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Matthew 3 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Matthew 3 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

BOM: (3:2) The kingdom of heaven is at hand Alma 5:28, 5:50, 7:9
(3:4) A leathern girdle about his loins Mosiah 10:8

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

"Were baptized of him in Jordan"
Where did John baptize?

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

"O generation of vipers"
While insulting the Pharisees and Sadducees, John the Baptist calls an entire generation a "generation of vipers."
(Jesus also liked to use this term. See 12:34)
(3:7-11) "When he saw many of the Pharisees ... come to his baptism he said unto them ... Ye generation of vipers ... I indeed baptize you with water...."
Were the Pharisees baptized by John?
BOM: Alma 5:54, 9:30, 12:15, 13:13
With “Generation of vipers” clearly just the Pharisees and Sadducees are meant because Matthew writes that “he said unto them,” that is the Pharisees and Sadducees John saw coming. The meaning of it is as John Gill explains:

So these men, though they made specious pretences to religion and holiness, yet were full of the deadly poison of hypocrisy, malice, and error. A very disagreeable salutation this must be to men, who were desirous of being reckoned very religious, and who boasted of, and trusted in, their being the seed of Abraham; when they were the children of the devil, the seed of the old serpent, and the offspring of the worst of men, and in whom was verified the proverb, like father like son.

8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

(3:10, 12) Those who bear bad fruit will be cut down and burned "with unquenchable fire."
BOM: Jacob 5:42, 46, 49, 6:7; Alma 5:35, 3 Nephi 27:17
God is our creator. Can he not ask from us to “bear fruit?”

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

The appearance of Christ to the people
(Alexander Ivanov, 1837-1857)

12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

The baptism of Christ
(Master of the life of John the Baptist, 1330-1340)

14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

(3:14-15) "Comest thou to me?"
John has a good point in v.14. If Jesus is the sinless Son of God, then shouldn't Jesus be baptizing John instead of the reverse? Isn't baptism supposed to forgive sins and be a sign of repentance? If so, then why would Jesus need to be baptized? And what the heck is "it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness" supposed to mean?
BOM: 2 Nephi 31:5
The author of the SAB sets up a strawman attack here. First he defines baptism for what it is not and next he accuses Jesus of not needing that kind of baptism. Yes indeed!
Baptism does not forgive sins. Only when we believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God are our sins forgiven. Baptism is a sign of these things, not the thing it self. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines baptism as:

Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

"This is my beloved son"
In Matthew's gospel, God addresses those witnessing Jesus' baptism saying, "This is my beloved son ...." But Mark (1:11) and Luke (3:22) have God speak to Jesus directly" "Thou art my beloved son ...." But whatever the exact wording, it seems strange that after witnessing this event, John the Baptist is still unsure about Jesus (see Mt.11:2-3).
How did God address Jesus at his baptism?
It does seem quite likely that God the Father addressed both Jesus and those who witnessed his baptism. None of the evangelists claim to quote God's address fully and without abbreviation. Each of the evangelists just chose a portion of God's address that best suited how they wanted to tell their story.
The claim of the author of the SAB is based on flawed logic. Let's rewrite his reasoning in the form of elementary logic:
  1. Each of the evangelists claims to report God's full address.
  2. The evangelists each report a different address.
  3. Therefore there is a contradiction.
Because the first premise is not true, the conclusion is not warranted.
Rev. Mark D. Roberts, author of a fascinating FAQ on The Da Vinci Code, also mentions that citation wasn't that precise as we are used to. This was an age without recorders and podcasts. They didn't even have quotation marks in the first century!