25.A question then arose. Not without a good reason does the Evangelist relate that a question arose from the disciples of John; for just in proportion as they were ill-informed about doctrine, they are so much the more eager to enter into debate, as ignorance is always bold and presumptuous. If others had attacked them, they might have been excused; but when they themselves, though unfit to maintain the contest, voluntarily provoke the Jews, it is a rash and foolish proceeding. Now the words mean, that “question was raised by them;” and not only were they to blame for taking up a matter which they did not understand, and speaking about it rashly and beyond the measure of their knowledge; but another fault — not less than the former — was, that they did not so much intend to maintain the lawfulness of Baptism as to defend the cause of their master, that his authority might remain unimpaired. In both respects, they deserved reproof, because, not understanding what was the real nature of Baptism, they expose the holy ordinance of God to ridicule, and because, by sinful ambition, they undertake to defend the cause of their master against Christ.
It is evident, therefore, that they were astonished and confounded by a single word, when it was represented to them that Christ also was baptizing; for while their attention was directed to the person of a man, and to outward appearance, (64) they gave themselves less concern about the doctrine. We are taught, by their example, into what mistakes those men fall who are actuated by a sinful desire to please men rather than by a zeal for God; and we are likewise reminded that the single object which we ought to have in view and to promote by all means is, that Christ alone may have the pre-eminence.
About purifying The question was about purifying; for the Jews had various baptisms and washings (65) enjoined by the Law; and not satisfied with those which God had appointed, (66) they carefully observed many others which had been handed down from their ancestors. When they find that, in addition to so great a number and variety of purifyings, a new method of purifying is introduced by Christ and by John, they look upon it as absurd.