The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the last public testimony of the Baptist to Jesus

(Joh 3:22-36)

From Jerusalem Jesus betook Himself with His disciples to a district in the land of Judea, which is not more distinctly specified. Here He tarried with them and baptized. On this latter point the Evangelist explains himself more particularly in chap. 4:2, and remarks that Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples. Therefore they baptized by His authority.1 John the Baptist was at the same time still discharging his office. But he was baptizing at Enon, near Salim; ‘because there was much water there,’ says the Evangelist. According to the old geographical tradition which we find in Eusebius and Jerome, this town was situated in the Samaritan territory.2 But the circumstance that the Baptist should baptize on Samaritan ground has appeared so strange, that it has been preferred to place these towns lower down, within the bounds of Judea, or to consider places with names of a similar sound—Silchim3 or Seleim, and Ain, which, according to Jos 15:32, lay on the most southern border of Judea—as those which are here specified. But Silchim is not convertible with Salim, though we might allow Ain to be used for Enon. Besides, it is improbable that John, so short a time before his imprisonment, should have stayed here in the south of Judea. We must therefore turn to those places fixed by tradition, if we would know anything more exactly about Enon. But if we were induced to give up the site of Enon, as stated in Jerome, by remarking that there might be, and actually were, places in different parts of Palestine which were called ‘Fountains’ or ‘at the pools,’ yet it must be observed that here in the text, as in Jerome, Enon and Salim are closely connected. When therefore ancient tradition points out two places which are quite contiguous, as the Gospel history asserts of two like-named places, and when that tradition maintains that these places are the same which are here mentioned, we must let the matter rest. And in this instance it is nothing to the purpose to remove the place into the Jewish territory, in order to make the representation more readily explicable that John baptized there. The view must be justified rather on the ground of the judaizing mind of the Baptist That large-hearted theocrat, who addressed to the Pharisees that bold word of Universalism, ‘God can of these stones raise up children unto Abraham,’ was able as a prophet to occupy a stand-point on which he could regard the Samaritans as a part of the Israelitish family. It would be committing a great mistake to confound his theocratic strictness with Jewish narrow-heartedness, and evince a blunted sensibility to the mental elevation of that ardent strictness. How could that mightiest thunderer in Israel, Elijah, be an inmate so long with a Phœnician widow, if in that zealous spirit there had not been lodged the germ of the most wide-hearted humanity? Thus Jonah was sent to preach repentance to the heathen Ninevites. But our text appears to contain several indications that John was now baptizing in the Samaritan territory. Probably the Evangelist had this contrast in his thoughts when he wrote the singular clause, ‘Jesus came’ (from Jerusalem, in the centre of Judea) ‘into the land of Judea,’ and baptized there. He also assigns a reason for the remarkable choice of a place by the Baptist, in the words, ‘because there was much water there;’ and when he goes on to say, ‘and they came and were baptized,’ it seems as if he meant—‘it succeeded, though it seemed hazardous,—persons presented themselves for baptism even here.’ Also, the fact, that a Jew4 disputed with some disciples of John about the baptism of purification,5 appears to indicate that this Jew had some objection to make to the validity of the rite administered by the Baptist. Probably he gave the preference to the rite which the disciples of Jesus administered, because it was performed in the land of Judea. But, lastly, it might naturally be expected that the man who was destined to devote his life to God as the forerunner of Christ, the great restorer of all Israelites, and in truth of all nations, would at least take the first steps in his office, to pass beyond the bounds of an exclusive Judaism. But if any one made objections to this bold enlargement of his sphere, he would probably answer, in a tone of rebuke, I find much water here, and much water I require for the purification of this people.

