Mark’s Gospel claims Jesus was “immediately” driven into the wilderness after His baptism, but John seems to disagree.
Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. (Mark 1:12–13)
However, in his Gospel, John seems to say that Jesus was in Cana three days after His baptism. Is there a contradiction?
Anyone seriously and honestly seeking to discover the truth should always begin by carefully examining the texts to discover exactly what they have to say to us. We should never read our own ideas into the text, but we should rather read them with the intention of finding the Author’s intended meaning. This is called exegesis. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the Gospel of Mark states concerning the timing surrounding Jesus’s baptism.
It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him. (Mark 1:9–13)
Five events stand out in the above account.
- Jesus was baptized by John.
- The Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.
- The Father spoke from heaven.
- Jesus was driven into the wilderness.
- Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days.
These five points seem to flow as a play-by-play chronology, with little or no room for long gaps between them. Therefore, it can be derived from a plain reading of the text that Jesus was indeed in the wilderness within a very short time after his baptism. This order of events is also portrayed in Matthew and Luke. As such, it is highly unlikely that He could have been in Cana three days after His baptism.
To solve this alleged problem it is necessary to read the entire record of John’s account.
Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. (John 1:19–24)
This entire account was written in the past tense. It is therefore describing events that had already taken place from the perspective of John the Apostle. Verses 32–33 mention the baptism of Jesus.
And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:32–33)
Again, the apostle John recorded this as a past tense account of what John the Baptist had already done. John the Baptist was then describing these events to the people listening to his teaching and being baptized.
The alleged problem arises in the second chapter.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. (John 2:1)
Skeptics mistakenly claim that John was referring to the third day after Christ’s baptism. However, this part of John’s Gospel, though chronological, is not an event-by-event account as is Mark 1:9–13. John’s Gospel allows for gaps (i.e., other events to have taken place) in between the events recorded.
John’s Gospel allows for gaps...in between the events recorded.
To summarize the events, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist as described in Mark 1:9–11. He then immediately spent 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. After that, He returned to the area where John was baptizing. John 1:29 states that Jesus returned and the day after John the Baptist was questioned by the Jews. John the Baptist identified Him again as the Messiah using very similar language, as we would expect for a prophet referring back to ideas written by previous prophets.
The next day John the Baptist again identified Jesus as “
the Lamb of God” (John 1:35–36). Jesus then proceeded to interact with Andrew, Simon, Philip, and Nathanael while on His way to Galilee (John 1:37–51). Three days after those events, Jesus was at the wedding in Cana of Galilee where He performed the first public miracle of His earthly ministry (John 2:1–11).
Ergo, without doing any harm to the text, we can conclude the wedding at Cana took place after Jesus had returned from His 40 days in the wilderness and three days after He called the disciples as described in John 1:35–51. There is no contradiction when we carefully examine the various accounts in the Gospels.