Did Jesus sin? All confessions declare that he was without sin! So why was he baptized?
Did Jesus need to repent? All Christians believe not! So why his baptism?
Was baptism the moment of his divine adoption (hence the solemn declaration of his divine son-hood)? The Church declared this teaching a heresy early on!
What should we do with teacher-pupil subordination? John’s statements reversing this order are badly disguised later Christian re-interpretations and insertions into John's mouth!
Christians always have had problems with Jesus’ baptism by John. For that reason it is a rock solid historical fact (or as rock solid as possible, one of very few). There is no way anyone in the early church could have made this story up. Jesus was baptized by John.
The majority of these problems actually originate a century or so after the events in an utter misunderstanding of the forgotten original meaning of John’s prophetic gesture. I wrote about it some time ago in some of my older messages here and here. Baptism was not primarily a matter of personal piety. John’s baptism was an act of religious and political protest using a powerful religious and mythical idiom. It was criticism of the current social, political and religious status quo and enrollment into the vibrant movement of radical reform. This religious gesture was a complex religious metaphor. It declared, “In Judea and in Jerusalem something went terribly wrong; the entire project of the People of God in the Promised Land is completely broken. Superficial improvements would not help. Complete social overhaul is needed. It urgently needs to be restarted from the beginning. People of faith need to return back to Jordan, to the time of Josiah and start again, anew and fresh!”
No surprise then, Jesus chose to be baptized. This was indeed the beginning sentiment and substantial part of his ministry and message.
Baptism was and remains a powerful sacrament. This Sunday we will be talking about its deep mythopoetical roots, about its meaning for Jesus and his contemporaries, and about its radical mythopolitical meaning for us today.
And for those who have read this far here is a little bit of the first century political geography. As mentioned earlier, baptism in the Jordan had great religious symbolic significance. For John it simply could not be just any body of water. This location also had great geographic and political advantage. John was preaching across the border to Judea. (Like the BBC during WWII, Radio Free Europe during the Cold War or, or evangelical radio broadcasting to North from South Korea). John got into trouble only when he started to criticize and diplomatically undermine his host Herod Antipas, lord of Galilee and Perea - I wrote a little more about it in my one of my previous blogs here.