Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John. (Cont.)
Sixth Book. (Cont.)
10. Of the Voice John the Baptist Is.
“He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet.” As He who is peculiarly the Son of God, being no other than the Logos, yet makes use of Logos reason - for He was the Logos in the beginning, and was with God, the Logos of God - so John, the servant of that Logos, being, if we take the Scripture to mean what it says, no other than a voice, yet uses his voice to point to the Logos. He, then, understanding in this way the prophecy about himself spoken by Isaiah the prophet, says he is a voice, not crying in the wilderness, but “of one crying in the wilderness,” of Him, namely, who stood and cried, (Joh_7:37) “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” He it was, too, who said, (Luk_3:4) “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and all the crooked shall be made straight.” For as we read in Exodus that God said to Moses, (Exo_7:1) “Behold I have given thee for a God to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet;” so we are to understand - the cases are at least analogous if not altogether similar - it is with the Word in the beginning, who is God, and with John. For John’s voice points to that word and demonstrates it. It is therefore a very appropriate punishment that falls on Zacharias on his saying to the angel, (Luk_1:18) “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years.” For his want of faith with regard to the birth of the voice, he is himself deprived of his voice, as the angel Gabriel says to him, “Behold, thou shall be silent and not able to speak until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou hast not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.” And afterwards when he had “asked for a writing tablet and written, His name is John; and they all marvelled,” he recovered his voice; for “his mouth was opened immediately and his tongue, and he spake, blessing God.” We discussed above how it is to be understood that the Logos is the Son of God, and went over the ideas connected with that; and a similar sequence of ideas is to be observed at this point. John came for a witness; he was a man sent from God to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe; he was that voice, then, we are to understand, which alone was fitted worthily to announce the Logos. We shall understand this aright if we call to mind what was adduced in our exposition of the texts: “That all might believe through Him,” and “This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send My messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.” (Mat_11:10) There is fitness, too, in his being said to be the voice, not of one saying in the wilderness, but of one crying in the wilderness. He who cries, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” also says it; but he might say it without crying it. But he cries and shouts it, that even those may hear who are at a distance from the speaker, and that even the deaf may understand the greatness of the tidings, since it is announced in a great voice; and he thus brings help, both to those who have departed from God and to those who have lost the acuteness of their hearing. This, too, was the reason why “Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” Hence, too, (Joh_1:15) “John beareth witness of Him, and cried, saying,”“Hence also God commands Isaiah to cry, with the voice of one saying, Cry. And I said, What shall I cry?” The physical voice we use in prayer need not be great nor startling; even should we not lift up any great cry or shout, God will yet hear us. He says to Moses, (Exo_14:15) “Why criest thou unto Me?” when Moses had not cried audibly at all. It is not recorded in Exodus that he did so; but Moses had cried mightily to God in prayer with that voice which is heard by God alone. Hence David also says, (Psa_77:7) “With my voice I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me.” And one who cries in the desert has need of a voice, that the soul which is deprived of God and deserted of truth - and what more dreadful desert is there than a soul deserted of God and of all virtue, since it still goes crookedly and needs instruction - may be exhorted to make straight the way of the Lord. And that way is made straight by the man who, far from copying the serpent’s crooked journey: while he who is of the contrary disposition perverts his way. Hence the rebuke directed to a man of this kind and to all who resemble him, “Why pervert ye the right ways of the Lord?” (Act_13:10) 360
