B Jesus Disciple of John

Still more to the point, it is highly probable that Jesus himself first emerged from the circle round John. Indeed, it is quite possible that Jesus began, properly speaking, as a disciple of John.

The key fact here is that Jesus was baptized by John (Mark 1.9 pars). This is one of the most securely grounded facts in all the history of Jesus.60 It is not something which his followers were likely to have made up; there was nothing about the impact made by Jesus which pushed them to attribute it to the influence of John on Jesus as Jesus' mentor. On the contrary, the fact of Jesus having been baptized by John seems to have been something of an embarrassment to them. For John's baptism is clearly signalled in the Synoptics as a 'baptism of repentance' (Mark 1.4 pars.), an emphasis which again accords with the report of

Baptist and His Relationship to Jesus', in B. Chilton and C. A. Evans, eds., Studying the Historical Jesus [Leiden: Brill, 1994] 179-229 [here 194-96, 205-206]) ignores the stronger indications that it was provisional and transitional in preparation for the more important baptism to come (see below §11.3c).

57. John 1.6-9, 19-23, 30-34; 3.28-30. The argument that the Fourth Evangelist was directed polemically against disciples of the Baptist has been taken seriously since it was first developed by W. Baldensperger, Der Prolog des vierten Evangeliums, sein polemischapologetischer Zweck (Tübingen: Mohr, 1898); see, e.g., R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St John, vol. 1 (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968) 167-69.

58. Ps.-Clem., Recog. 1.54: 'Some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great men, have separated themselves from the people, and proclaimed their own master as the Christ' (also 1.60). The old suggestion that parts of Luke 1 were derived from a Baptist group (e.g., Bultmann, History 294-95) is too speculative to build on. More plausible is the suggestion of W. Wink, John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition (SNTSMS 7; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1968) 59-82, that 'the church possessed these traditions from the very beginning by virtue of the fact that it was itself an outgrowth of the Baptist movement' (71).

59. The point is widely recognized; see, e.g., Sanders, Jesus and Judaism 91; Webb, 'John the Baptist' 218-23, 226-29; Becker, Jesus ofNazareth 52.

60. For the historicity of Jesus' baptism by John see Meier, Marginal Jew 2.100-105; Webb, 'John the Baptist' 214-18. The Jesus Seminar confidently voted the event red, that is, genuine (Funk, Acts of Jesus 27-28, 54).

Josephus. That evidently proved an unsettling thought to many of Jesus' followers (had Jesus needed to repent?). Hence Matthew's added note that John himself had urged the inappropriateness of his baptizing Jesus (Matt. 3.14-15).61 Why Jesus submitted to baptism if it was not to express repentance on his own behalf has been a thorny issue for Christian theology ever since.62

A second fairly firm fact is that Jesus' mission seems at first to have overlapped with John's. This is one of the points at which the Fourth Evangelist's testimony fills out what otherwise would have been a worrying historical gap. Moreover, according to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus' first disciples came from the circle of John's disciples (John 1.35-42). More striking still, Jesus may well have modelled his own mission on John's. John's disciples seem to have seen Jesus as a competitor proving to be too successful by half: Jesus was baptizing more people than John (3.26; 4.1)! This testimony is given more credibility by the Fourth Evangelist's haste to deny it: 'it was not Jesus himself who baptized but his disciples' (4.2).63 Even so, a mission in which Jesus' disciples baptized was not so very different from John's, since 'baptism' was such a distinctive feature of the mission of the one known as 'the Baptizer'!

Here we can detect the same sort of embarrassment as we found in Matt. 3.14-15. For the Synoptic Evangelists seem to go out of their way to draw a veil over any period of overlap between Jesus and John. Mark 1.14 makes a point of noting that Jesus began his own mission in Galilee only 'after John was arrested' (followed by Matt. And Luke marks out the distance between John and Je sus even more pointedly. He inserts the account of John's imprisonment by

61. Note also the Gospel of the Nazareans: 'Behold, the mother of the Lord and his brothers said to him, "John the Baptist baptizes for the remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him". But he said, "What have I committed, that I should be baptized of him, unless it be that in saying this I am in ignorance?"' (Jerome, contra Pelagianos 3.2; text in Aland, Synopsis 27). In some ways, more striking still is the fact that the Fourth Evangelist does not even mention Jesus' baptism by John in a description which focuses attention on John's witness of the Spirit descending on Jesus (John But the Fourth Evangelist does not even mention 'repentance' and since he also avoids mention of the last supper in John 13 there are presumably other theological motives at work.

62. See, e.g., the discussion by G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1963) 45-55; 'he identified personally with John's appeal for conversion' (Schillebeeckx, Jesus 137); 'he has, by implication, confessed his sins' (Taylor, Immerser 272). P. W. Hollenbach, 'The Conversion of Jesus: From Jesus the Baptizer to Jesus the Healer', A/WWII.25.1 (1982) 196-219, argues rather fancifully that Jesus was 'a substantial member of who 'through John's preaching . . . discovered that he had participated directly or indirectly in the oppression of the weak members of his society' (199-200). Cf. and contrast Chilton: 'The Jordan's waters washed away his feelings of estrangement. He repented of the anger he had felt, of his resentment against his own people in Nazareth' (Rabbi Jesus 49).

63. See further below 14.8b.

Herod Antipas right into the middle of his account of John (Luke 3.18-20). The effect is to have removed John from the scene before Jesus' baptism, the account of the baptism itself being then passed over in a single word {baptisthentos, 'having been baptized', 3.21).64

Once again, then, it is difficult to avoid the inference that there was an early period in Jesus' mission which the Synoptic Evangelists chose to ignore, presumably because the distinctive mission of Jesus began only after Jesus separated from the Baptist or was forced by John's arrest to strike out on his own in Galilee.65 Whether on the basis of this finding we should speak of Jesus as John's 'disciple' may resolve simply into the question whether 'disciple' is the best term to use.66 Whether it also means that in developing a distinctive mission Jesus also adopted a distinctive message is a question to which we will have to return.67 For the time being, it is enough to note that John's baptism as marking the beginning of Jesus' mission is a historical fact of considerable substance.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment