What to Do With an Errant John the Baptist?

@Rublev wrote: »
Yes, there is definitely anxiety being expressed in the language of the gospels over the fact that Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist rather than the other way around. I think that Jesus was originally one of John's disciples during His hidden years, but the gospel writers don't want to mention it - or to say any more about J the B than necessary. He was also seen as being a potential Messiah and the Pharisees thought that he fitted the role rather well. Jesus and John have a close association and His first disciples were also John's disciples. But I've discussed this on another thread.

The gospel writer John does omit the chronology of the life of Jesus in contrast to the Synoptics. He takes a more thematic and symbolic approach. It is thought that he wrote his gospel as a supplement to Mark. Clement of Alexandria wrote in C2 that, 'Last of all John, aware that the outwards facts had been set out in the gospels ... composed a spiritual gospel.' But that isn't the only possible explanation. How do you see John's gospel ?

__________

I am going to respond in detail to Rublev's post above on this thread. Please give me some time to gather my thoughts.
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Comments

  • Please take all the time you want.
  • Oh dear god. It's spreading.
  • Unlike some, Rublev is a worthy conversationalist, as demonstrated by his last posts on the atoning/non atoning thread.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    Thank you kindly Sir. And I see that the resident Greek chorus have already introduced themselves to you.

    BTW - I am a woman. Perhaps I should rename my avatar Rubleva to avoid confusion.
  • Sorry. I was aware that you might be, though I thought Rublev sounded male.
    I, by the way, am a man, as I guess James implies.
    More important, you are obviously a scholar.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I didn't give much thought to picking my avatar. In a sense the gender of the poster should not matter at all. I could have just let it be assumed that I was a man of enlightened views in regard to women's issues. But anyway, to avoid confusion I point it out. I enjoy interesting theological discussions so welcome to the Ship.
  • Wonderful. I hope you never find my views to be unenlightened about anything, but if you do, I'm sure you'll let me know -- and that quite firmly!
  • mousethief wrote: »
    Oh dear god. It's spreading.

    Yes, though I quite like being cast as part of the Greek chorus...

    As for 'conversation', we shall see.
    :wink:

    John the Baptist is indeed an interesting subject for conversation, discussion, and debate, so let's hope that's what we get.

  • First, I suggest we go looking for "the historical" John the Baptizer, starting with the earliest gospel source materials we have concerning him, the Mat-Luk parallels.

    I here cite only the Lukan version of those parallels.

    How much of the following information about John t. Bapt is historical?
    Luke 3:3-4; 3:7-9; 3:16-17.

    In my opinion, all of it. Here already we see an "errant" John, for he is expecting the wrath of God to fall with destructive fire* on the people to whom he is preaching, and that within a very short time.
    ________

    *Note that the word fire occurs three times.



  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    I only scanned it quickly, but in the Greek it looks like “fire” is only used twice, with a demonstrative standing in for it at one point. Not that such matters the most.

    Are you suggesting that John meant fire literally? The usage seems quite plainly metaphorical.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    James Boswell II:

    How much of the following information about John t. Bapt is historical?
    Luke 3:3-4; 3:7-9; 3:16-17.

    In my opinion, all of it. Here already we see an "errant" John, for he is expecting the wrath of God to fall with destructive fire* on the people to whom he is preaching, and that within a very short time.

    I think, however, you should take into account that of Matthew, where "the people to whom he is preaching" in this instance are specifically identified as the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3: 1-12). They are "the brood of vipers", not the people as a whole. To my mind this makes better sense than Luke's account where the severity of the condemnation is general. There are, of course, other historical questions not obviously raised in the gospel texts. What, for example, is going on in Galilee? Why the mass baptisms? How do they fit into Judaism?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I'd say that it's an historical portrait of J the B. He preaches a message of repentance and fiery judgement. His message is well received and the crowds wonder if he is the Messiah (Luke 3: 15). By contrast Jesus proclaims a manifesto of the good news of the Lord's favour which omits the prediction of vengeance to the congregation of Nazareth and they try to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4: 16-29). Interestingly, they are both quoting from the prophet Isaiah. I wonder if this theological difference between them is what marked the parting of the ways between Jesus and J the B. But isn't it a bit harsh to call John errant? After all, Jesus did say that he was the greatest living human (Matt 11: 9-11).
  • @Rublev
    Yes, Rublev, I agree it is a historical portrait. John was preaching the danger of literal fiery destructive judgment, and on everyone.

    And yes, Jesus did say that John was great as anyone ever born (and that in a Mat-Luk parallel). Yet both John and Jesus were mistakenly ("errantly") expecting the judgment and the Kingdom to come in that generation.

