Matthew 3:6
And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
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(6) Were baptized.—The Greek tense implies continual succession. Crowd after crowd passed on, and still they came confessing their sinsi.e., as the position of the word implies, in the closest possible connection with the act of immersion. The Greek word (sometimes used for “confessing” in the sense of “praising,” as in Luke 12:8), always implies public utterance, and included, as the plural of the noun seems to show, a specific mention of, at least, the more grievous individual sins.

Matthew 3:6. And were baptized of him in Jordan — Namely, those that were awakened to repentance. It has been questioned by many, whether John baptized these immense multitudes by dipping them in Jordan? In answer to which it has been observed, “that such prodigious numbers could hardly be baptized by immerging their whole bodies under water: nor can we think they were provided with change of raiment for it, which was scarce practicable for such vast multitudes. And yet they could not be immerged naked with modesty, nor in their wearing apparel with safety.” It has been thought, therefore, “that they stood in ranks on the edge of the river, and that John, passing along before them, cast water on their heads, or faces, by which means, he might baptize many thousands in a day.” This, it must be confessed, most naturally signified Christ’s baptizing them with the Holy Ghost and with fire, which John spoke of as prefigured by his baptizing with water: and which was eminently fulfilled when the Holy Ghost sat upon the disciples, in the appearance of tongues, or flames of fire. But be this as it may: supposing that John baptized by immersion, it will not follow from hence, that immersion is essential to baptism; the washing of the soul from the guilt of sin, by the blood of Christ, or from the power and pollution of sin, by the Spirit of God, (the things signified by baptism,) being expressed by sprinkling or pouring water on a person, as well as by plunging him in it. See Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25; Colossians 2:12. And as Cyprian observes, in his 76th Epistle to Magnus: “Baptism is rather of the mind by faith, than of the body by immersion in water: this being only a visible sign of an invisible baptism.” It is admired by some, that this practice of John did not excite more stir, and meet with more opposition among the Jews. But it must be observed, that baptizing was not a ceremony entirely new. For, “there were two kinds of baptism in use among the Jews; one was that of the priests at their consecration, Leviticus 8:6; the other was that of the heathens proselyted to the Jewish religion. It was, therefore, no unheard-of rite which the Messiah’s harbinger made use of. His countrymen were well acquainted both with the thing itself and its signification. They knew that it denoted some great change, either in the opinions or practices of those who submitted to it, and implied a promise of acceptance with God. Moreover, they had been led by a passage in their sacred books, Zechariah 13:1, to expect, that either the Messiah himself, or some of his attendants, would baptize; as is evident from the question which the messengers of the Sanhedrim put to the Baptist, John 1:25 : Why baptizest thou, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias? They must have known, therefore, that John’s baptism represented purification both of heart and life, as necessary even to Jews themselves, before they could become the subjects of so holy a prince as the Messiah; and that it was a solemn obligation, binding those who received it to lead such lives. Hence, as Dr. Whitby observes, they are mistaken who think John’s baptism the same in kind with that which Christ afterward instituted, for admission of disciples into his Church. The difference between the two was considerable: 1st, John did not baptize either in the name of Christ, or of the Holy Ghost; much less did he baptize them with the Holy Ghost, a circumstance mentioned by himself, as what remarkably distinguished Christ’s baptism from his. 2, They who were baptized with John’s baptism did not profess their faith in the Messiah as actually come, neither did they receive his baptism, in testimony of their entertaining that belief; for after having administered it he exhorted his disciples to believe on Him who was to come. Therefore his baptism could not initiate men into the Christian Church, as appears likewise by the apostles’ rebaptizing some who had been baptized by John. Acts 19:4; Acts 5:3 d, John’s was the baptism of repentance, whereby all that had a sense of their sins, and professed repentance, were promised pardon, and exhorted to believe in the Messiah, who was soon to appear. Or, it was a washing with water, to show the Jews that they must be cleansed, not only from their prejudices and vices, but that they must relinquish Judaism in order to their becoming fit members of the Messiah’s kingdom.” — Macknight. Indeed, John, properly speaking, was not a gospel minister, nor his ministry a gospel ministry; for that state of the Church was not then begun; but, as he was a middle person between both testaments, greater than the prophets, less than a gospel minister, Matthew 11:11; Matthew 11:13, so his ministry was a sort of middle ministry, the chief drift whereof was to prepare people to receive Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah: in order whereunto he laboured to convince them of their sins, and their need of a Saviour, by preaching repentance, Matthew 3:2; and pointed out the Messiah to them, John 1:29; and baptized them as a sign of repentance, on their part, and an assurance of pardon on God’s part. John’s baptism, therefore, was only a temporary sacrament or institution, set up upon a particular occasion; which, as it agreed with Christ’s in the external sign, so was perfected by his. See Grotius. Confessing their sins — Acknowledging their offences, and condemning their former lives, and that freely and of their own accord: for it does not appear that the Baptist required them to do it. It is not said whether this confession was made to God or man: but it is probable it was to both: only, so far as it was made to John, it must have been merely general. For how could one man have sufficed to hearken to a particular confession of all the offences of this immense multitude made secretly in his ears. It seems to have been like the confessions recorded in the Old Testament; (see Ezra 9.; Nehemiah 9.; Daniel 9.;) and that made by the high priest on the day of atonement, Leviticus 16:21. They acknowledged in words their sinfulness and guilt, professed repentance for, and a detestation of all their sins, and submitted to be baptized in token of their being convinced of their need of pardon and purification. And it must be observed, that this was the confession, not of persons who had been baptized, concerning sins committed after baptism, but of those who were to be baptized. It therefore differs widely from, and gives no countenance to, the auricular confession of the Church of Rome.

