Opinion Columns & Blogs

Why was Jesus baptized?

I was always taught that baptism removes sin. Not only Adam and Eve’s original sin, (whatever that was!) but, if we’re talking about adult baptism: personal sin; so what kind of bad stuff had Jesus committed that he needed forgiveness and absolution?

You remember the scene in Mark’s gospel. It’s repeated with a few variations by Matthew and then several years later by Luke. But one fact remains constant: John the Baptizer baptizes Jesus for the “forgiveness of sin.” This embarrassing fact must have been found in all the various documents that these three evangelists used to write their stories, and I’ll bet anything they wanted to leave it out. You can tell how painful it was to include it; all three tried desperately to soften it.

Mark writes that the sky opened and Yahweh shouted: “You are my beloved son; I take delight in you.” Matthew does the same thing, and then makes a further addition: he quotes John the Baptizer as saying: “I need to be baptized by you; why are you coming to me?” Luke simply copies Mark’s account.

Remember, this is 40-60 years after the death of Jesus and by this time the “cult of Jesus” was alive and well in the Greek Islands thanks to Paul, and in many Palestinian towns thanks to Peter. You can be sure that none of these Greek Christians or Jesus-Jews wanted to think about a “sinful” hero. Nowhere in any of the Gospels do we find the evangelists showing Jesus committing a sin or even making a mistake. And when they have to show him angrily overturning the tables in the temple, they try to justify it—as if these money changers didn’t have a right to overcharge the people when they bought their sacrificial doves on the high holy days.

The evangelists had a tough job, no doubt about it. On the one hand, they wanted to be faithful to the oral and written traditions they had collected, but on the other hand, they didn’t want to offend the sensibilities of their readers. They knew what their readers believed: “Jesus had been sinless.” But they also knew that this baptism was one of the few really historical items they had.

We were taught that Jesus was truly man and truly God. I have no idea — nor does anyone else — how this combination would show itself in daily life. Did he take off his glasses, rip apart his shirt, and race through the skies in search of trouble? Theologians, like Thomas Aquinas, wrote lengthy tomes trying to piece together these two ontologically opposing concepts but they failed, and I certainly don’t know the answer.

I see him as a man just like me and I know what men are like. If we have a goal and he surely did, we’re relentless in pushing toward it, even if it means stepping on toes. If we’re the leaders of the pack and he surely was, we’re not as sensitive to others as we should be. If we run into opposition and he had plenty of that, we fight; sometimes we cuss and fuss, sometimes we blurt out what we shouldn’t, and sometimes we even take it out on those around us. I guess you’d call these sins; they’re certainly failings most of us men wish we could correct.

Another thing: If we’re heterosexual, and I’m assuming Jesus was, we are seriously attracted to women. And you know what that means! As young men, we bumble and stumble around; we brag and exaggerate; we do all sorts of stupid things to attract her attention, and when we get it we don’t know what to do with it. When I was in my late 20s — a budding scripture scholar — I walked up and down the hilly streets of Nazareth, and I met many brown-eyed beauties who made me wonder what Jesus had seen — and done — when he walked these same streets.

The Old Testament (Jesus called it his Tanakh) is full of sexual rules and restrictions, which means that men in those days were just as “inclined” as men are today, and they committed just as many “sexual sins.”

So – what was Jesus really like? Was he absolutely “sinless?” Did he walk on water all the time? Didn’t he ever feel anger or envy or greed or lust? Was his relationship to women like Mary Magdalene purely platonic? Or did he fight with men and fool around with women just like every other man, before and since? Well, was he a real man or not?

I don’t know. I’m just asking.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His blog is www.progressiveheretic.com.