Posted by: mattcolvin | December 19, 2011

Baptism and Disobeying the Messiah in John 3:22-36

Tuesday of the fourth week in Advent: John 3:22-36.

3:25 – “Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews concerning purification.”

These Judaeans would likely have been adherents of the Pharisees’ popular eschatology and soteriology: they were expecting the kingdom of God, and believed that it would be hastened by heightened purity in Israel. Hence their scrupulous observance of Sabbath and kashrut, and their washing of hands and vessels in an attempt to attain the needed national purity. By contrast, John’s baptism — especially if it consisted in an acted re-entrance to the land by symbolically crossing the Jordan — taught that Israel needed to start over, or be “born again.” This is why Jesus, in this same chapter, acts as though Nicodemus really ought to know what He means by “born again.” It was part of John’s very Biblical soteriology of Israel. (See here for Porter and Cross discussing the question of John’s eschatology and soteriology.)

“he whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measures.”

I have seen it suggested that the Greek for “by measures” (εκ μέτρου) could be more literally translated “out of a measuring cup”, and that John means to contrast the imparting of the Spirit with his own act of baptizing with water (by affusion?). I’m not sure whether I buy this suggestion or not. It doesn’t fit well with the Jordan-crossing view of John’s baptism, and also seems to be a better fit for a low sacramentology that makes much of the contrast between water baptism and Spirit baptism (which, however, is present in the context).

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him”

I’m afraid I have to fault the NKJV for a mistranslation here. The Greek is απειθων, “to disobey,” not απιστευω, “to disbelieve.” Very sloppy, and it will result in failures of theology! John’s contrast of faith with disobedience highlights the fact that faith is obedience (as Westminster rightly teaches). Within a 2nd Temple Jewish two-age eschatology, John’s sentence is full of Psalm 2-style warning: “I have set my Son upon my holy hill of Zion… you are my Son, this day I have begotten you… Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way.” That is, if you will be loyal to the Messiah, by whom the kingdom of God will be established in the age to come, then you will receive the benefits of His rule, including eternal life. But if you do not submit to His rule — if you do not obey Him — then you will be swept away in the coming wrath reserved for those who reject His reign.

In the context, John clearly implies that the action of all Israelites who want to be loyal to the Messiah should be to be baptized and submit to Him.

The NKJV is evidently concerned to keep faith and works apart, but the context in John’s theology and Israel’s story forbids that dichotomy. Loyalty to the Messiah just is obedience to the Messiah. Disobedience is disloyalty.


  1. I agree with you that we must be loyal to the Messiah. Today’s Christianity is way off balance. The link below is my study on faith vs works. I would be interested in what you think

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: