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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 3

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This chapter and part of the next, containing the narrative of the temptation (Matthew 4:1-11 ), form the prelude to the public ministry of Jesus. John, of whom we have not heard before, appears as consecrating Jesus to His Messianic calling by baptism, and from the baptism Jesus passes to the scene of moral trial. In what year of Christ’s life these events happened is not indicated. The new narrative begins with the vague phrase, “in those days”. But it is obvious from the contents that Jesus has now reached manhood; His thoughts and experiences are those of mature years. From childhood to manhood is an absolute blank in our Gospel. The evangelist gives a genesis of Christ’s body, but no genesis of His mind. As we see it in the sequel, it is a miracle of wisdom. It too, doubtless, had its genesis and history, but they are not given or even hinted at. Christ is ushered on the scene an unexplained prodigy. One would like to know how He reached this unprecedented height of wisdom and grace (Luke 2:52 ). The only possible source of knowledge is reasoning back from the outcome in the full-grown man. Jesus grew , and the final result may reveal in part the means and process of growth. The anti-Pharisaic spirit and clean-cut descriptions of Pharisaic ways imply antecedent study, perhaps in Rabbinical schools. The parables may not have been so extempore as they seem, but may be the ripe fruit of long brooding thought, things new and yet old.

Verse 1

Matthew 3:1 . ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις : the time when most vaguely indicated. Luke’s narrative here (Matthew 3:1 ) presents a great contrast, as if with conscious intent to supply a want. John’s ministry is there dated with reference to the general history of the world, and Christ’s age at His baptism is given. Luke’s method is more satisfactory in a historical point of view, but Matthew’s manner of narration is dramatically effective. He passes abruptly to the new theme, and leaves you to guess the length of the interval. A similarly indefinite phrase occurs in the story of Moses (Exodus 2:11 ). There has been much discussion as to what period of time the evangelist had in view. Some say none, except that of the events to be related. “In those days,” means simply, “in the days when the following events happened” (so Euthy. Zig.). Others suggest explanations based on the relation of our Gospel to its sources, e.g. , use of a source in which more was told about John, or anticipation of Mark 1:9 , where the phrase is used in reference to Christ’s coming to be baptised. Probably the best course is to take it as referring back from the apostolic age to the great creative epoch of the evangelic history = “In those memorable years to which we look back with wistful reverent gaze”. παραγίνεται ὁ Ι .: John appears on the stage of history historical present, used “to give a more animated statement of past events” (Goodwin’s Syntax, p. 11). John ὁ βαπτιστής , well known by this epithet, and referred to under that designation by Josephus (Antiq., xviii. 5, 2, on which vide Schürer; Jewish History , div. i., vol. ii., p. 23). Its currency naturally suggests that John’s baptism was partly or wholly an originality, not to be confounded with proselyte baptism, which perhaps did not even exist at that time. κηρύσσων , preaching , as well as baptising, heralding the approach of the Kingdom of Heaven , standing especially in N. T. for proclamation of the good news of God, distinct from διδάσκων (Matthew 4:23 ): a solemn word for a momentous matter. ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τ . Ἰουδαίας : scene of the ministry, the pasture lands lying between the central range of hills and the Jordan and the Dead Sea, not all belonging to Judaea, but of the same character; suitable scene for such a ministry.

Verses 1-6

Matthew 3:1-6 . John the Baptist appears (Mark 1:1-6 , Luke 3:1-6 ).

Verse 2

Matthew 3:2 . λέγων introduces the burden of his preaching. μετανοεῖτε , Repent . That was John’s great word. Jesus used it also when He began to preach, but His distinctive watchword was Believe . The two watchwords point to different conceptions of the kingdom. John’s kingdom was an object of awful dread, Jesus’ of glad welcome. The message of the one was legal, of the other evangelic. Change of mind John deemed very necessary as a preparation for Messiah’s advent. ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν , the Kingdom of Heaven . This title is peculiar to Matthew. In the other Gospels it is called the Kingdom of God . Not used either by John or by Jesus, says Weiss, but to be ascribed to the evangelist. There does not seem to be any urgent reason for this judgment. In Daniel 2:44 the kingdom is spoken of as to be set up by “the God of heaven,” and in the Judaistic period previous to the Christian era, when a transcendent conception of God began to prevail, the use of heaven as a synonym for God came in. Custom might cause it to be employed, even by those who did not sympathise with the conception of God as transcendent, outside and far off from the world ( vide note in H. C., p. 55).