11. Of the Way of the Lord, How It Is Narrow, and How Jesus Is the Way.
Now the way of the Lord is made straight in two fashions. First, in the way of contemplation, when thought is made clear in truth without any mixture of falsehood; and then in the way of conduct, after the sound contemplation of what ought to be done, when action is produced which harmonizes with sound theory of conduct. And that we may the more clearly understand the text, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” it will be well to compare with it what is said in the Proverbs, (Pro_4:27) “Depart not, either to the right hand or to the left.” For he who deviates in either direction has given up keeping his path straight, and is no longer worthy of regard, since he has gone apart from the straightness of the journey, for “the Lord (Psa_11:7) is righteous, and loves righteousness, and His face beholds straightness.” Hence he who is the object of regard, and receives the benefit that comes from this oversight, says, (Psa_4:7) “The light of Thy countenance was shown upon us, O Lord.” Let us stand, then, as Jeremiah (Jer_4:16) exhorts, upon the ways, and let us see and ask after the ancient ways of the Lord, and let us see which is the good way, and walk in it. Thus did the Apostles stand and ask for the ancient ways of the Lord; they asked the Patriarchs and the Prophets, enquiring into their writings, and when they came to understand these writings they saw the good way, namely, Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way.” and they walked in it. For it is a good way that leads the good man to the good father, the man who, from the good treasure of his heart, brings forth good things, and who is a good and faithful servant. This way is narrow, indeed, for the many cannot bear to walk in it and are lovers of their flesh; but it is also hard-pressed49 by those who use violence Mat_11:12 to walk in it, for it is not called afflicting, but afflicted.49 For that way which is a living way, and feels the qualities of those who tread it, is pressed and afflicted, when he travels on it who has not taken off his shoes from off his feet, (Exo_3:5) nor truly realized that the place on which he stands, or indeed treads, is holy ground. And it will lead to Him who is the life, and who says, “I am the life.” For the Saviour, in whom all virtues are combined, has many aspects. To him who, though by no means near the end, is yet advancing, He is the way; to him who has put off all that is dead He is the life. He who travels on this way is told to take nothing with him on it, since it provides bread and all that is necessary for life, enemies are powerless on it, and he needs no staff, and since it is holy, he needs no shoes.
12. Heracleon’s View of the Voice, and of John the Baptist.
The words, however, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” etc., may be taken as equivalent to “I am He of whom the ‘voice in the wilderness’ is written.” Then John would be the person crying, and his voice would be that crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Heracleon, discussing John and the prophets, says, somewhat slanderously, that “the Word is the Saviour; the voice, that in the wilderness which John interpreted; the sound is the whole prophetic order.” To this we may reply by reminding him of the text, (1Co_14:8) “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle,” and that which says that though a man have knowledge of mysteries, or have prophecy but wants love, he is a sounding or a tinkling cymbal. (1Co_13:1) If the prophetic voice be nothing but sound, how does our Lord come to refer us to it as where He says, (Joh_5:39) “Search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which bear witness,” and (Joh_5:46) “If ye believed Moses, ye would believe Me,” and (Mat_15:7; Isa_29:13) “Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, saying, This people honours me with their lips”? I do not know if any one can reasonably admit that the Saviour thus spoke in praise of an uncertain sound, or that there is any preparation to be had from the Scriptures to which we are referred as from the voice of a trumpet, for our war against opposing powers, should their sound give an uncertain voice. If the prophets had not love, and if that is why they were sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, then how does the Lord send us to their sound, as these writers will have it, as if we could get help from that? He asserts, indeed, that a voice, when well fitted to speech, becomes speech, as if one should say that a woman is turned into a man; and the assertion is not supported by argument. And, as if he were in a position to put forth a dogma on the subject and to get on in this way, he declares that sound can be changed in a similar way 361 into voice, and the voice, which is changed into speech, he says, is in the position of a disciple, while sound passing into voice is in that of a slave. If he had taken any kind of trouble to establish these points we should have had to devote some attention to refuting them; but as it is, the bare denial is sufficient refutation. There was a point some way back which we deferred taking up, that, namely, of the motive of John’s speeches. We may now take it up. The Saviour, according to Heracleon, calls him both a prophet and Elijah, but he himself denies that he is either of these. When the Saviour, Heracleon says, calls him a prophet and Elijah, He is speaking not of John himself, but of his surroundings; but when He calls him greater than the prophets and than those who are born of women, then He is describing the character of John himself. When John, on the other hand, is asked about himself, his answers relate to himself, not to his surroundings. This we have examined as carefully as possible, comparing each of the terms in question with the statements of Heracleon, lest he should not have expressed himself