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In the synoptic gospels, the Holy Spirit is given as Jesus comes up out of the water (Mark 1:10, Luke 3:21,22, Matt. 3:16,17), but John, in John 1:29, recognizes Jesus, then later says in John 1:33, "I didn't know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'the One you see the Spirit descending and resting on - He is the One ...'

How can this be explained?

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Frankly, I do not see any need to reconcile the four accounts. John's wording IS a little tricky, but the way I read 1:29-34 is as follows: 1) Jesus' baptism had already taken place; 2) John IDs Jesus as God's Lamb; 3) John identifies himself as the forerunner, and Jesus as the "royalty" whom he preceded; 4) John says twice that he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah UNTIL His baptism; 5) John testifies that he HAS SEEN Jesus being anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism (see #1, above); 6) at the baptism is where John recognized Messiah Jesus bec. the HS descended & REMAINED on Him. – rhetorician Feb 20 '14 at 16:36
@rhetorician How do you reconcile point 4 with John's initial refusal to baptise Jesus recorded in Matthew? – Belinda May 1 '14 at 13:14

All translations from WEB; here are the accounts:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. But John would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” But Jesus, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. Jesus, when he was baptized, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. A voice came out of the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also had been baptized, and was praying. The sky was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form like a dove on him; and a voice came out of the sky, saying “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.’ I didn’t know him, but for this reason I came baptizing in water: that he would be revealed to Israel.” John testified, saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending like a dove out of heaven, and it remained on him. I didn’t recognize him, but he who sent me to baptize in water, he said to me, ‘On whomever you will see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

We see these two events present in all of the accounts:

  1. Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river.
  2. The Spirit [of God] descends on Jesus from the sky/heavens.

There are other details not recorded in all of the accounts, but these are consistent. The historicity of the event is well-established. Whether things occurred in a specific order is debatable (also, did Jesus go to the wilderness after to be tempted or to a wedding in Cana (cf. John 2:1))? But as far as the events within the baptism itself are concerned, there is sufficient evidence for the historicity of the event itself. Your question is not clear on if you are considering the surrounding context or just the event itself. The quotes you have posted lead me to believe the latter, so that is what this answer responds to.

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The explanation asked for is in this question when answered in the affirmative:

Did Jesus re-visit John after his wilderness experience?

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