    Also, even though Jesus called John as great as anyone ever born, he made that statement right after John's messengers had asked Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?" Because Jesus was not doing what John had said the "mighty one" would do: Separate the wheat from the chaff, the good people from the bad, and gather the good into his barn while casting the bad into "unquenchable fire." Instead, Jesus was sitting at table with the "chaff," eating with them, loving and accepting them.

    And so Jesus sent a sort of warning back to John: "Blessed is anyone who is not offended by me [i.e., by what I am doing]."
  • It cannot be over emphasized how offensive what John was doing would have been to the Temple authorities. Who gave this desert upstart the authority to announce a necessary cleansing to Israel? What made him think his immersion in the Jordan should take precedence over all the Mosaic sacrifices and lustrations offered by the Temple, intended for forgiveness and for cleansing?

    How dare he!

    Probably very few if any Pharisees responded favorably to John and almost NO Sadducees.

    (Matthew 21:31-32 is found only in Mat. but is probably historical. It is addressed to "the chief priests and elders" in Jerusalem, who were mostly Sadducees.)
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 12
    Yes, Jesus is not the Messiah that John predicted. They are theologically quite different and the Pharisees commented on it (Matt 11: 18-19). John is much more in the mould of the expected Messiah.

    John was the son of a priest, a Nazirite from his birth (curiously Jesus is not), presumably trained by his, father Zechariah as a rabbi, quoting Isaiah and preaching to crowds in the wilderness, proclaiming a dramatic message of repentance and offering the sign of baptism, attracting disciples around him, highly ascetic and drawing parallels with Elijah (Matt 3: 4).

    The Pharisees sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him why he was baptising people and if he was the Messiah (John 1: 19-26). They never make such a serious enquiry about Jesus although He also drew great crowds.

    You raise an interesting question about the extent to which the kingdom came in the generation of John and Jesus. The early Christians were expecting an immanent Second Coming and Paul thought that it wasn't really worthwhile getting married for that reason (1 Cor 7: 25-31).
  • The word fire occurs thrice. And yes, Rublev, I agree it is a historical portrait. Johnzo he was preaching literal fiery destructive judgment, and on everyone. So, no Rublev, I think very few Pharisees and probably NO Sadducees came to him (see Matthew ). The Pharisee/Sadducee wording represents the author of Matthew's intense dislike for both parties, abundantly indicated throughout that gospel.
  • Well, if you read all that I have earlier posted, including the information for which I got suspended, you will see that I am utterly convinced that not only John the B. before Jesus and Paul the apostle after Jesus, but also Jesus himself was/were into apocalyptic-eschatological thinking, as were all the early Christians.

    A lot of people like to say Jesus in his teaching, he was saying that the Kingdom is "already, not yet."

    That is to say, "it is already beginning to arrive" in his teachings, healings, exorcisms, and all his activities, but is "not yet" here in all its fullness.

    I would only insist on adding that he was actually teaching, "The Kingdom is already beginning to be present, though it is not yet here in all its fullness, but it very soon will be fully present, and in this very generation."

    That did not happen.
  • @Rublev
    I apologize for the first post above after yours. It's an earlier draft that got messed up and I don't know how to erase it when that happens.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    John the Baptist had a wide appeal to 'people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem' (Mark 1: 4-5). We are told that 'he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism' (Matt 3: 7). Even tax collectors and Roman soldiers requested his spiritual guidance (Luke 3: 12-14). He was very much in the tradition of an OT prophet. So the Pharisees sent a special delegation of priests and Levites from Jerusalem to investigate who he was (John 1: 19-26).

    John is never accused of blasphemy by the religious authorities, unlike Jesus. Instead he is seen as a threat by the civil authorities and executed by Herod (Luke 3: 19-20; Matt 14: 3-12).
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    On the kingdom of God:
    Jesus proclaims it and He demonstrates it with His miraculous signs (Luke 4: 18-23; 7: 18-23). It could be argued that the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers at Pentecost represents the coming of the kingdom in its fullness and the return of the Lord is still immanent.
  • Yes, that could be argued, and has been. But the church is not the Kingdom, as Paul makes clear in his letters where he warns church members that certain behavior will keep them from "inheriting" the Kingdom of God. Paul and other early Christians call the church many things, but never the Kingdom.
  • Matt. 3:7 is not historical, in my opinion. Rather, Luke 3:7 has it right. (Many scholars agree that Luke often follows his parallel source more closely than does Matthew.)

    I take Luke 3:12-14, though found only in Luke, to be historical. No reason to doubt it.

    I agree entirely with your sentence above about accusations of blasphemy.

