Baptism and Broken, Stomped on, Crushed-up Contracts

Why was Jesus baptized? If baptism is about forgiveness of sin, and Jesus was sinless, why was he baptized?

Churches throughout the world celebrate The Baptism of Our Lord on the First Sunday after the Epiphany (January 12 in 2020).

Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, in the Baptistry at Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy

This is one of the feast days designated as appropriate for the celebration of baptism, so many people are baptized on the day we remember Jesus’ baptism. But besides a shared celebration, what does his baptism have to do with ours?

The baptism of Jesus. Mosaic on the Cathedral in Orvieto Italy. Unlike in the full immersion version in Florence, Jesus stands on land and John sprinkles him with water.

My favorite detail is the man fishing. He’s so caught up in his catch that he’s oblivious to what’s happening in front of him, including the angels ready to dry Jesus.

An apocryphal legend written perhaps as early as the 4th c., and probably originally in Greek gives an answer to what Jesus’ baptism has to do with ours. The legend is known from manuscripts written later in Slavonic, Latin, and don’t share all the same details. The story is usually known as the Life of Adam and Eve and seeks to fill in some gaps in the biblical story, as well as tell us what happened to Adam and Eve after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.

In Genesis 2-3, we read about deception of Adam and Eve by the serpent. They eat the fruit of the one tree in the Garden of Eden that was forbidden to them. One of the consequences is that they are expelled from the Garden.

In the Garden, it had always been light. Adam and Eve had never before experienced darkness. Outside the Garden, night fell, and it became dark. They were afraid. Satan saw his opportunity to deceive them once again.

Satan came to them and told them that if they signed a contract with him, he would bring light once again. The terms of the contract were these: in exchange for the light, “until the unbegotten is born and the undying dies, we and our children will be subject to you.” (In Adam’s Contract with Satan: The Legend of the Cheirograph of Adam, by Michael E. Stone. Indiana University Press, 2002, page 3.)

You would think that Adam and Eve would know better at this point. Satan has laid out terms he thinks pretty much guarantee that Adam, Eve, and all humans after them will be subject to Satan. After all, when would someone “unbegotten” (not made, eternal, uncreated, not born) be born? When would someone “undying” die? They must have really wanted the light. They must have been really afraid. They must have just trusted the devil they knew. . . Adam signs on the dotted line. The contract is written (and signed) on a big flat stone, which Satan puts in the Jordan River for safekeeping.

Sure enough, the sun comes up, it gets light out. Well, that was worth it, think Adam and Eve. Their relief lasts for maybe 12 hours or so when evening comes again. The deceiver has done it again. They signed their (and our) freedom away, all for what God had already put in place.

They weep and mourn, and God is once again gracious to them and sends an angel to tell them that although they were deceived and they will be bound to Satan’s contract for a while, it’s the deceiver who has been deceived, and has condemned himself for all eternity.

The impossible conditions “were exactly those that Christ would fulfill in his incarnation and crucifixion. The birth of the unbegotten and the death of the undying are the very events that will bring about the end of the contract and of Satan’s dominion over humans” (Stone, 4). The deceiver was deceived.

But what happened to the contract? Remember, it’s at the bottom of the Jordan River. Enter Jesus and John the Baptist.

See that stone tablet Jesus is standing on? (The Baptism of Christ, Illustrated Vita Christi, c.1190–1200, Los Angeles, Getty, Ms. 101, fol. 53r)

See that serpent being crushed by Jesus? (The Pomposa New Testament Frescoes: The Baptism of Jesus; photo from https://www.christianiconography.info/Edited%20in%202013/Italy/pomposaNewTestament.baptismJesus.html)

This one has both the stone and some serpents being stomped on by Jesus as he’s baptized. (Wall decoration of the monastery of Cozia on the Olt, Romania, beginning of the 19th century. http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/anderson/gaa/cheirograph.html)

In the legend, “at the time of Christ’s baptism, the waters of the Jordan turned back and revealed the stone [contract]. . . Christ smashed the [contract] and trampled the dragons that guarded it” (Stone, 4).

The impossible conditions were met by Jesus Christ. The contract was made null and void. The subjection of Adam and Eve and all their children to Satan was brought to an end.

Okay, but wait a minute. “The undying one” hasn’t died yet. He’s just being baptized at this point in the story. Yes, but he will. And this is where his baptism and ours come together. Romans 6:3-11 puts it this way:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The featured image is an icon found at https://www.blessedmart.com/shop/hand-painted-icons/theophany-baptism-of-christ/

  1. Dear amy and joe, thank you for this interesting article on baptism and all these wonderful pictures, mostly frescoes.you always teach us and show us so much. I hope you are well. We went around Cape Horn last month. It was a fascinating new world for us. Love, Madeleine e

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amy, I love your retelling of this story. I don’t read all of your posts, but whenever I do, I always see the joy in your stories! We miss you and Joe. Take care.
    Love, Linda

    Liked by 1 person

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