Verse 3

Matthew 3:3 . οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν , etc.: the evangelist here speaks. He finds in John the man of prophecy who proclaims in the desert the near advent of Jehovah coming to deliver His people. He quotes Isaiah only. Mark (Mark 1:2 ) quotes Malachi also, identifying John, not only with the voice in the desert, but with Elijah. Isaiah’s herald is not merely a type of John in the view of the evangelist; the two are identical. The quotation follows the Sept [12] , except that for τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν is substituted αὐτοῦ . Note where Matthew stops. Luke, the universalist, goes on to the end of the oracle. The mode of introducing the prophetic citation is peculiar. “This is he,” not “that it might be fulfilled”. Weiss (Meyer) thinks this an indication that the passage is taken from “the apostolic source”.

[12] Septuagint.

Verse 4

Matthew 3:4 . αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ Ἰ . The story returns to the historical person, John, and identifies him with the herald of prophecy. “This same John.” Then follows a description of his way of life his clothing and his food, the details conveying a life-like picture of the manner of the man: his habits congruous to his vocation. τὸ ἔνδυμα ἀπὸ τριχῶν καμήλου : his characteristic ( αὐταῦ ) piece of clothing was a rough rude garment woven out of camel’s hair, not as some have thought, a camel’s skin. We read in Hebrews 11:37 , of sheep skins and goat skins worn by some of God’s saints, but not of camel skins. Fritzsche takes the opposite view, and Grotius. Euthy., following Chrysostom, says: “Do not ask who wove his garment, or whence he got his girdle; for more wonderful is it that he should live from childhood to manhood in so inhospitable a climate”. John took his fashion in dress from Elijah, described (2 Kings 1:8 ) as “an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins”. It need not be doubted that the investment is historical, not a legendary creation, due to the opinion that John was Elijah redivivus. The imitation in dress does not imply a desire to pass for Elijah, but expresses similarity of mood. ἡ δὲ τροφὴ : his diet as poor as his clothing was mean. ἀκρίδες : the last of four kinds of edible locusts named in Leviticus 11:22 (Sept [13] ), still it seems used by the poor in the east; legs and wings stripped off, and the remainder boiled or roasted. “The Beduins of Arabia and of East Jordan land eat many locusts, roasted, boiled or baked in cakes. In Arabia they are sold in the market. They taste not badly” (Benzinger, Hebraische Archäologie ). Euthy. reports to the same effect as to his own time: many eat it in those parts τεταριχευμένον (pickled). Not pleasant food, palatable only to keen hunger. If we may trust Epiphanius, the Ebionites, in their aversion to animal food, grudged the Baptist even that poor diet, and restricted him to cakes made with honey ( ἐγκρίδας ἐν μελίτι ), or to honey alone. Vide Nicholson’s Gospel according to the Hebrews , p. 34, and the notes there; also Suicer’s Thesaurus , sub. v. ἀκρίς . μέλι ἄγριον : opinion is divided between bee honey and tree honey, i.e. , honey made by wild bees in trees or holes in the rocks, or a liquid exuding from palms and fig trees. (On this also consult Nicholson, Gospel of Hebrews , p. 35.) Both were used as food, but our decision should incline to vegetable honey, on the simple ground that it was the poorer food. Bee honey was a delicacy, and is associated with milk in Scripture in descriptions of a fertile land. The vegetable product would suit best John’s taste and state. “Habitatori solitudinis congruum est, non delicias ciborum, sed necessitatem humanae carnis explere.” Jerome.

[13] Septuagint.

Verses 5-6

Matthew 3:5-6 . Effects of John’s preaching . Remarkable by his appearance, his message, and his moral intensity, John made a great impression. They took him for a prophet, and a prophet was a novelty in those days. His message appealed to the common Messianic hope, and proclaimed fulfilment to be at hand. Τότε , then , general note of time, frequent in this Gospel. ἐξεπορεύετο imperfect, denoting continued action. The movement of course was gradual. It began on a small scale and steadily grew till it reached colossal dimensions. Each evangelist, in his own way, bears witness to this. Luke speaks of crowds (Matthew 3:7 ), Mark and Matthew give graphic particulars, similar, but in diverse order. “All Judaea and all the Jerusalemites,” says Mark. “Jerusalem, Judaea and the Jordan country,” Matthew. The historical order was probably the reverse of that in Matthew’s narrative. First came those from the surrounding country people living near the Jordan, on either side, in what is now called El-Ghor. Then the movement extended in widening circles into Judaea. Finally it affected conservative, disdainful Jerusalem, slow to be touched by new popular influences. Ἱεροσόλυμα : the Greek form here as in Matthew 2:3 , and generally in this Gospel. It is not said all Jerusalem, as in Mark. The remarkable thing is that any came from that quarter. Standing first, and without the “all,” the reference means even Jerusalem. The πᾶσα in the other two clauses is of course an exaggeration. It implies, not that every human being went to the Jordan, but that the movement was general . The evangelist expresses himself just as we should do in a similar case. Πᾶς with the article means “the whole,” without, “every”.

Verse 6

Matthew 3:6 . καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο : the imperfect again. They were baptised as they came. ἐν τῷ Ἰορ . ποταμῷ . The word ποταμῷ , omitted in T. R., by all means to be retained. Dull prosaic scribes might deem it superfluous, as all men knew the Jordan was a river, but there is a touch of nature in it which helps us to call up the scene. ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ , by him, the one man. John would not want occupation, baptising such a crowd, one by one. ἐξομολογούμενοι : confession was involved in the act of submitting to baptism at the hands of one whose preaching had for its burden, Repent. But there was explicit confession, frank, full ( ἐκ intensifies), on the part of guilt-burdened men and women glad to get relief so. General or special confession? Probably both: now one, now the other, according to idiosyncrasy and mood. Confession was not exacted as a conditio sine qua non of baptism, but voluntary. The participle means, while confessing; not, provided they confessed. This confession of sins by individuals was a new thing in Israel. There was a collective confession on the great day of atonement, and individual confession in certain specified cases (Numbers 5:7 ), but no great spontaneous self-unburdenment of penitent souls every man apart. It must have been a stirring sight.