quite accurately. For how it comes that the statements that he is Elijah and that he is a prophet apply to those about him, but the statement that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, to himself, no attempt whatever is made to show Heracleon only gives an illustration, namely, this: His surroundings were, so to speak, his clothes, and other than himself, and when he was asked about his clothes, if he; were his clothes, he could not answer “Yes.” Now that his being Elijah, who was to come, was his clothes, is scarcely consistent, so far as I can see, with Heracleon’s views; it might consist, perhaps, with the exposition we ourselves gave of the words, “In the spirit and power of Elijah;” it might, in a sense, be said that this spirit of Elijah is equivalent to the soul of John. He then goes on to try to determine why those who were sent by the Jews to question John were priests and levites, and he answers by no means badly, that it was incumbent on such persons, being devoted to the service of God, to busy themselves and to make enquiries about such matters. When he goes on, however, to say that it was “because John was of the levitical tribe, this is less well considered. We raised the question ourselves above, and saw that if the Jews who were sent knew John’s birth, it was not open to them to ask if he was Elijah. Then, again, in dealing with the question, “Art thou the prophet?” Heracleon does not regard the addition of the article as having any special force, and says, “They asked him if he were a prophet, wishing to know this more general fact.” Again, not Heracleon alone, but, so far as I am informed, all those who diverge from our views, as if they had not been able to deal with a trifling ambiguity and to draw the proper distinction, suppose John to be greater than Elijah and than all the prophets. The words are, “Of those born of women there is none greater than John;” but this admits of two mean-lugs, that John is greater than they all, or again, that some of them are equal to him. For though many of the prophets were equal to him, still it might be true in respect of the grace bestowed on him, that none of them was greater than he. He regards it as confirming the view that John was greater, that “he is predicted by Isaiah;” for no other of all those who uttered prophecies was held worthy by God of this distinction. This, however, is a venturesome statement and implies some disrespect of what is called the Old Testament, and total disregard of the fact that Elijah himself was the subject of prophecy. For Elijah is prophesied by Malachi, who says, (Mal_4:5-6) “Behold, I send unto you Elijah, the Tishbite, who shall restore the heart of the father to the son.” Josiah, too, as we read in third Kings, (1Ki_13:2) was predicted by name by the prophet who came out of Judah; for he said, Jeroboam also being present at the altar, “Thus saith the Lord, Behold a son is born to David, his name is Josiah.” There are some also who say that Samson was predicted by Jacob, when he said, (Gen_49:16) “Dan shall judge his own people, he is as one tribe in Israel,” for Samson who judged Israel was of the tribe of Dan. So much by way of evidence of the rashness of the statement that John alone was the subject of prophecy, made by Heracleon in his attempted explanation of the words, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”
13. Joh_1:24-25. Of the Baptism of John, That of Elijah, and That of Christ.
And they that were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, (Joh_1:24-25) “Why baptizest thou then, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” Those who sent from Jerusalem the priests and levites who asked John these questions, having learned who John was not, and who he was, preserve a decent silence, as if tacitly assenting and indicating that they accepted 362 what was said, and saw that baptism was suited to a voice crying in the wilderness for the preparing of the way of the Lord. But the Pharisees being, as their name indicates, a divided and seditious set of people, show that they do not agree with the Jews of the metropolis and with the ministers of the service of God, the priests and levites. They send envoys who deal in rebukes, and so far as their power extends debar him from baptizing; their envoys ask, Why baptizest thou, then, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? And if we were to stitch together into one statement what is written in the various Gospels, we should say that at this time they spoke as is here reported, but that at a later time, when they wished to received baptism, they heard the address of John: (Mat_3:7-8) “Generations of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance.” This is what the Baptist says in Matthew, when he sees many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, without, it is clear, having the fruits of repentance, and pharisaically boasting in themselves that they had Abraham for their father. For this they are rebuked by John, who has the zeal of Elijah according to the communication of the Holy Spirit. For that is a rebuking word, “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father,” and that is the word of a teacher, when he speaks of those who for their stony hearts are called unbelieving stones, and says that by the power of God these stones may be changed into children of Abraham; for they were present to the eyes of the prophet and did not shrink from his divine glance. Hence his words: “I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” And since they came to his baptism without having done fruits meet for repentance, he says to them most appropriately, “Already is the axe laid to the root of the tree; every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” This is as much as to say to them: Since you have come to baptism without having done fruits meet for repentance, you are a tree that does not bring forth good