Elwyn asks a super question: “Bob, John 3:22 states that Jesus was spending time with His disciples and baptizing. Does this literally mean that He was baptizing people and if so, what was the purpose of His baptizing contrasted with John the Baptist?”
John gives further explanation a few verses later: “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)…” (John 4:1-2).
Why didn’t Jesus Himself baptize people?
We find a strong hint in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. While Paul did baptize a few people, he stopped doing so because he didn’t want people to be able to say that he was the one who baptized them: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other” (1 Cor 1:14-16). In that context, Paul was addressing the divisions in the church at Corinth where some said, “I am of Paul” and others, “I am of Cephas.”
If you had been baptized by the Lord Jesus Himself, you likely would share that. Then your baptism would somehow seem more important than that of others.
Did you know that there is no indication that the disciples ever experienced Christian baptism? They baptized others on the day of Pentecost. But we are not told that they themselves were baptized.
At least two of Jesus’ disciples had been disciples of John the Baptist and presumably had been baptized by him. But most of the twelve likely had not been baptized by John.
Did the twelve disciples baptize each other during the ministry of Jesus? Possibly. But there is no indication of that.
What about John the Baptist? Did anyone baptize him? There is no indication of that either.
It is probably safe to conclude the following:
- Jesus did not baptize anyone.
- Very few people were baptized by the Apostle Paul.
- John the Baptist was never baptized.
- The Twelve did not undergo Christian baptism.
Now to Elwyn’s second question: “What was the purpose of His baptizing contrasted with John the Baptist?”
Jesus had His disciples baptize people for the same reason that John the Baptist baptized. He was preparing Israel for the coming kingdom.
The baptizing ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus’ disciples was not Christian baptism. The Church did not exist at that time. This was Jewish baptism in light of the nearness of the kingdom.
Let’s say that a person had been baptized by John the Baptist or one of Jesus’ disciples during His ministry. Would he then be required to be baptized again in Christian baptism after the Church was born? Yes. Christian baptism was not the same as the baptism of Jesus and of John. Of course, Christian baptism is not necessary for the new birth. Christian baptism is the first step in discipleship (Matt 28:18-20).
For application today, I suggest that you not make an issue of who baptized you. The fame, popularity, or prominence of the person who baptized you doesn’t matter. What matters is that you began on the path of discipleship and that you now continue on that path.