The verses offered in comparison are:
John 1:32-3 -- Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'
Matthew 3:14-5 -- But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
So do we have a contradiction? Did John recognize Jesus, or not?
Liberal scholars are content to dismiss one or both verses as theological fabrications. I can agree that they are put in for theological purposes, but that hardly means that they must have been made up. Still, there is a very simple solution to this one.
First note Matthew 3:5-6, telling us what John did for a living:
People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
This was probably a public confession. The person who came to be baptized somehow let it know that they were confessing; most likely they confessed to John or one of his disciples prior to baptism.
Now let's put this into historical perspective. Jesus comes along for baptism...and does what? He confesses no sin whatsoever. John is probably flabbergasted and thinking one of two things, perhaps even simultaneously:
- This is the one I was waiting for? Why is he undergoing this rite of repentance?
- How can I be sure that this is the right guy? I haven't been watching him 24 hours a day.
Well, if you're John, you might just play it safe and assume that the guy is telling the truth...that is, unless you want to allow that something about Jesus triggered a recognition (revelation?) in John as to Jesus' identity which elicited the statement of Matt. 3:14.
From there, the settling of the Holy Spirit becomes a matter of confirmation that fixes the identity of Jesus in John's head once and for all.