Gospels Week 2: Baptism

Reading

Matthew 3:13–17

Mark 1:9–11

Luke 3:21–22

John 1:29–34

Questions

  • Water vs. blood… which is thiccer?
  • How do we begin anew?

The gospels differ in the amount of detail they give about Jesus’ early life. But all four feature a baptismal scene in which Jesus is baptised by (or at least meets up with) John (the Baptist…of Jesus, and many other people apparently).

We began by reading the Nicene Creed, which was decided in AD 325 and revised in AD 381. Fun fact, this was probably the original baptismal creed recited at a Christian’s baptism in Nicaea around that time. Many Christian denominations still use the Creed as part of their services, though not all do — Azazel is a Unitarian, a non-Trinitarian branch (it’s in the name!) and our special guest for the day, Gabriel Senior, was raised Baptist and doesn’t recall ever reciting it in church.

A lot of our discussion centred on what it means to go through “the motions”: what are the motions, and what do they mean? Can the motions have meaning without “personal belief”? For instance, Michael recalls reciting the Creed as a kid in Catholic Mass, but never knowing really what it meant or where it came from. Does Catholicism’s media structure encourage this kind of ritual behaviour? How about Protestantism, which is so much more about “personal choice”—and often features later-in-life believer baptism rather than the infant baptism common in Catholic communities?

Other points of interest:

  • Baptism has obvious hygienic pleasures; as Mephistopheles points out, washing oneself has a long history of association with religion (cleanliness is close to godliness), and Lucifer and Azazel also talk a bit about the mikvah / tvilah ritual purity traditions in Israelite religion and later Judaism.
  • However, even with all this, the baptism ministry of John the Baptist seems pretty radical. He was kind of like a hippie of his day.
  • We learned a bit about Arius, founder of the so-called Arian heresy, which believes that Jesus has not always existed, but rather is subordinate to God. This was the big “elephant in the room” at Nicaea.
  • Why didn’t Jesus baptise himself? Michael speculates that this has to do with the historical importance of being crowned or given power by someone; only tyrants seize power for themselves. By being baptised by John, Jesus is buying into a longer political legitimacy.
  • Azazel shocks us all by revealing that “it all comes down to a high-profile case of incest” with Herod Antipas, who probably got on John’s case (and eventually had him famously beheaded) because John castigated him publicly for marrying his niece, who was also his brother’s wife. One cool thing is that we know that John the Baptist almost 100% historically existed.
  • What does baptism mean today? It’s a sacrament in many church traditions, and with that it carries certain communal values: for infants who are baptised, godparents promise to raise them in the church and protect them from evil, and in some churches, like Uriel‘s, the congregation also makes a promise to take care of the child. Lucifer speculates that in these contexts, the baptism overlaps with the human communal traditions of infant-welcoming, and Phanuel points out that these infant-welcoming rituals aren’t even unique to humans, but exist in other animals as well, such as hippos!
  • There are also different but powerful connotations with adult (i.e., believer) baptism, where it’s a conscious choice to join a religious community.

Takeaways:

John the Baptist was a bigger deal than we gave him credit for. He could have been Jesus had he had the balls to say he was the Messiah! Baptism plays many roles, in both signifying the arrival of the newborn, and the arrival of the reborn…

Gems from the Chat

We use codenames so Opus Dei can’t track us

Azazel

[During Mass] I am often tempted to get out my phone’s flashlight and ball out in the audience

Michael

God is “the same beautiful feeling”

Phanuel

the creation of Anglicanism to justify one guy’s messy marriage still blows my mind

Mephistopheles

John the Serial Baptist

Lucifer

along with incest, don’t forget Salome’s necrophilia

Phanuel

John the Baptist = Stacy’s mom??

Uriel

Image: “The Baptism of Christ” by Davezelenka.

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