John the Baptist: Could Steph Be Right?

In my post, John the Baptist and Jesus, I had a discussion with Steph about whether or not John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Steph argued that the synoptics do not present him doing so, and I said that they do.

I appealed to Matthew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, and Luke 20:1-8, which are all pretty much the same passage. In them, the chief priests, scribes, and elders come to Jesus and ask him, “[B]y what authority are you doing these things?” Jesus replies that he’ll answer their question if they answer his first: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” That puts the Jewish leaders into a quandary. If they answer “From God,” Jesus will say, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” If they answer “From men,” they’ll anger the people, who regard John as a prophet. And so they respond, “We don’t know.” And Jesus then says, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

My interpretation of this passage was as follows: Jesus asked them this question because John had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. If the Jewish leaders acknowledged that John’s baptism was of divine origin, then they’d have to believe in Jesus, since John proclaimed Jesus. That was Jesus’ trap.

And part of me still sees that interpretation as valid, for it addresses the Jewish leaders’ question of “By what authority are you doing these things?” If John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, and his baptism was of God, then Jesus must have divine authority for his ministry.

But, after reading certain passages, I can understand how someone can arrive at another conclusion. According to Steph, Jesus wasn’t saying that John had proclaimed him to be the Messiah. Rather, he was trying to embarrass the Jewish leaders because they had rejected John the Baptist. “You’re trying to trap me with a question,” Jesus was saying. “Well, let me return the favor: Where were you when John the Baptist did his baptisms? Did you repent and accept his message, or not?” And this may be more than Jesus playing a game of “Gotcha!” He’s showing that the Jewish leaders were not all that sensitive to God’s activity in history, so they had no business condemning Jesus.

There are passages in which the scribes and Pharisees display a pretty dim view of John the Baptist. They claimed he had a demon because of his rigorous asceticism (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33). That’s rather extreme, don’t you think? And Luke 7:30 says they weren’t all that enthusiastic about John’s baptism: “But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (NRSV).

The Pharisees may have been pretty open at times about their contempt for John, but they didn’t want Jesus bringing it up, not with dozens of John sympathizers standing around them. They could picture the people saying, “Oh yeah, that’s right. You guys didn’t care much for John, did you? You even said this bold man of God had a demon. Stone them!”

And Matthew’s version of the incident bears this out. The Jewish leaders feared that Jesus would ask them why they didn’t believe in John. Immediately afterwards, Jesus indicated through a parable what he meant by “believe.” In his story, a father tells two sons to do something. One says he will, but he doesn’t do it. The other says he won’t, yet he repents and obeys his father’s will. The first son represents the Jewish leaders, whereas the second one symbolizes the sinners who repented at John’s preaching. Jesus then explains the lesson of the parable: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:31-32). The Jewish leaders did not “believe” John in the sense that they failed to receive his message of repentance and forgiveness.

Of course, the New Testament is not entirely consistent about this. Matthew 3:7 narrates that many Pharisees and Sadducees did come to John for baptism, but he rebuked them: “You brood of vipers!,” he said. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” They may have turned away from him once he bruised their ego. Like many of us, they valued their own glory more than God and righteousness (in the Gospels’ telling).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Daily Quiet Time, Luke, Matthew, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to John the Baptist: Could Steph Be Right?

  1. ElderChild says:

    Sad it is ;-( that the multitudes believe a heretical
    tradition regarding The One many, who say they are
    believers, seek to follow. He Who is “The Messiah,
    The Son of The Living GOD”.

    Seems there is undeniable proof that the traditional name
    of ‘jesus’ was not The Messiah’s GOD given birth Name
    in any language! And proof exists in not just one, but all
    New Testament Greek manuscripts from which catholic
    and christian translators created their version of the

    Yes, undeniable proof!

    First, the Greek word “Iesous” was used by those who
    translated the Greek Septuagint, which was the Hebrew
    to Greek translation of the Old Testimonies.