fruit and which has to be cut down by the most sharp and piercing axe of the Word which is living and powerful and sharper than every two-edged sword. The estimation in which the Pharisees held themselves is also set forth by Luke in the passage: (Luk_18:10, Luk_18:11) “Two men went up to the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. And the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” The result of this speech is that the publican goes down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee, and the lesson is drawn, that every one who exalts himself is abased. They came, then, in the character in which the Saviour’s reproving words described them, as hypocrites to John’s baptism, nor does it escape the Baptist’s observation that they have the poison of vipers under their tongue and the poison of asps, for “the poison of asps is under their tongue,” (Psa_14:3) The figure of serpents rightly indicates their temper, and it is plainly revealed in their better question: “Why baptizest thou then, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” To these I would fain reply, if it be the case that the Christ and Elijah and the prophet baptize, but that the voice crying in the wilderness has no authority to do so, “Most harshly, my friends, do you question the messenger sent before the face of Christ to prepare His way before Him. The mysteries which belong to this point are all hidden to you; for Jesus being, whether you will or not, the Christ, did not Himself baptize but His disciples, He who was Himself the prophet. And how have you come to believe that Elijah who is to come will baptize?” He did not baptize the logs upon the altar in the times of Ahab, (1Ki_18:33 sq) though they needed such a bath to be burned up, what time the Lord appeared in fire. No, he commands the priests to do this for him, and that not only once; for he says, “Do it a second time,” upon which they did it a second time, and “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. If, then, he did not at that time himself baptize but left the work to others, how was he to baptize at the time spoken of by Malachi? Christ, then, does not baptize with water, but His disciples. He reserves for Himself to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now Heracleon accepts the speech of the Pharisees as distinctly implying that the office of baptizing belonged to the Christ and Elijah and to every prophet, for he uses these words, “Whose office alone it is to baptize.” He is refuted by what we have just said, and especially by the consideration that he takes the word “prophet” in a general sense;50 for he cannot 363 show that any of the prophets baptized. He adds, not incorrectly, that the Pharisees put the question from malice, and not from a desire to learn.
14 Comparison of the Statements of the Four Evangelists Respecting John the Baptist, the Prophecies Regarding Him, His Addresses to the Multitude and to the Pharisees, Etc.
We deem it necessary to compare with the expression of the passage we are considering the similar expressions found elsewhere in the Gospels. This we shall continue to do point by point to the end of this work, so that terms which appear to disagree may be shown to be in harmony, and that the peculiar meanings present in each may be explained. This we shall do in the present passage. The words, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord,” are placed by John, who was a disciple, in the mouth of the Baptist. In Mark, on the other hand, the same words are recorded at the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Scripture of Isaiah, as thus: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” Now the words, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” added by John, are not found in the prophet. Perhaps John was seeking to compress the “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God,” and so wrote, “Make straight the way of the Lord;” while Mark combined two prophecies spoken by two different prophets in different places, and made one prophecy out of them, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold I send My messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” The words, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” are written immediately after the narrative of Hezekiah’s recovery from his sickness, (Isa_11:3) while the words, “Behold I send My messenger before thy face,” are written by Malachi. (Mal_3:1) What John does here, abbreviating the text he quotes, we find done by Mark also at another point. For while the words of the prophet are, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God,” Mark writes, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” And John practises a similar abbreviation in the text, “Behold I send My messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee,” when he does not add the words “before thee,” as in the original. Coming now to the statement, “They were sent from the Pharisees and they asked Him,” (Joh_1:24) we have been led by our examination of the passage to prefix the enquiry of the Pharisees - which Matthew does not mention - to the occurrence recorded in Matthew, when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, and said to them, “Ye generations of vipers,” etc. For the natural sequence is that they should first enquire and then come. And we have to observe how, when Matthew reports that there went out to John Jerusalem and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, to be baptized by him in Jordan, confessing their sins, it was not these people who heard from the Baptist any word of rebuke or refutation, but only those many Pharisees and Sadducees whom he saw coming. They it was who were greeted with the address, “Ye offspring of vipers,” etc. (Mat_3:7) Mark, again, does not record any words of reproof as having been used by John to those who came to him, being all the country of Judaea