1In those days, John the Baptizer came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” 3For this is he who was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet, saying,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,

make the way of the Lord ready!

Make his paths straight!”

4Now John himself wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then people from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him. 6They were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance! 9Don’t think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.

11“I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14But John would have hindered him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?”

15But Jesus, answering, said to him, “Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.

16Jesus, when he was baptized, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. 17Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Why Was Jesus Baptized? (Synoptic Parallel)

Passage study | Matt 3:13 | Hershel Wayne House | Jordan River

Other than designating that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the writers of the 4 Gospels (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23; John 1:29-39) do not tell us the exact location of the event.

Around A.D. 333 the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux stated that from the Dead Sea to where the Lord was baptized in the Jordan River was about five Roman miles. He says there is a small hill nearby, on the east bank, that he marks as the spot Elijah was taken up. [1] This description agrees with the traditional location of Elijah’s ascension, retained in the name: Jebel Mar Elyas (Mount of St. Elijah). Later (c. 530) Theodosius agrees with this description, saying that it was five miles up the Jordan from the Dead Sea to the spot Jesus was baptized and that the spot was marked by a marble column topped with an iron cross. He also says there was a church there and mentions that the hill of Elijah was nearby.[2] Forty years after Theodosius the Anonymous of Piacenza says that people would come down to the Jordan at Epiphany to be baptized at the same spot.[3]

Jordanian Department of Antiquities excavator Mohammad Waheeb has argued he found the “Bethany beyond the Jordan” in John’s Gospel (John 1:28) based on excavations there.[4] Although the site is not directly on the Jordan River, it is near enough that if it is the “Bethany beyond the Jordan” of John’s Gospel (1:28), then John must have baptized Jesus in the Jordan near this site. 

Excavations have revealed Byzantine churches on the east bank of the Jordan river, confirming the memory of the site as the place of Jesus’ baptism. Although there are churches and monasteries on the west bank today, this is probably the result of political situations during the Crusader period and the modern era. During the Crusades, the Jordan River was the de-facto border between the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Muslim Sultanate of Damascus. It is likely Christians (who had already mostly abandoned churches on the Jordan River) could not use the east bank and built churches on the west bank. In modern times (after 1967) the River was once again a tense border, between Israel and Jordan. Once again this necessitated the use of the west bank of the river as the site remembered as the spot where Jesus was baptized. After 1994 the area on the east bank was once again accessible and various Christian groups have built or have plans to build churches there. [5]

 

[1] LPPTS 1-b, 26; Geyer, 24.

[2] LPPTS 2-b, 14-15; Geyer 145-146.

[3] LPPTS 2-d, 10-12; Geyer 166-168.

[4] Jordanian Department of Antiquities, “The Baptismal Site (Bethany beyond the Jordan)” Online: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1556/ (accessed January 30, 2010).

[5] Michelle Piccirillo, “The Sanctuaries of the Baptism on the East Bank of the Jordan River,” in Jesus and Archaeology, edited by James H. Charlesworth, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 2006) 442-443.