Did Jesus baptize during his ministry?

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Jesus baptize

Question: I don’t see Jesus baptizing anyone in the Bible. If Jesus did not baptize, why is that? 

Deacon Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado

Answer: Actually there is a qualified description of Jesus baptizing in John’s Gospel: “After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing” (Jn 3:22). Later, this action is qualified as follows: “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples), he left Judea and returned to Galilee” (Jn 4:1-3). So we do see the early apostolic band baptizing, and whether Jesus personally did this is not clear. This begs certain questions. Why is baptism, so central to faith, mentioned little in Jesus’ public ministry? Further, why does Jesus not seem to baptize directly but consign this task to his apostles? 

As for the sparse references to this sacrament in written Scripture, there may be something of the “discipline of the secret” (disciplina arcanis) at work here. The early Christians did not usually supply vivid or lengthy descriptions of the early liturgies due to persecution and to a sense of reverence about these rites. The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist were, in addition to their sanctifying purpose, an initiation into the holy mysteries of the liturgy. Many are aware that catechumens were not permitted entrance into the second part of Mass, and prior to being accepted as catechumens, were not permitted into the liturgy at all. We live in a kind of information age and such secrecy may puzzle us, but this ancient instinct not to openly display sacred things to the uninitiated should not be wholly forgotten. Jesus warned us not to cast our pearls before swine or throw what is holy to dogs. These are colorful ways of setting forth the discretion that is sometimes lacking today where everything is photographed and livestreamed. Complete secrecy may not be possible any longer, but some discretion has its place. And this may be one reason that the sacraments were not routinely described in early Scriptures or documents of the apostolic age. 

Though the Scriptures above do mention baptism, they seem also to emphasize that Jesus did not engage in this frequently but consigned it to the apostles. There may be something here of a ministerial emphasis wherein roles are being emphasized. Certain tasks were given to the apostles, but not all the disciples, i.e., baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist, the forgiveness of sin, anointing of the sick and so forth. While not always popular in the egalitarian vision of the West, Jesus did establish a hierarchal Church with roles and ministries delineated for some, not always others.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.