Matthew 3:13-15 (NRSV)

13 "Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented."

Why did John object to baptizing Jesus?

  • 1
    It's the same human modesty, like: A says let me pay for the dinner. B says, No, no, no. I'll pay for it. No, no, you are better, you do it.No, no, no, you are better.
    – Cynthia
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:12
  • John knew that in difference from his preparatory baptism the "mightier than he" was to come, "whose shoe-laces he was unworthy to untie" and who would baptise already not for preparation, but bringing the very reality of ontological change in human essence, its cleansing from sins through the "Holy Spirit and Fire" (the first denoting a Trinitarian Person the second the operation of uncreated Grace of the Trinity) and sanctification. John saw in Jesus that one, the very divine Principle of sanctification, i.e. God, and in a prudent awe said it was for him to be baptised by Him, not vice-versa Jun 18, 2018 at 8:20

3 Answers 3


It is of course about human modesty, as Cynthia Avishegnath (+1) is saying, yet this dialogue as told in Matthew 3:13-15 appears to be a very difficult place. John's baptism is a penitential practice. John recognizes himself as a sinner and Jesus as without a sin. A sinner can not clean up a sinless person. This is more than human modesty. There were several attempts to address this issue even since the 4th-5th century. Please find below some fragments from those ancient commentators. The 2nd and the 3rd are not directly answering the question, however they kind of getting you out there. I'll just let them speak for themselves:

The human modesty meaning:

Origen (3rd century), Fragment 52:

By this act Jesus showed himself to be “meek and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29), coming to those inferior to him, doing all that followed in order to humble himself and become obedient “unto death” (Phil 2:8). It is not always the case that the one who baptizes is greater than the one who is baptized. Ananias was not greater than Paul (Acts 9:10–18). And while Philip baptized (Acts 8:13, 38), Peter gave the Spirit through the laying on of hands.

The 2nd and the 3rd are not directly answering the question:

Hilary of Poitiers (4th century), Homilies on Matthew, 2.5:

In Jesus Christ we behold a complete man. Thus in obedience to the Holy Spirit the body he assumed fulfilled in him every sacrament of our salvation. He came therefore to John, born of a woman (see Gal 4:4), bound to the law and made flesh through the Word (see Jn 1:14). Therefore there was no need for him to be baptized, because it was said of him: “He committed no sin.” (1 Pet 2:22) And where there is no sin, the remission of it is superfluous. It was not because Christ had a need that he took a body and a name from our creation. He had no need for baptism. Rather, through him the cleansing act was sanctified to become the waters of our immersion.

Jerome (4th-5th), Commentary on Matthew, 1.3.13:

For three reasons the Savior accepted baptism from John. First, because he was born a man, that he might fulfill all justice and humility of the law. Second, that by his baptism he might confirm John’s baptism. And third, that by sanctifying the waters of the Jordan through the descent of the dove, he might show the Holy Spirit’s advent in the baptism of believers.

The next two are very interesting:

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, 12.1:

John’s baptism was looking toward repentance. Its purpose was to bring hearers to the point of experiencing conviction for their offenses. John, however, did not want anyone to draw the conclusion that Jesus himself also came to the Jordan to repent of his sins. So he sets this point straight from the outset by calling him both Lamb and Redeemer of all the sin that is in the world. He who is able to take away the sins of the whole world was himself without sin.

Chromatius of Aquileia (cca 5th), Tractate on Matthew, 12.1; 13.2-3:

Jesus therefore descended to fulfill all the observances of the law, and in this context he was baptized by John in Galilee at the Jordan. But John, recognizing the Lord as his God through the Holy Spirit, declared that he was unworthy to bear his sandals. He excused himself from doing what he was directed to do, because he could not conceive that baptism was necessary for the One whom he knew had come to blot out the sins of the world. He rather pled that he himself ought to be baptized by Christ, saying, “It is I who should be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” It is as if he were saying, “I am a man. You are God. I am a sinner because I am a man. You are sinless because you are God. Why do you want to be baptized by me? I do not refuse the respect you pay me, but I am ignorant of the mystery. I baptize sinners in repentance. But you have no taint of sin. So why do you want to be baptized? Why do you want to be baptized as a sinner, who came to forgive sins?” This is what John in effect was saying to the Lord. [...] The Lord here is testing the faithful deference of service on the part of his servant, but he reveals the mystery of his dispensation by saying, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” showing this to be true righteousness, that he the Lord and Master should fulfill in himself every sacrament of our salvation. Therefore the Lord did not want to be baptized for his own sake but for ours, in order to fulfill all righteousness. Indeed, it is only right that whatever someone instructs another to do, he should first do himself. Since the Lord and Master of the human race had come, he wanted to teach by his example what must be done for disciples to follow their Master and for servants their Lord.