Thus, then, Jesus and John for a short time were occupied near one another in the administration of baptism. The Evangelist adds to his account the explanatory observation, ‘John was not yet cast into prison.’ This at least determines the correct chronological relation between the beginning of the history of the ministry of Jesus, according to John, and the first occurrences in the same ministry which are narrated in the synoptic Gospels. It has been already remarked, that the synoptists pass over the beginning of it. But it has been thought surprising that Jesus and John should thus stay and baptize in each other’s vicinity. It may be here asked, especially, why John did not enrol himself among the disciples of Jesus? This has already been answered. In this case, John would have relinquished the Messianic service which had been specially assigned to him. This must have made him certain, in his position, that Jesus did not require him to be an outward follower. But the other question is more difficult, Why did Jesus allow His disciples to baptize close by John? At the first glance it might seem as if the great act of purifying was thereby divided. But this act was of such significance, that possibly ten zealous theocrats might have administered it in different parts of the land, without breaking up its unity; just as now it is administered by thousands of the clergy throughout the world, and everywhere has the same meaning of incorporation into the Church of Christ. Besides, we cannot but suppose that the disciples who here surround the Lord, and probably consisted of some of John’s disciples, whose numbers might be increased by Jewish adherents of Jesus, were accustomed to adopt this method of preparing the way for the kingdom of Christ. And it might be important to them to perform their old work with new joy and mental elevation in the presence of Christ and under His authority.

The relation of the baptism of John to the baptism of Jesus has been often discussed. Tholuck6 distinguishes the baptism of John from this first baptism of Jesus, and this again from the baptism of the Christian Church, which Jesus instituted before His ascension, and which began after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. According to Tholuck, the first baptism was into the future Messiah; the second, into the Messiah who had actually come; the third, again, had a character of its own. We may certainly speak of different forms of baptism; but it is not practicable to see in them, at the same time, different kinds of baptism. It is here of the first importance to determine the peculiar significance of baptism. The essential character of baptism lies not in its various relations to the appearance of the Messiah, but in its symbolically representing the purification (the καθαρισμός) of the defiled for the pure host, the community or society of the Messiah. Hence there is only one proper baptismal rite from the beginning of the tabernacle to the end of the world—the water-baptism of the theocratic community, as a symbol of the Spirit-baptism by which this community is converted from a typical into a real community of God. The Spirit-baptism of Christ is, after all, the only proper baptism, when we speak of the essence of baptism and not of the rite. On the other hand, water-baptism is the only proper baptism, when we speak of the rite and not of its essential significance. Hence Lücke7 is justified in maintaining ‘the essential identity of John’s baptism with Christ’s water-baptism;’ only it easily creates a misconception to designate the latter baptism as water-baptism. The relation of symbolical to essential baptism is represented in a threefold manner. On the one hand stands the baptism of John—water-baptism connected with the promise of Spirit-baptism. On the other hand stands the proper baptism of Christ—the Spirit-baptism connected with the sacramental sealing by means of water-baptism. Between these two appears the third form of baptism, the transitional form—a water-baptism which was supplemented by the beginning of the Spirit-baptism. The baptism of the Christian Church may appear in all these forms.8 That water-baptism which some disciples of Jesus administered for a while under His inspection in Judea, may be regarded as a transitional form. Christ permitted His disciples this kind of ministry, while He supplemented it by His own.

But why, then, did the disciples suddenly abandon their administration of baptism? For this we must suppose, since, till the founding of the Christian Church at Pentecost, we hear no more of baptism. On this striking fact Lücke makes the following remark (Commentar, i. 559): ‘Must not the reason of this have been, that definite faith in Jesus the Christ, as involved in baptism, appeared so seldom in the lifetime of Jesus, and so much the less, as Christ, in reference to His adherents, attended more to their selection than to increasing their number?’ But yet, during the whole period of Christ’s ministry, individual confessors of His Messiahship were always coming forward, who, according to Lücke's supposition, must have submitted to baptism. This difficulty can only be explained from the far too little understood social significance of baptism. Baptism constituted a distinct contrast between the old impure, and the new purified community. As long as the Baptist and Christ were not checked in their ministry, the Israelitish social body (Societat) might be regarded as a community making a transition from impurity to purity. But no sooner was the Baptist, the primary organ of purification, imprisoned, and the guilt of his execution laid on the tetrarch of Galilee, and mediately on the whole land, than the state of the case was altered. Whither should the baptized in Galilee be directed and conducted? The circumstance that the baptism of Jesus was questioned in the Sanhedrim (4:1) might render doubtful the admissibility of further baptisms. The nation, as a nation, could no longer be baptized when the representatives of the nation gave positive indications that this act appeared to them objectionable or suspicious. But as Jesus not long after was treated by the Sanhedrim as an excommunicated person (Joh 9:22), it would have been in the highest degree against the truth and social sense of honour, if He had introduced baptized persons into that social body which had excommunicated Him. But as little was it the time when, in contrast to the impure host, He could have formed a pure one into an outward Christian society. He must now go out of that camp bearing His reproach (Heb 13:13), and, by the baptism of blood which He endured, a people were collected who were ready to go with Him out of that camp, and to present themselves opposite to it as His Church. Hence baptism was now soon suspended till the completion of his work.

