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Note of the Day – February 11 (Mark 1:2-3, 10-11)

We now come to the third area of study regarding the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition:

  1. The Ministry of John
  2. The Relationship between John and Jesus
  3. Jesus as the Anointed One, in comparison with John

We might expect that this component would have undergone the most development in terms of early Christian interpretation. This is true to some extent, but, as we will see, much of the interpretive development stems directly from traditions established at a very early point. We begin, again, with the core Synoptic tradition, represented by the Gospel of Mark, bringing in as well one example from the early Gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts. For a detailed study on the background of the title “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah/Christ), please consult my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed“.

Mark 1:2-3, 7-8, 10-11 (Acts 10:37-38)

The emphasis on Jesus’ identity (as the Anointed One) is found at three points in the Synoptic (Markan) narrative:

Mk 1:2-3—The citations of Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3

The use of Isa 40:3 has been discussed in several of the prior notes, as it is the primary Scripture (and prophecy) associated with John the Baptist in the early Gospel tradition. According to Jn 1:23, John himself quotes it in response to questions regarding his own identity. Indeed, on objective grounds, it is possible that Isa 40:3 entered into the early tradition, at the historical level, through the very preaching of John. If so, then we may detect a decided shift in meaning. For John himself, as for the Community of the Qumran texts, it is likely Isaiah 40:3ff had eschatological, but necessarily Messianic, significance. John, through his preaching and baptizing, was fulfilling the role of the Isaiah herald (the “voice”) by preparing people for the coming (end-time) Judgment of God on humankind. This emphasis is clear enough in the Gospel tradition (Mk 1:4; Matt 3:7-10, 11b-12 pars). However, by the time the Gospel of Mark was written (c. 60 A.D.?), the association with Isa 40:3 had been tied more directly to John’s role as forerunner of the Messiah (Jesus, the “Lord” [ku/rio$]).

Malachi 3:1ff, on the other hand, had a more definite Messianic significance at the time of John and Jesus, largely due to the interpretation given to the oracle at the end of the book of Malachi itself (4:5-6 [Heb 3:23-24]), which draws upon traditions involving the prophet Elijah. As part of the growing eschatological worldview among Jews of the Intertestamental period, there was an expectation that Elijah (or a prophet like Elijah) would appear at the end-time, prior to the “day of the Lord”, the day of YHWH’s coming to bring Judgment. Sirach 48:10 expresses this belief, and the Qumran Community envisioned the coming of an Anointed (i.e. Messianic) Prophet figure, drawing upon Deut 18:18-19, as well as the Elijah traditions, and important passages from Isaiah (61:1ff, etc). The text 4Q521 (fragment 2) appears to blend Isa 61:1ff with Elijah traditions and Mal 4:5-6, specifically. On these Messianic figure-types, see Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, as well as my note discussing Mal 3:1ff (“the one coming”).

The Markan Gospel has joined Mal 3:1 to the (earlier) citation of Isa 40:3 in vv. 2-3, establishing the ministry (and identity) of John, in relationship to Jesus. John is the prophet (both “Elijah” and the Isaian herald) who prepares the way for the coming of the Lord’s Chosen/Anointed representative (i.e. the Messiah) at the end-time. This became the standard interpretation among Christians; however, the early Gospel tradition is actually much more complicated, as we shall see.

Mk 1:7-8—The Baptist’s sayings

These two sayings have also been discussed in the earlier notes of this series; however, it is worth emphasizing several points regarding each saying:

Verse 7—Mark’s version begins: e&rxetai o( i)sxuro/tero/$ mou o)pi/sw mou (“the one stronger than me comes behind me”). As already discussed, this is a well-established saying, attested in multiple strands of tradition. Luke’s version follows Mark in its opening words, but otherwise seems to reflect a separate “Q” version, shared by Matthew, and may involve a blending of the Markan and Q forms. Matthew (3:11) probably preserves the “Q” version as such—

o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ i)sxuro/tero/$ mou
the one coming behind me (is) stronger than me”

which is also the form preserved in Johannine tradition: o( o)pi/sw mou e)rxo/meno$ (“the one coming behind me…”). The parallel in Matt 11:3, also “Q” material (cf. Lk ), suggests that the Baptist is using an expression (“the one [who is] coming”) which has a specific eschatological and Messianic significance:

“Are you the one coming [o( erxo/meno$], or should we look toward receiving [i.e. expect] a different (person)?”

This will be discussed further in an upcoming note.

Verse 8—The comparison in this saying has already been examined: “I dunked you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit”. The “Q” version of this saying (Matt 3:11b / Lk 3:16b) emphasizes the association with the coming (end-time) Judgment, by adding “and (in) fire”, along with the saying that follows in Matt 3:12 par. In most of the Messianic thought of the period, the Anointed figure—whether of the Prophetic or Davidic-ruler type—functions as God’s representative who appears prior to, or at the time of, the great Judgment. In Jesus’ own eschatological sayings, it is the “Son of Man” figure (with whom Jesus identifies himself) who is associated especially with the coming Judgment. It is likely that John is also expressing a traditional (Messianic) association with the (Holy) Spirit of God, from passages such as Isa 11:1-9 and 61:1ff.