  • Constantin the correct answer is in Hilaries of Poitiers comments "Therefore there was no need for him to be baptized, because it was said of him: “He committed no sin.” (1 Pet 2:22) " Jan 2, 2018 at 19:16
  • @ O . Nicolas Yes, most likely so. I think it is a very difficult biblical fragment to consider and one can hardly find any biblical evidence for a reply to your question. We don't really know what was in John's mind, yet we may sniff what was in Matthew's mind. We sort of have to take into account biblical theology and this is why I think the commentaries listed above are to be considered all together. Each comment is a very good complement to the other and all together are answering your question. Jan 2, 2018 at 19:39
  • Constantin, John's baptism was for repentance for sins committed against the Law, and which was to lead them to Christ. Luke 1:16-17 Jan 2, 2018 at 20:10
  • @ O . Nicolas Well, yes indeed: in the 1th century AD Judeea, we talk about sin in the context of the Law mainly. The concept of sin is directly related to the Law. Jan 2, 2018 at 20:27

John's baptism was a baptism of repentance (Acts 19:4). John recognized that Jesus had no need of repentance, and in fact was the redeemer of sin: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

John Chrysostom (c 349-407) explained:

“I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me.” For, because the baptism was “of repentance,” and led men to accuse themselves for their offenses, lest any one should suppose that He too “cometh to Jordan” in this sort of mind, John sets it right beforehand, by calling Him both Lamb, and Redeemer from all the sin that is in the world. Since He that was able to take away the sins of the whole race of men, much more was He Himself without sin. For this cause then he said not, “Behold, He that is without sin,” but what was much more, He “that beareth the sin of the world,” in order that together with this truth thou mightest receive that other with all assurance, and having received it mightest perceive, that in the conduct of some further economy He cometh to the baptism. Wherefore also he said to Him when He came, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” (Homily XII on Matthew)


Thanks for the question, and helpful answers with Church Fathers being excerpted.

I would also emphasize the Holy Spirit's work that is known already.

In Luke 1, John is a fetus, or 6 months in the womb. Of course, Jesus was a 'human fetus' inside Mary after the Holy Spirit overcame her. When Mary visits Elizabeth in the latter's second trimester, the fetus (John) leaps inside the womb, "for joy" (Lk 1:44).

Gabriel had announced both miraculous pregnancies and Elizabeth is humbled with Mary's news. Her praise that "she [Mary] that believed," leads directly to Mary's great Psalm of Praise, the Magnification (Luke 1: 46-55). John 1 the Baptizer tells his disciples in response to the Pharisees question, that Jesus "must increase and I must decrease." This is both proper for a King's herald, and the prophecy of Isaiah that John would be a Voice crying out in the wilderness.

Note that John the Baptist chose to live in the desert (as a Nazarite?) rather than work with Daddy Zechariah in the Jewish Temple. He thus invited more of the Holy Spirit by "separating" himself unto holiness and discipline. Yes, since the time in the womb, John knew something of who Jesus is. And he was a near-perfect servant of the King of Kings, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." And Jesus declared in Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28 that:

none born of women were as great a prophet as John the Baptist.

We were promised the benefits of the Holy Spirit by Jesus in John 14, and some of this is evident at Pentecost in Acts (chapters 1-2) following the Cross, Resurrection, & Ascension (Jn 14). Glory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen. DEONILS

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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! Can you please edit your answer to include the bible translation you are using and inserting quotes from verses where they are used. Thank you!
    – N.Ish
    Jan 17, 2018 at 18:52

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