The Words From Heaven: The Theophany After the Baptism of the Lord (Part VI) 4

By Fr Jason Smith

“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The words of the voice found in Luke’s gospel are the same as those found in Mark, “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (Lk 3:22). It is a message rich in meaning and content, for God speaks to his people as he did to Moses at Sinai. At the same time, it has raised questions among scholars.

On the one hand, several exegetes have questioned whether the voice from heaven can be identified with the voice of the Father himself, or if it is a “Bath qol”, that is, not his voice directly, but something like an echo or reverberation. Other scholars refuse to identify the voice with Bath qol, for it is not a “sound proceeding from another”, but the voice of God himself.

On the other hand, uncertainty also arises from the precise wording of the voice. Manuscripts refer to two different texts. Eastern texts follow Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, “you are my son in whom I am well pleased, today I have begotten you.” The wording for western texts follows only Psalm 2:7, “You are my son, today I have begotten you”. One guess for the cause of the difference is alterations of the text to avoid suspicion of Jesus being adopted as son of God.

The passage could, in fact, if read out of context, lead one to think it is the moment when Jesus was adopted. Luke, of course, already has painstakingly shown Jesus is the son of God from his conception, relating the virgin birth (Lk 1:32-35) and the prophecies of Zachariah and Simion (Lk 1:67; 2:29).

Rather then lead to heresy, if one listens closely to the voice, it reveals an intimate relationship between Father and Son. The divine voice—inspired in Psalm 2:7—gives the title of son ship, while also expressing pure divine love—inspired in Isaiah 42:1.

Far from leading to adoptionism then, the Father’s voice reveals what for thirty years had remained hidden in Nazareth: Jesus, thought by almost all to be a simple carpenter, is the Son of God. Moreover, the content of the voice stresses delight in his Son—just as any proud father would do when pleased with his child—and proclaims in exultation to all present, “This is my Son”.

As well, the phrase “beloved son,” calls to mind Isaac, confirming that there is no question here merely of an adoptive sonship. As John Galot writes, “The relationship between Jesus and the Father parallels the one that exists between Isaac and Abraham, that is, a sonship based on natural generation and equality of nature.”

Thus in the voice we hear the designation of the identity of Jesus in the fusion of three prophetic figures: the messianic king (Ps 2:7); the servant (Is 42:1), and of Isaac (Gn 22:2, 12-16). The reference to the messianic king, “You are my son” or “This is my son” complements the allusion to the servant: “my favour rests on you.” The one whom the voice presents is not just a servant, but more importantly, a son. The voice places the emphasis on the quality of being a son, in the fullest sense of the term.

In summery, the voice stresses which is anterior to Jesus’ baptism: a sonship which implies a likeness of nature.

Fr Jason Smith LC

Fr Jason Smith LC

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  1. The divine voice could have been revealing to all the other people, all the others who were baptized, that Jesus is the Son of God. God may have also in a sense been saying to Jesus that your ministry has started. That Jesus know longer had to be silent about who He really is and that now was the time for public ministry.

    God Bless.

    • There is so much we can continue to understand by meditating on this mystery. That’s why Blessed Pope John Paul II added it to the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, so that we can grow deeper in our personal knowledge of Christ.

      Thanks, Teresa!

  2. Teresa, your right on. There really is multimple layers of meaning here. When I wrote this it was after studying the Church Fathers, who were primarily concerned with understanding the divinity of Christ and his Sonship in relation to the Father, so the emphasis falls there. I love what you wrote! Count on my prayers!

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