Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. “In those days,” i.e. at the time of Jesus Christ, whose history this book contains. This expression does not always mean that what is going to be narrated, happened immediately after that which precedes. (Bible de Vence) — ‘Tis a way of speaking used by the Hebrews, even when there is no connection of time, as here are passed over 30 years of Christ’s life. John the Baptist was so called from his baptizing the people in water. The Jews took this for some token of their Messias: for they said to him, (John i. 25,) why dost thou baptize if thou art not the Christ? — In the desert, not in the house of his Father Zacharias, as some pretend, but in a true wilderness, as appears by the circumstances of his food, apparel, &c. (Witham) — The Baptist was about 30 years of age. He, as well as our Lord, in conformity with the Jewish law, did not enter upon his public ministry before that age. (Haydock)
Ver. 2. “Desert,” in Greek eremos, hence hermit. St. John the Baptist is praised by St. John Chrysostom, as a perfect model, and the prince of an Eremitical life. (Hom. i. in Mar. and hom. i. in J. Bap.) Several sectarists do not approve of what St. Chrysostom advances in favour of an ascetic life, and doing penance for past sins. (Bristow) — Do penance. Beza would have it translated repent. We retain the ancient expression, consecrated in a manner by the use of the Church; especially since a true conversion comprehends not only a change of mind, and a new life, but also a sorrow for past offences, accompanied with self-denials, and some severities of a penitential life. — The kingdom of heaven, which many times signifies the present condition of Christ’s Church. (Witham) — In this and other places of holy writ, instead of “do penance,” Protestants give “repent ye;” but general use has rendered metanoia, by pœnitentia, or penance; and in this text, not any kind of penance, or grief for sins committed, but that which is joined with a desire of appeasing Him who has been offended by sin; and this also by some external signs and works. For as many as heard this metanoeite, obeyed the voice, received from him the baptism of penance, confessed their sins, and it was said to them: Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, ver. 8. Therefore, all this was contained in the penance preached by the baptist. And here we must not omit, that while sectarists preach faith alone, both the baptist and Jesus Christ begin their ministry with practising and preaching penance. (Tirinus) — Pœnitentiam agite, metanoeite. Which word, according to the use of the Scriptures and the holy fathers, does not only signify repentance and amendment of life, but also punishing past sins by fasting, and such like penitential exercises. (Challoner)
Ver. 3. Isaias spoke these words of the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon; but this was a figure of the freedom of mankind through Jesus Christ. The Jews expected Elias would come in person to prepare the ways of the Messias; but John the Baptist was raised up by God in the spirit and power of Elias, to precede the first coming of Jesus Christ, as Elias in person was to precede the second coming of this divine Saviour. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 4. His garment of camels’ hair, not wrought camlet as some would have it, but made of the skin of a camel, with the hair on it. Thus Elias (4 Kings, i. 8,) is called an hairy man, with a leathern girdle about him. — Locusts, not sea-crabs, as others again expound it; but a sort of flies, or grasshoppers, frequent in hot countries. They are numbered among eatables. (Leviticus xi. 22) St. Jerome and others mention them as a food of the common people, when dried with smoke and salt. Theophylactus, by the Greek word, understands the tops of trees or buds. (Witham)
Ver. 5. So great was the celebrity of St. John’s sanctity, so much did his mortified life, and powerful preaching, weigh upon the minds of the people, that all wished to receive baptism at his hands. (Haydock)
Ver. 6. Baptized. The word baptism signifies a washing, particularly when it is done by immersion, or by dipping, or plunging a thing under water, which was formerly the ordinary way of administering the sacrament of baptism. But the Church, which cannot change the least article of the Christian faith, is not so tied up in matters of discipline and ceremonies. Not only the Catholic Church, but also the pretended reformed churches, have altered this primitive custom in giving the sacrament of baptism, and now allow of baptism by pouring or sprinkling water on the person baptized; nay may of their ministers do it now-a-days, by filliping a wet finger and thumb over the child’s head, or by shaking a wet finger or two over the child, which it is hard enough to call a baptizing