    In the Greek Septuagint, which was translated prior to
    the birth of The Messiah, the Greek word “Iesous” was
    used to represent “Jeshua, son of Nun, so named by
    Moses”. (Numbers 13:16)

    And so it was established that the Greek name “Iesous”
    represented the Hebrew name YeHoWsHuwa'(which
    should have been translated as Jeshua, rather than
    ‘joshua’ in the English language Old Testaments).

    Then in most all the New Testament translations, from
    the various Greek manuscripts, the word “Iesous” was
    translated correctly as Je(o)shua(YeHoWsHuwa’) in both
    Acts 7:43 and Heb 4:8 and then the same Greek word
    “Iesous” was traditionally(for the past 500, or so, years)
    translated as their “imag”ined ‘jesus’ in all other places
    of the English language New Testaments ;-(

    However, in the original kjv(aptly named as king james’
    version for it was of the church OF england) those who
    did the translating of the New Testament decided to
    rename Je(o)shua and declared the Je(o)shua of the
    Old Testament to be of the same name as their
    “imag”ined ‘jesus’ in both Acts 7:43 and Heb 4:8 ;-(

    At least the translators of the kjv were consistent, yet
    the result of their consistency is confusion ;-(

    And so it was that a heretical tradition was established
    less than 500 years past ;-(

    Now if one wishes to take liberty and change the name
    of the Old Testament “Je(o)shua” to ‘jesus’, well that is
    their choice, yet a sad choice indeed and Truth ;-(

    And worse yet you could accept the traditional lie that
    the Greek word “Iesous” represents both “Jeshua” and
    the catholic and christian ‘jesus’. For those who seek
    The Light of Truth that is confusing at best! Another
    sad choice ;-(

    I have been, and know that i will yet be accused of
    having my portion with the “sacred name folk” or some
    other similar religious group. And yet that is as far
    from Truth as one could be, for i believe that, “that
    which decayed and waxed old” did indeed and Truth
    “vanish away” with the destruction of the earthly,
    natural kingdom that was centered in old jerusalem.

    The Kingdom of GOD is now Spiritual and the body of a
    believer is the Temple for the indwelling Spirit, The Spirit
    that leads believers on The Way to The Truth of The Life.

    Sadly, many believe that a name is not important ;-( Now
    when a man makes such a statement to me i simply reply,
    “ok, if that’s what you believe Martha”, or if it be a woman,
    “ok, if that’s what you believe Matthew”…….

    Truth is important, for apart from Truth their is nothing
    but “confusion and every evil work” and Truth IS that the
    “imag”ined name of ‘jesus’ was not spoken for more than
    1500 years after The Only True GOD raised The Messiah
    from among the dead! Truth IS that The Messiah’s GOD
    given birth Name was YeHoWsHuwa'(Jeshua in modern
    day English)!

    Prior to that time there was no ‘j’ sound in the English
    language, which is verifiable in most any encyclopedia.
    And there never has been a ‘j’ sound in either Hebrew
    or Greek.

    Seems the vain “imag”inations of the “catholic” and
    “christian” systems of religion have caused “The Way
    of Truth to be evil spoken of”, so why continue to use
    their “imag”ined name for “The Son of Living GOD”?

    Those who yet cling to the “imag”ined name of ‘jesus’,
    after The Truth was presented unto them, have chosen
    to follow the evil ways of catholicism and her firstborn
    “chrisitan” daughter, “the church OF england” ;-(

    I am sad for all yet held captive by the “strong delusion”
    that is their “imag”ined ‘jesus’ ;-(

    Yet there is hope!

    For Miracles do happen!

    Hope is there would be those who would experience
    The Miracle that is receiving “a love of The Truth”!

    Truth IS, Yeshua(Jeshua in modern day english) is
    The Messiah, Immanuel, The Son of The Living GOD!

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of
    this wicked world and it’s systems of religion, for
    “the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil
    one”(1Jn5:19) indeed and Truth……. francisco


  2. James Pate says:

    Interesting thoughts, Elderchild, but why’d you post them under this topic?


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