Christian Baptism and John the Baptist

In light of recent posts on baptism, I wonder if it’s fruitful to look at the work of John the Baptist as a helpful framework for understanding baptism. John preached repentance, contentment, and sharing with the poor, rather than a commitment to a defined mode of discipleship. Moreover, if sinless Jesus was baptized, then the repentance of John’s baptism may not have been tied so much to forgiveness of sin – which would render Jesus’ baptism irrelevant from the perspective of his sinless humanity – as it was tied to a posture of radical, fundamental openness and submission to God. In this light the descent of the Holy Spirit to Jesus after his baptism makes some sense as a commissioning event, marking a new stage in Jesus’ submission to God in the form of public ministry. The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry after his baptism began a chain of events that led to the supreme event of Jesus’ life, his death and resurrection, by which death was defeated and sin was absolved.

What’s interesting about this mode of baptism is that it is a commitment to submission. This is doctrinally and practically simple (though not necessarily easy). The idea of submission is a simple one, comprehensible to children and adults who do not understand all the doctrinal and ethical ramifications of committing to the Christian faith. Since those consequences exceed the grasp of everyone, baptism-as-submission offers an easing of the problem of knowledge as a precondition for baptism that plagues the credobaptist traditions. It appears to reduce the knowledge required for baptism to some notion of where God’s authoritative instruction and direction may be found, so that the baptized one can find out how to submit to God.

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3 comments on “Christian Baptism and John the Baptist

  1. Andrew says:

    My puzzle with associating submission with baptism, is that in the Gospel accounts (as in Luke), baptism is explicitly associated with repentance and forgiveness. Another possibility then comes to my mind: what if baptism is associated with adopting or identifying with a particular worldview or mindset or conviction-set. That is not unrelated to submission, and could fit with Jesus’ own baptism (he chose to identify with a particular worldview). Although I’m not sure it is sufficiently helpful for bridging the credo/pedo-baptist divide.

    • Theophilus says:

      My conception of submission is not, I think, very different than your understanding of adoption of “a particular worldview or mindset or conviction-set.” My launching point for this train of thought was Jesus’ exchange with John the Baptist prior to his baptism in Matthew 3:13-15. Whereas John seemed to understand baptism as being primarily about repentance from sin, Jesus pushed John to understand the significance of baptism differently. I’m trying to pursue how exactly Jesus wanted John to rethink baptism.

      • Andrew says:

        Thanks. This is helpful.
        Two other points may also be productive.
        (1) The Greek root behind ‘righteousness’ in Mt. 3:15 is the same root behind justice, justification and right-wising.
        (2) The reference to the Holy Spirit in these scriptures suggests to me a ‘packet’ of connections between submission (or shift of worldview), being set right (into a shalom-life), being forgiven by God and receiving the Holy Spirit…all bound up with the symbol of being baptized.
        Perhaps Jesus was simply enlarging (or filling full) John’s perspective, not cancelling it out.

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