in any sense. — Confessing their sins. We bring not this as a proof for sacramental auricular confession; yet we may take notice, with Grotius, that it is a different thing for men to confess their sins, and to confess themselves sinners. And here is expressed a declaring of particular sins, (as also Acts xix. 18,) such as is recommended in the Protestant Common Prayer Book, in the visitation of the sick. (Witham) — As the baptism of John was an external profession of penance, to this it was meet to add an external or oral confession of sins; and the more so, because such as were baptized by John, sought of him also, as we read in St. Luke, instructions how they were to amend their lives; now it is naturally expected of whoever asks for similar advice, that he should expose the defects of his past life. It is thus patients act with their physicians. (Haydock)
Ver. 7. Pharisees and Sadducees. These are the names of two sects at that time among the Jews. There are different conjectures about the name of the Sadducees. This at least we find by the Gospels, and by the Acts of the Apostles, that they were a profane sort of men, that made a jest of the resurrection, and of the existence of spirits, and of the immortality of souls. To these the Pharisees were declared adversaries, as being a more religious sect, who pretended to be exact observers of the law, and also of a great many traditions, which they had, or pretended to have, from their forefathers. St. Epiphanius (hær. 16, p. 34,) derives their name from the Hebrew word Pharas, signifying separated, divided, or distinguished from others by a more holy way of living. So the proud Pharisee (Luke xviii.) said of himself, I am not like the rest of men, &c. — Brood of vipers. St. John the Baptist, and also our Saviour himself, (Matthew xxii. 33,) made use of this sharp reprehension to such as come to them full of hypocrisy. — The wrath to come: meaning punishments for the wicked after death. Or as some expound it, the destruction that was shortly to fall on the city of Jerusalem, on the temple, and the whole nation of the Jews. (Witham)
Ver. 8. See note for ver. 2.
Ver. 9. Do not, therefore, wantonly imagine, that the fear of destroying the posterity of this patriarch, and of annulling the promises which God had made to him and to his seed, will hinder Him from punishing you. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 10. Without the least attention to its origin, or other advantages. Hence you must not rest your hopes of salvation on your birth alone, nor on the baptism alone you receive at my hands. (Bible de Vence)
Ver. 11. My baptism is only calculated to lead you to a penitential life, and not to give you true justice; but he who comes after me, is stronger than I, and whose shoes I am not worthy to carry: (it was customary with the attendant slave to carry a change of shoes for his master) he will baptize you in the Holy Ghost, and in the fire of his divine charity, which he will infuse into your hearts, to purify you from all your sins. (Bible de Vence) — Here St. John tacitly insinuates the divinity of Jesus Christ. He acknowledges his unworthiness, and it is this his humility that makes him the more acceptable to God, “I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?” (Tirinus) — Whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. In St. Mark, (chap. i. 7.) and in St. Luke, (iii. 21.) we read, the latchet of whose shoes . . . I am not worthy to untie. The sense is the same, and St. John might use both these expressions. His meaning is, that he was not worthy to do him the least, or the lowest service. — He shall baptize you in, or with the Holy Ghost, i.e. by his baptism, he will give you the remission of your sins, and the graces of the Holy Ghost, signified also by fire, which may allude to the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, in the shape of fiery tongues. (Witham)
Ver. 12. Address yourselves then to Him, and prevent, by a prompt and sincere conversion, that dreadful judgment which the just and severe Judge, whom I now announce to you, will most undoubtedly pass upon sinners, when he shall remove the chaff from the good grain, i.e. the bad from the good, calling the latter with him to his heavenly kingdom, and sending the former to burn in unquenchable fire. (Haydock)
