ORIGEN’S COMMENTARY ON JOHN, BOOK VI
1. The Work is Taken Up After a Violent Interruption, Which Has Driven the Writer from Alexandria. He Addresses Himself to It Again, with Thanks for His Deliverance, and Prayer for Guidance.
When a house is being built which is to be made as strong as possible, the building takes place in fine weather and in calm, so that nothing may hinder the structure from acquiring the needed solidity. And thus it turns out so strong and stable that it is able to withstand the rush of the flood, and the dashing of the river, and all the agencies accompanying a storm which are apt to find out what is rotten in a building and to show what parts of it have been properly put together. And more particularly should that house which is capable of sheltering the speculations of truth, the house of reason, as it were, in promise or in letters, be built at a time when God can add His free co-operation to the projector of so noble a work, when the soul is quiet and in the enjoyment of that peace which passes all understanding, when she is turned away from all disturbance and not buffeted by any billows. This, it appears to me, was well understood by the servants of the prophetic spirit and the ministers of the Gospel message; they made themselves worthy to receive that peace which is in secret from Him who ever gives it to them that are worthy and who said, John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world gives give I unto you. And look if some similar lesson is not taught under the surface with regard to David and Solomon in the narrative about the temple. David, who fought the wars of the Lord and stood firm against many enemies, his own and those of Israel, desired to build a temple for God. But God, through Nathan, prevents him from doing so, and Nathan says to him, 1 Chronicles 22:8-9 You shall not build me a house, because you are a man of blood. But Solomon, on the other hand, saw God in a dream, and in a dream received wisdom, for the reality of the vision was kept for him who said, Behold a greater than Solomon is here. The time was one of the profoundest peace, so that it was possible for every man to rest under his own vine and his own fig-tree, and Solomon’s very name was significant of the peace which was in his days, for Solomon means peaceful; and so he was at liberty to build the famous temple of God. About the time of Ezra, also, when truth conquers wine and the hostile king and women, the temple of God is restored again. All this is said by way of apology to you, reverend Ambrosius. It is at your sacred encouragement that I have made up my mind to build up in writing the tower of the Gospel; and I have therefore sate down to count the cost, Luke 14:28 if I have sufficient to finish it, lest I should be mocked by the beholders, because I laid the foundation but was not able to finish the work. The result of my counting, it is true, has been that I do not possess what is required to finish it; yet I have put my trust in God, who enriches us 1 Corinthians 1:5 with all wisdom and all knowledge. If we strive to keep His spiritual laws we believe that He does enrich us; He will supply what is necessary so that we shall get on with our building, and shall even come to the parapet of the structure. That parapet it is which keeps from falling those who go up on the house of the Word; for people only fall off those houses which have no parapet, so that the buildings themselves are to blame for their fall and for their death. We proceeded as far as the fifth volume in spite of the obstacles presented by the storm in Alexandria, and spoke what was given us to speak, for Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves of the sea. We emerged from the storm, we were brought out of Egypt, that God delivering us who led His people forth from there. Then, when the enemy assailed us with all bitterness by his new writings, so directly hostile to the Gospel, and stirred up against us all the winds of wickedness in Egypt, I felt that reason called me rather to stand fast for the conflict, and to save the higher part in me, lest evil counsels should succeed in directing the storm so as to overwhelm my soul, rather to do this than to finish my work at an unsuitable season, before my mind had recovered its calm. Indeed, the ready writers who usually attended me brought my work to a stand by failing to appear to take down my words. But now that the many fiery darts directed against me have lost their edge, for God extinguished them, and my soul has grown accustomed to the dispensation sent me for the sake of the heavenly word, and has learned from necessity to disregard the snares of my enemies, it is as if a great calm had settled on me, and I defer no longer the continuation of this work. I pray that God will be with me, and will speak as a teacher in the porch of my soul, so that the building I have begun of the exposition of the Gospel of John may arrive at completion. May God hear my prayer and grant that the body of the whole work may now be brought together, and that no interruption may intervene which might prevent me from following the sequence of Scripture. And be assured that it is with great readiness that I now make this second beginning and enter on my sixth volume, because what I wrote before at Alexandria has not, I know not by what chance, been brought with me. I feared I might neglect this work, if I were not engaged on it at once, and therefore thought it better to make use of this present time and begin without delay the part which remains. I am not certain if the part formerly written will come to light, and would be very unwilling to waste time in waiting to see if it does. Enough of preamble, let us now attend to our text.
