From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Feb 25 1999 - 12:15:56 EST

At 10:31 AM -0500 2/25/99, Perry L. Stepp wrote:
>Boy, I'm going to get my knuckles rapped for this one! I'm not even going
>to mention Greek! Ah, well.


>I have no desire to start an off-topic thread--although I don't mind
>discussing this further offlist. But I simply must offer this observation
>from a wanna-be NT theologian:

Any discussion of this really MUST be off-list, inasmuch as the focus of
this message is an item that was really secondary and tangential to what I
had to say about BAPTIZW EN/EIS/EPI. So if you want to discuss this
further, address it off-list to me and/or Perry.

I offered the comment cited below as (2) not as an item of exegesis of the
Greek constructions of BAPTIZW with EN, EIS, and EPI but solely to indicate
the underlying I assumption that I hold (rather tentatively than
dogmatically) about the oral tradition of the baptismal story, and to
clarify the hypothetical basis for arguing that these different
prepositional constructions with BAPTIZW do NOT represent radically
different ideas about what baptism means. But I probably could have and
quite surely should have avoided even stating that perspective. Let me make
one clarification, however: I used the term "myth" with no intent
whatsoever to dispute or disparage the historicity of traditions of the
baptism of Jesus; rather I use it in the anthropological sense of the story
that is told to explain the meaning of ritual action.

>Carl wrote:
>>(2) Regardless of the narrative function given the story of the baptism of
>>Jesus by each evangelist, I would suppose that the Sitz-im-Leben of the
>>original story in oral tradition is functioning as the "foundation myth" of
>>the ritual of baptism in the Christian community: each baptizand enters
>>into the water as did Jesus himself, then issues from it reborn to be
>>greeted by the community as a favored child of God, a brother or sister of
>I have problems with seeing the baptism of Jesus as a "foundation myth,"
>because it's never referred to elsewhere in the NT. No NT writer, when
>writing about baptism, no matter what their audience, said (wrote) "Be
>baptized because Jesus was baptized." Nor do any of them refer to Jesus'
>baptism--unless my memory fails me horribly. The only references to Jesus'
>baptism are the narrative retellings of the event. The believers' baptisms
>are always linked to Jesus' death (which admittedly he himself links with
>baptism), not with his baptism at the hands of John.

The symbolism of baptism in any case is that of death and regeneration as a
new person; one may argue that in Matthew's baptismal narrative, the focus
on death is made considerably sharper and closer to the surface than it is
in Mark and Luke. I don't dispute that the discussion of the meaning of
baptism is regularly in terms of the death and resurrection of Christ, yet
the only clear account of the HOW of baptism in the NT is the narrative of
Jesus' baptism. It's my own view that the mere historical factuality of
Jesus' baptism is not the only factor in its preservation in the oral
tradition prior to the composition of the gospels.

>I suspect that the narrative retellings of the event in the gospels are
>aimed at establishing a relationship of continuity yet disjunction with
>Judaism--Jews being baptized by John as if they were proselytes, and all
>that. I don't see anything that functions mythically here.

Certainly there are several alternative ways to account for the narrative
traditions preserved in the gospels, and for my part, I don't think those
ways are mutually exclusive--but this isn't the place to talk about them,
and I'm sorry if my intrusion of a speculation of that nature into the
discussion of BAPTIZW has been disturbing. I should have omitted it, and
this is definitely not the proper forum for such discussion.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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