3:1-6 After Malachi there was no prophet until John the Baptist came. He appeared first in the wilderness of Judea. This was not an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not thickly peopled, nor much enclosed. No place is so remote as to shut us out from the visits of Divine grace. The doctrine he preached was repentance; Repent ye. The word here used, implies a total alteration in the mind, a change in the judgment, disposition, and affections, another and a better bias of the soul. Consider your ways, change your minds: you have thought amiss; think again, and think aright. True penitents have other thoughts of God and Christ, sin and holiness, of this world and the other, than they had. The change of the mind produces a change of the way. That is gospel repentance, which flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of his love, and from hopes of pardon and forgiveness through him. It is a great encouragement to us to repent; repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon your repentance. Return to God in a way of duty, and he will, through Christ, return unto you in the way of mercy. It is still as necessary to repent and humble ourselves, to prepare the way of the Lord, as it then was. There is a great deal to be done, to make way for Christ into a soul, and nothing is more needful than the discovery of sin, and a conviction that we cannot be saved by our own righteousness. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way; but to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be made straight, Heb 12:13. Those whose business it is to call others to mourn for sin, and to mortify it, ought themselves to live a serious life, a life of self-denial, and contempt of the world. By giving others this example, John made way for Christ. Many came to John's baptism, but few kept to the profession they made. There may be many forward hearers, where there are few true believers. Curiosity, and love for novelty and variety, may bring many to attend on good preaching, and to be affected for a while, who never are subject to the power of it. Those who received John's doctrine, testified their repentance by confessing their sins. Those only are ready to receive Jesus Christ as their righteousness, who are brought with sorrow and shame to own their guilt. The benefits of the kingdom of heaven, now at hand, were thereupon sealed to them by baptism. John washed them with water, in token that God would cleanse them from all their iniquities, thereby intimating, that by nature and practice all were polluted, and could not be admitted among the people of God, unless washed from their sins in the fountain Christ was to open, Zec 13:1.Were baptized - The word "baptize" βαπτίζω baptizo signifies originally to tinge, to dye, to stain, as those who dye clothes. It here means to cleanse or wash anything by the application of water. See the notes at Mark 7:4. Washing, or ablution, was much in use among the Jews, as one of the rites of their religion, Numbers 19:7; Hebrews 9:10. It was not customary, however, among them to baptize those who were converted to the Jewish religion until after the Babylonian captivity. At the time of John, and for some time previous, they had been accustomed to administer a rite of baptism, or washing, to those who became proselytes to their religion; that is, to those who were converted from being Gentiles. This was done to signify that they renounced the errors and worship of the pagans, and as significant of their becoming pure by embracing a new religion.

It was a solemn rite of washing, significant of cleansing from their former sins, and purifying them for the special service of Yahweh. John found this custom in use; and as he was calling the Jews to a new dispensation - to a change in their form of religion - he administered this rite of baptism (washing), to signify the cleansing from sin, the adopting of the new dispensation, or the fitness for the pure reign of the Messiah. He applied an old ordinance to a new purpose. As it was used by him it was a significant rite, or ceremony, intended to denote the putting away of impurity, and a purpose to be pure in heart and life. The Hebrew word טבל Tabal which is rendered by the word "baptize," occurs in the Old Testament in the following places, namely: Leviticus 4:6; Leviticus 14:6, Leviticus 14:51; Numbers 19:18; Ruth 2:14; Exodus 12:22; Deuteronomy 33:24; Joshua 3:15; Job 9:31; Leviticus 9:9; 1 Samuel 14:27 (twice); 2 Kings 5:14; 2 Kings 8:15; Genesis 37:31; Joshua 3:15.

