The ministry of John the Baptist looms large in the Gospel accounts, especially at the front of each, in every instance. A surprising number of other more minor references to him pepper the documents, including the account of Herod killing him and the circumstances surrounding the incident; how Herod heard about Jesus and thought it was John risen from the dead; the sayings unit that shows John’s disciples asking why Jesus and his disciples do not fast; and the extensive soliloquoy of Christ about john and his ministry (“what did you go out to see? A prophet? ….”). This even lasts into the petrine confession of Christ — some say Moses, others Elijah (whom Christ compares to John, and Mark has John dressed like Elijah in camel’s hair), etc.
Yet when we pause to reflect on the matter, it should become evident that this is far too much reflection upon John. After all, the Gospel is not about John. The Gospel is about Christ. As I began to ponder this fact, something outrageous occurred to me for the first time. it is possible to make an extensive argument against John’s ministry altogether. These shocking facts then occurred to me:
1. John was a Levite, and the son of a levitical priest. His federal bosses were Annas and Caiaphas. This means, in Semitic terms, when he reviled those sent by the chief priests, it would have been one and the same as reviling the leader of his people, the levitical brood of vipers in Jerusalem. This is illegal.
2. According to 1 Timothy 3.3-4, John could not have been a qualified minister, since he was not the husband of one wife, had no children in subjection to him, and could not meet the domestic leadership criterion for rulership in the church.
3. The prophecies cited in reference to his ministry neither mention nor expect anything to do with water or baptism, but authorize only a preaching ministry. The Gospels cover over this embarrassing fact by conflating the activities of baptizing and preaching — “preaching a baptism of repentance.” John probably never baptized anyone.
4. John’s ministry could offer the fully adequate Messiah nothing the all competent Messiah could not do for himself. He did not need anything from John or his ministry. The miracles and wisdom of the Messiah were his credentials. He did not need John’s testimony.
5. Jesus functioned fully well after John’s imprisonment and death without John. So He could have done so without John beforehand also.
6. John’s ministry seems to bring more confusion than it does help. Many thought John was the Christ, a counterproductive feature of his ministry.
7. The Lord Jesus did not need the prophetic sanction of an unqualified minister; He was never baptized by John (who probably did not baptize); and John did not apparently need any prophetic sanction either. The Lord repeatedly refers to the works from His Father as his prophetic credentials, not some apostolic or prophetic succession.
8. Baptism is itself highly problematic and seems to appear out of nowhere in redemptive history as a liturgical practice. This is our first hint of its apocryphal status.
My own conclusion is that John and his ministry — whatever it may have been — was no part of the original Gospel, which is (again) not about John. These were added over time as prefixes to the originals, which began with Jesus calling the twelve in Galilee at an event something like the “sermon on the mount,” with no reference throughout whatever to John.