John The Baptist’s ìLamb Of Godî Affirmation In Its Canonical And Apocalyptic Milieu -- By: D. Brent Sandy

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:4 (Dec 1991)
Article: John The Baptist’s ìLamb Of Godî Affirmation In Its Canonical And Apocalyptic Milieu
Author: D. Brent Sandy


John The Baptist’s ìLamb Of Godî Affirmation
In Its Canonical And Apocalyptic Milieu

D. Brent Sandy*

The designation of Jesus as the Lamb of God has become inextricably woven into the fabric of Christianity.1 The title has seemed especially appropriate, given Jesus’ atoning death. Consequently Christians generally acclaim the foresight of John the Baptist in identifying Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God and link John’s statement with Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53). But that conclusion is open to serious objections.

Understanding the Baptist’s affirmation retrospectively—that is, from a post-passion advantage and with the OT alone as the interpretive context—is insufficient and misleading. To understand the NT correctly the importance of the formative years of the second Jewish commonwealth cannot be ignored.2 And to understand John the Baptist correctly the intent of his words and their meaning to his hearers must be carefully distinguished from the later significance of his words to the Evangelist and his readers.3 For the Lamb of God metaphor, a careful examination of the OT context balanced with the significant developments within Judaism in the second temple period will demonstrate that John the Baptist’s logion was not itself referring to Jesus’ substitutionary atonement.

Of the nine different interpretations of the significance of the lamb metaphor in John 1:29, 36 four will illustrate the diversity of opinions:4

*Brent Sandy is professor of New Testament and Greek at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia.

(1) It has been argued that John could not have recognized Jesus as the suffering servant and did not, according to his inquiry from prison. Thus the Baptist’s statement is unhistorical.5 (2) Some have suggested that amnos (“lamb”) is a mistranslation of an Aramaic word: ṭlyʾ (“servant”) was misunderstood as ṭlʾ(“lamb”).6 Thus the Baptist had identified Jesus as “servant,” but in the course of the Christian transmission of that saying it was changed to “lamb.” (3) The traditional view maintains that John the Bapti...

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