Luke 3:21

Re Luke's redaction of the baptism of Jesus...

In reply to Dan G. McCartney,Tue, 10 May 1994 15:56 EST
 "It looks to me that this awkwardness in Luke was
necessitated by Luke's inclusion of the imprisonment of John
in the preceding two verses, so he has to revert back to the
time of John's activity.  I would not read a great deal
either into Mk/Mt's euqus or into the tense differentiation
in Lks gen.abs phrase.  Could it not be simply because
baptism is difficult to regard as anything other than a
simple act, whereas praying is inherently an ongoing
activity?  Are not participles of speaking verbs typically
present tense?"

I really donUt think this will do. For one thing, verbs of
speaking certainly are common in the present tense, but
some are found regularly in an aorist participle, such as
apokrinamenos or apokritheis. I really think there is a
differentiation of time intended between the baptism of
Jesus and the descent of the Spirit upon him in LukeUs

There is a crucial question already implicit in Dan's note:
WHY has Luke included the imprisonment of John in the
preceding two verses? (In fact, the whole matter of the way
the different Synoptics and John represent the relationship
between John the Baptist and Jesus is complex and puzzling,
both in historical and theological terms--but that's a
different can of worms.) Two possibilities come to my mind:

(1) The view of Conzelmann (_Theology of St. Luke_ < _Die
Mitte der Zeit_) was that Luke perceived salvation history
in three stages, the successive eras of Israel, of Jesus
(the "center of time"), and of the Church. Conzelmann argued
that Luke viewed John the Baptist not as the prophetic
forerunner = "Elijah redivivus" but as the last prophet of
the era of Israel. I think Conzelmann bases this partly on
statements about John the Baptist elsewhere in the gospel of
Luke but also very much upon the strange way in which Luke
sets forth the activity of John the Baptist and then
shuffles him off stage before bringing Jesus onto stage. So
the baptism of Jesus is referred to obliquely in Lk 3:21,
but there is no longer any mention of John the Baptist. Luke
furthermore goes on to narrate the descent of the Spirit
onto Jesus but distinctly differentiates it from Jesus'
baptism. I don't care to defend Conzelmann's thesis at this
point, as I'm not sure it will stand up, but he does present
one explanation of this strange sequence in Luke.

(2) Another explanation suggested itself to me as I was
thinking this through again recently. Since Luke, like
Matthew, has amplified Mark's rather straightforward and
brief account of the activity of John the Baptist with the Q
passage ("You brood of vipers ... he will baptize you with
holy spirit and with fire, etc."), the antithesis (already
present in Mark) between the water baptism by John and the
Spirit baptism by Jesus has been made all the sharper. It
has occurred to me that perhaps Luke wants to differentiate
the descent of the spirit upon Jesus from the baptism
precisely because the church's linkage of water baptism and
descent of the spirit upon the new Christian is for Luke a
phenomenon for the period after Pentecost (for that matter,
the Pentecost event itself, as Luke describes it in Acts 2,
is a descent of the spirit dissociated from water baptism).
In that case, Luke retains the tradition that Jesus was
baptized by John the Baptist and retains the tradition
reported in Mark, that the descent of the spirit upon Jesus
was associated with his baptism,--retains it by making it
happen in the same time period, but nevertheless
differentiates the descent of the spirit from the water
baptism proper.

Luke's telling of the story of Jesus' baptism and of the
coming of the spirit upon him is certainly different enough
from the other gospels to call for some explanation. I don't
think it harmonizes readily with the accounts of Mark and
Matthew, who both report that the spirit descended on Jesus
while he was emerging (or had just emerged) from the water.
I think there's a real problem here, but I don't fancy that
I have proposed anything more than hypothetical solutions to
it, nor would it surprise me to learn that there's a whole
bibliography on this question that I don't know about yet.

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