Verse 7

Matthew 3:7 . Ἰδὼν δὲ , etc.: among those who visited the Jordan were some, not a few, many indeed ( πολλοὺς ) of the PHARISEES and SADDUCEES. The first mention of classes of whom the Gospels have much to say, the former being the legal precisians, virtuosi in religion, the latter the men of affairs and of the world, largely belonging to the sacerdotal class (consult Wellhausen, Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer ). Their presence at the scene of John’s ministry is credible. Drawn doubtless by mixed motives, as persons of their type generally are, moral simplicity not being in their line; partly curious, partly fascinated, partly come to spy; in an ambiguous state of mind, neither decidedly in sympathy nor pronouncedly hostile. In any case they cannot remain indifferent to a movement so deep and widespread. So here they are; coming to ( ἐπὶ ) John’s baptism, not to be baptised, nor coming against , as some (Olearius, e.g. ) have thought, as if to put the movement down, but coming to witness the strange, novel phenomenon, and form their impressions. John did not make them welcome. His spirit was troubled by their presence. Simple, sensitive, moral natures instinctively shrink from the presence of insincerity, duplicity and craftiness. ἰδὼν : how did they come under his observation? By their position in the crowd or on the outskirts of it, and by their aspect? How did he identify them as Pharisees and Sadducees? How did the hermit of the desert know there were such people? It was John’s business to know all the moral characteristics of his time. These were the matters in which he took supreme interest, and he doubtless had means of informing himself, and took pains to do so. It may be assumed that he knew well about the Essenes living in his neighbourhood, by the shores of the Dead Sea, somewhat after his own fashion, and about the other two classes, whose haunts were the great centres of population. There might be Essenes too in the crowd, though not singled out, the history otherwise having no occasion to mention them. γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν : sudden, irrepressible outburst of intense moral aversion. Why vipers? The ancient and mediæval interpreters (Chrysos., Aug., Theophy., Euthy.) had recourse in explanation to the fable of the young viper eating its mother’s womb. The term ought rather to be connected with the following words about fleeing from the coming wrath. The serpents of all sorts lurking in the fields flee when the stubble is set on fire in harvest in preparation for the winter sowing. The Baptist likens the Pharisees and Sadducees to these serpents fleeing for their lives (Furrer in Zeitschrift für Missionskunde und Religionswissenschaft , 1890). Professor G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land , p. 495, suggests the fires among the dry scrub, in the higher stretches of the Jordan valley, chasing before them the scorpions and vipers, as the basis of the metaphor. There is grim humour as well as wrath in the similitude. The emphasis is not on vipers but on fleeing . But the felicity of the comparison lies in the fact that the epithet suits very well. It implies that the Pharisees and Sadducees are fleeing. They have caught slightly the infection of repentance; yet John does not believe in its depth or permanence. τίς ὑπέδειξεν : there is surprise in the question. Can it be possible that even you have learned to fear the approaching crisis? Most unlikely scholars. φυγεῖν ἀπὸ : pregnant for “flee and escape from” (De Wette). The aorist points to possibility, going with verbs of hoping and promising in this sense (Winer, § xliv. 7 c.). The implied thought is that it is not possible = who encouraged you to expect deliverance? The aorist further signifies a momentary act: now or never. τῆς μελ . ὀργῆς , the day of wrath impending, preluding the advent of the Kingdom. The idea of wrath was prominent in John’s mind: the coming of the Kingdom an awful affair; Messiah’s work largely a work of judgment. But he rose above ordinary Jewish ideas in this: they conceived of the judgment as concerning the heathen peoples; he thought of it as concerning the godless in Israel

Verses 7-10

Matthew 3:7-10 . Words of rebuke and warning to unwelcome vistors (Luke 3:7-9 ).

Verse 8

Matthew 3:8 . ποιήσατε οὖν , etc. “If, then, ye are in earnest about escape, produce fruit worthy of repentance; repentance means more than confession and being baptised.” That remark might be applied to all that came, but it contained an innuendo in reference to the Pharisees and Sadducees that they were insincere even now. Honest repentance carries amendment along with it. Amendment is not expected in this case because the repentance is disbelieved in. καρπὸν , collective, as in Galatians 5:22 , fruit; the reading in T. R. is probably borrowed from Luke 3:8 . The singular is intrinsically the better word in addressing Pharisees who did good actions, but were not good. Yet John seems to have inculcated reformation in detail (Luke 3:10-14 ). It was Jesus who proclaimed the inwardness of true morality. Fruit: the figure suggests that conduct is the outcome of essential character. Any one can do ( ποιήσατε , vide Genesis 1:11 ) acts externally good, but only a good man can grow a crop of right acts and habits.

Verses 9-10

Matthew 3:9-10 . Protest and warning . καὶ μὴ δόξητε … τ . Ἀβραάμ : the meaning is plain = do not imagine that having Abraham for father will do instead of repentance that all children of Abraham are safe whatever betide. But the expression is peculiar: do not think to say within yourselves. One would have expected either: do not think within yourselves, or, do not say, etc. Wetstein renders: “ne animum inducite sic apud vosmet cogitare,” with whom Fritzsche substantially agrees = do not presume to say, cf. Philippians 3:4 . πατέρα , father, in the emphatic position=we have as father, Abraham; it is enough to be his children: the secret thought of all unspiritual Jews, Abraham’s children only in the flesh. It is probable that these words (Matthew 3:9-10 ) were spoken at a different time, and to a different audience, not merely to Pharisees and Sadducees, but to the people generally. Matthew 3:7-12 are a very condensed summary of a preaching ministry in which many weighty words were spoken (Luke 3:18 ), these being selected as most representative and most relevant to the purpose of the evangelist. Matthew 3:7-8 contain a word for the leaders of the people; Matthew 3:9-10 for the people at large; Matthew 3:11-12 a word to inquirers about the Baptist’s own relation to the Messiah.

Verse 10

Matthew 3:10 . ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνη … κεῖται : judgment is at hand. The axe has been placed ( κεῖμαι = perfect passive of τίθημι ) at the root of the tree to lay it low as hopelessly barren. This is the doom of every non-productive fruit tree. ἐκκόπτεται : the present tense, expressive not so much of the usual practice (Fritzsche) as of the near inevitable event. μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν , in case it produce not ( μὴ conditional) good fruit, not merely fruit of some kind. degenerate, unpalatable. εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται : useless for any other purpose except to be firewood, as the wood of many fruit trees is.

Verses 11-12

Matthew 3:11-12 . John defines his relation to the Messiah (Mark 1:7-8 ; Luke 3:15-17 ). This prophetic word would come late in the day when the Baptist’s fame was at its height, and men began to think it possible he might be the Christ (Luke 3:15 ). His answer to inquiries plainly expressed or hinted was unhesitating. No, not the Christ, there is a Coming One. He will be here soon. I have my place, important in its own way, but quite secondary and subordinate. John frankly accepts the position of herald and forerunner, assigned to him in Matthew 3:3 by the citation of the prophetic oracle as descriptive of his ministry. ἐγὼ μὲν , etc. ἐγὼ emphatic, but with the emphasis of subordination. My function is to baptise with water , symbolic of repentance. ὁ δὲ ό . μ . ἐρχόμενος . He who is just coming (present participle). How did John know the Messiah was just coming? It was an inference from his judgment on the moral condition of the time. Messiah was needed; His work was ready for Him; the nation was ripe for judgment . Judgment observe, for that was the function uppermost in his mind in connection with the Messianic advent. These two verses give us John’s idea of the Christ, based not on personal knowledge, but on religious preconceptions. It differs widely from the reality. John can have known little of Jesus on the outer side, but he knew less of His spirit. We cannot understand his words unless we grasp this fact. Note the attributes he ascribes to the Coming One. The main one is strength ἰσχυρότερος fully unfolded in the sequel. Along with strength goes dignity οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ , etc. He is so great, august a personage, I am not fit to be His slave, carrying to and from Him, for and after use, His sandals (a slave’s office in Judaea, Greece and Rome). An Oriental magnificent exaggeration. αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει : returns to the Power of Messiah, as revealed in His work, which is described as a baptism, the better to bring out the contrast between Him and His humble forerunner. ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί . Notable here are the words, ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ . They must be interpreted in harmony with John’s standpoint, not from what Jesus proved to be, or in the light of St. Paul’s teaching on the Holy Spirit as the immanent source of sanctification. The whole baptism of the Messiah, as John conceives it, is a baptism of judgment. It has been generally supposed that the Holy Spirit here represents the grace of Christ, and the fire His judicial function; not a few holding that even the fire is gracious as purifying. I think that the grace of the Christ is not here at all. The πνεῦμα ἅγιον is a stormy wind of judgment; holy, as sweeping away all that is light and worthless in the nation (which, after the O. T. manner, is conceived of as the subject of Messiah’s action, rather than the individual). The fire destroys what the wind leaves. John, with his wild prophetic imagination, thinks of three elements as representing the functions of himself and of Messiah: water, wind, fire . He baptises with water, in the running stream of Jordan, to emblem the only way of escape, amendment. Messiah will baptise with wind and fire, sweeping away and consuming the impenitent, leaving behind only the righteous. Possibly John had in mind the prophetic word, “our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away,” Isaiah 64:6 ; or, as Furrer, who I find also takes πνεῦμα in the sense of “wind,” suggests, the “wind of God,” spoken of in Isaiah 40:7 : the strong east wind which blights the grass ( Zeitschrift für Missionskunde und Religionswissenschaft , 1890). Carr, Cambridge G. T. , inclines to the same view, and refers to Isaiah 41:16 : “Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away”. Vide also Isaiah 4:4 .