and all of them of Jerusalem, who were baptized by him in the Jordan and confessed their sins. This is because Mark does not mention the Pharisees and Sadducees as having come to John. A further circumstance which we must mention is that both Matthew and Mark state that, in the one case, all Jerusalem and all Judaea, and the whole region round about Jordan, in the other, the whole land of Judaea and all they of Jerusalem, were baptized, confessing their sins; but when Matthew introduces the Pharisees and Sadducees as coming to the baptism, he does not say that they confessed their sins, and this might very likely and very naturally be the reason why they were addressed as “offspring of vipers.” Do not suppose, reader, that there is anything improper in our adducing in our discussion of the question of those who were sent from the Pharisees and put questions to John, the parallel passages from the other Gospels too. For if we have indicated the proper connection between the enquiry of the Pharisees, recorded 364 by the disciple John, and their baptism which is found in Matthew, we could scarcely avoid inquiring into the passages in question, nor recording the observations made on them. Luke, like Mark, remembers the passage, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” but lie for his part treats it as follows: (Luk_3:2) “The word of God came unto John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the region round about Jordan preaching the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” Luke, however, added the continuation of the prophecy: “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, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” He writes, like Mark, “Make His ways straight;” curtailing, as we saw before, the text, “Make straight the ways of our God.” In the phrase, “And all the crooked shall become straight,” he leaves out the “all,” and the word “straight” he converts from a plural into a singular. Instead of the phrase, moreover, “The rough laud into a plain,” he gives, “The rough ways into smooth ways,” and he leaves out “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” and gives what follows, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” These observations are of use as showing how the evangelists are accustomed to abbreviate the sayings of the prophets. It has also to be observed that the speech, “Offspring of vipers,” etc., is said by Matthew to have been spoken to the Pharisees and Sadducees when coming to baptism, they being a different set of people from those who confessed their sins, and to whom no words of this kind were spoken. With Luke, on the contrary, these words were addressed to the multitudes who came out to be baptized by John, and there were not two divisions of those who were baptized, as we found in Matthew. But Matthew, as the careful observer will see, does not speak of the multitudes in the way of praise, and he probably means the Baptist’s address, Offspring of vipers, etc., to be understood as addressed to them also. Another point is, that to the Pharisees and Sadducees he says, “Bring forth a fruit,” in the singular, “worthy of repentance,” but to the multitudes he uses the plural, “Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.” Perhaps the Pharisees are required to yield the special fruit of repentance, which is no other than the Son and faith in Him, while the multitudes, who have not even a beginning of good things, are asked for all the fruits of repentance, and so the plural is used to them. Further, it is said to the Pharisees, “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father.” For the multitudes now have a beginning, appearing as they do to be introduced into the divine Word, and to approach the truth; and thus they begin to say within themselves, “We have Abraham for our father.” The Pharisees, on the contrary, are not beginning to this, but have long held it to be so. But both classes see John point to the stones aforesaid and declare that even from these children can be raised up to Abraham, rising up out of unconsciousness and deadness. And observe how it is said to the Pharisees, (Mat_3:10) according to the word of the prophet, (Hos_10:13) “Ye have eaten false fruit,” and they have false fruit, - “Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire,” while to the multitudes which do not bear fruit at all, (Luk_3:9) “Every tree which bringeth not forth fruit is hewn down.” For that which has no fruit at all has not good fruit, and, therefore, it is worthy to be hewn down. But that which bears fruit has by no means good fruit, whence it also calls for the axe to lay it low. But, if we look more closely into this about the fruit, we shall find that it is impossible that that which has just begun to be cultivated, even should it not prove fruitless, should bear the first good fruits. The husbandman is content that the tree just coming into cultivation should bear him at first such fruits as it may; afterwards, when he has pruned and trained it according to his art, he will receive, not the fruits it chanced to bear at first, but good fruits. The law itself favours this interpretation, for it says (Lev_19:23) that the planter is to wait for three years, having the trees pruned and not eating the fruit of them. “Three years.” it says, “the fruit shall be unpurified to you, and shall not be eaten, but in the fourth year all the fruit shall be holy, for giving praise unto the Lord.” This explains how the word “good” is omitted from the address to the multitudes, “Every tree, therefore, which bears not fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” The tree 365 which goes on bearing such fruit as it did at first, is a tree which does not bear good fruit, and is, therefore, cut down, and cast into the fire, since, when the three years have passed and the fourth comes round, it does not bear good fruit, for praise unto the Lord. In thus