Bible Review 1:3, Fall 1985

The Baptism of Jesus

A story modeled on the binding of Isaac

By William R. Stegner

John’s baptism of Jesus appears in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Here is how Mark describes it in a mere 53 words in Greek:

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9–11; see also Matthew 3:13–17; Luke 3:21–22).

Exegetes have puzzled for centuries over the theological meaning of Jesus’ baptism, particularly as derived from Mark’s account. A new understanding emerges, I believe, when we realize that this baptism story was modeled on the Old Testament account of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, an episode known to students of the Old Testament as the binding of Isaac.

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