Consider Christianity Online Library

John the Baptist

Things to Notice (Why does….?)

A - All four Gospels quote Isaiah 40:3.

G - Mark is the shortest, Luke is the longest containing some additional teaching of John .
B - In John, John the Baptist applies Is 40:3 to himself. H - Mk 1:4 parallels Lk 3:3 while Mk 1:6 parallels Mt 3:4.
C - Mark precedes Is 40:3 by quoting Malachi 3:1. I - Some places in Matthew parallels Luke almost word for word.
D - Luke also includes Isaiah 40:4-5. J - Mark changes the wording of Malachi 3:1.
E - All Gospels make clear that Jesus is greater than John. K - John the Baptist said he was not Elijah (Jn 1:21) while Jesus said he was (Mt 11:13-14).
F - The synoptics make clear that Jesus’ Baptism will be different than John's. L - John’s account occurs after the Baptism of Jesus, the others occur before.


Matthew 3:1-12

Mark 1:2-8

Luke 3:1-20

John 1:19-28



1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip was tetrarch of the Ituraea and Trachonitis country, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, came a word of God to John the son of Zacharias in the desert.

19 And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him from Jerusalem priests and Levites in order to ask him, Who are you? 20And he confessed, and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. 21And they asked him, What then? 

Are you Elijah? And he said, I am not. Are you the prophet? And he answered, No. K
22 They said therefore to him, Who are you that we may give an answer to the ones that sent us? What do you say about yourself?23 He said, I am

1 And in those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, saying, 2 Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

C   J

3 And he came into all the region round about the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for remission of sins;


3 For this is he that was spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying,

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
Behold, I send my messenger before your face, Who shall prepare your way.

4 because it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,  
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight; The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight. the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet.24
4 Now John himself had his garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
4 John, who baptized in the wilderness, came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for remission of sins.
5 Every valley shall be filled, And every mountain and hill shall be brought low; And the crooked shall become straight, And the rough ways smooth;6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.


5 Then Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized in the Jordan river by him, confessing their sins. 5 And all the country of Judaea, and all of Jerusalem went out to him, and were baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.    
6 And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them,
Offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
8 Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance,9 and don't think to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father: for I tell you, that God is able out of these stones to raise children to Abraham.
1 0 And already the axe lies at the root of the trees: therefore every tree that is not producing good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.

7 He said therefore to the multitudes that went out to be baptized of him,

Offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
8 Therefore produce fruits worthy of repentance, and don't begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I tell you, that God is able out of these stones to raise children to Abraham.
9 And indeed, already the axe lies at the root of the trees: therefore every tree that is not producing good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.




10 And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do? 11 And he answered and said to them, He that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has food, let him do likewise. 12 And there came also tax gathers to be baptized, and they said to him, Teacher, what should we do? 13 And he said to them, Collect no more than that required of you.

    14 And soldiers also asked him, saying, And we, what should we do? And he said to them, intimidate no one by violence, neither falsely accuse; and be content with your pay.  
    15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he was the Christ; And some Pharisees that had been sent 25asked him, and said to him, Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, neither Elijah, neither the prophet?
  7 And he preached, saying, 16 John answered, saying to them all,

26 John answered them, saying,

11 I baptize you in water unto repentance:   with water I baptize you; I baptize in water:
but he that is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to bear:

There comes after me he
 that is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.

but there comes he
that is mightier than I,
the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to unloose:

in the midst of you stands one whom you do not know,27 even he that comes after me, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to unloose.

  8 I baptized you in water;    
you he will baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire: But he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit. you he will baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire: F

12 whose winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will
thoroughly cleanse
his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into
the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.






17 whose winnowing fork is in his hand,
thoroughly to cleanse his threshing-floor, and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.

18 With many other exhortations therefore he preached good tidings to the people;19 but Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him for Herodias his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done, 20 added this also to them all, that he shut up John in prison.

28 These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


BOLD Things to notice
† (Mk 1:2) Some Manuscripts:
As it is written in the prophets.
Italic Identical in the Greek


This month we will be looking at the first time the narratives of all four Gospels come together: the ministry of John the Baptist. Before reading this section, be sure to look over the parallel translation of the passages, Things to Notice, and Potential Problems. (Some of these will be referenced in the article by their letter.)

Matthew has preceded his account of John the Baptist by discussing the Genealogy of Jesus, his birth, escape to Egypt, and his settling in Nazareth after the death of Herod. Mark chooses to start his Gospel with the Baptist. Luke has already discussed the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus, along with a trip to Jerusalem for the Passover that Jesus made when he was twelve. The apostle John has preceded his discussion with a prologue in which Jesus is declared to be the Word made flesh (John 1:14)

One thing that becomes very clear by studying these passages in parallel is that there are two main points that all four Gospel writers were careful to point out.

The first is that all saw the ministry of John the Baptist as a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. (A&B) John the Baptist came to call the nation of Israel to repentance. After many years of silence (Zec 13:2-6), God was once again speaking to his people through a prophet. Matthew and Mark both point out that John the Baptist had the clothing and diet of a prophet. (Zec 13:4) (H)

The second main point made by all four Gospel writers is that, while John baptized in water, someone greater than him was coming. (E) John's primary message contained , but was not limited to, see (Lk 3:10-14) three parts: repentance, baptism, and the coming of someone greater.

