Christ’s Baptism in Four Dimensions: A Synopsis Study

Christ’s Baptism in Four Dimensions: A Synopsis Study January 25, 2023

Meaningful Bible Study

“What do you think about the wild beasts that were with Christ during his temptations?” My colleague asked.

“What are you talking about, there’s no mention of wild beasts!” I replied.

I was thinking of the Matthew and Luke accounts, but my friend was thinking of Mark 1:13.

And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

Often we think that we know everything about a scriptural event, but we may only know (or remember) the details from one Gospel account. A powerful way to better understand Jesus Christ is to study His life carefully with the Gospels side by side—a synopsis study.

Creating a Synopsis

A synopsis study entails a side-by-side reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, looking for similarities and differences in the accounts. A careful study of key events such as Christ’s baptism, the last supper, his experiences in Gethsemane, and his trial, crucifixion, and resurrection can help us know him better.

This week’s Come Follow Me study of Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3 (adding John 1) gives us a meaningful opportunity to do a synopsis study of the Savior’s baptism.

You can do this basic process on your own, or you might lead those you teach in creating a synopsis together.

  1. Read Mark to get the basic storyline.
  2. Read Matthew’s account and look for ways that Matthew retained, added to, revised, or removed material from Mark, and think about why Matthew would have done this. Then repeat this step with Luke and John.
  3. Describe any similarities across all four Gospels. Some details may be identical in all accounts. Some treatments may focus on broader generalities that all four Gospels (sometimes only three) have in common.
  4. Think about lessons we might learn from what the Gospels have in common about a specific section. Ask what we learn from differences.

Here are some handouts that contain side-by-side accounts of the Savior’s baptism.

Baptism Synopsis KJV (WORD)

Baptism Synopsis KJV (PDF)

Baptism Synopsis NRSV (WORD)

Baptism Synopsis NRSV (PDF)

Learning from Synopsis Study

A synopsis study requires some effort,  but I promise you will find it worth your time and focus. As with many things in life, the more effort we put into our scripture study, the more we will gain from it. The synopsis approach motivates and guides us to do a more in-depth study.

Let me share one insight I found from doing a synopsis study on the Savior’s baptism.

If I were to ask “What did the voice from heaven say at Christ’s baptism?” you might likely think first of Matthew’s account. In Chapter 3 Matthew related that after Christ was baptized, a voice from Heaven declared, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

But Mark and Luke recorded things differently. In Luke 3 we read, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying” (Luke 3:21, NRSV). So in Luke’s account, Jesus was praying immediately after John had baptized Him.

Continuing, we read,

The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22, NRSV).

 In this account by Luke and in Mark’s text, this message was being spoken directly from God to Jesus. What do you think might be the significance of this difference?

For synopsis handouts on other parts of the Savior’s life, including Gethsemane, Calvary, and His Resurrection, see my synopsis page.

You might also be interested in my book The Founder of My Peace, in which  I write about how I have found peace in the insights about Jesus Christ that I’ve learned from doing synopsis studies.

About John Hilton III
Author Blurb: John Hilton III is an associate professor in Religious Education at Brigham Young University. He received a MEd degree from Harvard University and a PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University. John has authored over 90 articles and written 12 books, including Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ. John and his wife, Lani, have six children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Miami, Mexico, Jerusalem and China. Currently they live in Utah. In his spare time John enjoys practicing magic tricks and learning Chinese. You can read more about the author here.

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