Below is a rough translation and some preliminary remarks about Luke 3:15-22, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel text for the Sunday marking the Baptism of Jesus. My comments are in blue and your comments are welcomed.
15 Προσδοκῶντος δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ Χριστός,
Yet as the people were hoping and all were deliberating in their hearts about John, whether or not he might be the Christ,
Προσδοκῶντος: PAPart, gms, προσδοκάω, 1) to expect (whether in thought, in hope, or in fear) 2) to look for, wait for
διαλογιζομένων: PMPart, gmp, διαλογίζομαι, 1) to bring together different reasons, to reckon up the reasons, to reason, revolve in one's mind, deliberate
εἴη: PAOptative, 3s of εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present.
1. The word προσδοκάωcould be hope or dread. Because of the use of the optative mood in the verbεἴη (“he might be the Christ,” I am interpreting the people’s expectation as hopeful. The optative mood typically indicates a wish or a hope, so I’m interpreting this as a positive thing.
16 ἀπεκρίνατο λέγων πᾶσιν ὁ Ἰωάννης, Ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς: ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντατῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ: αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματιἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί:
John answered saying to all, “I baptize you with water; but one who is mightier than I is coming, for whom I am not sufficient to loosen the thongs of his sandals; he will baptize you in a holy spirit/wind/breath and fire;
ἀπεκρίνατο: AMI, 3s ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 2) to begin to speak, but always where something has preceded (either said or done) to which the remarks refer
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
βαπτίζω: PAI 1s, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk) 2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
ἰσχυρότερός: NMS adj. ἰσχυρός, 1) strong, mighty 1a) of living beings 1a1) strong either in body or in mind 1a2) of one who has strength of soul to sustain the attacks of Satan, strong and therefore exhibiting many excellences 1b) on inanimate things 1b1) strong, violent, forcibly uttered, firm, sure
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λῦσαι: AAInf, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened 1a) bandages of the feet, the shoes,
βαπτίσει: FAI 3s, , βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
1. It is interesting that John describes Jesus as being “mightier that I.” We typically think of John as this wild man of the desert and of Jesus as sweet little baby Jesus, meek and mild. If John has called out the crowds as a “brood of vipers,” is gathering a following, and has tax collectors and soldiers (the money collectors and enforcers of the Empire in Jerusalem) asking him what they must do in response to his message, imagine what the coming of “one who is mightier” means to the current social order. It means that the one who says, “Blessed are the poor” is the one who is stronger than even John, the threat to Herod’s reign.
2. Contrary to most translations, there is no definite article for holy spirit in this verse. Sometimes I worry that we retroactively impose a fully developed pneumatology onto texts that might have a much less developed one in play.
17 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ διακαθᾶραι τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ καὶ συναγαγεῖν τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην αὐτοῦ, τὸδὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.
For whom the winnowing blade [is] in his hand to cleanse his threshing floor and to gather the grain into his granary but the stalks he will burn in unquenchable fire.
διακαθᾶραι: AAInf. [the online lexicons that I use do not have a definition of this verb, so I’ll have to go to my office before looking it up in hard copy. Clearly, however, it is made up of the prefix δια , often ‘through,’ and the verb καθᾶραι , (catharsis) which means ‘to cleanse.’
συναγαγεῖν: AAInf συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather
κατακαύσει: 3s FAI, κατακαίω, 1) to burn up, consume by fire
1. I’ve always been amused at those who take the latter part of this verse literally, but not the former part. If hell literally is an unquenchable fire, per this verse, then heaven is literally ... a granary? Perhaps we should permanently exchange the word “literally” for “literarily” when speaking of the Scriptures.
2. The phrase πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ (puri asbesto) is the second mention of “fire” of our pericope, the first being the fire with which the coming one will baptize. “Asbestos fire” seems a much more intensive fire. It strikes me as a colloquial phrase of some sort. But perhaps two mentions of fire are the same and not different. That is, perhaps the consummation of the stalks is a redemptive act not a punitive one. The stalks will be tried/redeemed by fire (similar to Paul’s use in I Corinthians 3), in order to purify, not to punish.
18 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο τὸν λαόν:
Therefore, as he was summoning many others he was evangelizing the people;
παρακαλῶν: PAPart nms, παρακαλέω,1) to call to one's side, call for, summon 2) to address, speak to, (call to, call upon), which may be done in the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, etc.
εὐηγγελίζετο: IMI 3s εὐαγγελίζω, 1) to bring good news, to announce glad tidings
1. I’m going against the grain (so to speak) on this one. The word “others” is plural and accusative. The question is whether it is an adjective or a noun. If it is an adjective, it needs a noun supplied, like ‘words’ (NIV) or ‘things’ (KJV). If it is a noun, it can be the direct object of the verb παρακαλέω.
2. παρακαλέω, as the definitions show, could be a transitive verb, like ‘to summons’ or an intransitive verb, like ‘to exhort.’ If it means to summons, it needs a direct object, in the accusative, like “many others.” Some translations (like the ESV) simply make this participle into a noun – “exhortations.”
3. My take is that John is both calling disciples and evangelizing, not an unusual two-fold ministry to New Testament readers.
4. The use of the word “evangelizing” the prefix “eu” of which means “good,” makes on wonder how John’s words in v.17 could be about an eternal hell.
