, , , , , , , , ,

There are three accounts of the temptation. These three texts coincide and differ in their description of the temptation events. This has given rise to various positions concerning development, copying, distinctions, errors, et cetera. Recounting every single argument from every source would be impossible – fortunately it is not necessary. We can simply consider the texts and make a comparison.

All three narratives place the temptation immediately after the baptism by John.

Matthew 4:1 (ESV): Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Mark 1:12 (ESV): The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Luke 4:1 (ESV): And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness

On this point, the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) seem at odds with John – which contains no temptation narrative. Here is the apparently pertinent narrative in John:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John 1:29–36 (ESV)

This looks like a plain contradiction: John the Baptist speaks of the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus, but rather than Jesus being out in the desert being tempted, he is at the river with John!

But pay closer attention: Does the Gospel of John record directly about the Baptism of Jesus? No. The reference to the Holy Spirit coming down upon Jesus was not recorded by the Gospel writer as something he observed, but rather as John the Baptist recounting something he had seen.  The section actually begins upon 1:19:

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” John 1:19 (ESV)

The “next day” in 1:35 refers the third day (at least) after the arrival of the delegation – not the third day after the baptism of Jesus.  JBap tells the delegation that he is not the Messiah and bases that (in part) upon the wonder he had seen previously at the baptism of Jesus. There is absolutely nothing in the Gospel of John which gives us any indication of the date on which Jesus was baptized.

The Expositors Greek New Testament contains the following note on John 1:35:

Holtzman uses this close riveting of the day to day as argument against the historicity of the Gospel. He says that no room is left for the temptation between the baptism and the marriage in Cana. But these repeated ‘morrows’ take us back, not to the baptism, which is nowhere in this Gospel directly narrated, but to the Baptist’s conversation with the deputation from Jerusalem., in which is it implied [actually it is not implied – it is directly stated in 1:32-33] that already the baptism of Jesus was past; how long past this Gospel does not state …..

The contradiction nowhere appears in the text. Any “contradiction” exists solely in the assumption of careless readers.

Here is the timeline based upon all four Gospels:



Return of Jesus to the Jordan/Arrival of the Delegation from Jerusalem (John does not make clear whether Jesus was already at the river when the delegation appeared, it seems more natural to have Jesus arrive on the second day of the delegation’s appearance (John 1:29), but the point cannot be pressed in any direction.

Therefore, John 1:35 takes place on the third day of the delegation and an undetermined date after the baptism.