It occurs in no other places; and from a careful examination of these passages its meaning among the Jews is to be derived. From these passages it will be seen that its radical meaning is neither to sprinkle nor to immerse. It is to dip, commonly for the purpose of sprinkling, or for some other purpose.

Thus, to dip the finger, i. e., a part of the finger, in blood enough to sprinkle with, Leviticus 4:6. To dip a living bird, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop, in the blood of the bird that was killed, for the purpose of sprinkling; where it could not be that all these would be immersed the blood of a single bird, Leviticus 14:6. To dip hyssop in the water, to sprinkle with, Numbers 19:18. To dip a portion of bread in vinegar, Ruth 2:14. To dip the feet in oil - an emblem of plenty, Deuteronomy 33:24. To dye, or stain, Ezekiel 23:15. To plunge into a ditch, so as to defile the clothes, Job 9:31. To dip the end of a staff in honey, 1 Samuel 14:27. To dip in Jordan - a declaration respecting Naaman the Syrian, 2 Kings 5:14. The direction of the prophet was to wash himself 2 Kings 5:10, and this shows that he understood washing and baptizing to mean the same thing. To dip a towel, or quilt, so as to spread it on the face of a man to smother him, 2 Kings 8:15.

In none of these cases can it be shown that the meaning of the word is to immerse entirely But in nearly all the cases the notion of applying the water to a part only of the person or object, though it was by dipping, is necessarily to be supposed.

In the New Testament the word βαπτίζω baptizo, in various forms, occurs 80 times; 57 with reference to persons. Of these 57 times, it is followed by "in" ἐν en 18 times, as in water, in the desert, in Jordan; 9 times by "into" εἰς eis, as into the name, etc., into Christ; once it is followed by ἐπί epi Acts 2:38, and twice by "for" ὑπέρ huper, 1 Corinthians 15:29.

The following remarks may be made in view of the investigation of the meaning of this word:

1. That in baptism it is possible, perhaps probable, that the notion of dipping would be the one that would occur to a Jew.

2. It would not occur to him that the word meant of necessity to dip entirely, or to immerse completely.

3. The notion of washing would be the one which would most readily occur, as connected with a religious rite. See the cases of Naaman, and Mark 7:4 (Greek).

4. It cannot be proved from an examination of the passages in the Old and New Testaments that the idea of a complete immersion was ever connected with the word, or that it ever occurred in any case. If those who were baptized went into the water, it is still not proved by that, that the only mode of baptism was by immersion, since it might have been by pouring, though they were in the water.

5. It is not positively enjoined anywhere in the New Testament that the only mode of baptism shall be by an entire submersion of the body under water. Without such a precept it cannot be made obligatory on people of all ages, nations, and climes, even if it were probable that in the mild climate of Judea it was the usual mode.

In Jordan - The River Jordan is the eastern boundary of Palestine or Judea. It rises in Mount Lebanon, on the north of Palestine, and runs in a southerly direction, underground, for 13 miles, and then bursts forth with a great noise at Cesarea Philippi. It then unites with two small streams, and runs some miles farther, and empties into the Lake Merom. From this small lake it flows 13 miles, and then falls into the Lake Gennesareth, otherwise called the Sea of Tiberias or the Sea of Galilee. Through the middle of this lake, which is 15 miles long and from 6 miles to 9 miles wide, it flows undisturbed, and preserves a southerly direction for about 70 miles, and then falls into the Dead Sea. The Jordan, at its entrance into the Dead Sea, is about 90 feet wide. It flows in many places with great rapidity, and when swollen by rains pours like an impetuous torrent. It formerly regularly overflowed its banks in time of harvest, that is, in March, in some places 600 paces, Joshua 3:15; 1 Chronicles 12:15. These banks are covered with small trees and shrubs, and afford a convenient dwelling for wild beasts. Allusion is often made to these thickets in the sacred Scriptures, Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44. On the reason why a river, or a place abounding in water, was selected for administering baptism, see the notes at John 3:23.

