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I notice that 2nd temple period Jewish water ablution/baptism for proselytes involved certain protocols, such as:

..Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires42 to become a proselyte, he is to be addressed as follows: 'What reason have you for desiring43 to become a proselyte; do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions'? If he replies, 'I know and yet am unworthy',44 he is accepted forthwith, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments. He is informed of the sin [of the neglect of the commandments of] Gleanings,45 the Forgotten Sheaf,46 the Corner47 and the Poor Man's Tithe.48 He is also told of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments. Furthermore, he is addressed thus: 'Be it known to you that before you came to this condition, if you had eaten suet49 you would not have been punishable with kareth, if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to eat suet49 you would be punished with kareth; were you to profane the Sabbath you would be punished with stoning'. And as he is informed of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments, so is he informed of the reward granted for their fulfilment. He is told, 'Be it known to you that the world to come was made only for the righteous, and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear...'...

Was the confession of sins done by the people coming to John for "baptism unto repentance" spontaneous? Or would the applicant be expected to recite their specific sins either:

  • to God
  • to Jesus
  • to John
  • to the public

Or was that what was involved in the question: "What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte?" IE: "What are your sins"? To which the only acceptable answer was:

"I know and yet am unworthy"

If so, Jesus' response is quite powerful:

"Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness". Then he suffered him."

[Mat 3:6, 13-17 KJV] (6) And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. ... (13) Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. (14) But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? (15) And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. (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: (17) And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

It appears that John is asking Jesus "What reason have you for desiring to be baptized by me?" which is close to "What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte?" which Jews would ask their proselytes. If that is an intended allusion then Jesus' response is very profound because instead of saying "I know and yet am unworthy" he says "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." and in response, John permitted him to be baptized! Or as the Talmud says, "He was accepted forthwith!"

So were John's supplicants required to confess their sins? Or perhaps just say "I know and yet am unworthy" when asked the question why they sought baptism? Or was the confession spontaneous?

  • If sins are confessed, verbally, during baptism (as they were Matthew 3:6) then is there any possible doubt that that confession will be heard by a) the baptiser b) the public attending the baptism c) God almighty who hears all things d) the Son of God who also hears all things ? – Nigel J Jul 19 '19 at 17:24
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    I agree with NigelJ - I do not even understand the question. – user25930 Jul 19 '19 at 21:51
  • Which part don't you understand?: "Were John's supplicants required to confess their sins? Or perhaps just say "I know and yet am unworthy" when asked the question why they sought baptism? Or was the confession spontaneous?" – Ruminator Jul 19 '19 at 21:57
  • Or did they confess to the crowd? – Ruminator Jul 21 '19 at 13:41
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The Talmudic protocols you quote are not, as you describe them, from the Second Temple period. The Talmud, in general, needs to be used very cautiously as a source for the Second Temple era, but in this case the later date is obvious.

The question asked to the proselyte, What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte? has to be taken in the context of what immediately comes after it: do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions? This idea is more likely to have been expressed after the destruction of the Second Temple. But even if it could have been said before the destruction, it could hardly have been a formula in the time of Jesus, only a few years after the last kings of the Hasmonean dynasty.

An explicit source for the Second Temple era are the stories in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) attributed to Hillel (a near contemporary of Jesus), in which he expresses no such reluctance in accepting proselytes (and even Shammay, who refused them, apparently only did so because they made outrageous requests).

Moving to the gospel, John and Jesus aren't referring to a formula for conversion, because Jesus hasn't come to be converted. He came to be baptized. John's baptism is for repentance of forgiveness of sins, not for conversion (Matthew 3:11). We aren't told whether the confession was spontaneous or not, but the fact that they did confess is explicit in the text (3:6).

When John tells Jesus "You should be the one baptizing me," he isn't expecting Jesus to answer "I know but I am unworthy," because John has already declared that "after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry" (3:11). When Jesus comes, he recognizes him as this person (this is implied in Matthew, but explicit in John 1:30), and therefore, having already said that he is unworthy to carry his sandals, he defers to Jesus by saying that he is unworthy of baptizing him.

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  • Can you please provide a link for the Talmud entry? Thanks. – Ruminator Jul 21 '19 at 12:32
  • I didn't intend to suggest that John used the Talmudic protocol for conversion verbatim, only that it might inform the conversation with Jesus before his baptism. Can you address the question of "to whom did they confess their sins"? Did they confess to John? God? Repeat a formula? – Ruminator Jul 21 '19 at 13:45
  • @Ruminator 1. sefaria.org.il/Shabbat.31a.5?lang=en&with=all&lang2=en 2. In my opinion it isn't just the exact formula that is later than the 2nd Temple period, it's the entire source (i.e.: there was no such protocol for conversion in Jesus' time). 3. The text doesn't say to whom the confession was addressed, nor whether it was a formula or not. I argued that whether or not it was a formula, it wasn't this or a similar formula – b a Jul 21 '19 at 14:19
  • What you are saying seems to be at variance with the Jewish Encyclopedia: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2456-baptism – Ruminator Jul 21 '19 at 14:24
  • @Ruminator What is at variance with what? – b a Jul 21 '19 at 14:25

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