To the Wilderness—or a Wedding?by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Most people who have done much study from the synoptic gospels are aware that following the baptism of Jesus, He “then” (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1) “immediately” (Mark 1:12) was sent out by the Spirit into the wilderness where He fasted for forty days while being tempted by the devil. Skeptics likewise are “well informed” of this story. In fact, some skeptics presume to know about this time in Jesus’ life so well, they have argued that the apostle John contradicted the synoptic writers (see “Inerrancy;” “Contradictions;” Wells, 2001). Allegedly, John placed Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee just three days following His baptism (John 1:19-2:1), whereas Mark indicated that Jesus went into the desert for forty days “immediately” following His baptism. Is this a real chronological contradiction, as some suppose?
Like so many of the other occasions when skeptics contend that two or more passages of Scripture are at odds with one another, this is just another example of where a particular text has been misunderstood. John 1 does not teach (as has been alleged) that “three days after the events where Jesus and John the Baptist meet [and when Jesus was baptized—EL]…, Jesus was attending a wedding in Cana” (“Inerrancy”). Notice what the first chapter of John’s gospel account actually teaches the following:
- Verses 19-25 contain John the Baptizer’s testimony regarding who he is. (“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ ”—vs. 19.)
- In verses 26-27, John explains to the priests and Levites that there is One Who is greater than himself—Jesus.
- “The next day,” John sees Jesus and proclaims, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (vs. 29). John then explains to those around him that this Man is the One about Whom he was speaking the previous day (vs. 30).
- In verse 31, John the Baptizer explains to his listeners how Jesus was “revealed to Israel” at His baptism (vs. 31). Then, in the following three verses, John bears witness about that baptism, saying,
I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God (32-35, emp. added).
- Verses 35-37 indicate that the day after John revealed the above facts to his listeners, he saw Jesus again, and two of John’s disciples began following Jesus that very day.
- The next day, Philip and Nathanael began following the Lord.
- Then, “on the third day” following John’s testimony of Jesus’ baptism and the Spirit Who descended upon Him, Jesus and His disciples are said to be at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1ff.)
Nowhere in John 1 does a person learn that Jesus and His disciples are in Galilee at a wedding three days after His baptism. The gospel of John does not even contain the actual account of Jesus’ baptism. The apostle John records only what John the Baptizer testified about the baptism of Jesus, which occurred some time in the past (exactly when, we are not told). While John and the others looked at Jesus, he related to them (in the past tense) the event of Jesus’ baptism and its significance. It is erroneous to assume that His baptism actually was taking place at the very time John the Baptizer was speaking the words recorded in John 1:29-34. Thus, the apostle John, in writing his gospel account, did not “deny” (as Steve Wells alleged) what the other gospel writers wrote concerning the days immediately following Jesus’ baptism. He merely supplemented the synoptic gospels by revealing to his readers that sometime after Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptations, He saw John the Baptizer again—and three days later went to a wedding in Cana of Galilee.
“Contradictions in the New Testament,” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.islam4all.com/chapter6.htm.
“Inerrancy: Where Conservative Christianity Stands or Falls,” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://users.vei.net/smijer/christianity/bunk.html.
Wells, Steve (2001), Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, [On-line], URL: http://www.Skepticsannotatedbible.com