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Matthew 3:16 (KJV) 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

Mark 1:4 (KJV) John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

If baptism was for sinners, why did Jesus get baptized?

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    Although I was initially unsure, I don’t really see why there shouldn’t be a textual answer to this. It was closed (and again) at Christianity.SE as “primarily opinion based” (which by their criteria covers most of the questions here), and it arises pretty naturally from the text, so seems to me like it probably should be on topic here. – Susan Sep 18 '15 at 16:04
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    @Susan For it to stay here, perhaps the question should ask about a specific gospel? That would make the question about detecting the clues within a text, rather than writing a systematic analysis of baptism and Jesus' ministry. – curiousdannii Sep 18 '15 at 23:53
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This is going to sound a little esoteric, but my belief is that He was doing things backwards compared to the way we do them to symbolize His coming to us. The way we come to God, we first come to the faith, and then accept His sacrifice. Afterwards we get baptized, and then the Holy Spirit tabernacles with us. I'm using this language for a reason. It's the pattern of the tabernacle. At the entrance is the altar for sacrifice. Beyond that is the laver, for washing. Finally, is the Holy Place. Kohens would first sacrifice, then wash, and finally enter the Holy Place.(Exodus 30:18-21) It was how men came to God. What Jesus did when He came to us, was first leave the Holy Place (Heaven), then wash (baptism), and then sacrifice Himself - once and for all - so that we may come into the presence of God by His sacrifice.

  • No, your answer does not sound too "out there" (wherever "there" is!). To add some rhetorical meat to the bones of your answer, I recommend you start with the context of the text which--as @H3br3wHamm3r81 observed--gives you in v.15 the beginning of an answer. Then you can ask, "What did Jesus mean by 'fulfill all righteousness'?" Certainly Jesus did not have to attain righteousness the way we sinners do via justification, but his obedience to the Father's will WAS a form of righteousness. In an even larger context, consider how Jesus referred to the baptism of Calvary (Mk 10:38-39) – rhetorician Sep 20 '15 at 20:33
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    As you said in your answer, Jesus' order of righteousness and our order of righteousness are quite different. We sinners start out DEAD (in sin), and Jesus finished his work of redemption by dying in obedience to his Father's will (see Romans 5:19--in context, of course!). His finished work becomes our STARTING point in righteousness--first by justification through faith in his finished work, and then progressively as we mature in Christ and our lives become increasingly righteous through the processes of sanctification, transformation, and maturation – rhetorician Sep 20 '15 at 21:30
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There are several reasons why Jesus was baptized. I will explain two reasons which will include Jesus' answer to John as to what " to fulfill all righteousness means" (Matt 3:15).

First, it was Christ's public anointing as King. John the Baptist (JTB) came in the spirit of Elijah, but it's hard to miss the similarities of his and Samuel's ministry. Author A. W. Pink alludes to this in his book The Life of David Vol I:

It is a remarkable fact that David was anointed three times. First, privately at Bethlehem (1 Sam. 16:13). Second, by the men of Judah (2 Sam. 2:4). Third, by the elders of Israel (2 Sam. 5:3). So also was that august One whom he foreshadowed. This will appear the more evident if we quote the following: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in (or "from") the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward" (1 Sam. 16:13). Concerning our Lord, His humanity was miraculously conceived and sanctified by the Spirit and endowed with all graces in the Virgin’s womb (Luke 1:35). Second, (see Isa. 6) He was publicly "anointed with the Spirit" (Acts 10:38) at His baptism, and thus equipped for His ministry Is 61:1). Third, at His ascension He was "anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows" (Ps. 45:6, 7).

Just as the priest Samuel anointed an unknown and seemingly weak shepherd named David from Bethlehem as king of Israel, JTB (who was also of priestly line) anointed the King of Kings. What should grab our attention are the subsequent events immediately after Jesus is baptized. John sees the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus, and he hears the Father's voice identify Jesus as His Son. The same son who is decreed a kingdom in Psalms 2:7:

Psa 2:6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. Psa 2:7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Psa 2:8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

A second reason why Jesus passed through the waters of baptism, and one more specific to Matthew's account of, and aim of his gospel, which was to represent Jesus recapitulating the historical events of OT Israel. We find Matthew using the fulfillment formula throughout his book. For example, Matt 2:15 reads:

Matt 2:15 and was there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew used a portion of scripture from Hosea 11.1, which textually applied to the nation of Israel and applied it to Christ. Theologians differ as to the reasoning of the fulfillment passages, but most agree that Matthew's gospel goes through great lengths to prove Christ as the preeminent Son of all creation, One whose life was foreshadowed in Israels history as people, places, and objects. Consider these passages when you have a moment: Matt 12:49. Jn 1:14, 2:19, 3:14, 6:35.

In Matthew we find Jesus fully identifying with the nation He came to save by undergoing the OT ordinances like circumcision as a child, (Luke 2:21) and abiding by OT law and customs. He passes through the waters of baptism fulfilling the second exodus motif found in Isaiah chapters 40-55, and just as OT Israel passed through the Red Sea to identify with their mediator Moses (see 1 Cor 10:2) Jesus undergoes baptism because he was the way of salvation. True, Christ is sinless, but he identifies with sinful man by dying which only sinful man short of God's grace should do.