Through the ministry of Christ, the baptism of His disciples gained a fuller meaning and made a more powerful impression than the baptism of John. For it so happened that the confluence of the people to Jesus became greater, while that to the Baptist declined. This mortified John’s disciples; and, moreover, at last the reproaches which that Jew mentioned by the Evangelist seems to have cast upon them, aroused their jealousy. So they hasten to him and vent their complaints. ‘Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him.’ They avoid mentioning the name of Jesus—a suspicious sign! They seem to wish to suggest to their master, that Jesus, on the other side Jordan, had allowed Himself to be reckoned as one of his disciples. At all events, they would fasten upon Him an abuse of the witness borne to Him by John: now that He has the attestation, they mean to say, He requites the Baptist by commencing His own ministry, and renouncing his acquaintance. Undeniably an envious thought of this kind oozes out in their discourse. And now the full greatness of the Baptist is shown in contrast with the littleness of His disciples: in them only the most superficial of his once flourishing school were left to him, while he had dismissed the best to the school of Jesus. Solemnly, and with an inspired sacerdotal presentiment of his approaching tragical exit, and of the incipient glorification of Jesus, he yet once more bears his testimony to Him: ‘A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him.’ He then describes the glorious position of Jesus. ‘He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom.’ To Him belongs the Church of God in its noble first-fruits as well as in all its future members, the community of those who are susceptible of life from God; in Him it recognizes its beloved Lord who brings to it the life of God. Since the Church of God hastens to Him as a bride, it marks Him as the bridegroom. But the friend of the bridegroom is free from envy; rather he rejoices with cordial sympathy. The happy and jubilant tone of the bridegroom’s voice moves his friend’s soul to greater joy. ‘This my joy,’ the Baptist says with unconscious dignity to his little disciples, who in their poverty of soul would importune him not to give up his reputation unenviously to his greater successor—‘is now fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’ His eye then brightens into prophetic clearness, that he may once more behold and announce the Messianic glory of Jesus. ‘He that cometh from above is above all,’ he exclaims. ‘He that is of the earth, is earthly, and speaketh of the earth. He that cometh from heaven is above all.’ How the one, the Adamic man, rises out of the poor earth. He is in his origin earthly-minded, and cannot perfectly rise above himself. Even his illumination, and the very expressions of his rapture, are still affected with earthly obscurity, in contrast to the clear intuition of Him who comes from heaven in the royal perfection of the new life, and who is decidedly above all. Conformably to this inspired hymn, in which he expresses with the deepest humility the whole contrast between the Adamic and the Christian æon—between the men who are of the earth, among whom he reckons himself, in contrast to Christ, and the man from heaven—he turns to his disciples in their littleness with the admonitory declaration, ‘And what He who cometh from heaven hath seen and heard, that He testifieth. But though He announces heavenly things with an intuition clear as heaven itself, no man receiveth His testimony.’ The critic here reminds us, with annoying literality, that this contradicts the preceding account (ver. 26): ‘All men come to Him.’ This is indeed a contradiction, but it is a contradiction of the noble-minded master against his little-minded disciples. For them it was far too much-they saw all men run to Jesus; for him it was far too little. Manifestly he would have gladly sent them also to Jesus; and if they were not willing to go, he would gladly have got rid of them. ‘He that receiveth His testimony,’ he then adds by way of encouragement, ‘hath set to his seal that God is true.’ From what follows, it is evident that the Baptist uttered these highly important words in the most original sense. For thus he proves his own expression: ‘He whom God hath sent, speaketh the words of God.’ He speaks the words of God simply; that is, all God’s words, which the various prophets had spoken in parts, He utters together in the living unity of His word, in complete revelation. ‘For God giveth not the Spirit in limited measure,’ since He now gives it to Him in its perfected clearness. Christ has it in its fulness. Whoever therefore repairs to Christ, proves that he recognizes His words as the words of God—that therefore all the words of Christ agree with all the words of all the prophets; but not merely with these, but also with all the exigencies of his spiritual life produced by God. And herein lies the strongest confirmation of the truthfulness of God in its highest manifestation, which consists exactly in the agreement of all His words and operations. It is a beautiful verification of the truthfulness of God, that the leaf of the plant agrees with its flower, and the flower with man’s sense of the beautiful. But the highest glorification of the divine truthfulness is revealed in this—that the positive revelation of God in Christ agrees with the word of God in faithful hearts, with the faith of the elect. But this agreement of faithful hearts with the words of Christ must be quite perfect, since He has the fulness of the Spirit, so that no deficiency of the Spirit can form breaches and divisions between Him and His people. ‘Yea, the Father loveth the Son’ (the seer proceeded to say), ‘and hath given all things into His hand.’

Thus the Baptist crowns his Messianic knowledge with the most luminous recognition, and then closes his exhortation as the forerunner with a sentence which is altogether worthy of the great zealot. ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that obeyeth not (ἀπειθῶν) the Son shall not see life (no, not from afar), but the wrath of God abideth on him.’ Such a man refuses to conduct himself aright towards the principle of life, and central point in which the whole world finds life, light, love, and salvation, and gains its pure ideality; and thus he takes a disturbing, hostile, false position against this Prince of life, against God, against the world and his own life. Wherefore the whole government of God must reveal itself to him as an overpowering, destructive, and fiery reaction of the righteousness of God; the wrath of God remains over him, its weight evermore pressing on him more powerfully and crushingly. This denunciation of the Baptist may be regarded as the last utterance of the Old Testament—the final peal of thunder from Sinai in the New Testament.



1. Schneckenburger, in his very learned work on the Antiquity of the Jewish Proselyte Baptism, and its connection with the Baptism of John and Christian Baptism (Ueber das Alter der jüdischen Proselytentaufe, und deren Zusammenhang mit dem Johanneischen und christlichen Ritus), combats the view which deduces John’s baptism from a baptism of proselytes before the Christian era. His view is as follows (p. 184):-‘(i.) The regular admission of strangers into Judaism, as long as the temple stood, was by circumcision and sacrifice. A lustration followed the former and preceded the latter, like every other sacrifice, which, like all the other lustrations, was esteemed merely as a Levitical purification. (ii.) This lustration was not distinguished in outward form from the ordinary lustrations, but was performed like those merely by the proselytes on themselves. (iii.) This lustration by degrees, yet not demonstrably before the end of the third century, took the place of the sacrifices which had been discontinued,’ &c. The above-named learned writer has laid too great a stress on the difference, that the proselyte did not undergo the lustration by means of another person, but performed it himself. Even in John’s baptism of the persons to be purified, the Baptist did not dispense with the self-purification, but on the one hand, before baptism, represented the excommunicating, and on the other hand, after baptism, the receiving Church.9 The fundamental idea in which all the lustrations were one—namely, that they were intended to purify men symbolically for their entrance into the fellowship of the pure community—ought to have been placed in the foreground of the disquisition. If the people of Israel were obliged to wash their clothes at Sinai (Exo 19:10); if Aaron and his sons, before putting on their priestly vestments, were to wash themselves before the door of the tabernacle (Exo 29:4); they were obliged to undergo, as to its symbolical meaning, the same purification as the leper when he was purified. But that purification the person to be purified performs on himself, because it relates to the merely probable, or to the daily leper defilements which would not necessitate the defiled to a sojourn without the camp, to which a number of leper defilements belonged (compare Lev. 15, 17, &c. This, on the contrary, the priest performed before the camp, since he sprinkled upon the leper seven times with water (Lev 14:7). We have here also a lustration which the priest performed on a Jew in order to his being received again into the congregation; and therefore, even according to Schneckenburger’s distinction, a kind of baptism. It is a very remarkable fact, that the Jews who (according to Num 31:19) had, in fighting with the Midianites, come in contact with the corpses of the slaughtered Gentiles, were obliged to remain without the camp seven days, and to be purified by being sprinkled with water. In the same manner, they were obliged to purify their captives whom they kept as slaves, and also their booty; they were even to pass through fire whatever could bear it, such as gold and silver, and other metals. Moreover, the passages are to be noticed which relate to the reception of Gentiles into Israel (Jos 6:23; Jos 9:23; Rth 3:3), as well as the seven times washing in Jordan prescribed to the Gentile leper Naaman (2Ki 5:10), which corresponded to the sevenfold sprinkling of the Israelitish lepers. Also the washing of Judith (Jud 12:8) may here be noticed. Thus much is evident from the Old Testament, that the Jews themselves who had come in contact with Gentiles, to say nothing of the Gentiles, were obliged to undergo a lustration. For this reason the sprinkling of the Gentiles promised by the prophets (Isa 52:15) denotes their solemn and actual reception into the theocratic community. From this significance of the Old Testament lustration, we can understand why Peter regarded the deluge as a baptism of purification for the human race preserved in the family of Noah (1Pe 3:21), and why Paul also looked upon the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea as a baptism (purifying them from contact with the Egyptians), 1Co 10:1, compared with Heb 10:22. As to the Jewish testimonies on this subject from the times of Christ, Schneckenburger (p. 103) quotes a passage from Philo (ed. Mang. ii. 658), on which he decides as on another: In these passages reception into Judaism is spoken of; so it appears that no doubt respecting the existence of proselyte baptism can any longer be entertained. But, in fact, Philo here appears to characterize the three conditions of reception into Judaism—circumcision, ablutions or baptism, and sacrifice—in descriptions for the uninitiated, in the same manner as the ancient Christians in the disciplina areani treated and described the Christian forms of consecration as mysteries. Accordingly, ὁσιότης would be a periphrasis for circumcision, καθάρσεις for baptism, and ἐνέχυρον for sacrifice. The passages which the author (p. 79) quotes from Arrian10 and (p. 127) from Cyprian, obtained their full significance only if, as has been remarked, the various Jewish lustrations are viewed in their common significance; and in connection with this discussion, the talmudic and rabbinical accounts which have been adduced, appear as witnesses that those ablutions which the proselytes had to undergo, after the time of Christ, certainly gained an increased consideration, yet without becoming for the first time a rite of consecration.11

2. In modern times the Section Vers. 31-36 has been held to be a further simplification by the Evangelist, in which he has developed the testimony of the Baptist. As to the supposed contradiction between ver. 26 and ver. 32, which has been urged in favour of this view, the explanation already given is sufficient. When, further, doubts are entertained about attributing to the Baptist the profound christological expressions that follow, it appears to be overlooked, in reference to this passage, as in other cases, that we have to recognize in the Baptist not merely an expounder of the Old Testament, not merely a zealous preacher of repentance, but a prophet, who, like Isaiah and Ezekiel, in inspired utterances could express profound insight into the nature of the Messiah, which far transcended his common matured views. And it is well to bear in mind that we have here before us his last testimony to the glory of Jesus. But the close of the discourse is altogether conformable to the Old Testament stand-point of the Baptist—the wrath of God is denounced on the unbelieving. The circumstance that the Baptist speaks in the present tense, as Lücke remarks, favours the opinion that the Baptist is here continuing his own discourse. Lücke admits that the Evangelist mingles his own train of thought with the discourse of the Baptist. But we believe that in this section there exists the unmixed stream of thought of one in a state of mental transport. No doubt the Evangelist’s phraseology has contributed to the form of the representation. But if here John the Baptist speaks like the Evangelist, it is right to recollect that possibly the Evangelist might, in some measure, learn from his former teacher to express himself like John the Baptist. The hypothesis that this section originated in the desire of the author of the fourth Gospel to exhibit a more favourable testimony of the Baptist to Christ than history furnished, in order to make an impression on John’s disciples, is, to say the least, in the highest degree unworthy of him; and it is almost needless to remark, that a Christian, apart from inclination, could hardly be so simple as to hope that by such a fiction he could make the disciples of John uncertain of their own tradition.



