The Jailing Of John And The Baptism Of Jesus: Luke 3:19–21 -- By: Richard J. Erickson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 36:4 (Dec 1993)
Article: The Jailing Of John And The Baptism Of Jesus: Luke 3:19–21
Author: Richard J. Erickson

The Jailing Of John
And The Baptism Of Jesus: Luke 3:19–21

Richard J. Erickson*

Luke’s sympathies clearly lie with John the Baptist in John’s encounter with Herod Antipas (Luke 3:19–20). He tells us that because of John’s reproof of Herod for all the evil things the tetrarch had done, Herod “added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison.” From a literary point of view, however, the same thing might be said of Luke himself: that he shut up John in prison.

If we assume that Luke used Mark’s gospel in the process of compiling his own,1 then one of the more striking peculiarities of his editorial activity is his treatment of this very encounter. In the first place he moves it from where it occurs in Mark, well into the story of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Mark 6:14–29), to a position preceding the beginning of that ministry. This in itself would not be entirely unexpected, for Mark’s own description of John’s run-in with Herod is actually a flashback2 and is not intended to be taken as having occurred in sequence with the events narrated just ahead of it. Mark 1:14 in fact implies that John’s arrest did not postdate the baptism of Jesus by very long. On traditional reckoning it could have been by as little as “forty days,” though perhaps that is not likely (cf. Matt 4:12). Nor does John vanish altogether from Luke’s gospel after 3:20. He shows up again—in prison—to express his doubts about Jesus’ identity (7:18–23), and, in spite of that (or because of it?), he is roundly praised by Jesus (7:24–35). The fact remains nonetheless that in Luke, the Baptist’s imprisonment, somewhat like the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth,3 is moved to a position preceding the commencement of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.

* Richard Erickson is associate professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, 101 Nickerson, Suite 330, Seattle, WA 98109.

Yet that is not all—and here is the notable thing: The jailing of John is moved to a position that precedes even the baptism of Jesus by John. The officiant at this significant event is thus snatched from the scene. That this is no accidental oversight nor a mere foreshadowing of John’s fate, a narrativ...

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