Following baptism, Matthew records Jesus immediately going through the wilderness for forty days to be tempted, just as Israel was put to the test for forty years. Instead of failing to reach to kingdom as the first generation of wilderness bound Israelites after the exodus, Jesus defeats Satan by the word of God (interestingly by using verses from Deuteronomy) and seals the entrance into His kingdom by His death, burial and resurrection. So Jesus' response to JTB in regards to fulfilling righteousness was about completing the righteous requirements set forth by His Father to obtain the throne that was His before the earth's foundation. Christ not only righted the wrong of Adams sin, but He righteously fulfilled the failings of Israel. This was to prove himself as the "firstborn" of creation (Col 1:15). The true Son of God. Meaning not physically born first according to natural order, but the Son who would receive His Father's inheritance by promise (Gal 3:16).

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The answer to your question lies in what the origin of baptism actually is. Baptism, as it is called by many Christian groups, and as the New Testament mentions in several places, is actually the Jewish ritual of immersion in a ritual bath called a miqveh (Heb. מׅקְוֶה). Ritual immersion, in it of itself, does not necessarily denote good or evil. For example, Jewish women immerse themselves upon completing their menses, as is alluded to in this verse from Leviticus:

וְאִם טָהֲרָה מִזּוֹבָהּ וְסָפְרָה לָּהּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְאַחַר תִּטְהָר:
"And if she be purified from her discharge and counts for herself seven days then afterwards she will be purified (from all contamination)."

In this case, immersion is simply a natural fact of life. Immersion may represent something very positive. When non Jews convert to Judaism, they are required to immerse themselves in a miqveh. On the other hand, immersion can be associated with a negative sin. If a Jew engages in certain types of forbidden sexual relations or eats flesh from an animal which died from natural causes, he is liable to immerse himself in a miqveh. In these cases, certain sins were the cause necessitating immersion. However, the act of immersion by itself does not necessarily imply sin.

Jesus of Nazareth, who was fairly well versed in Jewish law, also must have been familiar with the laws of immersion. In addition to the scenarios mentioned above, immersion was also a requirement for an Israelite to enter the Temple. Jesus entered the Temple on a number of occasions, and this would have been cause for immersion (Baptism).

  • If I'm not mistaken a MIKVEH is a much, much later addition to Jewish life than the cleansing prescribed in Leviticus and had connotations beyond physical cleansing. And ISTM that if a woman bathed while menstruating it would pollute the MIKVEH and be unfit for cleansing anyone after her. In Lev 12 and 15 it is her separation that is her cleansing though I'm sure she washed as well, just not in a public shared tub. – user10231 Sep 19 '15 at 8:26
  • @WoundedEgo Actually archaeologists have found miqvayoth in Qumran, which date back before the time of Jesus. When John the Baptist was immersing people in the Jordan, he wasn't using shampoo and conditioner. Rather, he was doing it for spiritual reasons. – Tim Biegeleisen Sep 19 '15 at 8:49
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    I am not an expert in halachah, but I also believe that the water of a mikveh, flowing river, or the ocean can never become contaminated. – Tim Biegeleisen Sep 19 '15 at 8:52
  • Leviticus was way before the scrolls in the cave, perhaps by thousands of years and the prescription for the woman's issue given in the scriptures was keeping at home, not public bathing. Alas the ocean has become contaminated though not by menstural blood. But yes, a flowing river or the ocean would be an appropriate place to bathe and remove blood. In modern practice among the orthodox a woman waits until after her separation and then goes to a mikveh for ritual cleansing. I see that you said "upon completing their menses" so that is correct. – user10231 Sep 19 '15 at 11:03
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The Bible answers that question a few verses earlier in Matt. 3:15, as it is written,

And Jesus, answering, said to him, "Permit it now, for thus it is fit for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted him.

Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτὸν, Ἄφες ἄρτι οὕτως γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην Τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτόν (TR, 1550)

The real question is, what does it mean to "fulfill all righteousness," and how did Jesus and John (notice the 1st person plural pronoun ἡμῖν; however, see this question) cooperate to accomplish that?

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I think any answer to this question will be necessarily interpretive. There isn't an explicit explanation in scripture unless you just take Jesus at his word when he says, 'But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”'

There are however, some clues as to why. Here is my thought process, and if it's not in the right format, or isn't correct to post as an answer I welcome the critique.

  1. John the Baptist came as the forerunner to Christ. Confirmed as the Elijah prophesied in Isaiah by Jesus. In Matthew 11:10 Jesus says, “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'"

  2. Jesus was aligning himself with John's ministry, therefore putting himself in the position of that person who John was charged with preparing for. John's baptism of Jesus inextricably links him to John's ministry.

  3. Jesus by being baptized by John, was identifying with those who were coming to repent. John's baptism was characterized in Luke 3:3 as a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus, by being baptized foreshadows his ultimate fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 53:12,

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

And nearly fulfilled in Luke 22:37,

It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."

The cultural significance of baptism at the time is important to examine, but it shouldn't overshadow what the text itself says about John's baptism. It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Any explanation of it's significance should include this.

I wrote this as an exercise in my own understanding. I trust that all you are more knowledgeable than I and will educate me on what I have missed.

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A public manifestation of the Trinitarian Godhead as stated in St. Matthew’s Gospel 3:16 and his command to the disciples as found in the same Gospel 28:19..

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    In general, this site requires answers with fuller explanations and references. Please try to indicate how you arrive at this conclusion. Are there other authors or sources that support your conclusion? Please quote the verses that you cite in full, using quotation syntax and indicating which translation or MSS you are quoting. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Jan 9 '18 at 8:11

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