Who is “he” in Matt 3:16?

When Jesus gets baptized in Matt 3:16, we get this snippet: “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (ESV).

First, a couple textual notes. The phrase “to him” does not appear in all manuscripts, not that it really matters except, I’d like to know who the “him” is. Presumably it is the same as the “he” in “he saw.” Also, the English pronoun “he” is embedded in the Greek verb since Greek does not need pronouns to express the number and person of the subject.

So is the “he” Jesus or John the Baptist? On my first reading I thought it was Jesus, but then I read John 1:32 where it says: “And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” (ESV)

So, the “he” in Matt 3:16 is John the Baptist, not Jesus. John is the one who sees the dove come to rest on Jesus, not Jesus himself.

I think it would be helpful if English Bible editions added a footnote clarifying the antecedent of “he” in Matt 3:16. It would make the whole thing less confusing for all of us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *