Background Probability

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Contradiction #6 - Did Jesus Baptise?

The next contradiction is a small conundrum from the Gospel attributed to John. Full context here. All Bible verses are taken, of course, from the one and only perfectly preserved English translation of the Bible.



John 3:22-23
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.

John 4:1-3
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.



Prior to reading chapter 4, a straightforward reading of 3:22 would lead most people to conclude that Jesus had both tarried and baptized with his disciples. When we get to 4:2, however, we find that Jesus should not be considered to have been personally engaged in acts of baptism. There are several possible hermeneutical workarounds for this problem.

One solution, suggested by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (Professor of New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem) is that these two verses were authored by two different people, the later of whom was attempting to put a midrashic gloss upon the earlier account. In an article published in New Testament Studies he posits the possibility of "a Johannine editor, whose specific contribution is to be found in the interpolation at John 4:2." This does not eliminate the contradiction inherent in a plain reading of these two passages, but it does explain how such contradictory passages could end up effectively side by side, evidently situated within the same gospel pericope.

Another solution has been suggested by Calvinist blogger Alan Maricle who claims that Jesus "didn't physically immerse people with His own hands" but rather deputized his disciples to do the baptizing for him. To accept this view, one must take John 3:22 to mean "he tarried with them and [they] baptized" while Jesus merely supervised. The problem with such an attempted reinterpretation is that the verb form of baptise doesn't allow for it. Here, βαπτίζω is used in the imperfect active indicative third person singular form. To quote Dr. Peter Moses, "In this verse we have the imperfect active indicative of baptizo in the third person singular. The imperfect tense shows continual action whilst the third person singular indicates that at this stage Jesus Himself kept on baptizing people."

There are other solutions, to be sure, such as the hypothesis that these two verses represent two distinct phases in Jesus' ministry. According to this model, Jesus personally baptized some of his early followers, and later deputized his inner circle to do the baptizing on his behalf or in his name. It borders on special pleading, however, to attempt to read this transformation of Jesus' ministry into a single pericope spanning John 3:22 through 4:3, describing a single missionary trip from Galilee into Judea.

Of all the possible solutions, I personally find Murphy-O'Connor's hypothesis most plausible, because it explains both the parathetical and paradoxical nature of 4:2, which reads on its face like an editor's note correcting an error in the original text. Of course, such a solution is not available to those who consider 4:2 to be inherent to an innerrant autograph, but it must be noted that (alas!) we simply do not have the original manuscripts.

12 comments:

Rhology said...

Your summary of my post doesn't really capture my resolution, but you linked to it, so anyone can read it for themselves.


it must be noted that (alas!) we simply do not have the original manuscripts.

Fortunately for the Christian, that is a statement devoid of much import. We know what the originals said.

Peace,
Rhology

Damion said...

Rho,

Perhaps I misunderstood your proposed resolution, but it seemed clear at the time that you were saying that Jesus never baptized anyone in Judea during this time frame, notwithstanding the language of John 3:22. This is what I took you to mean when you wrote that Jesus "didn't physically immerse people with His own hands" but perhaps I misunderstood? Did Jesus baptize with his own hands in Judea? A simple yes or no will suffice at this point.

Rhology said...

I think the resolution I listed in my post is simpler, and thus I propose that Jesus Himself did not baptise. This resolves the alleged conflict.

However, in the comments section Matthew Martellus proposed an alternative, which I believe also resolves the difficulty just fine.

In short, I won't make a dogmatic statement either way; as long as the harmonisation is possible, the skeptical claim is overturned.

Peace,
Rhology

Damion said...

However, in the comments section Matthew Martellus proposed an alternative, which I believe also resolves the difficulty just fine.

If I understand correctly, you are saying that you and Matt do not answer the straightforward question "Did Jesus Baptize?" in the same way, even though you are both making an honest attempt to internally harmonize this single passage, rather than supressing the truth on account of wickedness. Nonetheless, you are coming to answers which contradict one another. What more need be said on this point? The very essence of a textual contradiction is that it leads honest readers to contradictory conclusions about the facts that it is trying to convey.

Rhology said...

Hi,

There are two elements to each of our responses; 1 is the same and the other is different.

The same: The passage has at least one harmonisation that makes sense of all of the facts presented. Therefore, it is not a contradiction.

The different: We might disagree on which one is preferable, which one we think makes a little more sense than the other.


rather than suppressing the truth

I'm sorry, I think you lost me there.


Nonetheless, you are coming to answers which contradict one another.

So? Do you think either of us is saying "both of these are the answer"?


What more need be said on this point?

Well, if you could show why any of this is relevant and how the alleged contradiction stands in light of at least two possible solutions, that'd be great.


The very essence of a textual contradiction is that it leads honest readers to contradictory conclusions

No, the essence of a contradiction is that it is a contradiction and its various claims can't be reconciled with each other. This misdefinition may be the key to why you're not understanding.

Peace,
Rhology

Damion said...

I don't think you understand what I'm trying to get at here, so I'll restate my point once again.

I ask several Christians the simple question "Did Jesus Baptize?" based on these verses. One says "no" while others say "yes" and thus they have contradictory understandings of the meaning of the text. That is all I need to show to prove my point, that the text readily lends itself to contradictory conclusions.

Moreover, you've failed to address the fact that βαπτίζω is used in 3:22 in the imperfect active indicative third person singular form, thus indicating that the subject of the sentence (Jesus) was personally engaging in the verb of the sentence (baptizing) and thus undercutting your preferred interpretation of the passage.

