We write a lot on this blog about how context matters. But we aren’t only concerned with the sentences and paragraphs surrounding your favorite verse. This example from Luke 20 shows the importance of at least three different Scriptural contexts. The location of the question in Luke 20 and the baptism in Luke 3 reminds us that the immediate context matters. The reference from Luke 20 to Luke 3 reminds us to keep the whole book in mind—the context within the book matters.
Luke 20 begins with a confrontation.
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luke 20:1–4)
Before digging into this passage, whenever I heard this chapter I thought Jesus was simply countering a question with a question. The chief priests and scribes were trying to serve him a trap, so he volleyed back a puzzle. I didn’t see much connection.
I should have known better.
Authority and Baptism
Since John baptized Jesus, when Jesus referred to John’s baptism he was not pointing toward something abstract. For Jesus, this could not have been more personal and meaningful. Jesus’s ministry began with his baptism.
For Luke, the surrounding context of Jesus’s baptism (Luke 3:21–22) was all about authority. John spent time answering questions from tax collectors and soldiers, two groups of people in authority (Luke 3:12–14).