What was so different about John's baptism? Two answers suggest themselves at once. First, it was probably a immersion, as distinct from regular rit ual baths. Although the text never says so explicitly, the inference is probably sound: otherwise we would expect John's baptising to be consistently described in continuous tenses;89 there is nothing to suggest that Jesus was baptized by John more than once;90 and a once-for-all baptism correlates with John's understanding of the imminent finality of the coming judgment (see below, § 11.4b).91 Second, the fact that John is distinguished as 'the baptizer' reminds us that in rit
85. See, e.g., those cited by Beasley-Murray, Baptism n. 2.
86. See further Beasley-Murray, Baptism 18-31; L. H. Schiffman, 'At the Crossroads: Tannaitic Perspectives on the Jewish-Christian Schism', in E. P. Sanders, ed., Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 115-56 (here 127-31);Webb John the Baptizer 122-28; S. J. D. Cohen, 'The Rabbinic Conversion Ceremony', in Beginnings of Jew-ishness 198-238 (here 222-25). .
87. Beasley-Murray, Baptism 11-18; Davies and Allison, Matthew 1.299.
88. Cf. Webb, 'John the Baptist' 187-89; Stegemann lists eight points of difference (Li-brary221-22).
89. Imperfect (Mark 1.5/Matt. 3.6): present (Matt. 3.11/Luke 3.16/John 1.26); but also aorist (Mark 1.8; Luke 3.7, 21).
90. Pace Taylor who questions whether John's baptism was unrepeatable, but ignores the urgency of John's preaching (ImmerserlO-71: 'it would be wrong to assume that only one of John's immersions was required per lifetime'). Pace also Chilton, who simply assumes that John's baptism was 'like Jewish baptism generally' and so could be repeated as necessity arose (Rabbi Jesus 48; earlier his 'John the Purifier', in Chilton and Evans, Jesus in Context 203-20); similarly Fredriksen, Jesus 190 ('multiple immersions').
91. Meier, Marginal Jew2.51. The most obvious inference of Acts 19.3 is that a once-only baptism is envisaged.
ual immersion individuals immersed themselves. John was distinctive precisely because he immersed others.92
Worthy of more attention, however, is Mark's description of 'a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins' (baptisma metanoias eis aphesin hamartion) (Mark 1.4/Luke 3.3). The people 'were coming out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins' (Mark 3.5-6). This would differentiate John's baptism from the ritual purifications at Qumran even more. Immersion in a miqweh was for the removal of impurity, not removal of sin,93 though in 1QS 3.6-9 the two cleansings seem to be closely related.94 But John' s baptism is to be distinguished from ritual washings more because the ritual washings were clearly part of a larger complex in which commitment to and compliance with the ethos and rulings of the community were fundamental (as the context of 3 makes clear). In contrast, a baptism performed once, even with amendment of lifestyle, was rather different, both singular and innovative.95
It is the talk of 'forgiveness of sins' which should really catch the eye. This is not simply the testimony of Mark. Here again Josephus confirms what other-
92. Webb, John the Baptizer 180-81. This is the consistent picture of the Gospels (e.g., Mark 1.4, 5, 8, 9 pars.). Jeremias ignores most of the data in arguing that behind the Greek passive in Mark 1.9 lies Aramaic meaning 'immerse oneself (Proclamation 51).
93. As Sanders has repeatedly pointed out, ritual impurity was not sin (particularly Jesus 182-83).
94. Webb, John the Baptizer 146-52. The rendering of 1QS 3.6-9 is important here: B!y a spirit of true counsel concerning the paths of man all his iniquities are atoned, so that he can look at the light of life. And by a spirit of holiness of the community, by its truth, he is cleansed of all his iniquities. And by a spirit of uprightness and humility his sin is atoned. And by the humility of his soul towards all the statutes of God his flesh is cleansed by being sprinkled wilh the waters of cleansing and sanctified with the waters of purification'. The act of atonement, normally linked to Temple sacrifice, is here attributed to the Spirit. The bath of purification cleanses the flesh. Garcia Martinez wrongly translates the last phrase 'the waters of repentance'. J. Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University, 2000) concludes that 'the sectarian [Qumran] approach to purity was quite different from that articulated in the Hebrew Bible, where moral impurity and ritual impurity remained distinct: Sin did not produce ritual impurity, sinners were not ritually defiling, and sinners did not need to be purified. At Qumran, sin was considered to be ritually defiling, and sinners had to purify themselves' (90). Kazen is in basic agreement (Jesus 207). But M. Himmelfarb, 'Impurity and Sin in 4QD, 1QS and 4Q512', DSD 8 (2001) 9-37, questions whether the association of impurity and sin was characteristic of the Qumran sectarians.