6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins—probably confessing aloud. This baptism was at once a public seal of their felt need of deliverance from sin, of their expectation of the coming Deliverer, and of their readiness to welcome Him when He appeared. The baptism itself startled, and was intended to startle, them. They were familiar enough with the baptism of proselytes from heathenism; but this baptism of Jews themselves was quite new and strange to them. A great part of those who went out to hear John were baptized, that is dipped, in Jordan; but from hence it will not follow that dipping is essential to baptism, the washing of the soul with the blood of Christ (the thing signified by baptism) being expressed by sprinkling or pouring water, as well as by dipping or being buried in water, Isaiah 44:3 Ezekiel 36:25 Colossians 2:12. Whether they confessed their sins, man by man, by word of mouth, or by submitting to the doctrine of the gospel declared their renunciation of the righteousness of the law, and their engagement to a holy life, is not expressed; but it is most certain, that a profession of faith and repentance was ordinarily required before the baptism of adult persons. It may be wondered that this new practice of John (if it were wholly new) made no more stir amongst the Jews. Either (as some think) baptism was in use before that time, as an appendix to circumcision, (though circumcision only be mentioned), or they had some notion that Christ, Elias, and that prophet, when they came, should baptize; for, John 1:25, they asked John, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet. That which seemeth to me most probable is, that before that time there was a baptism in ordinary use amongst them after circumcising the child, beside the baptizing of proselytes. And as in the other sacrament Christ left out the typical part, and blessed the bread, used at last in that administration, and made use of that for the institution of the sacrament of the supper; so as to the ordinance of circumcision, he in the institution of that gospel ordinance left out circumcision, (which was typical also), and retained only the washing of the person with water, and so instituted the other sacrament of the New Testament. But yet there was so much new in the Baptist’s practice, (for he did not baptize proselytes only, but Jews, nor did he use it as an appendix to circumcision preceding, but baptized adult Jews), that if the state of the Jewish church had not been declining, and their power of discipline very little, (if any), they would more than have sent to John to know by whose authority he baptized: but they were under the Roman power, and their ecclesiastical officers were more pragmatical than mischievous, God in the wisdom of his providence having so ordered it, that the change of worship should be at such a time brought in when it should be least potently opposed.

And were baptized of him,.... The place where they were baptized of him was, "in Jordan"; some copies read, "in the river Jordan", as in Mark 1:5. As to the name of this river, and the etymology of it, the Jews say (l) it was so called, "because it descended" from Dan, i.e. Leshem Dan, or Pamias, which they say is a cave at the head of it. It was in John's time and long after a considerable river, a river to swim in; we (m) read that "Resh Lakish was swimming in Jordan." And elsewhere (n), that one day "R. Jochanan was swimming in Jordan." Also it was a river for boats and ships to pass in, so that it was a navigable river; hence we read (o) of "the boat of Jordan", and of ships in it, and of such and such things being forbidden to be carried over Jordan in a ship (p); particularly,

"a man might not take the water of the sin offering, and the ashes of the sin offering, and carry them over Jordan in a ship.''

Pliny (q), Pausanias (r), Solinus (s), and others, speak of it as a very considerable and delightful river; see Joshua 3:15. The Christians of Christ's time are called by the Jews, in a way of contempt, apostates, that received the doctrine of baptism, and were "dipped in Jordan" (t). The manner in which they were baptized by him was by immersion or plunging them in the water: this may be concluded from the signification of the word where used, which in the primary sense of it signifies to dip or plunge; from the place in which they were baptized, "the river Jordan"; and from John's constant manner of baptizing elsewhere, who chose places for this purpose, where and because there was there much water; see John 1:28. The character of the persons baptized by him is this, they were such as were

confessing their sins. They were called to repentance by John's ministry, and had the grace of it bestowed upon them; being thoroughly convinced of sin, and truly sorry for it, they were ready to acknowledge and confess it to God and men; and such an abiding sense they had of it upon their minds, that they continued doing it: they were not only confessing their sins before baptism, which engaged John to administer it to them; since we find afterwards he refused to admit others, because of their want of repentance and fruits meet for it; but also whilst they were going into the water, and when they came up out of it, so full were they of a sense of sin, and so ready to own it. Even in baptism itself there is a tacit confession and acknowledgment of sin, for it represents the sufferings and death of Christ which were for sin, into which persons are baptized, and profess to be dead to sin thereby; and also the resurrection of Christ for justification from sin, which obliges the baptized person to walk in newness of life, see Romans 6:3 besides, in this ordinance believers are led to the blood of Christ, both for the cleansing and remission of their sins, which suppose filth and guilt, Acts 22:16 and Acts 2:38. Now this is the character given of the very first persons that were baptized by John, and ought surely to be attended to, by us; and as much care as possible should be taken, that none but such as have a true sense of sin, and are brought to an humble and hearty acknowledgment of it, be admitted to this ordinance.