Verse 12

Matthew 3:12 . This ver. follows up Matthew 3:11 , and explains the judicial action emblemed by wind and fire. οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐ . τ . χ . αὐτοῦ . The construction is variously understood. Grotius takes it as a Hebraism for ἐν οὗ χειρὶ τὸ πτύον . Fritzsche takes ἐν τ . χειρὶ αὐτοῦ as epexegetical, and renders: “whose will be the fan, viz. , in His hand”. Meyer and Weiss take οὗ as assigning a reason: “He ( αὐτὸς of Matthew 3:11 ) whose fan is in hand and who is therefore able to perform the part assigned to Him”. Then follows an explanation of the modus operandi . διακαθαριεῖ from διακαθαρίζω , late for classic διακαθαίρω . The idea is: He with His fan will throw up the wheat, mixed with the chaff, that the wind may blow the chaff away; He will then collect the straw, ἄχυρον (in Greek writers usually plural τὰ ἄχυρα , vide Grimm), and burn it with fire, and collect the wheat lying on the threshing floor and store it in His granary. So shall He thoroughly ( δια intensifying) cleanse His floor. And the sweeping wind and the consuming fire are the emblems and measure of His power; stronger than mine, as the tempest and the devastating flames are mightier than the stream which I use as my element. ἅλων , a place in a field made firm by a roller, or on a rocky hill top exposed to the breeze. ἀποθήκη means generally any kind of store, and specially a grain store, often underground. Bleek takes the epithet ἀσβέστῳ applied to the fire as signifying: inextinguishable till all the refuse be consumed. It is usually understood absolutely.

Verse 13

Matthew 3:13 . Τότε παρα . ο Ἰ .… Γαλιλαίας : then , after John had described the Messiah, appears on the scene ( παραγίνεται , the historical present again, as in Matthew 3:1 , with dramatic effect) from Galilee , where He has lived since childhood, Jesus , the real Christ; how widely different from the Christ conceived by the Baptist we know from the whole evangelic history. But shutting off knowledge gathered from other sources, we may obtain significant hints concerning the stranger from Galilee from the present narrative. He comes ἐπὶ τὸν Ι . πρὸς τὸν Ἰωαν ., τοῦ βαπτισθῆναι ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ . These words at once suggest a contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees and Sadducees. They came to the baptism as a phenomenon to be critically observed. Jesus comes to the Jordan ( ἐπὶ ), towards the Baptist ( πρὸς ) to enter into personal friendly relations with him ( vide John 1:1 , πρὸς τὸν θεόν ), in order to be baptised by him (genitive of the infinitive expressing purpose). Jesus comes thoroughly in sympathy with John’s movement, sharing his passion for righteousness, fully appreciating the symbolic significance of his baptism, and not only willing, but eager to be baptised; the Jordan in His mind from the day He leaves home. A very different person this from the leaders of Israel, Pharisaic or Sadducaic. But the sequel suggests a contrast also between Him and John himself.

Verses 13-17

Matthew 3:13-17 . Jesus appears, His baptism and its accompaniments (Mark 1:9-11 ; Luke 3:21-22 ).

