The Baptisms of Jesus & John / by Joshua Torrey

On the subject of baptism, the Reformed world has found no consensus on the relationship between the baptism of Jesus and John. John Calvin and John Murray have been the main names attached to the disagreement on the relationship of baptism in the gospels and baptispost Pentecost. With no false delusion, I would like to provide a couple short posts arguing for a strong continuity in the baptism of John to Christ.

Continuity in Calvin

I'm not going to rest my case on the words of Calvin, but I would like to provide them as a succinct explanation of my general position. For Calvin, it was good enough to show that the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus were identical in its promise and purpose,

"For the different hands by which baptism is administered do not make it a different baptism, but sameness of doctrine proves it to be the same. John and the apostles agreed in one doctrine. Both baptised unto repentance, both for remission of sins, both in the name of Christ, from whom repentance and remission of sins proceed." (Inst 4.15.7)

Calvin's approach is to look at what baptism means and draw a clear line connecting the baptism of John to the baptism commanded by Jesus. The greatest textual support for this is the bookend references to forgiveness of sins in the gospel of Luke,

"He [John] went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 3:3)
"He [Jesus] also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46-47)
The post-resurrection message of forgiveness of sins was preached in John's ministry. This is why Luke declares that John "along with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people" (Luke 3:18)

When Calvin answered on the issue of baptism's meaning him simplified it to "First, it represents the forgiveness of sins. Secondly, the regeneration of the soul" (Geneva Catechism, Q324). These two ideas are present in both the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus.

Baptism in the Gospel of John

Where Luke seems to correlate the two baptisms through repentance, the gospel of John connects them in terms of historical similarities. On two occasion, the apostle John communicates that Jesus administered baptisms right alongside the ministry of John,

"After this, Jesus and His disciples went to the Judean countryside, where He spent time with them and baptized. John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water there. People were coming and being baptized" (John 3:22-23)
"When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went again to Galilee." (John 4:1-3)

Both of these passages communicate important information. The ministries of John and Jesus were baptizing at the same time. After receiving baptism from John, Jesus continued the practice with no recorded discontinuity. Further, the ministry of Jesus administered baptism through the apostles. So when we read Christ's admonition for Christian baptism at the end of Matthew's gospel (Matthew 28:19), it must be recalled that this was not a new practice but (perhaps) a liturgical addition to the practice.

The ministry of Jesus is here depicted as surpassing the ministry of John. This is the point where Jesus becomes the target for Pharisees and it is highlighted by John noting the baptismal practices of Jesus. Though John clarifies his comment, the baptisms performed by the apostles are attributed to Jesus two times in a very short time. Before the death or resurrection, it is Jesus' baptismal practices that the Jewish people are talking about and not John's.

In conclusion, the gospels themselves present a uniformed baptism of Jesus and John. There is no articulated distinction between the two. Calvin's arguments for continuity seem solid. However, if it were so simple there would be a Reformed consensus. Next time we will look at the baptism of John in the book of Acts and the arguments of John Murray.