Archive for the ‘John the Baptist’ Category

John the Baptist’s Bones?

June 16, 2012

A recent press report indicates that some human bones have been dated to the 1st century.  The bones were found in a bone box.   Oddly, the bone box also contained some animal bones, and these bones were about 400 years older than the human bones.  Who knows whose bones these are.

The article reports:

The human bones in the box included a knucklebone, a tooth, part of a cranium, a rib and an ulna, or arm bone. The researchers could only date the knucklebone, because radiocarbon dating relies on organic material, and only that bone had enough collagen for a good analysis. The researchers were able to reconstruct DNA sequences from three of the bones, however, showing them to be from the same person, likely a Middle Eastern man.

Thus, this is quite unlikely to be the bones of John the Baptist.

Mark 6:17-29

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.”

Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, “Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.” And he sware unto her, “Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.”

And she went forth, and said unto her mother, “What shall I ask?”

And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.”

And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, “I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.”

And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.

And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.

There are two important things to note here. First, his head was separated from the body. The head was given to Herodias, and the corpse was taken by John’s disciples. Second, notice that John’s disciples buried his body. They did not maintain his body as a relic, but placed it in a tomb.

Thus, while it’s not impossible that someone collected his head from Herodias, and then dug up his remains to keep them as relics, it seems unlikely.

The article goes on to point out the abundance of forged relics. A particularly amusing note comes from a relic of a different kind:

Even Joan of Arc has been the subject of forgery. A 2007 study found that alleged pieces of her body kept in a French church actually belonged to an Egyptian mummy.

It’s possible that this relic has a similar origin.

-TurretinFan

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Is Mary Greater than John the Baptist?

May 22, 2010

One difference I’ve noticed between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics is the latter’s greater emphasis on Mary and the former’s greater emphasis on John the Baptist. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times not so much. For example, Roman Catholicism does give Mary a greater amount of worship (i.e. religious reverence and devotion through religious ritual etc.)[FN1] than other saints.

Example:

The Church’s veneration for the Madonna—a veneration that surpasses the cult of every other saint and takes the name of “hyperdulia”—invests the whole liturgical year.

(John Paul II, To the Young People, 10 January 1979, section 2)

And again:

Besides, the Blessed Virgin possessed, after Christ, not only the highest degree of excellence and perfection, but also a share in that influence by which He, her Son and our Redeemer, is rightly said to reign over the minds and wills of men. For if through His Humanity the divine Word performs miracles and gives graces, if He uses His Sacraments and Saints as instruments for the salvation of men, why should He not make use of the role and work of His most holy Mother in imparting to us the fruits of redemption? “With a heart that is truly a mother’s,” to quote again Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, “does she approach the problem of our salvation, and is solicitous for the whole human race; made Queen of heaven and earth by the Lord, exalted above all choirs of angels and saints, and standing at the right hand of her only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she intercedes powerfully for us with a mother’s prayers, obtains what she seeks, and cannot be refused.” On this point another of Our Predecessors of happy memory, Leo XIII, has said that an “almost immeasurable” power has been given Mary in the distribution of graces; St. Pius X adds that she fills this office “as by the right of a mother.”

(Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam (To the Queen of Heaven), 11 October 1954, Section 42)

Here’s a problem for Roman Catholics that is less of a problem for Eastern Orthodox. Isn’t John the Baptist greater than Mary? Or is Mary greater than John the Baptist?

Jesus said:

Matthew 11:11

Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Luke 7:28

For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

On the other hand, Jesus also said:

Matthew 12:46-50

While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.”

But he answered and said unto him that told him, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?” And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Mark 3:31-35

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.”

And he answered them, saying, “Who is my mother, or my brethren?” And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”

Luke 8:19-21

Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, “Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee.”

And he answered and said unto them, “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”

There is a sort of double-whammy effect that these passages have. First, they demonstrate a prominence for John the Baptist. While we do not offer worship/cult to John the Baptist, we do recognize his preeminence among the prophets, agreeing with Jesus. Second, they demonstrate an absence of prominence of Jesus’ mother and siblings. Jesus de-emphasized his blood relations through Mary in favor of the spiritual relation that believers have with Him through faith.

Recall that Jesus’ own brethren did not believe on him at first:

John 7:1-10

After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, “Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.”

For neither did his brethren believe in him.

Then Jesus said unto them, “My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come.”

When he had said these words unto them, he abode still in Galilee. But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.

Notice that in the passages above, Jesus’ mother and brethren are not specifically identified as unbelievers, but in this passage it is made explicit that Jesus’ brethren did not believe in him. Furthermore, immediately before his death on the cross, Jesus substituted John for himself in his familial relation with Mary:

John 19:25-27
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then saith he to the disciple, “Behold thy mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

After the crucifixion, Mary receives only a cursory mention:

Acts 1:14 These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

And Mary’s role is further downplayed in Hebrews, where Jesus is described by comparison to Melchizedek as:

Hebrews 7:3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

Thus, just as Jesus is recognized as being without father as to his humanity, Scripture teaches us that Jesus is without mother as to his divinity. This is not just my 21st century opinion, but is what was taught by Ambrose, Augustine, John Cassian, Gregory Nazianzen, and Theodoret (see evidence here).

Finally, rather than making Mary the mother of us all, Scripture assigns that place to Heaven, the Jerusalem above.

Galatians 4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

But there is a final Scriptural discussion that ought to nail close the case both against Mary and John the Baptist as being the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the same thread of discussion that definitively disproves the papacy.

Matthew 18:1-4

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 23:1-12

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But be not ye called ‘Rabbi:’ for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”

Mark 9:33-37

And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, “What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?”

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, “whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.”

