§ 6. The collision of the baptism of Jesus with that of John

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§6. The collision of the baptism of Jesus with that of John.



1) The jealousy of John’s disciples


As if he were only in his place in Judea, Jesus, when he leaves Jerusalem, goes into the open country and travels around with his disciples, baptizing. John the Baptist was also there and baptized. The scene is located near Aenon, by Salim; localities about which we hear nothing else. It is noteworthy that the author does not give a reason why the Lord left Jerusalem, because he usually does not forget to mention it. Instead, he follows his inclination to be pragmatic by telling us why the Baptist was staying in that area. Namely, there was a lot of water there. But couldn’t the Jordan, on whose banks we should surely imagine the scene taking place, have had enough water elsewhere, and couldn’t the baptismal candidates be immersed anywhere? It seems that the author did not pragmatize successfully, and one only needs to take that reason seriously, as Olshausen really does *), and say that the water was “convenient” for immersion there, to see how inappropriate it is. For as far as we know, only a bathing resort demands “convenience,” and the Baptist did not choose his place of residence based on it, but on whether he could hope to find acceptance with his preaching and baptism.

*) Comm. II, 101.


But it must be very strange to us to suddenly see the Baptist still in full activity, and the evangelist certainly also intends to respond to this surprise when he remarks that the Baptist had not yet been thrown into prison. The author therefore presupposes [the two men were baptizing side by side] – otherwise one would imagine the matter differently, namely that the appearance of the Lord only took place when the Baptist was ousted from the public arena, and it is precisely this view, even if not exactly the written report of the Synoptics, that he wants to counteract. If we remember how much the fourth evangelist had let his reflection penetrate into the portrayal of the personality of the Baptist, we cannot accept his chronological hint as a correction of the synoptic tradition. The synoptic conception of the matter, namely, that Jesus only went out after the Baptist’s imprisonment, could certainly seem suspicious to us, because according to it the empirical historical circumstances correspond too exactly to the spiritual ones. The task of the forerunner, who was supposed to point to the Lord, seems to have been completed when he had announced or even shown the coming one to the people, so that he could immediately step down when the promised one had appeared before the people. It seems uncomfortable with the forerunner still working on the side and pointing to the coming one long after he had proved himself to be the Lord. So it could be that in the tradition the view was formed that the star which shone before the morning must naturally have set as soon as the sun of salvation rose, even if in reality the Baptist had continued his activity beside Jesus for a long time *). But we must not regard this possibility as reality until we have a firm indication left in the opposite report of the fourth evangelist.

**) de Wette Erkl. des Ev. Ioh. p. 51.

*) Even in our day Olshausen (Comm. II, 102) has this view when he says (of course with due regard to the fourth evangelist): “it is in the relation of the forerunner to Jesus that he was only with him a short time. Olshausen, by the way, admits no contradiction between the synoptic account and the fourth evangelist (ibid.), for the departure of Jesus to Galilee Matth. 4:12, Mark 1:14, after the imprisonment of the Baptist is that reported in John 4:3. Tholuck (p 103) absolutely agrees with this explanation and Lücke (I, 490) considers this relation of the reports “not improbable”. But the Synoptics want to report the first public appearance of Jesus.


He says in v. 25 that a dispute arose between the disciples of the Baptist and a Jew about purification. Ζητησις is the expression for a controversy, such as arises between parties who are opposed by their principles. “Purification,” since it is even set without the definiteness of the article, is indeed kept in indefinite generality, but according to the context it is certainly intended to refer preferably to baptism. But the report does not give us the slightest hint as to how baptism was the subject of the dispute. Afterwards, when the disciples came to the Baptist, they should have said, “Behold, there is a Jew with whom we have quarreled, and he asserts such and such things concerning water baptism.” *) Instead, they say v. 26, something they could say, even though no dispute with a Jew had preceded it. Yea, such a controversy should not have preceded and given them cause to complain, if they speak but thus to the Baptist, as they do. He, they say, of whom thou hast testified beyond Jordan, baptiseth, and all flock unto him. But they could only have said this if, without first having argued with a Jew, they noticed that Jesus was threatening to oust their Master by his baptism. The complaint of the disciples of John and the occasion sent beforehand thus fall apart.