2. How the Prophets and Holy Men of the Old Testament Knew the Things of Christ.
And this is the witness of John. John 1:19 This is the second recorded testimony of John the Baptist to Christ. The first begins with This was He of whom I said, He that comes after me, and goes down to The only-begotten Son of God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared him. Heracleon supposes the words, No one has seen God at any time, etc., to have been spoken, not by the Baptist, but by the disciple. But in this he is not sound. He himself allows the words, Of his fullness we all received, and grace for grace; for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, to have been spoken by the Baptist. And does it not follow that the person who received of the fullness of Christ, and a second grace in addition to that he had before, and who declared the law to have been given by Moses, but grace and truth to have come through Jesus Christ, is it not clear that this is the person who understood, from what he received from the fullness of Christ, how no one has seen God at any time, and how the only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father had delivered the declaration about God to him and to all those who had received of His fullness? He was not declaring here for the first time Him that is in the bosom of the Father, as if there had never before been any one fit to receive what he told His Apostles. Does he not teach us that he was before Abraham, and that Abraham rejoiced and was glad to see his day? The words Of his fullness all we received, and Grace for grace, show, as we have already made clear, that the prophets also received their gift from the fullness of Christ and received a second grace in place of that they had before; for they also, led by the Spirit, advanced from the introduction they had in types to the vision of truth. Hence not all the prophets, but many of them, Matthew 13:17 desired to see the things, which the Apostles saw. For if there was a difference among the prophets, those who were perfect and more distinguished of them did not desire to see what the Apostles saw, but actually beheld them, while those who rose less fully than these to the height of the Word were filled with longing for the things which the Apostles knew through Christ. The word saw we have not taken in a physical sense, and the word heard we have taken to refer to a spiritual communication; only he who has ears is prepared to hear the words of Jesus — a thing which does not happen too frequently. There is the further point, that the saints before the bodily advent of Jesus had an advantage over most believers in their insight into the mysteries of divinity, since the Word of God was their teacher before He became flesh, for He was always working, in imitation of His Father, of whom He says, My father works hitherto. On this point we may adduce the words He addresses to the Sadducees, who do not believe the doctrine of the resurrection. Have you not read, He says, Mark 12:20 what is said by God at the Bush, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; He is not the God of the dead but of the living. If, then, God is not ashamed to be called the God of these men, and if they are counted by Christ among the living, and if all believers are sons of Abraham, Romans 4:11 since all the Gentiles are blessed with faithful Abraham, who is appointed by God to be a father of the Gentiles, can we hesitate to admit that those living persons made acquaintance with the learning of living men, and were taught by Christ who was born before the daystar, before He became flesh? And for this cause they lived, because they had part in Him who said, I am the life, and as the heirs of so great promises received the vision, not only of angels, but of God in Christ. For they saw, it may be, the image of the invisible God, since he who has seen the Son has seen the Father, and so they are recorded to have known God, and to have heard God’s words worthily, and, therefore, to have seen God and heard Him. Now, I consider that those who are fully and really sons of Abraham are sons of his actions, spiritually understood, and of the knowledge which was made manifest to him. What he knew and what he did appears again in those who are his sons, as the Scripture teaches those who have ears to hear, John 8:39 If you were the children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham. And if it is a true proverb Proverbs 16:23 which says, A wise man will understand that which proceeds from his own mouth, and on his lips he will bear prudence, then we must at once repudiate some things which have been said about the prophets, as if they were not wise men, and did not understand what proceeded from their own mouths. We must believe what is good and true about the prophets, that they were sages, that they did understand what proceeded from their mouths, and that they bore prudence on their lips. It is clear indeed that Moses understood in his mind the truth (real meaning) of the