Luke 9:46-48

Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, “Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.”

Luke 22:24-27

And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.

And he said unto them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.”

Notice that never in these discourses does Jesus say, “Pope St. Peter of course,” or “Come on guys, obviously my mom is the greatest.” Notice as well that at least one of these discussions comes after the discussion “on this Rock” discussion in Matthew 16. Jesus has many opportunities to identify a greatest mere human, and he declines to name names. Instead, Jesus gives the same basic answer: he teaches that those who are greatest in the heavenly kingdom are those who are converted and believe on him. Look at the similarity between Jesus’ response to “your mother and brethren are outside looking for you” and Jesus’ response to “who is the greatest?” In the former case he identifies those who believe on him as being his mother and brethren, and in the latter case, he identifies those who humble themselves and whose hearts are changed so that they become like little children as the greatest.

So is Mary greater than John the Baptist? We have no Scriptural basis for asserting that she is. If she is greater than John the Baptist, it would only be because she is more humble. But compare their humility as recorded in Scripture.

While Mary does call herself the handmaid of the Lord:

Luke 1:38 & 48

And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her. … “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

She is not always respectful of Jesus, you will recall that in Mark 3, she and Jesus’ brethren had come because they believed him to be losing it.

Mark 3:21 & 31

And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, “He is beside himself.” … There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.

And at least twice Jesus rebukes Mary:

John 2:3-4

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, “They have no wine.” Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”

Luke 2:48-50

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

By comparison, hear the words of John the Baptist:

John 1:26-27

John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”

John 3:25-36

Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, “Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.”

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Unlike Mary who did not understand what Jesus’ meant by being about his Father’s business, John seems to have understood from the earliest portion of Christ’s ministry, as we will see below. We are told of one instance where John’s faith wavered, but look at how Jesus’ addressed it:

Matthew 11:2-6

Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”

Jesus answered and said unto them, “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

Even in the one instance where John needs to be corrected by Jesus, John had erred in his humility:

Matthew 3:13-15

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”

And Jesus answering said unto him, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.”

Then he suffered him.

If humility were the measure, it would seem that John the Baptist would win hands down. But, of course, Jesus’ admonitions discourage us from seeking to have a “greatest” in the first place. Scripture explains:

Ephesians 4:5-6

One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

And that one Lord is Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 8:6

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

As Jesus himself said:

John 13:13

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.

So then the answer to the question is that the only Scriptural passages that speak to the matter would seem to place John the Baptist ahead of Mary, although the fundamental basis for the question seems to be mistaken.

– TurretinFan

[FN1: For those Roman Catholics who always complain when I mention the worship of Mary, “cult” in that quotation is reference to religious reverence (look it up), i.e. worship (see here). I hate having to disrupt the flow of the post to explain this, but there are enough American Roman Catholics who deny the Mary-worshiping charge that this is necessary.]

The Greatness of Jesus compared to John the Baptist – A Response to a Heckler

March 19, 2009

In response to my earlier Question for My Muslim Readers, one heckler (he was anonymous, so I do not wish to accuse of Islam of being associated with him) tried to provide a counter-argument:

In Luke 7:28 Jesus say “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

So, either John is greater than Jesus or Jesus wasn’t born of a woman. See, two can play at this game.

(all errors in original)

This kind of comment would be very puzzling for a Muslim to raise. After all, is there any doubt that, within Islam, Jesus is a greater prophet than John the Baptist? If so, why even raise this verse? Is it just to try to make Christians uncomfortable? I cannot see how it would be raised by a Muslim who was seeking the truth.

So, perhaps our anonymous heckler was not a Muslim.

What then, within a Christian understanding, did Jesus mean by His claim? Well, the most obvious understanding is that Jesus means that John held the role of greatest honor among the prophets because he was the immediate forerunner of Christ. While Christ did prophesy, Jesus Christ is not viewed as being one of the prophets.

This, of course, is a difference between Christianity and Islam. The Bible presents Jesus, not as a mere prophet, but as the Son of God. Thus, it is natural for Jesus not to include Himself in a list of the prophets, since they were the messengers of God, but He was God in the flesh.

Likewise, the second half of the verse clarifies that Jesus is speaking of those within the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus Himself is the king of that kingdom. So, naturally, He is not within the group of those who are of the kingdom of heaven.

Finally, when Jesus spoke of “the prophets,” Jesus generally referred to those who came before Him. Thus, for this additional reason, it would be natural for Jesus

But Jesus did speak to his own excellence:

Jesus is Greater than the Temple
Matthew 12:6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.

Jesus is Greater than the Prophet Jonah
Matthew 12:41 (and Luke 11:32) The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Jesus is Greater than King Solomon
Matthew 12:42 (and Luke 11:31) The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

Jesus is Greater than the patriarch Jacob
John 4:11-14
11 The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? 12 Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? 13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Jesus is Greater than Abraham
John 8:49-58
49 Jesus answered, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. 50 And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. 51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. 53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?
54 Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: 55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

And Jesus did make a comparison between himself and John the Baptist:

John 5:33-36
33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. 34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. 35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. 36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.

How could the witness of Jesus be greater than the witness of any prophet? How could Jesus be greater than King Solomon, the greatest earthly King that was? How could Jesus be a greater prophet than Jonah, who converted the gentile city of Ninevah? How could Jesus be greater than the patriarch Jacob, who fathered all of Israel? How could Jesus be greater than Abraham and be before Abraham?

The answer is simple: Jesus was not a mere prophet, He was God incarnate. This is the teaching of Jesus, and to be a follower of Jesus and a follower of God, once must accept this. This is no game, for if you reject the Son of God, on the day of judgment that you know is coming, He will reject you.

Think about it.

-TurretinFan


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