“Why wasn’t Jesus baptized when he was eight years old?” New Era, Jan. 1978, 17–18
Answer/Bishop J. Richard Clarke
Baptism was first instituted to enable Adam and his posterity to be redeemed from the fall through obedience to God’s commandments. Though apostasy obscured its significance and meaning, baptism survived, in form at least, and became part of the Levite practice. (Lev. 8:5–6.) I know of no scripture in the Bible or Book of Mormon where the age for baptism is indicated. In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 68, verse 27 [D&C 68:27], the Lord fixes the age of accountability at eight and instructs parents that “children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of hands.”
We read that John the Baptist received a special call and was “ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord.” (D&C 84:28.) The record also says he “was baptized while he was yet in his childhood.” It is not likely that John was immersed in water when only an infant of eight days, but the scriptures do not tell us his exact age at the time or by whom he was baptized.
From the deserts of Judea, after years of austere discipline and divine teaching, John came among the Israelites. He called all men to repentance and announced that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2.) He made it clear that his mission was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. The repentant he baptized with water, but he proclaimed that one mightier than he would come “whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matt. 3:11.)
Age 30 was, significantly, the age at which the Levites began their ministry and the rabbis their teaching. When Jesus “began to be about thirty years of age,” he went to be baptized of John at the river Jordan. (Luke 3:23.) This would be appropriate because we have no account in the scriptures of Jesus acting in his ministry until he had attended to this important ordinance. He went to John to be baptized because, as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “John, at that time, was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom there was then on the earth, and holding the keys of power.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book Co., 1973, p. 276.)
Additionally, Jesus was not baptized, as other accountable candidates were, for the remission of sins. His was an act of simple submissive obedience that had no motive beyond itself. Nephi records four reasons for the Savior’s baptism whereby he complied with the law to fulfill all righteousness:
“But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
“And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate [entrance into the Kingdom], by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.” (2 Ne. 31:7, 9.)
In summary, then, my view is that Jesus was not baptized in his childhood because he had no need, as we do, for remission of sin, for he is the author of our salvation and provider of the means by which we may have our sins remitted. He began his official rabbinical ministry at age 30, as was the custom, by being baptized to “fulfil all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15.) He came to John in recognition of John’s role as an Elias who was the only one authorized to perform the baptism and witness before men that Jesus had “come not to destroy, but to fulfil [the law] in every way. (Matt. 5:17.)