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Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are no evidence that Jesus intended to found a new religion.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are no evidence that Jesus intended to found a new religion. In the first place the genuineness of the command to baptize in Matt. xxviii. 19 is questionable, not only as a saying ascribed to the risen Jesus, but also because it is universalistic in outlook, and because it implies the doctrine of the Trinity and, consequently, the metaphysical Divine Sonship of Jesus. In this it is inconsistent with the earliest traditions regarding the practice of baptism in the Christian community, for in the earliest times, as we learn from the Acts and from Paul, it was the custom to baptize, not in the name of the Trinity, but in the name of Jesus, the Messiah.

But, furthermore, it is questionable whether Baptism really goes back to Jesus at all. He Himself baptized no one in His own lifetime, and never commanded any of His converts to be baptized. So we cannot be sure about the origin of Baptism, though we can be sure of its meaning. Baptism in the name of Jesus signified only that Jesus was the Messiah. “For the only change which the teaching of Jesus made in their religion was that whereas they had formerly believed in a Deliverer of Israel who was to come in the future, they now believed in a Deliverer who was already present.”

The “Lord’s Supper,” again, was no new institution, but merely an episode at the last Paschal Meal of the Kingdom which was passing away, and was intended “as an anticipatory celebration of the Passover of the New Kingdom.” A Lord’s Supper in our sense, “cut loose from the Passover,” would have been inconceivable to Jesus, and not less so to His disciples.

It is useless to appeal to the miracles, any more than to the “Sacraments,” as evidence for the founding of a new religion. In the first place, we have to remember what happens in the case of miracles handed down by tradition. That Jesus effected cures, [pg 019] which in the eyes of His contemporaries were miraculous, is not to be denied. Their purpose was to prove Him to be the Messiah. He forbade these miracles to be made known, even in cases where they could not possibly be kept hidden, “with the sole purpose of making people more eager to talk of them.” Other miracles, however, have no basis in fact, but owe their place in the narrative to the feeling that the miracle-stories of the Old Testament must be repeated in the case of Jesus, but on a grander scale. He did no really miraculous works; otherwise, the demands for a sign would be incomprehensible. In Jerusalem when all the people were looking eagerly for an overwhelming manifestation of His Messiahship, what a tremendous effect a miracle would have produced! If only a single miracle had been publicly, convincingly, undeniably, performed by Jesus before all the people on one of the great days of the Feast, such is human nature that all the people would at once have flocked to His standard.

For this popular uprising, however, He waited in vain. Twice He believed that it was near at hand. The first time was when He was sending out the disciples and said to them: “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matt. x. 23). He thought that, at the preaching of the disciples, the people would flock to Him from every quarter and immediately proclaim Him Messiah; but His expectation was disappointed.

[The Quest of the Historical Jesus-A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede-Albert Schweitzer-1911]