Sunday, October 23, 2005

In the shadow of John the Baptist

Over at Ragged Glory, I have published a new post, "In the shadow of John the Baptist".

In brief, the New Testament writers emphatically consign John to Jesus' shadow. Despite such assertions in the Gospels, in those early years, Jesus' superiority to John was hotly disputed. The Church laboured to remove Jesus from the considerable shadow John had cast.

My analysis of this subject illustrates how historians approach events in the Gospels and try to determine the actual history.


At 12:47 PM, October 24, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Q, this is interesting. I think you have the makings of a book.

At 4:04 AM, October 25, 2005, Blogger chosha said...

"This material is clearly apologetic in nature; Matthew is attempting to clear away an objection which presents an obstacle to full Christian faith."

Why apologetic? I think they were just telling it as it happened. John didn't know that Jesus was the Christ until AFTER the baptism, at which time the sign ws given that he had been promised would be given to reveal the identity of the Christ. (John 1:29-34)

But he did know Jesus - they were cousins after all. He was baptising for the remission of sins, and Jesus had never sinned. I think that's why John was reluctant to baptise him - he knew Jesus was more righteous than he was.

Either way, I've never considered John baptising Jesus as any kind of obstacle to my Christian faith. Jesus set the perfect example and was baptised - somebody had to be the one to baptise him and John was called to the task.

"In the early stages of Christianity, Jesus' superiority to John was hotly disputed."

Well sure...BUT NOT BY JOHN. John stood willingly in Christ's shadow. I really admire John's humility in instructing his followers to become disciples of Christ. He knew his role was to prepare the way and he fulfilled that role without seeking his own fame.

26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. (John 3: 26-30)

28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.

30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

I guess my question is, 'what's your point?' John may have initially been better known than Jesus, and certainly he had followers who did not follow his instructions to shift their allegiance to the Christ, but it's not like Jesus was ever a disciple of John. Isn't it just a transitional period you're describing. In what other way is it significant?

At 9:42 AM, October 25, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Misanthrope:
Thanks for the feedback. Frankly, I'm not sure who will be interested in this kind of detailed, historical analysis of the Gospels. Part of the purpose of the blog is to see whether it attracts any interest. So I appreciate the positive feedback.

As for the book idea, it might happen. The material on the blog would constitute my research, and then I'd probably shape it into a different format for publication as a book. But we'll see if I can carry on with the project long term.

• Chosha:
Thanks for the comment; I'm happy to have someone contradict me and represent an evangelical perspective. You write,

I've never considered John baptising Jesus as any kind of obstacle to my Christian faith. … I guess my question is, 'what's your point?'

— fair question!

The series I'm writing on the Gospels is not like a sermon; rarely will I offer an immediate "pay off" in the form of an application to your life. People will have to form their own conclusions from the data.

The point is simply to contradict some of the misunderstanding out there. On the one hand, sceptics often assert that we know nothing about Jesus. The Gospels have been completely discredited; the only thing we know is that Jesus existed — and some people deny even that. Everything else we "know" about him is myth and legend.

But that's not true. Scholars have been carefully investigating the material in the Gospels from a historical-critical perspective for 100 years now. They have placed question marks around a lot of the material. But they have also affirmed that there is a lot of reliable tradition in the Gospels; that we know as much about Jesus, and with as much confidence, as is true of any other person from ancient times.

On the other hand, most evangelicals have rejected the findings of critical scholarship without even looking at it. In my view, it's never good to reject a position on a priori grounds. I am summarizing some of the results of historical-critical scholarship, and evangelicals can look at it, if they care to do so, and formulate their own conclusions.

I hope I'm offering a service that will be of value to some readers. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have spent many thousands of hours studying this material. You can view this as a shortcut if you like — a quick entry into the scholarly perspective.

Obviously I agree with the conclusions of the scholars. But the reader is free to make of it what she will. At a certain point, her conclusions will inevitably follow from her prior assumptions. For example, if she doesn't believe that demons exist, she isn't going to be much impressed by Jesus' authority over unclean spirits.

I don't want to tell you or anyone else what to think on a matter of such profound, personal significance. And I mean that sincerely; I have wrestled with these issues precisely because they matter so deeply to me.


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