adducing the passages from the other Gospels I may appear to be digressing, but I cannot think it useless, or without bearing on our present subject. For the Pharisees send to John, after the priests and levites who came from Jerusalem, men who came to ask him who he was, and enquire, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? After making this enquiry they straightway come for baptism, as Matthew records, and then they hear words suited to their quackery and hypocrisy. But the words addressed to them were very similar to those spoken to the multitudes, and hence the necessity to look carefully at both speeches, and to compare them together. It was while we were so engaged that various points arose in the sequence of the matter, which we had to consider. To what has been said we must add the following. We find mention made in John of two orders of persons sending: the one, that of the Jews from Jerusalem sending priests and levites; the other, that of the Pharisees who want to know why he baptizes. And we found that, after the enquiry, the Pharisees present themselves for baptism. May it not be that the Jews, who had sent the earlier mission from Jerusalem, received John’s words before those who sent the second mission, namely, the Pharisees, and hence arrived before them? For Jerusalem and all Judaea, and, in consequence, the whole region round about Jordan, were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins; or, as Mark says. “There went out to him the whole land of Judaea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Now, neither does Matthew introduce the Pharisees and Sadducees, to whom the words, “Offspring of vipers,” etc., are addressed; nor does Luke introduce the multitudes who meet with the same rebuke, as confessing their sins. And the question may be raised how, if the whole city of Jerusalem, and the whole of Judaea, and the whole region round about Jordan, were baptized of John in Jordan, the Saviour could say, (Mat_11:13) “John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and ye say he hath a devil;” and how could He say to those who asked Him, (Mat_21:23) “By what authority doest thou these things? I also will ask you one word, which if ye tell me, I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or of men? And they reason, and say, If we shall say, From heaven, He will say, Why did ye not believe him?” The solution of the difficulty is this. The Pharisees, addressed by John, as we saw before, with his “Offspring of vipers,” etc., came to the baptism, without believing in him, probably because they feared the multitudes, and, with their accustomed hypocrisy towards them, deemed it right to undergo the washing, so as not to appear hostile to those who did so. Their belief was, then, that he derived his baptism from men, and not from heaven, but, on account of the multitude, lest they should be stoned, they are afraid to say what they think. Thus there is no contradiction between the Saviour’s speech to the Pharisees and the narratives in the Gospels about the multitudes who frequented’ John’s baptism. It was part of the effrontery of the Pharisees that they declared John to have a devil, as, also, that they declared Jesus to have performed His wonderful works by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.
15. How the Baptist Answers the Question of the Pharisees and Exalts the Nature of Christ. Of the Shoe-Latchet Which He Is Unable to Untie.
John (Joh_1:26) answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, even He who cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” Heracleon considers that John’s answers to those sent by the Pharisees refer not to what they asked, but to what he wished, not observing that he accuses the prophet of a want of manners, by making him, when asked about one thing, answer about another; for this is a fault to be guarded against in conversation. We assert, on the contrary, that the reply accurately takes up the question. It is asked,” Why baptizest thou then, if thou art not the Christ?” And what other answer could be given to this than to show that his baptism was in its nature a bodily thing? I, he says, “baptize with water;” this is his answer to, “Why baptizest thou.” And to the second part of their question, “If thou art not the Christ,” he answers by exalting the 366 superior nature of Christ, that He has such virtue as to be invisible in His deity, though present to every man and extending over the whole universe. This is what is indicated in the words, “There standeth one among you.” The Pharisees, moreover, though expecting the advent of Christ, saw nothing in Him of such a nature as John speaks of; they believed Him to be simply a perfect and holy man. John, therefore, rebukes their ignorance of His superiority, and adds to the words, “There standeth one among you,” the clause, “whom ye know not.” And, lest any one should suppose the invisible One who extends to every man, or, indeed, to the whole world, to be a different person from Him who became man, and appeared upon the earth and con versed with men, he adds to the words, “There standeth one among you whom you know not,” the further words, “Who cometh after me,” that is, He who is to be manifested after me. By whose surpassing excellence he well understood that his own nature was far surpassed, though some doubted whether he might be the Christ; and, therefore, desiring to show how far he is from attaining to the greatness of the Christ, that no one should think of him beyond what he sees or hears of him, he goes on: “The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” By which lie conveys, as in a riddle, that he is not fit to solve and to explain the argument about Christ’s assuming a human body, an argument tied up and hidden like a shoe-tie to those who do not understand it, - so as to say anything worthy of such an advent, compressed, as it was, into so short a space.
