Jesus’ Baptism: Its Historicity and Implications -- By: Robert L. Webb

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 10:2 (NA 2000)
Article: Jesus’ Baptism: Its Historicity and Implications
Author: Robert L. Webb


Jesus’ Baptism: Its Historicity and Implications

Robert L. Webb

Tyndale Seminary

The historicity of Jesus’ baptism by John is virtually certain. The historicity of the theophany (the Spirit’s descent and divine voice) is probable, but its timing as contemporaneous with the baptism is open to question. As a prophetic call-vision, the theophany quite possibly happened at a later time. Based on an exploration of John’s baptism and ministry within the context of Second-Temple Judaism, the significance of Jesus’ baptism is explored: it is a significant turning point in Jesus’ life; Jesus is identifying with Israel’s need to repent, and he is in agreement with John’s vision for a reconstituted Israel; since Jesus is a disciple of John, the beginning of his ministry involves baptizing within John’s movement. It is also important to understand Jesus’ later ministry along a trajectory that begins with Jesus’ association with John. This later ministry shows both continuity with and development beyond Jesus’ early involvement with John.

Key Words: Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist, theophany, Jesus and the spirit, Jesus as Son of God, Jesus as disciple of John, Jesus and Israel, Jesus and eschatology

1. Introduction

Many scholars have made the assertion that Jesus was baptized by John,1 and indeed some have stated that it is one of the most sure facts we can know about Jesus. It is surprising, however, that few have fully set out and weighed the arguments surrounding the event.2 The purpose of this essay is twofold: First I will set out the historical

Author's note: This essay was the focus of discussion at the inaugural meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research Jesus Group in Chicago, June 12-13, 1999. It has been revised and expanded in light of two days of extremely helpful discussion among the members of the Jesus Group. I am indebted to each of them.

evidence that leads to a conclusion that Jesus’ baptism by John is historical. Second, I will explore the implications of this event for understanding the historical figure of Jesus.

2. The Historicity Of Jesus’ Baptism By John

Since the focus of this essay is the historicity of Jesus’ being baptized and its significance, we cannot simply make the assertion of historicity; we must weigh the historical evidence and render a historical judgment.

The issue before us is made somewhat more complicated by the fact that in the texts reporting the incident there are actually two events b...

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