95. It is Chilton's emphasis on John's baptism in terms of purification through ritual bathing which presumably leads him to the conclusion that John's baptism (ritual purifications) was regularly repeated (see his Jesus' Baptism and Jesus' Healing [Harrisburg: Trinity, 1998] 26-29; similarly Fredriksen, Jesus 190; above, n. 90). Kazen also overemphasizes the purificatory aspect of John's baptism (Jesus 231-39). But see Klawans, Impurity 140-42.
wise might be suspected. For though his description of John is obviously 'dressed up' for the benefit of his Roman readers, it is clear from his description that John was known as one who linked his baptism closely to the 'excusing' of the sins of those baptized (epi tinon hamartadon paraitesei, Ant. 18.117).96 In fact it is Josephus's language which points us to the really innovative feature in John's baptism. For the phrase just cited is cultic in character.97 That is to say, it reminds us that the Torah made provision for sins to be dealt with through the sacrificial system. Of course, only God could forgive sin, but a priest was an indispensable intermediary in the offering of the sacrifice.98 But John's preaching gives no indication that a sacrifice or act of atonement was necessary. In a sense, baptism took the place of the sin-offering.99 That was the really distinctive feature of John's baptism: not that he rejected the Temple ritual on the grounds that repentance alone was sufficient, but that he offered his own ritual as an alternative to the Temple ritual.100 Perhaps we should even say that John the Baptist in baptizing played the role of the priest.101 How this went down with the Temple authorities we do not know. Possibly a one-off baptism would not be seen as much of a threat to the regular 'trade' in sin-offerings.102 Nevertheless, John
96. Josephus uses hamartas, hamartema and hamartia for 'sin' (the LXX uses only the last two of these three terms).
97. Josephus uses hamartas most often in his description of the sin-offering (Ant. 3.204, 230, 238-40, 249). And although paraitesis can mean both 'request (that is, for pardon)' and 'excuse' (Ant. 2.43; Ap. 2.178), the closest parallels are in the same sequence in Ant. 3.238 — an offering 'in expiation of sins' (epiparaitesesin hamartadon); 3.221 — an offering 'to make intercession for sins' (epi paraitesei hamartematon); 3.241 — 'an expiation for sins' (paraitesis hyper hamartematon); see also 3.246, 247; 11.137, 233.
98. See, e.g., J. S. Kselman, 'Forgiveness', ABD 2.831-32.
99. At it was the community itself which atoned for sin 'by doing justice and undergoing trials' (1QS 8.1-7, here 4; also 9.3-6); note also Josephus, Ant. is worth recalling that 40.3 (the prophecy referred to John in Mark pars.) is referred to the community in 1QS 8.12-14.
100. C. H. Kraeling, John the Baptist (New York: Scribner's, 1951); Webb, John the Baptist 203-205; 'John's baptism was a ritual of atonement' (Klawans, Impurity 139, 143). In the Diaspora the distance from the Temple would have encouraged the idea that sacrifices strictly speaking were unnecessary (cf. Philo, Plant. 108; Mos. 2.107-108), but those who came out to John lived within easy distance of the Temple.
101. The priestly connections of John are a fascinating sub-plot here, given the tradition of John's priestly descent (Luke 1) and the priestly self-identity of the Qumran community. Theissen and Merz, for example, think that the tradition of John's origin from a priestly family could be historical (Historical Jesus 198; see also 210). And P. Hollenbach, 'Social Aspects of John fee Bap-tizer's Preaching Mission in the Context of Palestinian Judaism', ANRWII .19.1 (1979) 850-75, depicts John as an 'alienated rural priest' critical of the priestly aristocracy (especially 852-57).
