In Luke’s version of the Baptism of Jesus, he really doesn’t talk about Jesus’ actual baptism, although it could easily be implied. He describes Jesus baptizing along with John the Baptist, presumably in the Jordan River, not far down the hill from Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Jesus was baptizing and praying…was he baptizing first and then praying? Or was he doing both at the same time? Jesus was certainly capable of multitasking. These are the things that keep me up at night!
Nevertheless, Luke says that, “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Not only is this one of the few places in all the New Testament, where all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in the same passage, but this passage caused many to ponder the meaning of Jesus being God’s son and when and how his divine nature came into being. Many in the early days of the Church argued that it was at this moment that Jesus became divine and God’s “adopted son.” These Christians were called Adoptionists, since they believed that Jesus was God’s son only after his baptism and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and the Father validated it. Of course trying to hold this view while also holding the circumstances of the Gospel’s description of Jesus’ birth would be difficult to explain. The Adoptionists would have to argue that the virgin birth of Mary, the words of the Angel, the dreams of both Joseph and the Maji, did not imply Jesus divinity from Jesus’ conception.
It would not be long before the Church rejected the Adoptionist’s theology and accepted the premise that Jesus was divine from the moment of his conception, read the Nicene Creed for the exact wording of the Church’s accepted belief of the divinity of Jesus.
Can you imagine how convoluted our understanding of Jesus would have been if we had sided with the Adoptionists? I suppose Jesus’s baptism would be celebrated more robustly and we might have decided to give gifts on the Feast of Jesus’ Baptism rather than his birth. We might have had Baptism Trees and Wreaths or we might have had little scenes of Jesus’ baptism in our homes, complete with John the Baptist and the dove.
We should recognize the revelation of God throughout our Church history and remember his guidance in nudging us and teaching us who Jesus is, who the Holy Spirit is and who he is.
Fr Jim Kirby