Rhology said...

I'm sure you realise, though, that b/c diff ppl might have diff understandings of a given concept/text, it does not necessarily follow that the concept/text is internally inconsistent.
After all, you don't reject the theory of evol by nat sel just b/c some think it was gradual and some hold to punctuated equilibrium, or some other idea about its procession, right?

Again, neither Matthew nor I have said "it's definitely this one and definitely not the other". Even that would not mean there is a contradiction present, b/c each of us have presented harmonisations that demonstrate it is not in fact a contradiction. Yes, it can't be both, but it could be either.

And my preferred interp is actually bolstered by what you said about baptizoo, for my hypothesis is that it was incorrectly reported to the Pharisees that Jesus Himself was not baptising.

Damion said...

I'm unsure how your hypothesis accounts for the form of the verb used in 3:22, which is evidently narration about what Jesus was doing, rather than a quotation of the rumor we hear in chapter 4.

That said, I'm not sure what you mean by a text "internally consistent" per se, rather than in terms of interpretations. Text cannot interpret themselves, they must be interpreted by those who read them. Of those who actually read and interpret koine Greek, I've seen Christian exegetes on both sides of this question. Some say Jesus did personally baptise in Judea, some say he did not. From where I'm sitting, the text is hopelessly ambiguous, since not even those who are really quite interested in emulating Jesus can come to agreement on how he acted on this particular occasion. How much more contradictory can a text get than to inspire both affirmative and negative responses to such a simple question?

Rhology said...

John 3:22
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

John 4:
1Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that "Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were," 3He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.


My proposal is that Jesus WAS baptising, and the report erroneously claimed He wasn't. What's wrong with that?


Of those who actually read and interpret koine Greek, I've seen Christian exegetes on both sides of this question.

Yes, fine. The point is that no contradiction exists. "People don't agree" ≠ "a contradiction exists"


. From where I'm sitting, the text is hopelessly ambiguous

But the claim was not of ambiguity. Why move the goalposts now unless the original claim lies in ruins?


How much more contradictory can a text get than to inspire both affirmative and negative responses to such a simple question?

That's an easy question. Here's a proposal of what a contradiction would actually look like:

Matthew 29:14 "Jesus said, 'I have baptised many people. Not talking about My disciples, talking about Me.'"
John 23:34 "Jesus said, 'I have never baptised anyone, ever.'"

Damion said...

Rho,

I am more confused than ever on this fairly simple question ("Did Jesus baptise while in Judea?") to which I've read negative and positive responses from various Bible scholars.  Now it would seem that I have read both negative and positive responses from you yourself over the last few days.

Here is your denial that Jesus baptised:
"I think the resolution I listed in my post is simpler, and thus I propose that Jesus Himself did not baptise. This resolves the alleged conflict." Rhology, 27 May 2011 08:32  

A bit later, here is your affirmation that Jesus baptised:
""My proposal is that Jesus WAS baptising, and the report erroneously claimed He wasn't. What's wrong with that?"
Rhology, 01 Jun 2011, 11:58

I assume that you've changed your mind of late and you now reject your earlier hypothesis that Jesus "didn't physically immerse people with His own hands" but instead deputized his disciples to do the baptizing for him.  That's fine, of course, I just want to be clear on which interpretation of the text you'll supporting going forward. 

Alternatively, I'd be happy to move on to the next alleged textual contradiction. I think we've explored most all of the possibilities for this passage.

Rhology said...

You're confused? That's quite possible.
I am, however, having difficulty dredging up sympathy for you here. You don't care whether Jesus baptised, and I get it - why would you? You brought this up from a page of "Bible contradictions". I show you that there are multiple possible solutions, and now you're complaining b/c they can't all be true? So what? I never claimed, and I don't know of anyone who would claim, that ALL the given possible harmonisations of a couple of Bible passages will be the case. Sometimes we just don't know for sure, and that's OK, especially for such a minor point as this. Compared to the main and plain things of Scripture, this matters very little.

As for my earlier misstatement, that would appear to be an oops on my part, a fault of memory.
What I meant is that the erroneous report of John 4 is this: "although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were".
So He was baptising, but it was erroneously reported that He wasn't. That's what my post says.


I assume that you've changed your mind of late and you now reject your earlier hypothesis that Jesus "didn't physically immerse people with His own hands" but instead deputized his disciples to do the baptizing for him.

That's Matthew's proposal. I think it's fine.
The one I proposed and later mis-re-presented was that He did baptise.

And yes, I'm happy to move on to the 2nd of your 5, when I get a chance.

Jim Drake said...

OK, so I'm a year+ late, but would like to address the fact that the Greek in John 3:22 indicates that it was Jesus who did the baptizing. This can be explained by the concept of agency, one that exists even in our own laws. The ancient Latin term for this is "Qui facit per alium facit per se" meaning, "He who acts through another does the act himself."

There are many places in the Scriptures where this is employed. I'll just cite two.
John 19:1, "Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him." I can't imagine that John was confused and thought that Pilate personally scourged Jesus. Indeed, Mark 15:15 tells us that Pilate had Jesus scourged. Secondly, in the account of Jesus' healing of the centurion's servant, Matthew 8:8-9 tells us what the centurion said to Jesus ("I too am a man under authority"), yet Luke 7:7-8 tells us that the centurion's friends spoke these words.