Glossary of Terms

John the Baptist


from Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

John the Baptist; or John the baptizer, frequently "John" in the Gospels. A preacher who lived in the wilderness and baptized persons in preparation for the coming kingdom of God, which he was announcing. Matt., chs, 3; 4:12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 7:18-23; John, ch. 1; Acts 1:5.

from Harperís Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, an important figure in each of the four nt Gospels. He is identified with the beginning of Jesusí ministry and understood as the forerunner to Jesus the Messiah. Reference to John is the first point of convergence among the canonical Gospels, all of which give a somewhat similar account of his person, preaching, and activity, though varying in detail.

Johnís Ministry: Historically, the account of John in each of the Gospels indicates that his was apparently an effective and successful ministry in its own right (Matt. 3:5-6; Mark 1:5). Considerable care is taken to maintain the distinctive character of Jesusí activity in relation to that of John. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John is arrested and imprisoned before Jesusí public ministry begins (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:20). In the Fourth Gospel, although Jesus begins his ministry before Johnís arrest (John 3:23-24), the relationship between the two is clarified in the prologue (1:6-9) and elsewhere (1:19-23). In each case, Johnís words convey his recognition of the one greater than himself who is to come baptizing not with water but with the Spirit (Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16-17; John 1:26-27). In Matt. 3:13-15, John is reluctant to baptize Jesus and must be encouraged by Jesus to do so. The care with which the authors seek to clarify the roles of and relationship between these two figures suggests that, because of the impact of Johnís ministry and the close proximity of John and Jesus, there was a distinct possibility of the readers confusing the two men and their ministries. Indeed, when Herod, after having had John beheaded, is informed of Jesusí ministry, his first thought is that John has come back to life (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9). Further attestation to the effectiveness of the ministry of John the Baptist is found in Acts, where on two occasions Christians encounter disciples of John who, after being further instructed, are received into the church (Priscilla and Aquila meet Apollos in Acts 18:24-28, and Paul meets twelve such disciples, perhaps associated with Apollos, in Acts 19:1-7). Thus, the prominence of Johnís ministry is attested by the care with which the Gospel writers compose their accounts of him, the fact that Herod deemed it necessary to have him killed (the historian Josephus also reports, with somewhat different details, that John was executed by Herod in the fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea), and the fact that some years after Jesusí death Christians still encountered people (in Asia Minor!) who knew only Ďthe baptism of John.í

Prophet: The portrayal of John in the canonical Gospels is that of a prophet who came out of the desert to proclaim the advent of the Kingdom of God and issue a call to repentance (Matt. 3:1-12; Mark 1:4-8; Luke 3:1-20). According to Luke, he was of priestly descent, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth (1:5-80; 3:2), and John and Jesus were related (1:36). Matthew and Mark describe Johnís appearance and diet: he wore a camel-hair cloak with a waist belt made of leather and he dined on locusts and wild honey (Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6). He baptized those who repented of their sins and announced the coming of one after him who would be greater than he and would baptize with the Spirit. Thus, John is cast into a role like Elijahís (Matt. 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13; Matt. 11:7-15; cf. Mal. 4:5-6; Ecclus. 48:10), that is, he is the austere one who prepares for and announces the advent of the Messiah (John 1:6-8, 19-36). Luke 1-2 most clearly balances Johnís role with that of Jesus by his presentation of John traditions in parallel with Jesus traditions, a parallelism that echoes the story of Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:15-21; 18:1-15; 21:1-8).

Scholars have noted the possibility that John knew of and perhaps was even associated with the Qumran community (which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls). The location of his ministry, content of his preaching, interest in water purification, and lifestyle all point to similarities between John and the Essenes. It has also been suggested that, prior to the beginning of his own ministry, Jesus may have been among the followers of John. All such conclusions remain speculative, however.

See also:


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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