Matthew 3:15 reads (emphasis mine):

ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν· ἄφες ἄρτι, οὕτως γὰρ πρέπον ἐστὶν ἡμῖν πληρῶσαι πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην. τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτόν (NA28).

But Jesus answered him, "Permit it now, for in this manner it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he permitted him/it.

Who is the referent of 'us' (ἡμῖν)? My initial thoughts were simply Jesus and John the Baptist, and this is the 'plain sense' reading of the text. The AMP goes so far as to force this interpretation:

...for this is the fitting way for [both of] us to fulfill all righteousness....

However, it occurred to me that the context may point to another referent altogether. Some additional options I've brainstormed:

  • Jesus is referring to the category of Israelites (i.e. 'us' is Jesus and all the people of God under the Old Covenant).
  • Jesus is speaking about the New Covenant people of God who enter the kingdom of heaven through baptism.
  • Jesus is referring to the people of God (irrespective of covenant).

I understand that the plain sense of the grammar is that the referent is merely Jesus and John (and the use of the first person plural means that Jesus is including himself in whatever group/category is being referenced). I am looking for interpretations of the text that go beyond this and argue that Jesus had a deeper meaning (or a strong argument for the 'plain sense' reading and why Jesus likely was not referring to any other referent than himself and John).

I prefer to hear perspectives from respected, scholarly commentators (I'm not all that interested in hearing a bunch of opinionated rants that are original to users of this site, I'd like to hear well-reasoned responses that argue on the basis of the context for a deeper meaning to this passage that have scholarly support in verifiable and reliable sources). Even so, I am open to any well-supported perspective.

  • 2
    Are you interested in perspectives that use the Bible as the primary source (to include the perspectives derived from the original languages)? My question in very sincere, very ingenuous, and very honest.
    – Joseph
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 6:04
  • 3
    @Joseph yes, my last line was meant to include any well-supported perspective. I will upvote any argument that is well-reasoned (and doesn't contain glaring historical, linguistic, or literary errors). I merely prefer to hear what scholars or historical commentators (Christian Church Fathers through today) have said rather than original research.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 15:14
  • Forgive me, but your last paragraph, particularly the parenthetical material, sounds (ironically) like a rant. I'm making an observation, not a judgment. Don Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 2:48
  • A hypothesis not not mentioned in your brainstorming list could be that the referent for the "us" Jesus used was the Godhead. In context, all three persons of the trinity were present at His baptism (the Holy Spirit as a dove, the Father's voice of approbation, and Jesus as the Son of Man and Son of God). Similarly, in John 3, albeit with different pronouns, Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly I say to you, WE speak of what WE know and testify of what WE have seen, and you do not accept OUR testimony" (v.11). The we and our could've been used "editorially" but not necessarily. Selah. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 3:04
  • Yes @rhetorician it is unfortunate that I have to give such a disclaimer at all to dissuade answers that cite no sources whatsoever.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 3:40

1 Answer 1


I have found it quite difficult to find any commentaries, ancient or modern, that state that the "us" is not Jesus and John the Baptist. Your question however has challenged me to look outside my orthodoxy, and so I present two interpretations:

1. Jesus was referring to himself and John the Baptist

First, Jesus himself had to be baptised, and he was aware of this. Ignatius of Antioch in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans writes that Jesus was:

Baptised by John for His fulfilling of all righteousness;

Thus the church since apostolic times has interpreted that Jesus was referring to himself and John when he said "us".

Secondly John the Baptist, although in his humility saw himself as unworthy to baptise Jesus, saw his part in Jesus' fulfilling all righteousness. This is evident from John 1:31 (ESV):

I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.

John baptised Jesus, after Jesus accepted John's humility, but not his refusal. Here we have an image of not only Jesus' submission to His Father's will, but John's submission to the will of the Son. In doing so, together they fulfilled all righteousness, anointing the Christ for His ministry.

A dispensational view emphasises the importance of Jesus and John being the "us". The Companion Bible in its note on "thus it becometh us" in verse 15 states:

This duty was incumbent on John as a minister of that Dispensation; likewise on the Lord: hence the word "thus".

2. Jesus was referring to himself, Mary, and John the Baptist

There were, of course, more people than John the Baptist and Jesus present at the baptism of Jesus, presumably the apostle John or the witness who relayed the event to him, and probably some of John's disciples. According to the Gospel of the Nazarenes, Jesus' mother and brothers were also present, and indeed took part in this event:

Behold, the mother of the Lord and his brethren said to him: John the Baptist baptizes unto the remission of sins, let us go and be baptized by him.

The Roman Catholic Church holds the view that Mary was critical to Jesus performing his ministry on earth. A key objective of Christ's ministry on earth was fulfilling the promise of Genesis 3:15 that the serpent [Satan] will be crushed. Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus writes:

...the most holy Virgin, united with Him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was with Him and through Him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumped over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.

To fulfil all righteousness, Jesus not only required John the Baptist to suffer him, but Mary's intimate bond with him to "fulfil all righteousness".


It is clear that Jesus and John are in the "us", and this is historically the orthodox interpretation of this text. If however, look beyond the orthodox, we can add to this pair Mary. This however is not my personal view, but this could be maintained from a Roman Catholic theology. The first more Protestant of explanations I found much easier to research into and agree with.

As a final note, I find it interesting that ἡμῖν is plural, not dual. That said, my understanding is that dual is rare in late Greek, except δύο.

  • Yeah, dual doesn't pop up in Koine Greek much. Great answer! +1
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 12:53
  • Peter, please take a look and see if that edit was correct. I didn't think the infinitive could be dual or plural either one, so I supposed this is what you meant, but roll it back if I got it wrong.
    – Susan
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 11:37
  • Yeah I think you are right, my bad. Must have been late...
    – Peter
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 7:52

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