Jesus’ baptism (Mt 3:16-3:16)

“When Jesus had been baptized,

Just as he came up

From the water,

Suddenly,

The heavens were opened

To him.

He saw

The Spirit of God

Descending

Like a dove,

Alighting on him.”

 

βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὐθὺς ἀνέβη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν οἱ οὐρανοί, καὶ εἶδεν Πνεῦμα Θεοῦ καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν ἐρχόμενον ἐπ’ αὐτόν·

 

The four gospel stories show what happend to Jesus after he had been baptized (βαπτισθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς).  As Jesus immediately emerged from the water (εὐθὺς ἀνέβη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕδατος), the heavens opened up or broke open to him (καὶ ἰδοὺ ἠνεῴχθησαν οἱ οὐρανοί), a theme found among the prophets Isaiah, chapter 63:19, and Ezekiel, chapter 1:1.  Thus, Matthew made another connection with the Hebrew prophets.  Jesus saw the Holy Spirit of God (καὶ εἶδεν Πνεῦμα Θεοῦ) descend on him (καταβαῖνον ἐρχόμενον ἐπ’ αὐτόν) like a dove (ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν).  As Jesus came up from the water, not during the baptism itself, the Holy Spirit, as a dove, came to stay on Jesus.  Just as the dove after the great flood in Genesis, chapter 8:8-12, heralded a new age, so too Jesus would preach the good news in this new age.  With his prophetic vocation, Jesus was anointed with power to begin his public ministry of healing and exorcising.  The later concept of the anointing of Jesus with the Spirit referred to this action of the dove, after his baptism in the Jordan.  There was a clear distinction between the baptism of Jesus himself, and the specific dove bestowal of the Spirit that followed.  Despite the fact that there was no indication of any real anointing in any of these baptismal accounts of Jesus, the coming of the Spirit, in the form of a dove, was considered a symbolic anointing of Jesus within the Judaic prophetic line.  This incident functioned as the basis for an understanding of Jesus’ metaphorical anointing as “the anointed one,” “Christ.”  This symbolic metaphorical anointing action gathered many of the Hebrew bible strands of a messianic king, a sacerdotal high priest, a servant, and a prophet into this one event.   Within this process, the messianic time began with a pre-figuration of what was going to take place at the later Pentecost event, when the fullness of the Spirit came to all the followers of Jesus.

Advertisements

The wider meaning of prophet

The term prophet had a wide meaning among the Israelites, since it also included people like Abraham, Moses, and Miriam.  That is why some so-called historical books are often called the early prophets.  Jewish traditions hold that there were 48 male prophets, and seven female prophets, Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther.  Others have recognized Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah as female prophets also.  Thus, there is a wide range of written prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament.  The Hebrew prophetic dominant message was a return to Yahweh and his laws.  They were to protect the poor, the orphans, and the widows.  Justice and righteousness dominate in their messages.  Yahweh would judge them.  Although some Israelites were sinners, they would have a bright future if they turned from their evil ways to Yahweh.

The Hebrew Bible

In fact, we are under the illusion that there is only one inspired Bible, when there were many versions of the inspired Bible with various interpretations.  First of all, there is the Hebrew inspired canonical Bible, the Tanakh, with the 10th century CE Hebrew Masoretic text that has its origins millenniums earlier.  The earliest known collection of these Hebrew writings was in the 2nd century BCE.  This Hebrew text had 24 books, the 5 books of the Torah, 4 books of the early prophets with 15 books of the later prophets.  The other writings were in dispute as to their canonicity.

Different points of view

The New Testament references the Hebrew Bible that came to be known as the Old Testament.  The New Testament books were not referred to until the second century of the common era.  Consensus on its contents did not occur until the late fourth century.  There is nothing wrong with different points of view or inconsistencies.  The first two chapters of Genesis are not contradictory.  The synoptic gospels give different versions of the Baptism of Jesus.  Most of us just say “so what?”  We understand different points of view.  The Bible had different authors over a considerable amount of time.  The Old Testament took hundreds of years to complete.  The New Testament took thirty to sixty years to finish.  Very few could write, so that oral tradition dominated in that society.  The texts themselves were rewritten, so that we say that the texts we have, with all its corrections, is the one that God wants us to have.

The Hebrew Bible (Sir 0:1-0:4)

“Many great teachings have been given to us

Through the Law,

Through the Prophets,

Through the other books that followed them.

For these,

We praise Israel for instruction.

We praise Israel for wisdom.

Now those who read the scriptures

Must not only themselves understand them.

They must also,

As lovers of learning,

Be able

Through the spoken word,

Through the written word,

To help the outsiders.”

The first question that we face with this book of Ecclesiasticus is its role in the Biblical canon since it was not part of the Hebrew cannon, but certainly part of the Greek Septuagint. Thus it is often considered deutero-canonical. There is even a question as to whether this prologue is canonical since it clearly was added on later by the translator. No other book has this clear delineation between author and later translator. However, what is extremely interesting is the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible that still exists today, the Law, the Prophets, and the other Writings. This would seem to indicate that the canonical Hebrew Bible had been completed when this writing took place. This statement is generally considered the earliest witness to a Hebrew canon of the books of the Prophets. This author praised Israel for its instruction and wisdom. He was quite aware that most people did not read these holy writings or scripture. Thus, those who read these scriptures must not only understand it themselves, but also help others. These lovers of learning must help with the written and spoken word to spread the message of the great teachings.