An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

John the Baptist

Prophetic forerunner of Jesus. John preached conversion and proclaimed a baptism of repentance. Jesus and many others were baptized by John. John is called "the Baptist" because he was willing to baptize people if they repented to God for their sins. He urged people to repent and be baptized in preparation for a renewal of Israel through God's eschatological intervention. John is portrayed as focusing on the importance of the future and the possibility of imminent destruction. Many believe that John had been a member of the Qumran community or at least influenced by the thought and practice of Qumran prior to his public appearance.

John was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah was a priest of the Jerusalem Temple. Elizabeth was a kinswoman of the Virgin Mary, and believed to be barren. Zechariah was told by an angel that his son was to be called John. Zechariah responded with unbelief to this news and was made unable to speak by the angel until John's birth. The child John leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb when Elizabeth was visited by Mary (Lk 1:39-44). At that time Mary was pregnant with the child Jesus. On the eighth day after John's birth, Zechariah insisted that the child's name was John. Zechariah regained his speech, and uttered the hymn known as the Benedictus Dominus Deus or the Song of Zechariah (Lk 1:68-79; BCP, pp. 92-93).

Luke's gospel begins with a detailed account of John's birth and his relation to Jesus. Luke, Mark, and Matthew all give a summary of John's teaching and mention his baptism of Jesus. Matthew is the only one who reports that John questioned whether Jesus should baptize him. Matthew also indicates that when John was in prison he raised a question about whether Jesus was the "one who is to come." Jesus' reply indicates that he viewed John most favorably but that John is less than anyone who has become a member of the Kingdom of Heaven. According to the Fourth Gospel (Jn 3:25-30), John the Baptist denied that he was the Messiah. John the Baptist likened Jesus to the bridegroom and himself to the bridegroom's friend. He said that his joy was fulfilled hearing the bridegroom's voice, and that "He must increase, but I must decrease." John was imprisoned by Herod Antipas and later executed. John's birth is celebrated on June 24 in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. John is the focus of the liturgical readings for Advent II and III. His ministry is also recalled by several Advent hymns, including Hymn 76, "On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry." See Nativity of St. John the Baptist, The.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.