Ver. 16. He . . . went up, &c. Christ was in the river when he was baptized. As soon as he went out, and was praying, says St. Luke, (iii. 21,) the heavens were opened to him, or in favour of him; and he saw the Spirit of God descending: i.e. Christ himself saw the shape of the dove, which was also seen by the Baptist, as we find, John i. 33. And it was perhaps seen by all that were present. — As a dove, or like a dove in a bodily shape. The dove was an emblem of Christ’s meekness and innocence. (Witham) — Calmet supposes that it was St. John that saw the Spirit of God descend thus upon Jesus Christ. The Greek text is favourable to this interpretation. But the Vulgate supposes it was Jesus Christ himself. St. John declares that he saw the Spirit; (John i. 32,) but this apparent disagreement is easily cleared, by supposing that both saw the shape of the dove, and also the surrounding crowd, and that they all heard the voice of the Father, as it was heard by the disciples in the transfiguration on Mount Thabor, (chap. xvii,) and by the crowd in the temple. John xii. (Tirinus)
Ver. 17. This most solemn testimony of God the Father, relative to his own beloved Son, is repeated below in chap. xvii; and is of such great moment, that the Holy Ghost would have it repeated not only by three evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, but also by St. Peter, as a fourth evangelist, 2nd Peter chap. i. (Tirinus) — In Greek, the emphatic article o uios mou o agapetos, strengthens the proof that Jesus Christ, upon whom the Spirit of God descended in the shape of a dove, was not the adoptive, but natural Son of God, born of Him before all ages, and should silence every blasphemous tongue and pen that can attempt to rob Jesus Christ of his divinity, and poor man of all hopes of salvation, through this God-man, Christ the Lord. But if it here be asked, why Jesus Christ, who was innocence itself, yes, and the very essence of sanctity, condescended so far as to be baptized with sinners, we answer, with the Holy Fathers, that it was, 1. to sanction the baptism and ministry of his precursor; 2. not to lose this opportunity of teaching humility, by placing himself among sinners, as if he had stood in need of the baptism of penance for the remission of sins; and lastly, with St. Ambrose, that it was to sanctify the waters, and to give to them the virtue of cleansing men from their sins by the laver of baptism. (Haydock)
 Ver. 2. Pœnitentiam agite. metanoeite. There is no need of translating in Latin, recipiscite, though more according to the etymology of the word. The judicious Mr. Bois, prebend. of Ely, in his book entitled, Veteris Interpretis cum Beza, &c. Collatio. Londini. an. 1655, commended by Walton in his Polyglot, declares he would not have this common translation of pœnitentiam agite changed: and brings these words of Melancthon, Let us not be ashamed of our mother tongue; the Church is our Mother, and so speaks the Church.
 Ver. 4. St. Hierom.[St. Jerome] lib. 2. con. Jovin. tom. 4. part. 2. p. 201. Orientales, et Libyæ populos . . . locustis vesci, moris est. Theophylactus by akrides, understands buds of trees.
 Ver. 6. Confitentes peccata sua. exomologoumenoi tas amartias auton.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The preaching of John: his penance: his baptism. His reproaches against the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus Christ comes to him, and is baptized.
1 Now, *in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the desert of Judea,
2 And saying: *Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3 For this is he, who was spoken of by Isaias the prophet, saying: *A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
4 And John himself had his garment of camels’ hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
5 *Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about the Jordan:
6 And they were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 And seeing many of the Pharisees, and Sadducees *coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth, therefore, fruit worthy of penance.
9 And think not to say within yourselves: *We have Abraham for our father: for I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
10 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that yieldeth not good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.
11 *I indeed baptize you with water unto penance: but he who is to come after me, is stronger than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly[thoroughly?] cleanse his floor: and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
13 *Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him.
14 But John stayed him, saying, I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?
15 And Jesus answering said to him: Suffer it now: for so it becometh us to fulfil all justice. Then he suffered him.
16 And Jesus being baptized, went up presently out of the water: and behold the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him,
17 *And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.
1: about the year A.D. 30.
2: Mark i. 4.; Luke iii. 3.
3: Isaias xl. 3.; Mark i. 3.; Luke iii. 4.
5: Mark i. 5.
7: Luke iii. 7.
9: John viii. 89.
11: Mark i. 8.; Luke iii. 16.; John i. 26.; Acts i. 5.
13: Mark i. 9.
17: about the year A.D. 30.; Luke iii. 22.; Luke ix. 35.; 2 Peter i. 17.