Matthew 3:1

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John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Geertgen tot Sint Jans

Matthew 3:1 is the first verse of the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. This verse takes up the narrative some thirty years after Matthew 2:23 beginning the description of Jesus' ministry. This verse introduces the figure of John the Baptist.

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:

In those days came John
the Baptist, preaching in
the wilderness of Judaea,

The World English Bible translates the passage as:

In those days, John the
Baptizer came, preaching
in the wilderness of Judea, saying,

For a collection of other versions see here: Matthew 3:1

Unlike the infancy narrative this verse begins a section that is closely paralleled in Mark 1 and Luke 3. According to the theory of Markan Priority both Matthew and Luke are rewritten versions of Mark. Keener notes that the hypothetical Q source also likely begins with John, explaining the overlap between Matthew and Luke in the non Markan-material, and why there is so little overlap in the nativity story.[1]

The phrase "in those days" marks a substantial shift of time frame from the previous verse. Matthew nowhere indicates how long this break is, but Luke places it as some thirty years. Hill notes that "in those days" is frequently used as an indication that important events are taking place. To him the phrase thus more accurately means "in those crucial days."[2] Other scholars, such as France and Nolland, take a different view. They see the word those as a direct reference to Matthew 2:23 and thus sees the phrase as meaning "in those days that he lived in Nazareth."[3][4]

This verse introduces the character of John the Baptist. Guthrie notes that John likely does not need much of an introduction to Matthew's largely Jewish readers, as he was a well-known figure at the time.[5] Matthew gives none of his early history, unlike Luke. John is a much less important character in Matthew than in the other gospels, appearing only in a supporting role to Jesus. While Matthew and Luke refer to John the Baptist, Mark refers to him by the slightly different title "John the Baptizer." The word baptist is also somewhat controversial. To Anabaptists the correct translation is "John the Immerser."

The wilderness of Judea mentioned in this verse is generally taken to refer to the region of Judea sloping down from the highlands to the Dead Sea.[6] This was an arid area not well suited to habitation. The term is occasionally translated as desert, but there was enough moisture to allow for pastoralism, so some consider this translation incorrect. According to Pliny this region was home to the Essenes it was also home to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Many feel that John the Baptist was influenced by these groups. The phrase "in Judea" does not exist in the comparable verse in Mark, and is an addition by the author of Matthew. Matthew previously used the same qualifier for Bethlehem in 2:5 and 2:6. While John may have been in Judea in this period, it is clear he was on the other side of Jordan River at a later date when he was captured and executed by Herod Antipas who ruled Galilee and Perea. It could also be that Matthew is vague, and referring to the immediate east side of the Jordan as also being Judea.[7]

The wilderness had other connotations to the early readers of Matthew. Guthrie notes that at this time the wilderness was considered much closer to God in contrast with the corruption of the cities.[8] An exile to the wilderness also links to Exodus, and later prophets such as Hosea predicted that the Israelites would one day be forced back to the wilderness. It was thus widely accepted that new prophets and religious leaders would come out of the wilderness.[9] Other scholars disagree and see the wilderness as desolate and forbidding. In Matthew 4:1 the wilderness will be introduced as the location to encounter the Devil.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Craig S. Keener. A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. pg. 116
  2. ^ Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.
  3. ^ France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985. pg. 100
  4. ^ Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 pg. 135
  5. ^ Guthrie, Donald. The New Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.
  6. ^ Harrington, Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Liturgical Press, 1991 pg. 50
  7. ^ Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 pg. 137
  8. ^ Guthrie, Donald. The New Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970.
  9. ^ Craig S. Keener. A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. pg. 101
  10. ^ Fortna, Robert. The Gospel of Matthew - Scholars Bible Polebridge Press, 2005 pg. 48


Preceded by
Matthew 2:23
Gospel of Matthew
Chapter 3
Succeeded by
Matthew 3:2