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11. THE PICTURE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.

Even John the Baptist has suffered the same fate. In the Synoptics he conies before us a character which of itself would have a claim to interest us greatly, even if it had never been brought into close touch with Jesus. The purpose of his baptism and preaching of repentance, and their benefit to the people, would have been achieved in any case. It is not merely his pathetic death (Mk. vi. 17-29) that makes him sure of winning the sympathy of readers of the Synoptics, but also his uncertainty as to whether he is to regard Jesus as the Messiah (Mt. xi. 2 f.). It shows how truly Jesus speaks when he says that he is greater than any Old Testament figure, and yet least amongst the New Testament believers (Mt. xi. 11). He could call men to repentance, but he had not himself been commissioned to preach the glad tidings. We are told only in Mt. (iii. 14 f.) that he refused to baptize Jesus, and this is clearly a later touch, for according to the most original account which we can still gather easily from Mk., he did not learn Jesus higher nature even at the baptism itself. Jesus alone in Mk. (i. 10) sees the heavens open and the Holy Spirit coming down upon him like a dove. And this is undoubtedly the correct version, since no one would have invented it, if as Lk. reports (iii. 21 f.), and as regards the heavens Mt. also (iii. 16), the opening of the heavens and the coming down of the spirit were visible to every one. It is true that Mk. also (like Mt. and Lk.), as regards the voice from heaven, only says that it sounded, which seems 80to imply that it could be heard by every one. But only Mt. says “this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased;” Mk. (and Lk.), on the contrary, “thou art,” &c.; and from this we may certainly assume that according to the older account which was used by Mk., the voice could be heard by Jesus alone, just as he alone saw the heavens open.

In the Fourth Gospel, however, the Baptist knows from the beginning not only of Jesus higher nature, as in Mt., and that he was destined to be the Redeemer of the whole world (i. 27, 29), but also that he pre-existed with God in heaven (i. 15, 30). But for this very reason the work of the Baptist is strictly limited: he bears witness to Jesus (i. 6-8, 15, 23). His baptism is never of any importance to those who receive it. John uses it only as a means of testifying to Jesus (i. 26, 31). His preaching of repentance is not even mentioned. It would thus be quite impossible for him to ask later whether Jesus is the Messiah, as in Mt. xi. 2 f., unless we were to explain such a question by ascribing to him doubts—which would be quite sinful—of all that had been revealed to him at an earlier date by God Himself, According to the original account of the Synoptics, on the other hand, he had as yet no actual knowledge which would enable him to answer the question. In short, in place of a character which was full of power, if limited in its spiritual outlook, and of a person whose tragic death made him an object of veneration, the Fourth Gospel gives us nothing better than a lay-figure endowed with supernatural knowledge, but always the same, and devoid of living features—a figure which was only meant to serve the purpose of revealing Jesus majesty.

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