law, and the higher interpretations of the stories recorded in his books. Joshua, too, understood the meaning of the allotment of the land after the destruction of the nine and twenty kings, and could see better than we can the realities of which his achievements were the shadows. It is clear, too, that Isaiah saw the mystery of Him who sat upon the throne, and of the two seraphim, and of the veiling of their faces and their feet, and of their wings, and of the altar and of the tongs. Ezekiel, too, understood the true significance of the cherubim and of their goings, and of the firmament that was above them, and of Him that sat on the throne, than all which what could be loftier or more splendid? I need not enter into more particulars; the point I aim at establishing is clear enough already, namely, that those who were made perfect in earlier generations knew not less than the Apostles did of what Christ revealed to them, since the same teacher was with them as He who revealed to the Apostles the unspeakable mysteries of godliness. I will add but a few points, and then leave it to the reader to judge and to form what views he pleases on this subject. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans, Romans 16:25 Now, to him who is able to establish you according to my Gospel, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept in silence through times eternal, but is now made manifest by the prophetic Scriptures and the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. For if the mystery concealed of old is made manifest to the Apostles through the prophetic writings, and if the prophets, being wise men, understood what proceeded from their own mouths, then the prophets knew what was made manifest to the Apostles. But to many it was not revealed, as Paul says, Ephesians 3:5 In other generations it was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been revealed unto His holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and members of the same body. Here an objection may be raised by those who do not share the view we have propounded; and it becomes of importance to define what is meant by the word revealed. It is capable of two meanings: firstly, that the thing in question is understood, but secondly, if a prophecy is spoken of, that it is accomplished. Now, the fact that the Gentiles were to be fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers of the promise, was known to the prophets to this extent, that they knew the Gentiles were to fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ. When this should be, and why, and what Gentiles were spoken of, and how, though strangers from the covenants, and aliens to the promises, they were yet to be members of one body and sharers of the blessings; all this was known to the prophets, being revealed to them. But the things prophesied belong to the future, and are not revealed to those who know them, but do not witness their fulfilment, as they are to those who have the event before their eyes. And this was the position of the Apostles. Thus, I conceive, they knew the events no more than the fathers and the prophets did; and yet it is truly said of them that what to other generations was not revealed was now revealed to the Apostles and prophets, that the Gentiles were fellow-heirs and members of the same body, and partakers in the promise of Christ. For, in addition to knowing these mysteries, they saw the power at work in the accomplished fact. The passage, Many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things ye see and did not see them; and to hear the things ye hear and did not hear them, may be interpreted in the same way. They also desired to see the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, and of His coming down to carry out the design of His suffering for the salvation of many, actually put in operation. This may be illustrated from another quarter. Suppose one of the Apostles to have understood the unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter, 2 Corinthians 12:4 but not to witness the glorious bodily appearing of Jesus to the faithful. which is promised, although He desired to see it and suppose another had not only not marked and seen what that Apostle marked and saw, but had a much feebler grasp of the divine hope, and yet is present at the second coming of our Saviour, which the Apostle, as in the parallel above, had desired, but had not seen. We shall not err from the truth if we say that both of these have seen what the Apostle, or indeed the Apostles, desired to see, and yet that they are not on that account to be deemed wiser or more blessed than the Apostles. In the same way, also, the Apostles are not to be deemed wiser than the fathers, or than Moses and the prophets, than those in fact who, for their virtue, were found worthy of epiphanies and of divine manifestations and of revelations of mysteries.
3. Grace and Truth Came Through Jesus Christ. These Words Belong to the Baptist, Not the Evangelist. What the Baptist Testifies by Them.