1) [ʻSemper is dicitur facere, cui preministratur. . . . . Itaque tinguebant discipuli ejus, ut ministri’—Tertullian, De Baptismo, c. 11, Similarly Bengel in loc.—Alford aptly compares the case of Paul, 1 Cor. i 14. Lampe objects to all the reasons commonly assigned, and concludes, ‘res non adeo plana est.’—ED. ]

2) Compare Lücke, Commentary, i, 553; and Winer, R. W. B., art. Aenon and Salem ; Robinson. i, 279 [also iii, 298]. “The Sȧlim which Robinson found not far from Nabulus lies at such a distance from the Jordan, that it is not very probable that Enon was on the banks of that river. Probably it was, according to Lücke, only a place of fountains, עֵינוֺן is derived from עַין a fountain, On the form, see Tholuck, p. 127. But if Enon was situated near the Jordan, the expression ‘there was much water there? would not be used without a reason—not so ridiculous as some would wish to make it, for every boy knows that it is not every part of a river’s banks Which is suited for bathing.

3) שִֹלְהִים or Σελεείμ, according to the Cod, Alex. of the Septuagint,

4) The preponderating majority of the most important authorities have Ἰουδαίου instead of ’Ιουδαίων.’—Lücke, 1.555. [So Lachmann, Tischendorf, Alferd, and Wordsworth.]

5) The expression περὶ καθαρισμοῦ plainly shows that baptism was regarded in its connection with the Jewish symbolic ablutions.

6) See his Commentary, p. 125. [Robert Hall, Terms of Communion (postscript), Works, ii. 170 ; also his Essential Difference between Christian Baptism and the Baptism of John, Works, ii, 175-232.—Tr. Calvin (Instit. iv. 15, 18), Turretin (Instit. xix, 16), and Witsius (De Œcon. Fed. iv. 16, 9) agree in maintaining that the baptism of John agreed with that of Jesus in essentials, but differed in circumstances, and expecially in the smaller gift of the Spirit which accompanied that of Jolm. The Council of ‘Tyent says swminarily (Sess. vii, Can. 1), ‘Si quis dixerit, Baptismum Johannis habuisse eandem vim cum baptismo Christi, anathema sit.’ Tertullian has been quoted on the other side (De Baptismo, c, 4),—‘ Nee quiequam refert inter eos, quos Joannes in Jordane et quos Petrus in Tiberi tinxit;’ but this he said only to show that there was no special sanctity in any particular water. In chap. 11 of the same treatise he takes up the above question, Burnett (On the Thirty-nine Articles, Art, 27) also treats it, but is not satisfactory.—ED.]

7) Commentar, i. 551.

8) In compulsory baptism it sinks below John’s baptism ; for compulsory baptism is, properly speaking, no baptism.

9) [So it was appointed by rabbinical law that proselyte baptism should be administered in presence of three wise and trustworthy Israelites, who should see that all was duly preformed. Witsius thinks there is a reference to this in the three witnesses of 1 John v. 7.—ED.]

10) [The quotation from Arrian referred to (Epietet. ii. 9) which speaks of Jews as baptized, is rendered invalid by the great probability that Arrian might confound Jews with Christians. Cyprian is too late to be of any use as a witness, for long before his day there was a manifest tendency among the Jews to baptize. As early as Justin Martyr there was a Jewish sect known as the Baptizers (Dial. c. Tryph. 307).—ED.]

11) [The English reader who desires to pursue ‘this subject will find all the material for doing so in Selden, De Jure Nature et Gent. ii. 2; Lightfoot, Hor, Heb. on Matt. iii. 6 ; or Wall’s History of Infant Baptism (Introd.), where the passages from Jewish writers are given in detail and commented upon. Gale’s 9th and 10th Letters in reply to Wall ought also to be considered, though much of what he adduces is quite beside the point. ED.]