Friday 27 April 2018

Was John the Baptist Necessary? Yes; as necessary as Jesus's mother, Mary

I've written before about the person of John the Baptist, who has always puzzled me by his extreme prominence in the Fourth Gospel ('John') especially.

This prominence now seems to require a more specific explanation than that the author of the Fourth Gospel was previously JtB's disciple, and that the Baptist was a high status Holy Man and Prophet who could confirm Jesus's identity as the Messiah.

I now believe that John the Baptist was necessary to the ministry of Jesus; by which I mean that it was necessary that Jesus was baptised by John (and not somebody else) in order that Jesus could fully become the Messiah, could fully become both Man and God, could perform miracles (including raising the dead), and could have the self-knowledge to do all this in full awareness of its significance.

In other words, when John describes how he knew that Jesus was the Messiah because when he baptised Jesus the divine Spirit came down upon Jesus and stayed upon him - and John had previously been told directly by God that this would be how the Messiah was known - this represents a very significant and direct intervention in reality by God the Father specifically via John.

(Plus, John the Baptist's own miraculous conception and personal history, and its prior linkage to the lineage and life of Jesus, is described in the other Gospels.)

John 1: 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.

31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

This carries the implication that in every other case when John baptised, the Spirit descended from heaven but did not abide - that the baptised person was 'touched' by the divine spirit - but not transformed by it into a qualitatively different being.

(This passage also confirms that the Holy Ghost came only with the ministry of Jesus, and that the many previous examples of divine Spirit intervening in the world - for example in the Old Testament, and before this point of the New, were distinct-from the Holy Ghost. I understand this to mean that the Holy Ghost was/is Jesus.)

This suggests to me that baptism by John was of miraculous nature for everybody - in being touched by the divine; but that this touching and abiding made a decisive transformation for Jesus. After which, Christ's miraculous ministry began.

In other words, John the Baptist's role in the incarnation of Jesus was not merely to help or assist; but was a necessary and decisive part of Jesus becoming what he became.

Now, perhaps if John had failed to do the baptism of Jesus (because John could not be compelled by God, he had to choose to do what he did, and for the right reasons), some other way would have been found - by God - by which the necessary and decisive transformation could be accomplished... This is quite possible, given God's power; just as perhaps God could have found another to bear Jesus had Mary declined.

But as it actually happened; I think we need to acknowledged that John the Baptist was as personally important as Mary - and indeed the analogy is a close one, since John's baptism was Jesus being 'born again' (as indirectly implied by the later discussion with Nicodemus).

Mary was responsible for Jesus being born as Man; John the Baptist for Jesus being born-again as Man and God - that's a measure of how important John was!


Crosbie said...

Why is Jesus the son of man? Something in your post gives me the inkling this is a reference to Christ's rebirth at the hands of John.

lgude said...

Having read the previous post 'the Holy Ghost was/is' Jesus and the comments I have to say that it is the Holy Ghost I have actually experienced directly so your point that the Holy Ghost is the person of God most available to us makes sense. It is easy to get a different impression from all the mention of Jesus and God the Father in liturgy with the Holy Ghost seemingly tacked on as an afterthought. I can see that rereading the fourth gospel is my next step to better understand your points. .

Bruce Charlton said...


That is something I had not considered, but is worth thinking about. I have not been very sure about the Son of God versus Son of Man distinction - although I wrote an idea here

in which I mention Owen Barfield's very good essay on the topic from his collection The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays (1977).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Igude - The problem for me is to *stop* reading the Fourth Gospel, and read something else! This week I was intending to go carefully through Proverbs (which I have only skimmed until now), but I soon got drawn back to re-read several passages in 'John'...

You Have Been Warned!

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

It's interesting that the three New Testament figures mentioned in the Book of Mormon (besides Jesus himself) are Mary, John the Baptist, and John the Beloved.

Worth considering is John the Baptist's larger role as an angel of God after his mortal ministry, and, I believe, before his mortal birth.

- Carter Craft

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

In fact, Carter, the compound character "John the Beloved" is mentioned only in the Book of Mormon (in 3 Nephi 28:6). The beloved disciple is never identified by name in the New Testament, and the identification of him with John Boanerges, the younger brother and sidekick of the apostle James, and/or with John of Patmos, the apocalyptic writer, is a matter of conjecture.

To me, the complete absence of James from the fourth gospel, when he and John are inseparable in the other three, is very strong evidence against the "John the Beloved" theory. I also think it unlikely that the fourth gospel and Revelation are the work of the same author, given the enormous differences between the two in terms of content and style.

I tend to agree with Bruce that the beloved disciple is most likely Lazarus -- and I am sure that Lazarus of Bethany could not be John Boanerges, since the latter worked as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, some hundred miles from Bethany. It would make no sense for a fisherman to live in Bethany, where the only nearby body of water is the fishless Dead Sea.

(I would assume that "John the Beloved" in the Book of Mormon is one of the "mistakes of men" that the book admits to containing. Joseph Smith, like most Christians of his time, took it for granted that the beloved disciple was named John, and thus the name slipped into the text. Or, on the other hand, perhaps his name did happen to be John. It was a common enough name in first-century Palestine.)