    But the delegation from Jerusalem was sent by "the Jews of Jerusalem" rather than the Pharisees, and it may more probably have been composed of Sadducean "priests and Levites."

    But when it comes to the gospel of John, we must remember that with the author of John, theological truth triumphs always over what we would regard as historical truths, though their is some Markan historicity mixed into John 19-26. More about that later.
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    The word fire occurs thrice. And yes, Rublev, I agree it is a historical portrait. Johnzo he was preaching literal fiery destructive judgment, and on everyone. So, no Rublev, I think very few Pharisees and probably NO Sadducees came to him (see Matthew ). The Pharisee/Sadducee wording represents the author of Matthew's intense dislike for both parties, abundantly indicated throughout that gospel.

    Again, in the Greek the word for “fire” only occurs twice. He’s using language very figuratively; why do you think it’s literal and not metaphorical?
  • Good grief. Just read the text. 'Wrath is coming,' John warns, 'and if you do not produce good fruit, you will be like trees cut down and thrown into the fire (Gk: pur). A mighty one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Gk: puri). He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with fire unquenchable (Gk: puri asbesto).'

    How much more literal can you be?

    See also Malachi 4:1,3,5. Would not those who heard John preach be thinking of those words?
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    James Boswell II: Matt. 3:7 is not historical, in my opinion. Rather, Luke 3:7 has it right.

    See also Malachi 4:1,3,5. Would not those who heard John preach be thinking of those words?

    I disagree that Luke 3:7 is to be preferred to Matthew 3:7, and am curious as to how one can baldly assert that Matthew is not historical whereas Luke is in this matter. I'm also curious you should reference Malachi in your support because his prophecy is directed against the priests and the Temple authorities. (The Lord will suddenly appear in the Temple, and who may abide the day of his coming). None of this is to deny that John preached the need for sins to be forgiven, but I'm not convinced he regarded the ordinary people as "a brood of vipers." IMO John was leading a religious revival amongst ordinary people who had been egregiously let down by the shepherds, and it's notable that Jesus seems to have held a similar view: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    Good grief. Just read the text. 'Wrath is coming,' John warns, 'and if you do not produce good fruit, you will be like trees cut down and thrown into the fire (Gk: pur). A mighty one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Gk: puri). He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with fire unquenchable (Gk: puri asbesto).'

    How much more literal can you be?

    See also Malachi 4:1,3,5. Would not those who heard John preach be thinking of those words?

    Right, so two uses of “fire” in the Greek. In the first example you cite, it’s clearly a simile. Note the word translated as “like.” In the second/third, why is that literal? It seems to me clearly metaphorical. Explain why it’s nor such,
    (And what text did you use for the last quote? I missed it,)
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I agree that J the B and Jesus were leading a religious revival among ordinary people who were disregarded by the Sadducees. They should have been the natural allies of the Pharisees, but Jesus objected to their emphasis upon their own religious rules and wanted to emphasise the true spiritual meaning of the law as a blessing not a burden for God's people.

    Both John and Jesus encounter challenges from the religious authorities regarding their right to preach - and they are both quite circumspect in answering them (John 1: 23; Matt 21: 27). The Pharisees challenge John about why he is baptising if he is not the Messiah or a prophet (John1: 24-25). And the priests and elders in the Temple challenge Jesus over who gave Him the authority to teach (Matt 21: 23-24). Both John and Jesus are executed as a popular threat by Herod Antipas and Pilate - John for criticising Herod's marriage to his brother's wife and Jesus on the grounds of objecting to Roman taxation and opposing Caesar (Matt 14: 3-4; Luke 23: 2; John 19: 12).

    Peter and John are nearly martyred at the very outset of their ministry because they are not at all circumspect in proclaiming the gospel in the Temple. They are arrested by the Temple police for teaching the people and performing a miraculous sign. And they are interrogated by the Sanhedrin regarding, 'By what power or what name did you do this?' (Acts 4: 7). The religious elite are afraid of popular insurrections agitating the Roman authorities (Acts 5: 35-37). It is only the enlightened Gamaliel who saves them by arguing that if their undertaking is of human origin it will fail, but if it is of God it will prevail (Acts 5: 38-39). Peter is nearly martyred again by Herod Agrippa and John is exiled to Patmos in the reign of Domitian (Acts 12: 4; Rev 1: 9). Paul has the good fortune to be tried before the Roman Proconsul Gallio who refuses to judge a religious case based on 'words and names' (Acts 18: 12-17). But according to tradition he finally dies in Rome along with Peter during the persecution of Nero.
  • @Kwesi
    I gave three uses of the Greek word fire. pur, puri, puri asbesto. And to warn people they are in danger of being burned like unfruitful trees is a pretty strong "simile."