The Background of Baptism
The baptism of John was a "baptism of repentance for remission of sins" (Mk 1:4; Lk 3:3) and a precursor to the baptism of Jesus which would be "in the Holy Spirit" (Mt, Mk, Lk) "and fire" (Mt, Lk). Those who were baptized by John also received Christian baptism later (Act 19:1-5).
Some have seen a connection between the baptism of John and ritual washings found in the Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scroll community. Upon closer examination however, significant differences exist between these practices. John's baptism, for example, seems to have been a one time event, whereas the others were repeated on a regular basis.

Others have suggested a link to the proselyte "baptism" of early Judaism. But John's baptism was for Jews, and signaled a preparation for the coming Kingdom, proselyte baptism was for Gentiles who were converting to Judaism. Also, the earliest references to proselyte baptism date from the later half of the first century. (1) So although it is likely that these preceded John's baptism, it is by no means certain.

If John did borrow the practice of baptism, he significantly modified it in the process, for John's baptism was unique to him. (Which is probably why it is referred to as John's baptism [Mt 21:25, Acts 19:3-4].)

Literary interdependence?
In relation to the question of any literary interdependence (which if any of the Gospels may have copied from the others) it is interesting to note that the only places were the Gospels parallel each other word for word is when they are quoting either the Old Testament or John the Baptist.

While all of Matthew and most of Mark are paralleled (though sometimes in different order) in other Gospels, both Luke and John contain sections unique to their Gospels.

The most popular view is that Mark wrote first, and then Matthew and Luke independently copied from him and another source called Q. This theory raises two question in this passage.

First, why did both Matthew and Luke independently choose to skip the first part of the OT quotation used by Mark?(C) Second, why did both independently choose to move the statement about baptism before the statement about the mightier one who is coming? (E)

The next major theory is that Matthew wrote first, and Luke used Matthew. Mark Gospel was then Peter's remarks on these two. This theory does not raise the same questions as the first theory does.

For example, it is easier to see why Mark, alone, would expand the Old Testament support for John's ministry, than for Matthew and Luke independently to delete the same passage.

On the other hand, an examination of these verses finds little to directly support either theory. There would seem to be nothing in these passages that would demand any literary interdependence at all. The similarities that do exist could simply be the result of similar subject matter being dealt with by eyewitnesses (John?), or people who had access to eyewitnesses (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).

The Old Testament quotation in Mark 1:2 seems to be a combination of Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1. (J) It is interesting to note that these verses were also combined by Rabbis and applied to the prophet Elijah.(2) While it is true that Mark changes the wording of Malachi 3:1 from "my" to "your," this is in accordance with the passage in Malachi being spoken by God (my), and Mark applying this statement to Jesus (your).

The use of these two verses by John the Baptist, may account for the question from the delegation of Priests sent from Jerusalem. They asked him: "What then? Are you Elijah?" John the Baptist replied, "I am not." (Jn 1:21)

Some have claimed that John's reply contradicts Jesus' statement in Mt 11:13-14 "For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come." (K) While at first this appears to be a real problem two factors need to be noted.

First, nowhere do the Gospels state that John understood he was Elijah. It is entirely possible that John fulfilled the role of Elijah without understanding fully the true role he was playing.

Second, it should be remembered that Elijah did not die, but was taken into heaven (2 Kings 2:11). Therefore it is possible that those questioning John the Baptist may have been asking if he was literally Elijah sent back to earth. If this was the case, then John would have been saying that he was not the literal Elijah of the Old Testament, while Jesus was saying that John fulfilled the role of Elijah, i.e. the functional Elijah. Either way there is no real problem here.

The final alleged problem in these passages is that, while the accounts in all four Gospels share key elements, John's account takes place after the Baptism of Jesus (see Jn 1:29-34), while the rest take place before. (L) But this is only a problem if you assume that John quoted Isaiah 40:3, and talked about the one coming after him, only once. Yet, this would have been highly unlikely. As we have seen in this study, these themes played a central role in his ministry. Because of this, John the Baptist must have said something similar on numerous occasions.

Thus, while there are minor differences in these accounts, they are not in any way contradictory. In fact, rather than being a problem, these difference actually strengthen the reliability of the accounts. This is because they demonstrate that the accounts are to some degree independent of each other. As such, they serve as four witnesses to the same central events.

The textual variation in Mark 1:2 would seem to be the result of copyist changing "Isaiah" to the more general heading of "the prophets," since Mark quotes Exodus and Malachi, in addition to Isaiah. The reading of "Isaiah" is "found in the earliest representative witnesses of the Alexandrian, the Western, and the Caesarean types of text."(3) In addition, since Mark does quote from several prophets, it is not clear why anyone would have changed the text to read simply Isaiah.

Once again, as you study through these passages, ask yourselves, 'Why did the author write it this way?" Why do the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk, Lk) tell us that John the Baptist fulfills Isaiah 40:3, while the apostle John, records John the Baptist saying it himself: "I am the voice of one....." Was John the "other disciple" of John the Baptist mentioned in Jn 1:35, and if so, was he an eyewitness to these events? By doing this we can come to a better understanding of the author's purpose and thus his message.


1 The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1 pg. 145

2 Walter Wessel, Mark The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984) pg. 19

3 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Untied Bible Society, 1975) pg. 73