*) Tholuck, Lücke and others know more about this speech.


But also their complaint itself tears itself apart – not we tear it apart – into pieces that cannot be reunited for all eternity. The displeased complainers call Jesus the one of whom the Baptist had testified beyond the Jordan, namely, at that time when he made the Lord known to his own as the promised Lamb of God. We do not want to ask sentimentally whether the Baptist had to do with such obdurate disciples who accused the man whom he had shown them with his fingers as the suffering Messiah as a harmful rival of their Master. We would rather look more sharply at their words: “of whom thou hast testified”. Whoever speaks as these words read, acknowledges the testimony, admits that it is a testimony of a fact; the disciples must therefore acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah testified to by the Baptist. And now, at the same moment, they should be envious of the success of the man thus testified to, they should regard this man as a stranger, as a mere someone, as someone else? If they are really human, if they have heard the testimony of the Baptist and seen the fingers that showed them the long-awaited Lamb of God, if they have really acknowledged this testimony – they should have rejoiced that this man really proves to be the one whom their Master called him, and like the other people they should have fallen for him *). For now we are only allowed to determine that the disciples of John, when they complained about the growing following of the Lord, could not call him the one witnessed by the Baptist. But they could not do so either, because they could not have heard a testimony such as the Evangelist presupposes. Their complaint therefore still remains possible: let us see whether it becomes more than possible through the rebuke which the Baptist gives them.

*) Tholuck, with whom Olshausen agrees, explains the complaint of the disciples of John in such a way that he only restates the congruence of the two parts in other words, but does not explain it (Comm. p. 104.): “He,” say the disciples after him, “who has had to be baptized by you and has had a testimony given to him, takes the liberty of baptizing himself. So, when the runner (1:34) says, μεμαρτυπηκα , it means, Jesus.- and when the Lord (5:33) says: (‘Ιωαννης) μεμαρτυρτυρηκε τη αληθεια, it means: the truth – have had to have a favourable certificate issued to them by John the Baptist, in order, after all, to be able somehow to find accommodation in the world! Heaven and earth pervert this apologetic in order to assert a scriptural word as absolute, which yet at the same moment makes a mockery of it. Only criticism restores the Scriptural word to its proper sense. Even de Wette (p. 52.) follows the apologetic track when he translates the words of John’s disciples: “in whose favour” you have testified. But the testimony of the Baptist was always one by which he placed the witnessed infinitely above himself.


2) The last testimony of the Baptist.


This alone must cause us concern that the Baptist here again acknowledges Jesus, not only in a way as he does in the speeches reported above (C. 1.), but in such a way that he at the same time refers to the testimony which he had given of Christ in those earlier sayings – he thus refers to views which we have already recognized as the expression of a far later point of view. Reflections that could only develop after the completion of the work of salvation are also to be found when the Baptist calls Jesus the one who “came from above”, the one who “came from heaven”, who pre-existed in heaven and testified of what he saw there. Because this reflective attitude is especially prevalent from v. 31 on, Paulus, Olshausen, and Tholuck *) claim that the speech of the evangelist begins from there. But how then is the full stream of the discourse torn apart, namely at the very point where everything is connected in the most precise way and one link overlaps into the other! Olshausen says: “the following verses are not at all in favour of the Baptist’s point of view, in that they testify to the blessing of the acceptance of the words of Jesus, which did not take place with the Baptist **).” And yet it is already presupposed beforehand (v. 29.) that the Baptist sees his joy fulfilled in the union of the Messiah and the church and thus knows the delight of this union, otherwise he could not describe it at all as the object of his joy. Lücke is again “inclined to take a middle course and to assume that from v. 31 the reflection of the evangelist *) is mixed with the speech of the Baptist. But as soon as we see the same reflection active beforehand, no one will be able to prevent us from regarding the conclusion as what the beginning should be – as the speech of the Baptist. For every reason to separate them then falls away.

