὐτῷ which is bracketed in the UBS4 indicating that the committee had a difficult time determining its authenticity. The strength of witness in favor of the variant reading resulted in the uncertainty. Concerning this Bruce Metzger wrote:

"The joining of א* B, the Old Syriac, and Irenaeuslat in support of the shorter reading makes a very strong combination, which might well be regarded as the original text. On the other hand, however, it is possible that copyists, not understanding the force of αὐτῷ, omitted the word as unnecessary. In order to show this balance of possibilities the Committee enclosed αὐτῷ within square brackets."15

Inclusion of the pronoun could lead one to believe that when the skies were opened "to Jesus" they were opened to him alone; which is to say that no-one else could see what Jesus saw. If, however, the dative is translated as a dative of advantage ("for Jesus") it could indicate that the heavenly events serve both as an introduction to the voice that comes next as well as providing some confirmation for Jesus' benefit. The fact that John appears to have seen the dove, and considering the likelihood that the voice was in fact heard by Jesus, John and the crowds16 it seems probable that the pronoun if originally present serves as a dative of advantage.
The NA27/UBS4 text has placed the neuter article τὸ and the genitive article τοῦ in brackets to indicate that the text is uncertain. The articles are represented in the BYZ and in SCR. Because the substantives are translated anarthrously in English, the presence or absence of the article does not significantly change the translation or meaning of the text.
The NA27/UBS4 text has περιστερὰν καὶ ἐρχόμενον while the BYZ omits the καὶ (περιστερὰν ἐρχόμενον). Metzger comments:

"No transcriptional or dogmatic considerations seem to have been at work here, and the parallels offer no assistance in deciding between the readings with or without καὶ. On the strength of the diversity of textual groups that support καὶ ἐρχόμενον, the Committee retained the words in the text, but, in order to reflect the possibility that καὶ, being absent from early representatives of both Alexandrian and Western text-types (א* B ita, b, c, h Irenaeuslat al), may not have been part of the text originally, enclosed it within square brackets."17

No difference in translation is caused either by SCR dropping the movable ν on εἶδεν nor by the NA27/UBS4 text which augments ἠνεῴχθησαν while the Majority Texts have ἀνεῴχθησαν.
Finally, verse seventeen reveals only one very minor difference from the UBS4 text. The BYZ has a grave accent on the interjection ἰδού as opposed to the acute accent in the NA27/UBS4 (ἰδοὺ) while P10118 has the diaeresis thus: ϊδου. The accent change has no impact on meaning.
Textually the section is theologically certain. While there are variants, only the presence or absence of αὐτῷ in the sixteenth verse would significantly impact translation or meaning, yet no major doctrine would be affected by either the omission or inclusion of the pronoun.

1Dr. Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Academie Books, 1975), pp. 37, 44.

2The 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.

3James Swanson, Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland et al., The Swanson New Testament Greek Morphology : United Bible Societies' Fourth Edition, 4th ed. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003), Mt 3:13.

4James Swanson, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The Swanson New Testament Greek Morphology : Westcott-Hort Edition (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003), Mt 3:13.

5Tischendorf New Testament. Lobegott Friedrich Konstantin von Tischendorf (1815-1874) GNT 8th Edition, 1869-1872.

6Scrivener's 1881 Textus Receptus . electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1995)

7Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Matthew Black et al., The Greek New Testament, 4th ed. (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993, c1979), p 6.

8William G. Pierpont and Maurice A. Robinson, The New Testament in the Original Greek : According to the Byzantine/Majority Textform (Roswell, GA: The Original Word Publishers, 1995, c1991)

9BibleWorks 7.0 ™ Copyright © 1992-2005 BibleWorks, LLC.

10Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger and Allen Wikgren, The Greek New Testament (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1997, c1982), Mt 3:13.

11Logos Digital Library System v3.0. Copyright ©2000-2006 Libronix Corporation.

12Swanson, James, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort. The Swanson New Testament Greek Morphology : Westcott-Hort Edition. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003.

13Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, A corrected, enlarged ed. of The complete text of the earliest New Testament manuscripts (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2001), 70.

14The New Testament in the Original Greek : Byzantine Textform 2005, With Morphology. (Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, 2006), Mt 3:13.

15Bruce Manning Metzger and United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), p 9.

16See the discussion on αὐτῷ p. 25

17Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 9.

18Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, A corrected, enlarged ed. of The complete text of the earliest New Testament manuscripts (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2001), p. 638.