If we take these two sayings together, at both the historical and early Gospel level, John is prophesying the coming of an (eschatological) figure, anointed/chosen by God (i.e. Messianic), through whom God will exercise Judgment on humankind—saving the righteous ones (who repent), and destroying the wicked. John’s own ministry is preparing people for the coming of this greater/stronger figure.

Mk 1:10-11—The Baptism

The core Synoptic narrative of the baptism of Jesus itself is made up of three parts:

  • A summary description of Jesus coming to John for baptism (v. 9)
  • The descent of the Holy Spirit (as a dove) upon Jesus (v. 10)
  • The voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Son (v. 11)

The differences in the Matthean and Lukan versions have already been mentioned, in part, and will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. It is interesting that, although the account in the Gospel of John (1:29-34) takes a very different form (cf. the previous note), the basic components are the same:

  • Jesus coming toward John, among those being baptized, etc (vv. 29, 31, 33)
  • The visual/visionary descent of the Spirit (as a dove) upon Jesus (vv. 32-33)
  • A declaration by God concerning Jesus (v. 33) and a declaration (by John) that Jesus is the Son of God, and/or the Chosen One (v. 34)

This indicates that the details became established and fixed in the Gospel tradition at an early date. Let us consider the two elements which point to Jesus’ identity:

Verse 10—Mark’s version of the visual/visionary phenomena is as follows:

“and straightaway, (at his) stepping up out of the water, he saw the heavens tearing (open), and the Spirit as a dove stepping down [i.e. coming down] unto [ei)$] him

Matthew and Luke (Matt 3:16 / Lk 3:21b-22a) are quite close to Mark, with only slight differences in style and emphasis. What is the significance of this image in the Synoptic tradition? There are few references to the Spirit in Mark, but those proximate to verse 10 suggest the following points:

  • The coming of the Spirit should be understood in relation to the earlier saying of v. 8, that the “one coming” would ‘baptize’ people in the holy Spirit. This indicates a special relationship between the Messianic figure (Jesus) and the Spirit of God, which is marked by the descent of the Spirit at his baptism.
  • In verse 12, the Spirit thrusts Jesus out into the desert, where he confronts the Devil and is tested. The language in Mark’s version (cp. Matt/Lk) sounds harsh, but it vividly indicates both the power, and the overriding direction of the Spirit. This episode precedes the beginning of Jesus’ own ministry.
  • Upon his return, and the start of his ministry, Jesus has power/control over the Devil and all unclean spirits—i.e. spiritual power, with the power of the Spirit being implicit.

Admittedly, the specific Messianic association with the Spirit is fairly slight in Mark’s account, but it will become much more prominent in the Gospels of Luke and John.

Verse 11—The voice from heaven (“and there came to be a voice out of the heavens”) declares:

su\ ei@ o( ui(o/$ mou o( a)gaphto/$ e)n soi eu)do/khsa
“You are my Son, the (one) loved (by me)—
in you I have good regard [i.e. I think good/well of you]”

Luke’s version (3:22b) is identical, being a personal statement by God to Jesus; in Matthew (3:17), the formula is different, addressed to people generally (and presumably audible to them): “This is my Son…in whom I….” We are accustomed to thinking of Jesus as the Son of God in light of the Christology of a later period; but we should be extremely cautious about reading this into the Gospel account here without further ado. It is much more likely, in the earlier strands of Gospel tradition, and at the historical level, that the significance of this identification was Messianic. Some commentators would dispute this, but the parallel between the Baptism and Transfiguration scenes (to be discussed) would seem to confirm the Messianic significance of the heavenly declaration within the core Synoptic tradition. The idea of the Anointed One (Messiah) as God’s Son relates primarily, if not exclusively, to the Davidic ruler figure-type; for more on this, see Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed” (cf. also Part 12). The Messianic aspect of this scene is developed in Matthew, and, especially, in the Gospel of Luke.

Acts 10:37-38

On the basic theory that the sermon-speeches in Acts genuinely record pieces of early Gospel preaching (cf. my earlier discussion on this point), consideration must be given to this material as preserving a separate line of tradition, from an early stage of transmission. There are several references to the Baptism of Jesus in Acts, but the one most relevant to our discussion here is found in 10:37-38, part of Peter’s sermon-speech in the house of Cornelius (cf. my earlier article on this speech):

“You have seen [i.e. known] the word (which) came to be down (through) the whole of Yehudah {Judea}, beginning from the Galîl {Galilee} with the dunking [i.e. baptism] which Yohanan proclaimed—(of) Yeshua the (one) from Nazaret, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and (with) power, who came throughout (the land) working good and healing…(in) that God was with him.”

Here it is specifically stated that God anointed (e&xrisen) Jesus—that is, he was God’s Anointed One (xristo/$). This anointing is said to have been “with/in the Holy Spirit”, almost certainly an allusion to Isa 61:1ff, known as a Messianic passage at the time of Jesus. The only episode from the Gospels which suggests an anointing with the Spirit is the Baptism, and the immediate reference to baptism in v. 37 would seem to confirm this. We must be cautious in attributing this emphasis entirely to Peter (at the historical level), since it happens to be an important theme developed in the Gospel of Luke (as we shall see).

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