16. Comparison of John’s Testimony to Jesus in the Different Gospels.
It may not be out of place, as we are examining the text, “I baptize with water,” to compare the parallel utterances of the evangelists with this of John. Matthew reports that the Baptist, when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, after the words of rebuke which we have already studied, went on: (Mat_3:11) “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” This agrees with the words in John, in which the Baptist declares himself to those sent by the Pharisees, on the subject of his baptizing with water. Mark, again, says, (Mar_1:6, Mar_1:7) “John preached, saying, There cometh after me He that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” And Luke says (Luk_3:16) that, as the people were in expectation, and all were reasoning in their hearts concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ, John answered them all, saying. “I indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh one mightier than I, whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”
17. Of the Testimony of John to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel,
These, then, are the parallel passages of the four; let us try to see as clearly as we can what is the purport of each and wherein they differ from each other. And we will begin with Matthew, who is reported by tradition to have published his Gospel before the others, to the Hebrews, those, namely, of the circumcision who believed. I, he says, baptize you with water unto repentance, purifying you, as it were, and turning you away from evil courses and calling you to repentance; for I am come to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him, and by my baptism of repentance to prepare the ground for Him who is to come after me, and who will thus benefit you much more effectively and powerfully than my strength could. For His baptism is not that of the body only; He fills the penitent with the Holy Ghost, and His diviner fire does away with everything material and consumes everything that is earthy, not only from him who admits it to his life, but even from him who hears of it from those who have it. So much stronger than I is He who is coming after me, that I am not able to bear even the outskirts of the powers round Him which are furthest from Him they are not open and exposed, so that any one could see them, nor even to bear those who support them. I know not of which I should speak. Should I speak of my own great weakness, which is not able to bear even these things about Christ which in comparison with the greater things in Him are least, or should I speak of His transcendent Deity, greater than all the world? If I who have received such grace, as to be thought worthy of prophecy predicting my arrival in this human life, in the words,” The 367 voice of one crying in the wilderness,” and “Behold I send my messenger before thy face;” if I whose birth Gabriel who stands before God announced to my father so advanced in years, so much against his expectation, I at whose name Zacharias recovered his voice and was enabled to use it to prophesy, I to whom my Lord bears witness that among them that are born of women there is noble greater than I, I am not able so much as to bear His shoes! And if not His shoes, what can be said about His garments? Who is so great as to be able to guard His coat? Who can suppose that He can understand the meaning contained in His tunic which is without seam from the top because it is woven throughout? It is to be observed that while the four represent John as declaring himself to have come to baptize with water. Matthew alone adds the words “to repentance,” teaching that the benefit of baptism is connected with the intention of the baptized person; to him who repents it is salutary, but to him who comes to it without repentance it will turn to greater condemnation. And here we must note that as the wonderful works done by the Saviour in the cures He wrought, which are symbolical of those who at any time are set free by the word of God from ally sickness or disease, though they were done to the body and brought a bodily relief, yet also called those who were benefited by them to an exercise of faith, so the washing with water which is symbolic of the soul cleansing herself from every stain of wickedness, is no less in itself to him who yields himself to the divine power of the invocation of the Adorable Trinity, the beginning and source of divine girls; for “there are diversities of gifts.” This view receives confirmation from the narrative recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, which shows the Spirit to have descended so manifestly on those who receive baptism, after the water had prepared the way for him in those who properly approached the rite. Simon Magus, astonished at what he saw, desired to receive from Peter this gift, but though it was a good thing he desired, he thought to attain it by the mammon of unrighteousness. We next remark in passing that the baptism of John was inferior to the baptism of Jesus which was given through His disciples. Those persons in the Acts (Act_19:2) who were baptized to John’s baptism and who had not heard if there was any Holy Ghost are baptized over again by the Apostle, Regeneration did not take place with John, but with Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the layer of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit; for the Spirit now comes in addition since it comes from God and is over and above the water and does not come to all after the water. So here, then, our examination of the statements in the Gospel according to Matthew.
49 τεθλιμμένη, the word translated “narrow” in Mat_7:14.
50 By not noticing the difference between “a prophet” and “the prophet” vide supra, p. 315.