    The Gospel of Matthew was written at a time when enmity between synagogue and church had sharpened intensely. The Matthaean passages in chapter 23 criticizing the Pharisees clearly reflect the author's desire to heighten Jesus' criticisms of them, as any comparison of it with Mark's much shorter version and with Luke's, also considerably shorter. At one point, Matthew's Jesus himself even cries out, "You snakes, you brood of vipers...!" (23:33).

    That's why I and a number of scholars consider Luke's version of the parallel passage to reflect John's actual message. There simply were very few Pharisees and Sadducees who came to John for baptism, but by thundering out warning to all Israel, John was effective in launching a massive wave of repentance across the land.

    Years later Paul still encountered Jews who had heard of John's baptism, but had not even heard of Jesus (Acts 18:25; 19:3-4).
  • @Rublev

    I want to ask you to help me do something. I want you to help me go looking for the historical John the Baptizer.

    Using the usual criteria of historical examination, how much of the information that we are given about John the Baptizer in all the gospels is historical, and how much of it simply cannot be historical?
  • @Kwesi
    I gave three uses of the Greek word fire. pur, puri, puri asbesto. And to warn people they are in danger of being burned like unfruitful trees is a pretty strong "simile."
    Yes, it is, which is one thing that makes it a good simile.

    I'm frankly baffled, given your earlier lack of interest in debating with anyone who is a strict literalist, that you seem to hold the position that because something is expressed strongly, it must be taken literally.

  • My last poast @Kwesi was also intended to be firstly @ECraigR and secondly @Kwesi
  • How about we let Mr. Boswell demonstrate that he has a working understanding of basic figures of speech before we waste any more time engaging his exegesis?
  • @Nick Tamen
    I am all for literal. If I were to tell you, "if you don't shape up and fly right, God's going burn you in fire the way unproductive trees are burned in fire," and you believed me, I don't think you or the people of the Baptizer's day would say, "Well now, that's only a simile."
  • @SirPalomides
    How about we let Sir Palomides tell us what he sees faulty in what I just said?
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    I always detest historical critical methods; they’re so dreary. But, again, why do you insist it’s not figurative language? Scripture is full of such language. This is even translated as a simile. Why would it therefore not be?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 13
    @James Boswell II

    In the quest for the historical J the B, let us consider where he derived his theology? Surely from his father Zechariah, the priest. And he summarises his views in the words of the Benedictus: the Lord will fulfil the promises of scripture by sending a Saviour to His people.
    And John will be His prophet and forerunner who will declare a message of foregiveness (Luke 1: 67-79). But this is actually the gospel message of good news which is proclaimed by Jesus, not John.

    So why does J the B proclaim a message of fiery wrath and judgement ? (Luke 3: 7-9; Matt 3: 11-12).

    And where did the sign of baptism for repentance originate? (Luke 3: 3-4). Did John adapt it from the Essenes?

    And what is the explanation for John's baptism of Jesus? Surely it would have been a much more powerful spiritual message for Jesus to have baptised John instead? (Matt 3: 13-15).
  • Of course it's a simile, but that does not mean it is not an important use of "fire."
    Good grief.
    "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." That is all figurative, but I'll bet nobody said, "Well, because it's figurative, we don't have to worry."
  • @Rublev
    I have tremendous respect for your scholarship, but now I think I may be asking you to do something that may not be easy for you. In my opinion, the quest for the historical John the Immerser should be conducted in the same way that the quest for the historical Jesus of Nazareth is conducted.

    First and foremost, emphasis should be put on any information concerning John that we find in the letters of Paul, for they were written before the gospels. These do not help us much, however, with regard to John, since he is never mentioned by Paul, although Christian baptism is.

    Second, and also very important, emphasis should be placed on any information concerning John that we find in what scholars call Q which, regardless of what we call it, is simply the Matthew=Luke parallel passages which are found only in those two gospels and were not derived from Mark.

    Third, and also very important, emphasis should be placed on any information concerning John that we find in the Gospel of Mark, our earliest extant gospel.

    Fourth, emphasis should be placed on any information we find concerning John in the M passages, anything found only in Matthew.

    Fifth, emphasis should be placed on any information we find concerning John in the L passages, anything which is found only in Luke.

    And sixth and finally, emphasis should be placed on all the information we find concerning John in the Gospel of John.

    And all through this, we, like good historians, will usually (not always!) assume that the earlier source material may at times more accurately reflect original historical events, sayings, etc..