Verse 14

Matthew 3:14 . διεκώλυεν : imperfect, pointing to a persistent (note the διὰ ) but unsuccessful attempt to prevent. His reason was a feeling that if either was to be baptised the relation ought to be inverted. To understand this feeling it is not necessary to import a fully developed Messianic theology into it, imputing to the Baptist all that we believe concerning Jesus as the Christ and the sinless one. It is enough to suppose that the visitor from Galilee had made a profound moral impression on him by His aspect and conversation, and awakened thoughts, hopes, incipient convictions as to who He might be. Nor ought we to take too seriously the Baptist’s statement: “I have need to be baptised of Thee”. Hitherto he had had no thought of being baptised himself. He was the baptiser, not one feeling need to be baptised; the censor of sinners, not the sympathetic fellow-sinner. And just here lies the contrast between John and Jesus, and between the Christ of John’s imagination and the Christ of reality. John was severe; Jesus was sympathetic. John was the baptiser of sinners; Jesus wished to be baptised, as if a sinner Himself, a brother of the sinful. In the light of this contrast we are to understand the baptism of Jesus. Many explanations of it have been given (for these, vide Meyer), mostly theological. One of the most feasible is that of Weiss (Matt.-Evan.), that in accordance with the symbolic significance of the rite as denoting death to an old life and rising to a new, Jesus came to be baptised in the sense of dying to the old natural relations to parents, neighbours, and earthly calling, and devoting Himself henceforth to His public Messianic vocation. The true solution is to be found in the ethical sphere, in the sympathetic spirit of Jesus which made Him maintain an attitude of solidarity with the sinful rather than assume the position of critic and judge. It was impossible for such an one, on the ground of being the Messiah, or even on the ground of sinlessness, to treat John’s baptism as a thing with which He had no concern. Love, not a sense of dignity or of moral faultlessness, must guide His action. Can we conceive sinlessness being so conscious of itself, and adopting as its policy aloofness from sinners? Christ’s baptism might create misunderstanding, just as His associating with publicans and sinners did. He was content to be misunderstood.

Verses 14-15

Matthew 3:14-15 . John refuses . It is instructive to compare the three synoptical evangelists in their respective narratives of the baptism of Jesus. Mark (Mark 1:9 ) simply states the fact. Matthew reports perplexities created in the mind of John by the desire of Jesus to be baptised, and presumably in the minds of Christians for whom he wrote. Luke (Luke 3:21 ) passes lightly over the event in a participial clause, as if consoious that he was on delicate ground. The three narratives exhibit successive phases of opinion on the subject, a fact not without bearing on the dates and relations of the three Gospels. Matthew represents the intermediate phase. His account is intrinsically credible.

Verse 15

Matthew 3:15 . The reasoning with which Jesus replies to John’s scruples is characteristic. His answer is gentle, respectful, dignified, simple, yet deep. Ἄφες ἄρτι deferential, half-yielding, yet strong in its very gentleness. Does ἄρτι imply a tacit acceptance of the high position assigned to Him by John (Weiss-Meyer)? We may read that into it, but I doubt if the suggestion does justice to the feeling of Jesus. οὕτω γὰρ πρέπον : a mild word when a stronger might have been used, because it refers to John as well as Jesus: fitting, becoming, congruous; vide Hebrews 2:10 , where the same word is used in reference to the relation of God to Christ’s sufferings. “It became Him.” πᾶσαν δικαιοσύνην : this means more than meets the ear, more than could be explained to a man like John. The Baptist had a passion for righteousness, yet his conception of righteousness was narrow, severe, legal. Their ideas of righteousness separated the two men by a wide gulf which is covered over by this general, almost evasive, phrase: all righteousness or every form of it. The special form meant is not the mere compliance with the ordinance of baptism as administered by an accredited servant of God, but something far deeper, which the new era will unfold. John did not understand that love is the fulfilling of the law. But he saw that under the mild words of Jesus a very earnest purpose was hid. So at length he yielded τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτόν .

Verses 16-17

Matthew 3:16-17 . The preternatural accompaniments . These have been variously viewed as meant for the people, for the Baptist, and for Jesus. In my judgment they concern Jesus principally and in the first place, and are so viewed by the evangelist. And as we are now making the acquaintance of Jesus for the first time, and desiring to know the spirit, manner, and vocation of Him whose mysterious birth has occupied our attention, we may confine our comments to this aspect. Applying the principle that to all objective supernatural experiences there are subjective psychological experiences corresponding, we can learn from the dove-like vision and the voice from heaven the thoughts which had been passing through the mind of Jesus at this critical period. These thoughts it most concerns us to know; yet it is just these thoughts that both believers and naturalistic unbelievers are in danger of overlooking; the one through regarding the objective occurrences as alone important, the other because, denying the objective element in the experience, they rush to the conclusion that there was no experience at all. Whereas the truth is that, whatever is to be said as to the objective element, the subjective at all events is real: the thoughts reflected and symbolised in the vision and the voice.