(l) T. Bab. Becorot. fol. 55. 1. Kimchi in Joshua 19.47. (m) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 9. 2.((n) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 84. 1.((o) T. Hieros. Sabbat. fol. 7. 1. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 64. 2.((p) T. Bab. Yebamot, fol. 116. 2. Chagiga, fol. 23. 1. Sabbat. fol. 60. 2. Maimon. Hilch. Parah Adumah, c. 10. sect. 2. & Bartenora in Misn. Parah, c. 9. sect. 6. (q) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 15. (r) L. 5. p. 29. (s) Polyhist. c. 48. (t) Cosri, p. 3. sect. 65. p. 241. Ed. Buxtorf.

And were baptized of him in Jordan, {h} confessing their sins.

(h) Acknowledging that they were saved only by free remission and forgiveness of their sins.

Matthew 3:6. καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο: the imperfect again. They were baptised as they came.—ἐν τῷ Ἰορ. ποταμῷ. The word ποταμῷ, omitted in T. R., by all means to be retained. Dull prosaic scribes might deem it superfluous, as all men knew the Jordan was a river, but there is a touch of nature in it which helps us to call up the scene.—ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ, by him, the one man. John would not want occupation, baptising such a crowd, one by one.—ἐξομολογούμενοι: confession was involved in the act of submitting to baptism at the hands of one whose preaching had for its burden, Repent. But there was explicit confession, frank, full (ἐκ intensifies), on the part of guilt-burdened men and women glad to get relief so. General or special confession? Probably both: now one, now the other, according to idiosyncrasy and mood. Confession was not exacted as a conditio sine qua non of baptism, but voluntary. The participle means, while confessing; not, provided they confessed. This confession of sins by individuals was a new thing in Israel. There was a collective confession on the great day of atonement, and individual confession in certain specified cases (Numbers 5:7), but no great spontaneous self-unburdenment of penitent souls—every man apart. It must have been a stirring sight.

6. baptized] John introduced no new custom, for ceremonial ablution or baptism was practised in all ancient religions. Among the Jews proselytes were baptized on admission to the Mosaic covenant. John’s baptism was the outward sign of the purification and “life-giving change,” and contained the promise of forgiveness of sins. Christ too adopted the ancient custom and enriched it with a new significance, and a still mightier efficacy.

Matthew 3:6. Ἐβαπτίζοντο, received baptism) The verb is in the middle voice.—ἐξομολογούμενοι, confessing) The preposition ἐξ denotes that they confessed their sins freely and expressly, not merely in the ear of John. A true confession mentions even individual sins (as formerly in the case of sin-offerings), although it does not enumerate them one by one. It holds the just mean between the lax abuse of a general formula and the narrow strictness of auricular confession. Thus it relieves the soul. At the Baptism of Repentance men confessed their sins, at the Baptism of Christ they confessed Christ.

Verse 6. - And (they, Revised Version) were baptized. The Revised Version probably desires to call attention to the change in the verb from singular to plural. In Jordan; in the river Jordan (Revised Version, with manuscripts). So also parallel passage in Mark (cf. Introduction, p. 5.). By him; i.e. their baptism was not self-imposed, but an act of submission to his teaching, and of acceptance of his message. The forerunner saw results, not merely in crowds of listeners, but in external actions. By him (contrast John 4:2). Confessing their sins; i.e. in at least some detail; cf. Josephus, 'Ant.,' 8:04. 6, "confessing their sins and their transgressions of the laws of their country ( ἐξομολογουμένων τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν καὶ τὰς τῶν πατρίων νομίμων παραβάσεις);" also Acts 19:18, "confessing and declaring their deeds" (cf. James 5:16). Matthew 3:6Were baptized (ἐβαπτίζοντο)

See on Mark 7:4.

Confessing their sins (ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν)

The words imply: 1. That confession was connected with baptism. They were baptized while in the act of confessing. 2. An open confession, not a private one to John (ἐξ, compare Acts 19:18; James 5:16). 3. An individual confession; possibly a specific one. (See Luke 3:10-15.)

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