Acts 19, English Standard Version, Paul in Ephesus

19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland[a] country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in[b] the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

Why Jesus and his Apostles Never Received a “Christian Baptism” Prof. Strange’s Review of The Jesus Dynasty (Part 3) – Extracts from response by James Tabor.

BOOK REVIEW  MAY 11, 2017 – This is the third installment of my response to the review of my book, The Jesus Dynasty, by my friend and colleague Prof. James F. Strange published in the Biblical Archaeology Review (November/December, 2006, pp. 72-76). You can read Parts 1 and 2 here and here.

First, according to the unique tradition preserved in the gospel of John, we could properly speak of “Jesus the Baptizer” in parallel with the better known designation of “John the Baptizer,” notice:

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized (John 3:22).

Here we find that Jesus has teamed up with John and together they carried out a joint baptizing campaign. Jesus went south to the area of Judea, while John was working in the Galilee, in the north, along the Jordan River. Our Synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) know nothing of this tradition and I have argued that because of its difficulty theologically–namely having Jesus administering baptism at all–it has a high probability of being authentic.

Second, it is clear that Jesus and these apostles, which included Peter, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, Phillip–the whole lot of them–were only baptized into “John’s baptism,” and the baptism Jesus and his disciples were administering was also “John’s baptism.” It goes without saying that Jesus himself, whom John baptized, was not baptized in his own name! But what this means is that none of them were ever initiated into a baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ,” or ” into “Christ,” as Paul subsequently develops it (Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 12:12, Romans 6:3-4). Even after the day of “Pentecost,” when the book of Acts begins to record people being baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ,” there is no indication whatsoever that Peter, James, John, or any of the other apostles were re-baptized into this new “Christian” form of the ritual. In fact, the author of Acts himself cites the “baptism of John” as marking the beginning of their “apostleship” (Acts 1:21-22). I do indeed think many readers will find that idea to be somewhat disturbing and shocking. First that Jesus baptized at all, and second that “his” baptism was not “Christian” in any sense that would distinguish it from what John was preaching and practicing.

I am convinced that Paul’s teaching in this case has so clouded things that it is difficult to imagine John and Jesus living and dying without ever knowing anything about “Christian baptism.” What I seek to do in my book is put them both against the context of an apocalyptic Judaism, and a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, to prepare one for the imminent judgment that was expected. In the case of John’s baptism we also have a source outside the New Testament gospels, namely that of the historian Josephus. Not only does he record that John administered the rite of baptism, but he offers a bit of theological analysis of its purposes–surely a rare and valuable bit of data. Josephus’s description makes clear that the activities of John fit comfortably within the Judaism of his time and have no connections with Pauline baptism or subsequent Christian formulas.