Francesco Zuccarelli's Saint John the Baptist Preaching (circa 1735–1745).
|Book||Gospel of Matthew|
|Christian Bible part||New Testament|
Matthew 3:11 is the eleventh verse of the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The verse occurs in the section relating the preachings of John the Baptist. In this verse he predicts that he will be followed by someone much greater than himself. The main theme of this verse is that John will soon be supplanted by a much greater figure and that John's water baptism is just a preparation for the much greater baptism by fire and spirit that will occur under the second coming of the Christian messiah Jesus, an original Christian concept that, according to Jewish scholars, lacks any fundament in the Hebrew scripture.
In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:
- I indeed baptize you with water unto
- repentance. but he that cometh after
- me is mightier than I, whose shoes I
- am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize
- you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
The New International Version translates the passage as:
- "I baptize you with water for repentance.
- But after me will come one who is more
- powerful than I, whose sandals I am not
- fit to carry. He will baptize you
- with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
For a collection of other versions see BibleHub Matthew 3:11
This verse links up with the Gospel of Mark for the first time since Matthew 3:6. In Mark this verse is mirrored by Mark 1:7 and 8. This verse is also found in Luke at Luke 3:16. However the context is somewhat different in Luke John is addressing a receptive multitude in Matthew it is assumed he is still speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees introduced in Matthew 3:7. Schweizer notes that despite this, the verse is still written as though it is addressing all Israel. Matthew has also entirely skipped the content found in Luke 3:10-14. This is understandable as the response from the crowd is not in keeping with the hostile and unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees.
France notes that the word translated as after is not chronological, rather it means the one who is a follower or disciple. This links in with the reference to shoes. At the time the disciple of a Rabbi would be expected to perform menial chores. However shoes, a word perhaps better translated as sandals, were considered unclean, a tradition that persists in the Middle East today. Thus the disciple would not deal with them, and such a task would be left to the lowest slave. Thus John the Baptist is presenting himself as very lowly indeed. Matthew slightly differs from the wording found in Luke and Mark. In those two gospels John is not worthy of untying the messiah's sandals, in Matthew he is unworthy of carrying them.
John predicts a much stronger form of baptism by the Holy Spirit and by fire. It is from this verse that the expression "baptism by fire" comes from. Hill notes for many years scholars felt that linking the Holy Spirit with fire, a symbol of God's wrath, clashed with the portrayal of the Spirit elsewhere in the New Testament, which saw it as a purely loving and helpful force incompatible with a destructive judgement. A number of theories were proposed to address this, some translations dropped the word fire to create a less destructive image. Another option is that Holy Spirit should actually read wind, as the same word can be used for wind and spirit in Greek. This would also link it to the next verse. This all changed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, near where John the Baptist was said to be preaching. In a number of the texts the Holy Spirit is linked to God's wrath and judgement leading most scholars to include that the wording here is original and that there were different views of the Holy Spirit circulating in the first century. Nolland notes that many scholars have attempted to use this verse as evidence for the Christian baptism ritual, but he does not believe that Jesus' baptism by fire and holy spirit can be so linked.
Whether the more powerful one coming after is a reference to God or Jesus is a matter of debate. After this verse Jesus immediately enters the narrative, and the corporeal metaphor of carrying his shoes would seem to describe a human figure. On the other hand, this violent imagery contradicts the idea of the Messiah as a bringer of peace. Schnackenburg argues the wording in this passage is deliberately obscure between the two options.
- Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
- Schweizer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the
- Schnackenburg, Rudolf. The Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002 pg. 33
- Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
- Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 pg. 147
| Gospel of Matthew