These things were done in Bethabara
That is, this testimony was bore by John; and this discourse passed between him and the Pharisees, at the place here mentioned; which was a passage over Jordan, where much people walked to go on the other side,
and where also John was baptizing;
which brought a great concourse of people together: so that this witness was bore in a very public manner, and before a large number; and it is to this that Christ refers, in ( John 1:33 ) for this was so well known, that there was no hiding or denying it: the place where this conversation passed, is in the Vulgate Latin, and all the eastern versions; and in the Alexandrian copy, and many other copies, and so in Nonnus, called Bethany; but as De Dieu observes, Bethany was not beyond Jordan, nor in the wilderness of Judea, but near to Jerusalem, about two miles distant from it; nor was it situated by waters convenient for baptizing, unless they went to the brook Kidron, which indeed was not far from it; but it is clear from the history, that John was not so near Jerusalem; nor did that brook which might be forded over, continues the same learned author, seem fit and proper enough, `"mergendis baptizandorum corporibus", for plunging the bodies of those that were to be baptized'; wherefore he rightly concludes, that either this reading is an error, or there was another Bethany near Jordan: Bethabara signifies "the house of passage", and is thought to be the place where the Israelites passed over Jordan, to go into the land of Canaan, ( Joshua 3:16 Joshua 3:17 ) . And which, as it must be a very convenient place for the administration of baptism by immersion, used by John, so it was very significant of the use of this ordinance; which is, as it were, the passage, or entrance, into the Gospel church state; for persons ought first to be baptized, and then be admitted into a Gospel church, according to the example of the primitive Christians, ( Acts 2:41 ) but whether there was a place of this name, where the Israelites went over Jordan, is not certain; and if there was, it does not seem so likely to be the place here designed, since that was right over against Jericho; whereas this seems to be rather further off, and over against Galilee: there were several passages of Jordan, ( Judges 12:5 Judges 12:6 ) . There was a bridge over it, between the lake of Samochon and Gennesaret, now called Jacob's bridge, where Jacob is supposed to have wrestled with the angel, and to have met with his brother Esau; and there was another over it at Chainmath, near Tiberias, and in other places: and it might be at one of these passages, by which they went over into Galilee, that John pitched upon to continue preaching and baptizing at; partly because of the number of people that went over, to whom he had the opportunity of preaching; and partly, for the sake of baptizing those who became proper subjects of that ordinance through his ministry. Some have thought, that this place is the same with Bethbarah, in ( Judges 7:24 ) , which was either in the tribe of Ephraim or of Manasseh, and not far from the parts where this place must be, but was on this side Jordan; and so Beza says the words should be rendered; and those who came to John at Jordan, are not said to pass over that river: others are of opinion, that Bethabara is the same with Betharabah, ( Joshua 15:6 Joshua 15:61 ) , since this is called Bethabara by the Septuagint, in ( Joshua 18:22 ) . However, be it what place soever, and wheresoever, it was no doubt very proper for John's purpose; and therefore he chose it, and for a while continued at it: and here, says Jerom F1
``to this day many of the brethren, that is, of the number of believers, desiring there to be born again, are baptized in the vital stream;''such veneration had they for the place where John first baptized: Origen says F2, that in his time it was said, that Bethabara was showed by the banks of Jordan, where they report John baptized.
F1 De Locis Hebraicis, fol. 89. L.
F2 Comment in Joannemo, Tom. 8. p. 131.