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Wrestling with the Word, episode 3: The Baptism of our Lord, Year B (Jan. 11, 2009) December 19, 2008

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The Baptism of our Lord
1st Sunday after the Epiphany

This third episode of the Wrestling with the Word podcast discusses the biblical passages assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for January 11, 2009. The Gospel from Mark 1 introduces us to John the Baptizer who then baptizes Jesus. The descent of the Holy Spirit and the announcement of Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son provide the climax of the story. The first lesson from the first verses of Genesis 1 provide the statement of faith that in bringing light into existence, God took the first step in transforming chaos into order. Psalm 29 reflects on the majesty and glory of God to which the victory over chaos points. The second lesson from Acts 19 picks up the baptism theme of Mark 1. The passage describes the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey and his baptism of twelve persons in Ephesus that results in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 3: The Baptism of our Lord, Year B.


Genesis 1:1-5
Out of the chaos of formlessness, darkness, and water, God creates light by speaking the divine word in order to separate day and night.

This account of creation probably came into its present form at the hands of some priests during the sixth century B.C.  Further, it was likely that priests in Babylon composed the account.

Key Words
V. 1.  berē’šît bārā’ ‘elôhîm = “In a beginning God created.” To read “in the beginning” the first Hebrew word would have to be bārē’šît.  More likely, the problem lies with the second word which should read berô’ = “the creating of.” Thus the first word would a noun in construct and the second an infinitive construct of the verb, thus “in the beginning of the creating of God,” or “when God began to create.”

V. 2.  tôhû wābôhû = “formlessness and waste”:  both here and at Jer. 4:23 to describe chaos.

V. 2.  wechōšek `al-penê tehôm = “and darkness upon the face of the deep”:  The word for “deep,” tehôm, is the same word as the Babylonian monster Tiamat.

V. 2.  rûach ‘elōhîm merachepet = “wind of God hovering”:  the verb occurs only once more in the Bible (Deut. 32:11), more often in Ugaritic, always as the flight of a large bird.

V. 3.  wayyō’mer ‘elōhîm = “And God said”:  the idea of God’s creating by word occurs explicitly only elsewhere at Ps. 33:6; at Prov. 3:19 the means of God’s creative work is “wisdom.”

V. 4.  wayyar’ ‘elōhîm ‘et-hā’ôr kî-tôb = “and God saw the light that (it was) good”:  the mark of a craftsman on his product (Isa. 41:7).

In 1926 Edwin Hubble observed that galaxies were moving away from us and from one another at high velocity. One year later Father Georges LeMaitre, a Belgian priest and skilled mathematician, wrote a paper in which he took the calculation of speed at which the galaxies were zooming away and ran the numbers in reverse. By so doing, he determined that the entire universe started with an extremely dense atom that burst its energy into what became the universe, the “big bang” as it became known. Pope Pius XI took pride in his priest’s accomplishments and honored him, even before his hypothesis became widely accepted in scientific circles. LeMaitre advised the Pope, however, that while scientific theory and faith are not incompatible, it is critical to maintain the distinction between matters of science and those of faith.


Psalm 29
The psalm is a hymn of praise that extols the majesty and glory of God in the midst of the tumult of a storm.  Borrowing much imagery and even precise wording from Ugaritic poetry about Baal, the psalmist indicates the enthronement of YHWH over the watery chaos (“the flood”) and the call to praise given to the divine court. That majesty becomes the basis for the plea to YHWH for strength and salvation to the people of Israel.


Acts 19:1-7
Exceeding the baptism of repentance practiced and taught by John the baptizer, Paul baptized a dozen persons in Ephesus in the name of Jesus, resulting in the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of Paul’s hands.

These verses begin the story of Paul’s third missionary journey, a trip that continues through chapter 20. This entire chapter describes Paul’s experiences in Ephesus. According to 20:31, he stayed in the city for three years.

Key Words
V. 1. Apollos: Introduced in the previous paragraph (18:24-28), Apollos was a native of Alexandria in Egypt. The author of Acts extols his virtues but comments that the only baptism Apollos knew was the baptism of John. Impressed with Apollos’ instruction and fervor, the disciples Priscilla and Aquila instructed him more fully, helping him to become an effective speaker of the good news about Jesus. Paul writes positively about Apollos and his role as the one who “watered” the seed Paul planted in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:5; 4:6).

V. 1. Ephesus: The city was a large commercial and religious center in the Roman province of Asia, now the western coast of Turkey. Its position as a seaport city brought much trade and commerce, as well as a mixture of peoples and cultures. From early times, the people there worshipped a goddess whom the later Greeks named Artemis. She and her temple play a major part in the events that follow here in verses 23-41.

Vv. 2-3. “Holy Spirit”: According to the author of Luke-Acts, the Holy Spirit came upon a multitude of persons gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff.), the Greek name meaning “fiftieth” because the Jewish Feast of Weeks occurred on the 5oth day after Passover. Peter explained that the experience was the fulfillment of the prophecy about the coming of the Spirit “in the last days” (Acts 2:17-21). Establishing the timing differently, the author of John’s Gospel reports that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the evening of Jesus’ Resurrection (Easter Sunday; see John 20:19-23).

Vv. 3-4. John’s baptism. See the report of John’s baptizing and preaching at Matthew 3:1-12//Mark 1:4-8//Luke 3:1-17.


Mark 1:4-11
Having prepared for the ministry of Jesus through the preaching of John, God bestowed his Spirit on Jesus at his baptism, announcing his identity as God’s beloved Son who will fulfill the role of the Servant.

See the parallel passages at Matt. 3:1-17; Luke 3:15-22.

Mark’s story about the baptism of Jesus introduces Jesus in this gospel. Standing at “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (1:1), this event could be understood to mean that the divinity of Jesus occurred only through an adoption formula when Jesus was at least a young man. The question motivated Matthew and Luke to write about the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit.

Key Words
V. 4. kēryssōn baptisma metanoias eis aphesin hamartiōn = “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”: The content of John’s preaching raises the question about Jesus’ need for baptism when he was believed to be without sin. Matthew addresses the problem in one way (Matt. 3:14-15) and Luke attempts a different solution (Luke 3:20).

V. 6. Kai hēn ho Iōannēs endedymenos trixas kauēlou kai zōnēn dermatinēn peri tēn osphyn = “And John was clothed with the hair of a camel and with a leather girdle around his waist”: The attire is reminiscent of that of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). Elijah was expected to appear in the future to prepare people for the coming of the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6). For another connection between Elijah and John, see Matt. 11:14.

V. 11.  su ei ho huios mou ho agapētos = “You are my son, the beloved”:  the first part of the expression is virtually identical to the LXX of Ps. 2:7.  The latter part appears in the LXX only in Genesis 22 where it refers to Isaac.  Note that in this passage (contra Matthew, like Luke) Jesus alone is the addressee of the heavenly message.

V. 11.  en soi eudokēsa = “in whom I am pleased”:  while the Hebrew of Isa. 42:1 is translated in the LXX by different words entirely, the Hebrew could have been translated the same as the Greek of v. 11.  This connection would establish Jesus also as the Servant of Second Isaiah who comes to establish justice for all people.  Just as the Spirit  of Isa. 42:1 descending upon that prophet, so here the Spirit descends on Jesus just prior to the pronouncement of his identity.