Life and Preaching.

The forerunner of Christ. The date and place of his birth are uncertain, possibly at Hebron, six months before Christ (cf. Luke i. 36); d. c. 29 or 30 A.D. He was the son of the priest Zacharias and of his wife Elizabeth, of Aaronic descent, born in their old age. His birth was announced by an angel (Luke i.13). The angelic injunction that he should drink neither wine nor strong drink points to his taking the vows of a Nazarite. Luke i. 80 does not definitely indicate a priestly education, but his familiarity with the prophets, especially with Isaiah, must have had some basis in instruction. His early retirement into the desert of Judah may be connected with the death of his aged parents and also indicates a break with Pharisaic conceptions. His appearance was that of an ascetic: his clothing consisted of a garment of camel's hair bound by a leathern girdle; his food, locusts and wild honey (Matt. iii. 4; Mark i. 6); indeed, John shared with the Essenes and related spirits the ascetic tendency which had its basis in the earnestness of the time. The ideals of the independent tendency of his spirit were the prophets of Israel, Elijah, the man of actions, and Isaiah, the man of words. The central theme of his preaching was, in opposition to the righteousness of works, repentance because of the near approach of the kingdom of God; but God's kingdom and God's judgment were in the eyes of this greatest of prophets, as well as in those of his predecessors, inseparably connected. In the coming judgment God's wrath will reveal itself; whoever intends to escape it must make mighty efforts (Matt. iii. 7, 8); the announcement of the kingdom and of the judgment involves the Baptist's Messianic preaching. The Messianic salvation is for him so near that he considers himself the herald who precedes the appearance of the king. He was in reality the second Elijah, although in his humility he rejected this claim. There is an important distinction between John's Messianic preaching of judgment (as compared with the earlier prophets) and the expectation of the people. According to the latter, the judgment spares the people of Israel; according to John, Israel is affected first by it. Here is that break with narrow nationalism which was developed more fully in Paul. The preaching by John of the kingdom, the judgment, and repentance created a sensation in the land. His fame extended far and wide and among all classes, publicans and soldiers, Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. iii. 7, xi. 7); but these representatives of official and pious Judaism he greeted as a "generation of vipers" (Matt. iii. 7) of whom the first requirement was renewal of the heart. John represented himself, in accordance with Isa. xl. 3, as a "voice crying in the wilderness" (John i. 23).

His Baptism, Teaching, and Death.

In accordance with the words of Isa. i. 16, "Wash ye, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings," he introduced baptism as an action symbolic of his spoken word. He baptized all who came receptively to hear him at Bethabara, of the Jordan (Matt. iii. 6; Mark i. 5), connecting with the rite a confession of sins, and the purpose was forgiveness of sins. John gathered his disciples from all sides, and, according to Luke xi. 1 and Mark ii. 18, taught a definite form of prayer, inducing them not only to adopt an ascetic mode of life, but also to engage in regular fasts. It was at Bethabara that the meeting of Jesus with John and his baptism took place. Josephus mentions John the Baptist in connection with the war between Aretas, king of Petra, and Herod. The Jewish people, according to Josephus (Ant., XVIII., v. 2), saw in the defeat of Herod a just divine punishment for having unjustly killed John "called the Baptist." Herod, he continues, killed him because of fear that his powerful influence upon the people might lead to rebellion. John was cast into the prison of Machaerus and then beheaded. Josephus describes John as an excellent man, who admonished the Jews to come to baptism, practising virtue and justice toward each other and piety toward God. To Josephus John was only a preacher of morals; the political historian could not do justice to John's religious and Messianic importance. The accounts of Josephus and of the Gospels, Matt. xiv.; Mark vi.; Luke ix., differ in regard to the motive for the execution of John; Josephus considers it merely political, while the Gospels positively connect it with Herod's marriage with his sister-in-law contrary to Levitical law (Lev. xviii.16).

Chronology and Significance of John.

The time of the death of John can not be definitely decided. Herod's journey to Rome with the following marriage of Herodias must have taken place before the overthrow of Sejanus, 31 A.D. If John appeared publicly in the fifteenth year of Tiberius and labored about six months, and if there followed an imprisonment of several months, his execution may have occurred in the fall of 29 or in 30. Jesus praised John for his indomitable firmness (Matt. xi. 7 sqq.) and conceded to him the highest rank in the economy of


Matt. xi. 11
). But at the same time he did not fail to define his limitations in that the trend of his teaching was Pharisaical, concerned with the covenant of the law and with a legal justice that could not dispense with fasting (Mark ii. 18 sqq.) and therefore did not lead further than to the baptism of water. Yet a large number of passages in the Gospels make clear John's importance in relation to the Messianic kingdom, the immediate coming of which he was able to announce.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The subject is discussed with fulness in many of the works on the life of Christ--this literature is often especially rich--and in the works on the Apostolic age of Christianity. Special treatment is to be found in: R. Holmes, On the Prophecies and Testimony of John the Baptist, London, 1783; W. C. Duncan, The Life, Character, and Acts of John the Baptist, New York, 1853; E. Haupt, Johannes der Täufer, Gütersloh, 1874; E. Breesh, Johannes der Täufer, Leipsic, 1881; A. M. Rymington, Vox clamantis; Life and Ministry of John the Baptist, London, 1882; H. Köhler, Johannes der Täufer, Halle, 1884; A. McCullagh, The Peerless Prophet; or, The Life and Times of John the Baptist, New York, 1888; R. C. Houghton, John the Baptist, . . . his Life and Work, ib. 1889: R. H. Reynolds, John the Baptist, London, 1890; E. Barde, Jean-Baptiste, Paris, 1892; A. C. McGiffert, Hist. of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, passim, New York, 1897; P. A. E. Sillevis Smith, Johannes de Dooper, de Wegbereider des Heeren, Amsterdam, 1908; T. Innitzer, Johannes der Täufer, Vienna, 1908; Schürer, Geschichte, i. 436 sqq., Eng. transl., I., ii. 23-29; DB, ii. 677-680; EB, ii. 2498-2504; JE, vii. 218-219.


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