*) Tholuck, for example (Comm. p. 105.), says: “from v. 31 on, the evangelist begins to continue with the words of the Baptist. Then the content would be the same, so there would be no reason for separation.

**) Comm, II, 105.

*) Comm. I, 501.


Let us first note some minor inconsistencies in the speech. The Baptist is said to say in v. 32 that the Lord testifies of what he has seen in the heavenly world, but that no one accepts his testimony. And the Baptist is said to have said this now, at the very moment when his disciples enviously told him that all were flocking to the Lord? Never! So he should have said: “and you see for yourselves how his testimony is so winning that they all acknowledge him, everyone comes to him. It is of no use to claim that the evangelist is speaking here! For even if he wanted to connect his reflections to the speech of the Baptist, they must at least be appropriate to the presupposed situation that everything accrued to the Lord, they must not contradict it outright **). To be sure, the evangelist speaks here, but in such a way that he wants the Baptist to speak, only he lets him express feelings that are always present only to him, the evangelist, but often at an inopportune moment. Since he lets the Lord express the same complaint against Nicodemus (v. 11), this is the place to say something more specific about it. It is true that the Gospel had to struggle a lot with the resistance of the world, even in the apostolic times – and the Lord and the Baptist are told about their experiences here: but it is just as true that it also won great victories and – metaphorically speaking – spread wonderfully fast over the whole world. The fourth evangelist always emphasises only the one side, and the way in which he does it, and that he does it so often with that standing formula, falls into the sentimental. His soft soul likes to pour itself out in lamentations and prefers to move in the opposition of the Gospel and the insensitive world. In this way, however, the image of truth loses its fresh colour and the powerful attraction that it exerted on the world, and it acquires a weak, legendary quality. Yes, even the true struggle which the Lord had to endure with the world – and which is included in that formula – loses its magnificent character from this point of view, when it is said continually and at every opportunity: “No one accepts His testimony. *) In the fourth Gospel, the struggle that the Lord in the Synoptics’ account undertakes with calm and infinite certainty is a series of attempts that are always renewed and repeated in vain and without success.

**) Bengel says to v. 31: haec usque ad finem capitis videtur attexuisse erangelista, baptistae sensui congrentia. The congruence is missing!

*) On the tautologies ! Tholuck (Comm. p. 105.) says, ουδεις sey “hyperbolic.” But the hyperbola is in this very case the inappropriate thing.


Another inconvenience! He whom God has sent, says the Baptist v. 34, speaks the words of God. The fact that this revelation of the divine can come from the Lord has already been explained by the Baptist in such a way that he draws the reason from the past: the Lord has seen, has heard, has come from heaven (v. 32). Also in v. 34 it is to be justified that the Lord can speak the words of God, but suddenly the justification is given in a completely different way, a general principle is established: “God does not give the Spirit according to measure”, a principle which reaches far beyond the present case *). This is the reason why the evangelist, in letting the Baptist speak of Jesus being endowed with the Spirit, has in mind at the same time the congregation and the fullness of the Spirit, which is continually and freely imparted to it.

*) Tholuck explains the present tense διδωσιν (Comm. p. 105) thus: “it is in this that God can and will do it, and from the context it is to be concluded that he has done it here.” But the generality of the proposition always reaches beyond the context. Olshausen: II, 106: “the present tense διδωσιν very appropriately denotes the permanent communication of the Spirit from the Father to the Son.” Olshausen thus goes so far as to limit the relation of the phrase only to Jesus. Then the definiteness αυτω might be much less lacking.


If in the second part of his discourse the Baptist lets himself go in the general consideration of the dignity of the Lord, the first part contains the nucleus which takes account of the presupposed occasion. There he says to his envious disciples, who want to provoke him to jealousy against Jesus, that man cannot take anything that has not been given to him from heaven. Thus he should not presume to be more than what he said about himself at that time, since he only called himself the forerunner of the Anointed One. But he rejoiced that the expected one was given to the church, even if he himself had to decrease while the anointed one increased. (V. 27 – 30.)

It may happen that joy and sorrow touch each other in the same subject at the same moment; but usually it will only be the case when both feelings are excited from different sides, and then, because they contradict each other, they must struggle with each other, which will last until they either balance each other out, or one triumphs over the other. In the speech of the Baptist, however, joy and pain stand calmly, as it were neutrally, next to each other, as if they had nothing to do with each other, and both are brought about by the same occasion, by the coming and successful ministry of the Anointed One. The Baptist rejoices that the Messiah has united with the congregation, and without bringing both feelings together, he expresses the painful necessity that he must now decrease, while the Anointed One grows far beyond him.


It is possible, of course, for the same subject to produce opposite sensations at the same moment through the same matter, but then the matter must act from different sides, which it has in itself, and also grasp and seize the subject from different sides, which it presents to it. That is not the case here either. As a forerunner, the Baptist rejoices in one and the same thing which, as a forerunner, at the same time arouses in him the painful sensation of diminishing, namely, that the promised one is given to the church.

But if the Baptist had really carried opposite feelings in this way, he would have been tortured by an unbearable contradiction, which he, as a spiritual person, would have had to resolve absolutely. If he rejoiced at the coming of the Messiah, why did he not make joy complete and the ruling, pervading, sole sentiment by unconditionally surrendering himself to the Messiah? In the picture that describes his personal position, v. 19, he stands outside, like the friend of the bridegroom who embraces the bride inside the wedding chamber and expresses his love in friendly caresses. Why, then, does he not join the congregation, so that he may also be embraced by the bridegroom? If he was indeed happy about the arrival of the Anointed One, he should really have joined him if he did not want to weaken his verbal recognition of the Greater One – we do not want to call it a lie, but he did want to weaken it and give a bad example to the others whom he pointed out to the Coming One.


On the other hand, the Baptist says he has to decrease. The reason here is also incomprehensible. He did not actually have to decrease, for that would presuppose that he would still have to exist as a forerunner next to the Lord, even if overshadowed by the infinitely stronger light of the Lord, but he would have to step completely out of his position, i.e. cease to be what he had been for so long when he paved the way for the Lord. And his joy in this seclusion could not even be as complete as he boasts, since with vain effort he still wanted to be something, even if something diminishing, for himself. Then he was not allowed to say, v. 35, that everything was given into the Lord’s hand, or he acted wrongly if he did not first of all give himself into the hand of the Mighty One.

The resolution of the core of this speech is completed when we see how the Baptist, in contrast to the heavenly origin and the heavenly wisdom of the Lord, says of himself that he is of the earth and also speaks only earthly things. (V. 31. 32.) This is again the contrast of the heavenly and the earthly, which here comes to just as unhappy an end as it did above, when it was put into the Lord’s mouth in the conversation with Nicodemus. Lücke certainly cannot hold back this ending when he asserts *): “only comparatively shall it be said that the Baptist, like all the earth-born – de Wette says, like all the sons of earth – is inferior to the Messiah as the heaven-born.” Rather, the Baptist wants to confront the Lord as the earthly one with his whole historical task and with the whole scope of it. Therefore he also says: he speaks εκ της, all that he speaks comes from below, from the earth. On this centre of difficulty Olshausen really goes off and now says *): “also the divine which John speaks, he speaks from the earth, i.e. in earthly, veiled form, while Christ also presented the heavenly in heavenly clarity.” But it is not the contrast of the form of one and the same content that is to be expressed in these words, but the contrast of the content; for the fact that Jesus speaks the heavenly is only due to the fact that he alone has seen it. By leaving the contrast purely as it stands, it now appears that the evangelist, in his antithetical zeal, forgets how he himself had said in 1:6 that the Baptist was sent by God, and how he had said of him the same thing that is now to be said of the Lord alone in 3:34. If it were to be understood even relatively, that the Baptist came from a lower sphere, figuratively to be called earthly, then it is not only inappropriately expressed, but it is also impossible to say, since his mission is founded in the divine nature and in this alone. And then the Baptist, according to his origin, should also speak only earthly things! But everything that the evangelist reports to us of the Baptist’s speeches is not in the least something earthly, but that which the Lord just described to Nicodemus as the mystery of the heavenly. Thus the Baptist has the perfect insight into the mediation of the work of salvation through the sacrificial death of the Anointed One when he calls Jesus the Lamb of God, and even in this case he does not speak more “veiled” than the Lord when the latter, under the type of the brazen serpent, presents the divine counsel and his destiny to die for the world. Indeed, in the speech in which the forerunner describes the glory of the Anointed One to his envious disciples, he does so with the very words that the Lord Himself uses when He speaks of Himself and His task. The Lord also says (3:11) that He testifies of what He has seen. He complains in the same context with the same words that His testimony is not accepted, and He speaks of the purpose of His divine mission and of judgment (3:16) just as the Baptist does here (3:34-36). And that would be earthly speaking? No. The Baptist could not have uttered a contrast which, as soon as it is taken somewhat seriously, evaporates. But we have already learned above where this contrast comes from: it comes from the evangelist who wants to use it here again to contrast the Lord and the forerunner, but can only bring it to a vague semblance and echo of the difference.

*) Comm I, 502.

*) Comm. Il, 105.


Just as nothing individual in this speech has proven itself to us as the real word of the Baptist, neither can the general meaning of it. For if the Baptist acknowledges the Lord as the Messiah in the most definite way and at the same time wants to form an independent entity which, although it decreases, nevertheless insists on its isolated standpoint, this is a contradiction which he could never have carried within himself. One would have to deny completely that the Christian idea permeates and surrounds the whole man, consciousness and will, before one could make it credible that a man who has grasped the core of this idea and lives in it should not have given himself completely over to it. It is historically certain that the Baptist did not join the Lord, and with this it is equally certain that he never had that perfect insight into the work of salvation which the fourth evangelist ascribes to him. That the Baptist sees the mystery of heaven present in Jesus and yet still wants to stand for himself, even if to his pain, is the same contradiction that lies in the fact that his disciples regard as a harmful rival the one whom their Master had testified to them as the Higher, even the Most High. We have already seen that they could not have heard this testimony, but do they perhaps have reason to know in Jesus a dangerous rival of their Master?


3) The baptism of Jesus.

Jesus and John baptised at the same time, in the same area, close to each other and this circumstance as well as the success of the former aroused the envy of the disciples of the latter. The Evangelist corrects the expression that the Lord baptised as quickly as he can and now says in 4:2 that it was not he himself who baptised, but his disciples, so the author himself seems to have felt the offence that would lie in it, if the Lord had wanted to gain a following through baptism. But the matter is not made any better by this correction, and the extremely objectionable idea that the Lord, even through his disciples, should have had an effect on the people in a positive, statutory form, retains its force. One will no longer be able to resist the admission that this kind of influence was impossible for the Lord. As the content with which Jesus appeared lay in the infinity of his self-consciousness and in the certainty of his unity with God and of real reconciliation, so his effectiveness could only consist in opening up this infinity of his inner being to the general consciousness and in bringing it to the imagination through his teaching, as well as to view it in general through his appearance. His task was only this ideal, spiritual work. Every positive statute, even baptism, would have limited the infinity of a new creation at its beginning, or would have presupposed that the new world was already there in its completion, and that it only required the acceptance of baptism if one wished to enter into it. *) Finally, it would contradict the Lord’s free position if he had created the impression that he wanted to gather a certain circle of followers around him who were formally separated from the world. Jesus, however, was much freer: completely sure of himself and his work, he threw the seed of life of a new world into the old and knew that in its time it would also produce the certain fruit. Baptism by the disciples would have been a premature intervention in the free development of the new principle, would have been mistrust in its creative power. Later, when the world was secured, the Church had to create certain forms for its existence, and the baptism was necessary, but as a form of Jesus’ personal activity it would have been a disturbing, externally limiting form. In order to be fully convinced of this, we only need to imagine the picture that would emerge if Jesus and John had each drawn a special circle of followers around them through baptism: we then only need to consider what our report presupposes and in this case would also have to presuppose that friction had arisen between the two circles: – two quarrelsome schools, envious of each other, would be before us, but not the place in which a world-conquering principle is born and develops in free certainty of itself.