19 ὁδὲἩρῴδης ὁ τετραάρχης, ἐλεγχόμενος ὑπ' αὐτοῦ περὶ Ἡρῳδιάδος τῆς γυναικὸς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησεν πονηρῶν ὁ Ἡρῴδης,
Yet Herod the tetrarch, being refuted by him concerning Herodias the wife of his brother and concerning many hardships which Herod made,
ἐλεγχόμενος: PPPart nsm, ἐλέγχω, 1) to convict, refute, confute 1a) generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted
ἐποίησεν: AAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make 1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct, form, fashion, etc. 1b) to be the authors of, the cause
1. One can translate πονηρῶν as ‘evil’ or as ‘hardships.’ When it is an adjective, I almost always translate it as ‘evil. But, as a noun, it can have a slightly different tone. What I want to avoid is making this seem that Herod’s ‘evil’ is largely a matter of personal morality, overlooking how political Herod was. Even the adultery with Herodias had political implications and is not just another sexual affair among the rich and famous. By using ‘hardships,’ I am interpreting John’s refutation of Herod to be much more serious than just embarrassing him by calling him out over his illicit relationship, etc. I hear John speaking truth to power, getting to the very heart of the Roman Empire as Herod represents it.
20 προσέθηκεν καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πᾶσιν [καὶ] κατέκλεισεν τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐν φυλακῇ.
added this also to everything [and] confined John in prison.
προσέθηκεν: AAI 3s, προστίθημι, 1) to put to 2) to add
κατέκλεισεν: AAI 3s, κατακλείω, 1) to shut up, confine
1. It’s too bad that whoever imposed verse distinctions broke up v.20 from v.19, because they comprise one sentence. The main clause of the whole sentence is: “Yet Herod the tetrarch added this also to everything and confined John in prison.” The effect is that Herod (and Luke) sees John’s preaching as one cloth with John’s denunciation of his political shenanigans and exploitations. Where we often separate John’s “spiritual” message from his “political” critique, Herod (and Luke) does not.
2. By the way, in v.14, Luke says that soldiers came to John asking what they should do. That had to be worrisome for the military leadership, right? It sounds as if John was such a galvanizing leader that he was a real threat to Herod, and not just a loud annoyance. I really believe that the problem is Herod’s power, not his reputation.
21 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐντῷ βαπτισθῆναι ἅπαντα τὸν λαὸν καὶ Ἰησοῦ βαπτισθέντος καὶ προσευχομένου ἀνεῳχθῆναι τὸν οὐρανὸν
Yet it happened in all the people being baptized[,] Jesus also having been baptized and while he is praying the heaven was opened
Ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
βαπτισθῆναι: APInf, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
βαπτισθέντος: APPart gsm, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
προσευχομένου: PMPart gsm, προσεύχομαι, 1) to offer prayers, to pray
ἀνεῳχθῆναι: APInf, ἀνοίγω, 1) to open
1. This is a very wooden, awkward attempt at a literal translation of this verse.
2. Sheila Klassan-Wiebe makes notes: “Luke is not concerned about why Jesus was baptized, however, nor is it important who baptized him. (Luke has already recounted Herod's imprisonment of John and thus the connection between Jesus' baptism and John is only implicit.)” I suspect that the use of aorist infinitives in vv.21-22 is Luke’s way of setting this baptism back one or two steps in his narrative to a moment before John was imprisoned. I don’t know 1stcentury Greek habits well enough to say that for certain, but I suspect that is the case. Either way, Klassan-Wiebe’s point is very well taken. She goes on to note that Luke only mentions Jesus’ baptism as a subordinate clause, because it is the revelatory event that happens after the baptism that is the point. (Klassan-Wiebe, Sheila, "Luke 3:15-17, 21-22," Interpretation, 1994.)
3. In light of Klassen-Wiebe’s comment, I think it is safe to say that antecedent for the implied “he” of the verb “while praying” is Jesus. While Jesus is praying, the heavens were opened. In the next verse, the voice uses the 2ndperson singular “you,” making this a bit of a conversation between Jesus and God.
22 καὶ καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ 'αὐτόν, καὶ φωνὴν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ γενέσθαι, Σὺ εἶ ὁυἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα.
and the holy spirit came down on him bodily appearing as a dove, and a voice came out of the heavens, “You are my beloved son, in you I delighted.”
καταβῆναι: AAInf, to descend, to come down
γενέσθαι: AMInf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
εὐδόκησα: AAI 1s, εὐδοκέω, 1) it seems good to one, is one's good pleasure
1. The voice uses the present tense “You are” as well as the aorist (simple past) tense “I delighted.” Virtually every translation under heaven – except Young’s Literal Translation – makes the last verb present tense.
2. This seems to be mash up citation of Psalm 2:7 (“I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you”) and Isaiah 42:1 (“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations”). It is a matter of endless speculation whether the gospel writers presume that we know the OT well enough to know the contexts surrounding their citations or whether the citation itself stands alone in rendering its meaning.
The lectionary splits this reading up and takes out the part of John’s confrontation with Herod and Herod’s response of imprisoning John. I suppose the intent is to stay focused on Jesus and to save John’s confrontation with Herod for the occasion when John is put to death.
One might see the two stories differently and say that Luke is the one who takes the story of John’s baptism of Jesus and interjects into it the explanation of John’s confrontation and imprisonment. That is, perhaps the two stories floated independently until Luke redacted them together. If Luke is the one who weaves together the two stories, then there would be no reason to assume with Klassen-Wiebe that John is not necessarily the one baptizing Jesus.