Matthew 3:16 . εὐθὺς may be connected with βαπτισθεὶς , with ἀνέβη , or with ἠνεῴχθησαν in the following clause by a hyperbaton (Grotius). It is commonly and correctly taken along with ἀνέβη . But why say straightway ascended? Euthy. gives an answer which may be quoted for its quaintness: “They say that John had the people under water up to the neck till they had confessed their sins, and that Jesus having none to confess tarried not in the river”. Fritzsche laughs at the good monk, but Schanz substantially adopts his view. There might be worse explanations. καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν , etc. When Jesus ascended out of the water the heavens opened and He (Jesus) saw the spirit of God descending as a dove coming upon Him. According to many interpreters, including many of the Fathers, the occurrence was of the nature of a vision, the appearance of a dove coming out of the heavens. ὁ εὐαγγελιστὴς οὐκ εἶπεν ὅτι ἐν φύσει περιστερᾶς , ἀλλʼ ἐν εἴδει περιστερᾶς Chrys. Dove-like: what was the point of comparison? Swift movement, according to some; soft gentle movement as it sinks down on its place of rest, according to others. The Fathers insisted on the qualities of the dove. Euthy. sums up these thus: φιλάνθρωπον γάρ ἐστι καὶ ἀνεξίκακον · ἀποστερούμενον γὰρ τῶν νεοσσῶν ὑπομένει , καὶ οὐδὲν ἧττον τοὺς ἀποστεροῦντας προσίεται . Καὶ καθαρώτατόν ἐστι , καὶ τῇ εὐωδίᾳ χαίρει . Whether the dove possesses all these qualities philanthropy, patient endurance of wrong, letting approach it those who have robbed it of its young, purity, delight in sweet smells I know not; but I appreciate the insight into the spirit of Christ which specifying such particulars in the emblematic significance of the dove implies. What is the O. T. basis of the symbol? Probably Genesis 8:9-10 . Grotius hints at this without altogether adopting the view. Thus we obtain a contrast between John’s conception of the spirit and that of Jesus as reflected in the vision. For John the emblem of the spirit was the stormy wind of judgment; for Jesus the dove with the olive leaf after the judgment by water was past.

Matthew 3:17 . οὗτός ἐστιν : “this is,” as if addressed to the Baptist; in Mark 1:9 , σὺ εἶ , as if addressed to Jesus. ἐν ᾧ εὐδοκ .: a Hebraism,: הָפֵץ בְּ . εὐδόκησα , aorist, either to express habitual satisfaction, after the manner of the Gnomic Aorist ( vide Hermann’s Viger , p. 169), or to denote the inner event = my good pleasure decided itself once for all for Him. So Schanz; cf. Winer, § 40, 5, on the use of the aorist. εὐδοκεῖν , according to Sturz, De Dialecto Macedonica et Alexandrina , is not Attic but Hellenistic. The voice recalls and in some measure echoes Isaiah 42:1 , “Behold My servant, I uphold Him; My chosen one, My soul delights in Him. I have put My spirit upon Him.” The title “Son” recalls Psalms 2:7 . Taking the vision, the voice, and the baptism together as interpreting the consciousness of Jesus before and at this time, the following inferences are suggested. (1) The mind of Jesus had been exercised in thought upon the Messianic vocation in relation to His own future. (2) The chief Messianic charism appeared to Him to be sympathy, love. (3) His religious attitude towards God was that of a Son towards a Father. (4) It was through the sense of sonship and the intense love to men that was in His heart that He discovered His Messianic vocation. (5) Prophetic texts gave direction to and supplied means of expression for His religious meditations. His mind, like that of John, was full of prophetic utterances, but a different class of oracles had attractions for Him. The spirit of John revelled in images of awe and terror. The gentler spirit of Jesus delighted in words depicting the ideal servant of God as clothed with meekness, patience, wisdom, and love.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 3". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/matthew-3.html. 1897-1910.
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