*) Bretschneider, Probab. 70: Neque necessarius videbatur baptismus, cum Jesus, dum viveret, ecclesiam non haberet. Cf. Weisse, evang. Gesch. I, 411-412.


The apologist still has to answer the difficult question: “Why do we not hear more about the course of Christ in the Gospels?” “The definite faith in Jesus the Christ, as it was included in baptism,” answers Lücke *), “was much less frequent during the lifetime of Jesus.” True! but properly understood it proves the very impossibility that Jesus could have baptized. For the confession of his name, which he would have required for baptism, would have been a positive, dogmatic, or rather symbolic one, which could not have existed if he first wanted to bring forth this faith. In the way the Synoptics report, he could only call Peter blessed for the sake of his divinely worked confession, if his faith during his lifetime was a nascent one, bursting forth in momentary desire, but not the positive and definite one that baptism presupposes.

*) Comm. I, 493.

And if we were to indicate how the baptism of water, which Jesus had performed by his disciples, and that of John differed, we would have to labour in vain like the apologists. However, according to the presuppositions of the Fourth Gospel, it is inevitable to assert “the essential unity” of both baptisms, and the difference in this case could only be placed in the fact that John’s baptism “included only the believing hope in the coming, whereas Jesus’ baptism included the definite faith in the Messiah who had appeared.” But before we stoop to this conclusion with Lücke **) and belittle the essence of Christian baptism by this merely formal, quantitative difference, given by the indifferent determination of time, we admit that this conclusion, which impairs the sacrament, is only the consequence of the false assumptions of our report. But the baptism of John cannot be thought of apart from Christian baptism if the Baptist, as the fourth evangelist reports, had acknowledged the Lord. He could no longer point to the One who was to come if he did not want to fall into a screaming contradiction or turn the people away from Jesus in a soul-robbing way. For if he had that deep insight into the centre of the Christian idea, if he had acknowledged the definite presence and fullness of this idea in Jesus, then he would not only have had to baptise the people into the One who had appeared, but also to instruct them about the great significance of Him; but then his baptism was no longer his own; or he would not have been allowed to baptise at all, as soon as the people associated with his baptism the idea that it was to prepare them for the reception of the One who was to come *). But if he baptised with a different position from the Messiah who had appeared, then his baptism no longer had anything peculiar in front of the baptism that the disciples of Jesus performed under his eyes; then he had left his historical limited position and on the other side so that envy against Jesus and his successes could not arise. All these conflicts, however, are cancelled from the beginning, since the profound Christian insight which the fourth evangelist ascribes to the Baptist has not proved itself to us, and that envy of John’s disciples could not arise, since the occasion for it was lacking, i.e. since Jesus never baptised, not even through his disciples.