    @Rublev
    Have you ever approached the historical study of Jesus (or John) using anything resembling this sort of method?
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    I’m not denying it’s an important use of the word, but it’s figurative language so there’s no reason to think people interpreted it literally. There’s also no reason to think he actually said it. It was fairly common among ancient writers to make up quotes. Just read Herodotus.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited August 13
    @Nick Tamen
    I am all for literal. If I were to tell you, "if you don't shape up and fly right, God's going burn you in fire the way unproductive trees are burned in fire," and you believed me, I don't think you . . . would say, "Well now, that's only a simile."
    You'd be wrong—allowing for the fact that you've rephrased the passage. It doesn't say "God's going burn you in fire the way unproductive trees are burned in fire." It says "you will be like trees cut down and thrown into the fire," which is a very strong and very good simile for "utterly destroyed." That it is meant figuratively is underscored by the following "A mighty one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He will gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with fire unquenchable." I am not wheat or chaff, nor have I or anyone else I've ever heard of actually been baptized with literal fire.

    As for the people of John the Baptist's day, I suspect they recognized the figurative language much more easily than you seem willing to.

  • Mark, writing later, omitted "and with fire." Why?

    Probably because in the years since the parallel passages were written, there had come no "wrath," but in those intervening years many people had been experiencing Jesus' baptism with the Holy Spirit, but not with fiery wrath.

    As for me, I am chaff. That is to say, I am a sinner. But Jesus did not, as John predicted, separate the wheat, the good people, from the chaff, the bad people, nor did he throw the bad people into unquenchable fire. He sat at table with the chaff, the bad people, even with people like me, thank God.
  • Mark, writing later, omitted "and with fire." Why?

    Probably because in the years since the parallel passages were written, there had come no "wrath," but in those intervening years many people had been experiencing Jesus' baptism with the Holy Spirit, but not with fiery wrath.

    As for me, I am chaff. That is to say, I am a sinner. But Jesus did not, as John predicted, separate the wheat, the good people, from the chaff, the bad people, nor did he throw the bad people into unquenchable fire. He sat at table with the chaff, the bad people, even with people like me, thank God.

    O, he sat at table with them, yes, but that doesn't mean to say he didn't condemn their badness, or yours, or mine.
  • More important, in sitting with them, even with the most reprehensible of them, he let them know that they, even they, even we, are supremely loved by God.
  • Loved, yes - but not necessarily let off the hook! Sin has its consequences, which we have to face.
  • As for me, I am chaff. That is to say, I am a sinner.
    That is to say, the use of "chaff" here is figurative, not literal.

    So "trees," "wheat" and "chaff" are all figurative, but "fire" must be literal?

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 13
    @James Boswell II

    St Paul doesn't ever mention J the B in his writings. But Luke tells us in Acts that he met a group of 12 of John's disciples in Ephesus who had been baptised for repentance but had not received the Holy Spirit, or even heard of Him. So Paul baptised them again into the name of Jesus and they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19: 1-7). It's a pity that Luke doesn't tell us any more because the story implies that John's teaching of repentance and baptism was an incomplete gospel message.
  • @Nick Tamen @Bishops Finger
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    As for me, I am chaff. That is to say, I am a sinner.
    That is to say, the use of "chaff" here is figurative, not literal.

    So "trees," "wheat" and "chaff" are all figurative, but "fire" must be literal?

    This is a really idiotic "discussion," if it can even be called that.

    I suppose next we will be told that neither John the Baptizer nor the author of 2 Peter chapter 3:5-7,10-12 believed in the Jewish belief that the world had once been covered by a literal flood of water and was yet to be subjected to a literal fiery destruction/purification?

    I guess all that is only figurative talk.

    Now, Bishop's Finger, be sure to laugh uproarously at that.
  • OK.
    :lol:



  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    @Nick Tamen @Bishops Finger
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    As for me, I am chaff. That is to say, I am a sinner.
    That is to say, the use of "chaff" here is figurative, not literal.

    So "trees," "wheat" and "chaff" are all figurative, but "fire" must be literal?

    This is a really idiotic "discussion," if it can even be called that.

    I suppose next we will be told that neither John the Baptizer nor the author of 2 Peter chapter 3:5-7,10-12 believed in the Jewish belief that the world had once been covered by a literal flood of water and was yet to be subjected to a literal fiery destruction/purification?

    I guess all that is only figurative talk.

    Now, Bishop's Finger, be sure to laugh uproarously at that.

    That’s a strange amount of hostility for something that’s regularly discussed by scholars. Ascribing mental states and beliefs to ancient peoples is always controversial; why you seem to think we should all accept your inerrant judgment alludes me.
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