Mark 1:10 (KJV):

10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:

There seems to be some ambiguity in the above text. I'm not sure whether "he" refers to John the Baptist, or Jesus who was being baptized?

3 Answers 3


The Bible is not clear as to whom "he saw the heavens torn apart" is referring. It is clear that in Mark 1:10 the first "he" and ending "him" are referring to Jesus. However, it is presumable that both Jesus and John saw the heavens torn apart. When something descends upon someone, that person becomes unable to physically "see" it at some point. Further, it seems illogical that God would hide the descent of the Spirit from John. Luke 1:39-45 tells us that while she was still early in pregnancy, Mary the Mother of Jesus visited her aunt and John leapt in Elizabeth's womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Bible is quite clear that John was a Holy man in his own right.

  • We're in agreement with most of what you said. However, the NASB (which I believe is a superior translation) has, Mark 1:10: "Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him" (emphasis added). There is no doubt in my mind that both men witnessed these events, however the context would favor Jesus as the "He" in this passage when contrasted with the other Gospels. Christ tells us, Matt. 11:11: "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!"
    – Xeno
    Aug 20, 2021 at 14:13
  • @Xeno Your "other Gospels" actually go the other way on this and show clearly that it was John (the Baptist) who witnessed these things. Read John's (the disciple's) account of the event (John 1:32-34).
    – Polyhat
    Aug 20, 2021 at 19:08
  • @Polyhat I'm not sure if we can ever come to terms on this. Both men "saw the heavens opening..." I read John's account as you suggested. Naturally, he's relating a past event as he witnessed it. Suppose we look at this again: Mark 1:10: "[Jesus] Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening..." Why on earth can this not be referring to Jesus? Suppose we rephrase: "As Jesus immediately came up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening..." Do you really think "John" is meant to be inserted there in the text? I don't find that plausible, but you'll probably disagree.
    – Xeno
    Aug 20, 2021 at 19:26

8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. 9 ¶ And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. 10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

John is incidental to the story. Jesus is the focus as illustrated by bolding the pronouns. Jesus came out of the water. John was not immersed during Jesus's baptism. Jesus saw the heavens opened. The dove landed on Jesus The voice addressed Jesus "thou". Jesus went to the wilderness.

It would be really grammatically odd to say that John saw the heavens opened.

If the question asked "did John see it too?" the answer would be 'yes' as Polyhat is correct. But the question concerns what Mark recorded. Mark only records Jesus seeing it. This does not mean that John did not.

Why would John think it more important to record John's testimony rather than that of Jesus via Mark? Since Jesus's testimony is already recorded, John adds the second witness to the event.

  • It would not be odd at all to say that John saw the heavens opened. God allows humans to witness this, and it is for a purpose. Jesus himself recognized John as the greatest prophet (Luke 7:28). If Moses had seen God on the mountain, what was to prevent John from witnessing the heavens opened? Stephen, too, saw the heavens opened. "And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." (Acts 7:56).
    – Polyhat
    Aug 17, 2021 at 1:38
  • If the question was asking generically can men see the heavens opened I would agree. However, the question is in the context of the verse. There is nothing there to indicate that "he" was referring to John. Would you propose that John saw it and Jesus didn't? If they both saw it, wouldn't it say "they".
    – Bob Jones
    Aug 17, 2021 at 19:30
  • My response to your question ended up being too long for a comment, and I saw fit to add it as an answer here. Please see that in answer to your questions.
    – Polyhat
    Aug 18, 2021 at 1:29
  • @Polyhat John certainly "saw the heavens opened." While I agree that John could be the "he", the NASB seems to have captured this well (IMO), Mark 1:10: "Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him" (emphasis added). You mentioned Stephen. His (Stephen's) case is especially interesting in that he was destined to perish either by 1) stoning, or 2) having seen the Father (cf. Ex. 33:20). This was a no-win situation that few may ever have experienced: death from a mob or death through God Himself! :-)
    – Xeno
    Aug 20, 2021 at 14:02
  • @Xeno Stephen did not see the Father, and did not die from such. See John 1:18. Your NASB is interpreting, not translating, and I think they got this one wrong, as is evidenced via John's account of the event.
    – Polyhat
    Aug 20, 2021 at 17:34

If we allow the Bible to interpret itself, it is plain and clear that John DID in fact see this. Therefore, we must conclude that the "he" in the verse, while not excluding Jesus (or perhaps others as well), is specifically focused on John. It seems that John was promised a sign, and God provided this as the sign that indeed this was the Messiah.

And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. (John 1:32-34)

Grammatically, Mark 1:10 is ambiguous. The "he" might refer either to John or to Jesus. Had the writer used "they" in an attempt to include both of them, the third-person plural would actually open the field to potentially include all present. But that John is the special focus of the text is made clear in this parallel passage from the book of John. Since John tells us that John had seen this, applying Mark's "he" to Jesus only would make the interpretation untrue.

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