John the Baptist's ministry was big. Maybe very, very big. I suppose like anything you study, the more you look at it, the bigger it can seem, so I apologise if I overstate things in today's post.
My main points:
- John's impact was really very big indeed and his renown mid-first-century may have been comparable with Jesus', see for example Apollos' of Alexandria's familiarity with his ministry in Acts chapter 18 and Paul's encounter with 12 disciples in Ephesus in the following chapter.
- A clear historical relationship connects these major first-century Jewish players of John and Jesus, some credible scholars, have Jesus first being John's disciple before starting his own movement.
- We have no texts of any followers of John.
- For Jesus followers, Jesus has to be bigger and better than John. If John was great, and Jesus much greater than him, then this can only have contributed to his final exalted status.
- Contrary to Christian apologetics, killing a leader does not necessarily kill off the sect he started. John is solid proof of that. John Dominic Crossan points out that the Roman practice was to kill non-violent protest movements' leaders only, but to kill leader and associates of violent protest movements, so the apologetic cannot be said to be entirely junk, it's just a long way from proof when one of the biggest characters of the New Testament stands (or rather lies buried) against that "proof".
- John and Jesus are firmly differentiated on the following grounds:
- the Christ was more successfully understood to have really been raised back to life, unlike the rumors that surrounded a resurrection for John,
- John's humility seems genuine and may indeed have heralded the coming Messiah, turning down offers of honour, recognition and prestige (which ironically had the opposite effect), while Jesus combined humility and the messiahship,
- Jesus baptised with the Holy Spirit; John baptised with water.
- Since both martyrs were baptisers and their ministries overlapped, their baptisms were at times confused.
- Someone, somewhere, decided: enough is enough and came up with the threefold baptismal formula to clear it up once and for all. This may have been the author of Matthew's gospel, (whom I believe wrote later than Luke and Acts, which bear witness to the confusion despite the intended clarity of Jesus' baptism), or it may have been the author of the part of the Didache that also contains the baptism formula. Since both those sources are Jewish, that someone was almost certainly a strongly Jewish Christian (leader).
- Conclusion: This trinitarian saying was said over converts by Jewish Christians in the latter half of the first century as a part of their baptism rites, and the confusion was at last resolved. This mutation of Judaism had started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub".