Monday, July 9, 2012

The Confession of John the Baptist in John 1:20

John 1:20 records John the Baptist’s testimony that he was not the Christ. To some readers, the narrator’s comment that John the Baptist “did not deny” that he was the Christ seems a little strange because saying or I am not Z sounds to us like a denial. The narrator of John’s Gospel at this point says that John the Baptist “confessed and did not deny, but confessed” that he was not the Christ. The narrator portrays John the Baptist’s statement in John 1:20—particularly through the repetition of the word ὡμολόγησεν he confessed—as being a confession rather than a denial.

In order to understand the way in which John the Baptist’s statement was a confession rather than a denial, it should be noted that the delegation that had been sent from Jerusalem to interrogate him (see John 1:19) did not ask John the Baptist if he was the Christ. Up till that point in time, all that they had asked him was: “Who are you?” (John 1:19). John the Baptist’s statement that he was not the Christ is called a confession instead of a denial because he came out immediately with the statement that he was not the Christ even though he had not been asked previously by the delegation if he was the Christ. John would have known that the Jewish leaders might have been wondering if he was claiming to be a messianic figure. Other historical persons had sought to pass themselves off previously as messianic figures (in order to gain a following); but John was keen for the Jewish leaders, and for people in general, to understand very clearly that he was not the Christ. So the first thing that John the Baptist said to the delegation was his (negative) confession: “I am not the Christ.”

This confession on the lips of John the Baptist develops one of the prominent themes of John 1, that John the Baptist is not the Christ but has come in order to testify about (i.e., to identify) the Christ (see John 1:7–8, 15, 29, 31, 33, 36).

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