Where Was Jesus the Day After He Was Baptized?
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke — the so-called Synoptic Gospels — Jesus, after his baptism, goes off into the wilderness where he will be tempted by the Devil. Mark especially is quite clear about the matter, for he states, after telling of the baptism, that Jesus left “immediately” for the wilderness. What about John? In John there is no account of Jesus being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness. The day after John the Baptist has borne witness to the Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove at baptism (John 1:29-34), he sees Jesus again and declares him to be the Lamb of God (John is explicit, stating that this occurred “the next day”). Jesus then starts gathering his disciples around him (1:35-52) and launches into his public ministry by performing his miracle of turning water into wine (2:1-11). So where was Jesus the next day? It depends on which Gospel you read. [Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), pp. 40-41]
Bart Ehrman’s quote above says that in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness immediately after His baptism, whereas in John, we don’t read of the specific baptism event — only John’s validation of Jesus and his recalling of Jesus’ baptism. Between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John, Ehrman appears to claim that these two Gospels are giving two different accounts of Jesus’ baptism and the events following.
Before getting into how we are to reconcile these two accounts, let’s look at the passages first.
Jesus’ Baptism in the Gospel of Mark and Gospel of John
9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. (Mark 1:9-13)
As can be seen from the excerpt of Mark 1 above, Jesus was baptized of John, then “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness” (v.12). He was in the wilderness for 40 days.
Now, let’s look at the Gospel of John on the matter.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
32 And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)
What do we see in John’s Gospel? We don’t see Jesus being driven into the wilderness, but what we do see is that John testifies to who He is and Jesus then begins to gather His disciples for public ministry.
The question comes down to, how do we reconcile these accounts? Well, John testifies to who Jesus is, though he doesn’t baptize Jesus in John 1 but does so in Mark 1. In Mark 1, we see that, after Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil, that Jesus goes to Galilee but then John is imprisoned. At this point, it appears in John’s Gospel that John himself is not yet imprisoned but Jesus has emerged from His baptism — which is why John talks about Jesus and the Spirit descending on Him in past tense (John 1:32-33).
So John is validating who Jesus is, just at the moment when He is gathering disciples and starting His public ministry. He’s come out of the wilderness temptations and the 40 days of testing, so John verifies the baptism from days earlier before he (John the Baptist) is arrested and Jesus heads into Galilee. Before the events of Mark 1:14 take place, John verifies Jesus and says “Behold, the Lamb of God,” as John 1 says.
What was Jesus doing the day after He was baptized? He was in the wilderness. John 1 doesn’t indicate that Jesus is baptized, then goes into His public ministry. When John recalls Jesus’ baptism, he is not talking about the day before but rather, some days earlier. So, what we see is that John doesn’t discuss what Jesus was doing the day after His baptism; thus, to know what Jesus was doing, between Mark and John, we must take the word of Mark — who tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness, having been driven there by the Holy Spirit immediately after His baptism.
In short, Mark 1 records Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptations, events that John skips over; John records what happens after Jesus emerges from the wilderness after 40 days of testing. Thus, John picks up where Mark leaves off. This is similar to what happens in the Gospel of Luke when Luke covers Jesus’ birth and up to a month thereafter, whereas Matthew covers Jesus at two years old.
As can be seen here, and with other cases such as the number of rooster crows and the high priest during David’s eating of the priestly showbread, there are no contradictions within the text. Ehrman assumes all the Gospel accounts are contradictory, but his response contradicts the whole rationale behind calling them “Synoptics” in the first place.
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