Question: "Did Jesus baptize?"

Answer: The Bible does not record anyone being baptized by Jesus. There are a couple of verses that seem to indicate that Jesus baptized people, but when we compare Scripture with Scripture, we conclude that Jesus did not personally baptize anyone.

Opening the possibility that Jesus did baptize is Matthew 3:14, where John the Baptist says to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you.” Taken by itself, John’s statement could imply that Jesus was in the habit of baptizing people in water. But the context suggests otherwise: previously, John had said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I. . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). John distinguished his baptism (with water) from the Lord’s baptism (with the Holy Spirit). When John spoke of his need to be baptized by Jesus, he was most naturally referring to his need for the Holy Spirit.

Two verses in John 3 seem to say that Jesus did indeed baptize: John 3:22 says that “Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.” And in John 3:26 Jesus’ actions are reported to John: “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

But in the next chapter John clarifies what was happening: “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples” (John 4:1–2, emphasis added). So, Jesus was “baptizing” in that the disciples were doing so by His direction and under His authority. John, after a couple of mentions of Jesus’ work of baptism, explains that Jesus was not personally baptizing anyone.

As Jesus had oversight of His disciples’ work of baptism, He could rightly be said to be baptizing. In common language, we often describe work accomplished through a subordinate as one’s own work. Thus, the manager of a lawn mowing service can be said to mow thirty lawns a week, although he himself mows none of them—his employees do the actual mowing. And a king can be said to invade another country, although the king himself never leaves his palace.

Is it possible that Jesus baptized people on other occasions not recorded in Scripture? Yes, the possibility exists. But, based on John 4:1–2, it seems unlikely. A plausible explanation for why Jesus did not baptize anyone is that Jesus did not want anyone thinking himself superior to other believers based on who had baptized him. Someone baptized by Jesus would be tempted to broadcast the fact and feel a little smug around those who were only baptized by, say, Thomas or Thaddaeus. Such proud sectarianism is human nature (see 1 Corinthians 1:12–15). In declining to baptize anyone, Jesus prevented unnecessary divisions.