102. 'An alternative to those sacrifices' (Webb, 'John the Baptist' 'a clear alternative to the Temple' (Wright, Jesus 161); but would a once-only baptism constitute an attempt to stood in a prophetic tradition which offered an effective encounter with the divine, an effective alternative to that focused in the Jerusalem Temple.
Josephus also gives a pointer to how the phrase used by Mark metanoias eis aphesin hamartion) should best be understood. Was the baptism conceived as the effective agent in achieving the forgiveness or excusing the sins confessed?103 That is less likely. It is more likely that the key factor was understood to be the repentance expressed by the baptisand. The phrase eis aphesin hamartion is almost a single concept — 'repentance-for-the-forgiveness-of-sins'. So at least Luke understood it (Luke 24.47; cf. Acts 5.31). According to Acts 13.24 John had preached 'a baptism of repentance'. Very striking, also, is the fact that Matthew drops the whole phrase. Instead, he describes John's baptism as 'for repentance' (eis metanoian) (Matt. 3.11), and leaves his only reference to 'forgiveness of sins' till his account of the last supper: the 'effective agent' 'for the forgiveness of sins' is the outpouring of Jesus' blood 'for many' (26.28). This theological ambivalence is echoed by Josephus' aesthetic unwillingness to regard John's baptism as a kind of (cultic) manipulation of God's acceptance: 'They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behaviour' (Ant. 18.117).104 Josephus' emphasis obviously correlates well with Q's account of John's call for 'fruits worthy of repentance' (cf. Acts 26.20) and 'good fruit' (Q 3.8-9).105 The best way to read Mark's phrase, therefore, is probably as 'a baptism which brought to expression the repentance-seeking-forgiveness of sins'.106 This leaves open the ques
'replace' the existing structures (160)? F. Avemarie, 'Ist die Johannestaufe ein Ausdruck von Tempelkritik', in B. Ego, et al., eds., Gemeinde ohne Tempel/Community without Temple (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999) 395-410, concludes that not so much criticism as indifference is indicated in regard to the Temple.
103. For H. Thyen, 'Baptisma metanoias eis aphesin hamartiön', in J. M. Robinson, ed., The Future ofOurReligious Past, R. Bultmann FS (1964; ET London: SCM, 1971) 131-68, the phrase 'characterizes John's baptism as an eschatological sacrament which effects both repentance and forgiveness' (132; similarly 135, 167); 'eschatological sacrament' was a popular description of John's baptism in the first half of the twentieth century (Schweitzer, Quest2 339-42; Bultmann, Jesus and the Word23; Ernst, Johannes der Täufer335 n. 219; still in Strecker, Theology 225, and Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus 203-204, 210, 436).
104. Cf. again 1QS 3.8-9 cited in n. 94 above; contrast 1QS 3.3-6 and 5.13-14, which make clear that ritual purifications were of no avail without repentance (5.14) and membership in the community.
105. Luke adds some illustration of what would constitute 'good fruit' (Luke 3.10-14).
106. 'Repentance-baptism' (Taylor, Mark 154; R. A. Guelich, Mark 1-8 [WBC 34A Dallas: Word, 1989] 18-20; Webb, John the Baptizer 186-89, though he also accepts that 'in some way it mediated the forgiveness' similarly Webb, 'John the Baptist' 191-92; 'baptism of conversion' (Beasley-Murray, Baptism 34, 43); 'the seal on the declaration of willing tion whether John conceived of the forgiveness as immediate, as in the Temple cult, or future, that is, at the coming judgment.107 But an answer depends also on how the coming one's own baptism is to be understood (see below § 11.4c).
Given that the subsequent Christian use of both the term ('baptize') and the act (baptism) is derived from John's innovative practice, this conclusion may have more extensive theological corollaries. But there is another aspect of John's baptism which has been still more important for subsequent Christian belief.
Was this article helpful?