**) Ibid. p. 491.

*) This necessity must be proved even by Lücke (loc. cit. p. 493), when, in order to maintain the “preparatory character of the baptism of John,” he must actually hide it. It was “in its place” where “Jesus did not appear himself. The baptism of John cannot be brought down further than by making it dependent on the accidental locality. And in the fourth Gospel we even hear that both Jesus and John baptised side by side in the same place.


4) The origin of this report.

Now that all the pages of this account have been collapsed and the task is set of finding its origin, several decisive key words reveal to us the material from which the author’s pragmatic reflection was built. In his answer to the envious accusation of his disciples, the forerunner calls Jesus the bridegroom, v. 29. Jesus describes himself as such, Matt. 9:15, and it is right, he says here, that those rejoice with whom the bridegroom dwells. According to Matthew’s account, the Lord makes this statement on the occasion that the disciples of the forerunner ask Him why His disciples do not fast like them and the Pharisees. Even if it is not certain whether the disciples of John themselves asked Jesus, it remains that questions were raised about the relationship between the way of life of the Lord’s disciples and that of the Baptist. Fasting, however, was regarded as purification of the soul: thus, in addition to the figurative designation of Jesus as the bridegroom, we have a second allusion, which consists in the fact that a dispute arises about purification *). In the account of the fourth Gospel, however, we still notice how a Jew is introduced as disputing, which is not necessary for the motive of what follows, and is even disturbing for it: we can also indicate from where this dispute with a Jew originates! Matthew also knows of a dispute about cleansing, in which the Jewish party appears, when he tells us that the scribes asked Jesus why His disciples did not wash before eating (15:2). For the proliferating and only slightly stimulating fantastic reflection of our author, the Gospel tradition offered enough material from which he could form his report.

*) Gfrörer (das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 141) also draws attention to this correspondence.


Admittedly, we must admit that these data could only provide the framework; the complete structure of this report could not yet be built from them. That main beam had to be added which held the structure and the framework together, namely the fact that Jesus baptised. The evangelist found this main beam on the trajectory in which his anachronism 3:5 had put him. Here the Lord had to speak of the necessity of baptism in order to state all the conditions for entrance into the kingdom of heaven; if the Lord spoke in this way, then baptism as Christian baptism (for this is the only thing meant there) must be something present to him, then he himself baptized or, when the author himself took offence at it, he had it performed by his disciples. Then, however, the jealousy of John’s disciples could arise and the Baptist had a suitable opportunity to speak again about the mighty one, an opportunity that the evangelist was actually only looking for when he built this account.

This testimony of the Baptist is, in fact, the soul that animates and inhabits that construction, the power that brought together that material, the purpose it serves. The author wanted to give the words with which the Baptist, in a dignified way, departs from the story as it appears in this Gospel and, before he leaves the scene, once more bears witness to the sublime.

But why did the Baptist have to testify again, why was it not enough with the noble testimony which he had already given so powerfully at the beginning of the Gospel? From the synoptic account we see that the last thing that was known of the Baptist was a word about the Messianic expectation. Of course, it is only a question, and a doubtful one at that, when the Baptist asks Jesus through some of his disciples whether he is the Messiah or whether we should wait for another. A question of this kind, however, does not agree with the overall view of the fourth evangelist, since according to it the Baptist is initiated into the deepest mysteries of the work of salvation; under this presupposition, he must therefore in the end testify as clearly and firmly as before to the glory of Jesus. Nevertheless, the evangelist cannot keep the power of the historical entirely at bay, and even in his account he must betray the undeniable, the unconvincing, that the Baptist stood far from the Lord. Without noticing the crying contradiction, he must at the same time present the Baptist, who is supposed to be at the centre of the Christian idea, as one who still wants to form an independent, even if diminishing, entity alongside the Lord.


Incidentally, we would be doing just as much honour as injustice to a report that has emerged from this material, this purpose and from this impression of historical fact if we wanted to call it a myth. Too much honour – because it is not determined by an idea and purely by it; injustice – because the whole is pragmatic reflection that has processed an abundance of given material.



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