Baptism was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. Not only was he baptized (Matt. 3:13-17, but he instructed his disciples to baptize people to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28:19-20). This is why in the New Testament new believers were often immediately baptized (e.g. Acts 2:41). A common question people ask is whether or not Jesus himself baptized anyone.
New Testament scholars generally agree that Jesus didn’t baptize anyone directly. While John 3:22 reports that Jesus baptized people, because of the clarification made in John 4:2 — “Jesus did not baptize anyone only his disciples” — scholars believe that 3:22 means that Jesus’ disciples baptized people.
What’s at the heart of the conversation about whether Jesus or his disciples actually baptized people? Are John 3:22 and John 4:2 in conflict with each other? Why didn’t Jesus baptize anyone, if that is the correct interpretation? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see How Old Was Mary When She Gave Birth To Jesus? to learn more.
Did Jesus or his disciples baptize people?
The Gospel of John is the only book in the New Testament that alludes to Jesus baptizing people with water. At first glance, John 3:23 gives the impression that Jesus directly baptized people himself. While the disciples are mentioned in the verse, the Greek clearly states that a single person — “he” — i.e. Jesus, was baptizing people. But what do other verses add to the discussion?
|ESV||“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.”|
|KJV||“After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.”|
|NASB||“After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.”|
|NIV||“After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.”|
|NLT||“Then Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem and went into the Judean countryside. Jesus spent some time with them there, baptizing people.”|
John 3:26 also alludes to Jesus baptizing people: “…look, [Jesus] is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (ESV) John 4:1 does as well: “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John…” These statements seem to suggest that Jesus baptized people. Yet in the very next verse, the Gospel writer makes an important clarification.
Also see Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus? to learn more.
Only Jesus’ disciples baptized people
|ESV||“(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples)”|
|KJV||“(Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples)”|
|NASB||“(although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were)”|
|NIV||“although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples”|
|NLT||“(though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did)”|
Because of the statement made in John 4:2, many scholars believe that what is stated in John 3:22 means that the disciples were baptizing people as part of Jesus’ ministry.
In that sense, it’s correct to say that “Jesus was baptizing people.” Reading this statement back into John 3:23 (and 3:26 and 4:1) suggests that “Jesus” in those verses refers to his group collectively.
Perhaps a helpful analogy is to consider when Jesus fed 5,000 people (Mark 6:30-43). While Jesus performed the miracle, he used the disciples as agents to give the five loaves and two fish to all the people. Mark reports that Jesus gave the food “to the disciples to set before the people.” (v. 41).
Therefore, it’s simultaneously true that “Jesus fed 5,000 people” and that his disciples did, too. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples baptized people and in a sense, Jesus did, too.
Does John use parenthetical notes elsewhere in his Gospel? Yes. For example, he uses them twice in John 4:8-9, “A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”
Parenthetical notes appear to be one way that John clarifies his writing. They do not suggest that editors after John had inserted them as some claim. If that was the case, it would make more sense if the parenthetical note in John 4:2 was inserted next to John 3:22.
Also see How Long Was Jesus’ Ministry? to learn more.
Why didn’t Jesus baptize anyone?
John the Baptist (not to be confused with John, the author of the fourth Gospel) and Jesus, as well as the people who followed each of them, weren’t rivals. At times in the Gospels, some people misunderstand this.
In one scene, people told John the Baptist that Jesus (or his group) was baptizing people. The implication may have been that Jesus and his disciples were threatening the numerical success of John the Baptist’s ministry.
John the Baptist responded to these people with great humility, diffusing any notion that he and Jesus had rival ministries. He told them that Jesus was a gift from heaven (3:27); implied that Jesus was the Messiah (v. 28); rejoiced at Jesus’ arrival (v. 29); and concluded that Jesus “must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30).
Also see What Did Jesus Write In the Sand? to learn more.
Overlap between John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ ministries
It’s important to understand that when Jesus’ public ministry started, John the Baptist’s ministry didn’t immediately end. For a time, Jesus and John the Baptist’s messages were the same as seen in the verses below.
- John the Baptist’s message: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:1-2)
- Jesus’ message: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
There was overlap between the ministries because Jesus was in alignment with John the Baptist’s message of repentance and because John was submissive to Jesus’ identity and role as the long-awaited Messiah.
New Testament theologian Herman Ridderbos writes, “By not baptizing Jesus immediately distinguished himself from John [the Baptist], even while he sought to maintain continuity through his forerunner with his disciples’ baptizing.” 
Also see Did Jesus Christ Meditate? to learn more.
 The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary by Herman Ridderbos. p. 144.
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