We have lingered rather long over these discussions, but there is a reason for it. There are many who, under the pretence of glorifying the advent of Christ, declare the Apostles to be wiser than the fathers or the prophets; and of these teachers some have invented a greater God for the later period, while some, not venturing so far, but moved, according to their own account of the matter, by the difficulty connected with doctrine, cancel the whole of the gift conferred by God on the fathers and the prophets, through Christ, through whom all things were made. If all things were made through Him, clearly so must the splendid revelations have been which were made to the fathers and prophets, and became to them the symbols of the sacred mysteries of religion. Now the true soldiers of Christ must always be prepared to do battle for the truth, and must never, so far as lies with them, allow false convictions to creep in. We must not, therefore, neglect this matter. It may be said that John’s earlier testimony to Christ is to be found in the words, He who comes after me exists before me, for He was before me, and that the words, For of His fullness we all received, and grace for grace, are in the mouth of John the disciple. Now, we must show this exposition to be a forced one, and one which does violence to the context; it is rather a strong proceeding to suppose the speech of the Baptist to be so suddenly and, as it were, inopportunely interrupted by that of the disciple, and it is quite apparent to any one who can judge, in whatever small degree, of a context, that the speech goes on continuously after the words, This is He of whom I spoke, He that comes after me exists before me, for He was before me. The Baptist brings a proof that Jesus existed before him because He was before him, since He is the first-born of all creation; he says, For of His fullness all we received. That is the reason why he says, He exists before me, for He was before me. That is how I know that He is first and in higher honour with the Father, since of His fullness both I and the prophets before me received the more divine prophetic grace instead of the grace we received at His hands before in respect of our election. That is why I say, He exists before me, for He was before me, because we know what we have received from His fullness; namely, that the law was given through Moses, not by Moses, while grace and truth not only were given but came into existence through Jesus Christ. For His God and Father both gave the law through Moses, and made grace and truth through Jesus Christ, that grace and truth which came to man. If we give a reasonable interpretation to the words, Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, we shall not be alarmed at the possible discrepancy with them of that other saying, I am the way and the truth and the life. If it is Jesus who says, I am the truth, then how does the truth come through Jesus Christ, since no one comes into existence through himself? We must recognize that this very truth, the essential truth, which is prototypal, so to speak, of that truth which exists in souls endowed with reason, that truth from which, as it were, images are impressed on those who care for truth, was not made through Jesus Christ, nor indeed through any one, but by God — just as the Word was not made through any one which was in the beginning with the Father;— and as wisdom which God created the beginning of His ways was not made through any one, so the truth also was not made through any one. That truth, however, which is with men came through Jesus Christ, as the truth in Paul and the Apostles came through Jesus Christ. And it is no wonder, since truth is one, that many truths should flow from that one. The prophet David certainly knew many truths, as he says, The Lord searches out truths, for the Father of truth searches out not the one truth but the many through which those are saved who possess them. And as with the one truth and many truths, so also with righteousness and righteousnesses. For the very essential righteousness is Christ, Who was made to us of God wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. But from that righteousness is formed the righteousness which is in each individual, so that there are in the saved many righteousnesses, whence also it is written, For the Lord is righteous, and He loved righteousnesses. This is the reading in the exact copies, and in the other versions besides the Septuagint, and in the Hebrew. Consider if the other things which Christ is said to be in a unity admit of being multiplied in the same way and spoken of in the plural. For example, Christ is our life as the Saviour Himself says, John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life. The Apostle, too, says, Colossians 3:4 When Christ our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory. And in the Psalms again we find, Your mercy is better than life; for it is on account of Christ who is life in every one that there are many lives. This, perhaps, is also the key to the passage, 2 Corinthians 13:3 If you seek a proof of the Christ that speaks in me. For Christ is found in every saint, and so from the one Christ there come to be many Christs, imitators of Him and formed after Him who is the image of God; whence God says through the prophet, Touch not my Christs. Thus we have explained in passing the passage which we appeared to have omitted from our exposition, viz.: Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ; and we have also shown that the words belong to John the Baptist and form part of his testimony to the Son of God.
4. John Denies that He is Elijah or The Prophet. Yet He Was A Prophet.
Now let us consider John’s second testimony. Jews from Jerusalem, John 1:19-21 kindred to John the Baptist, since he also belonged to a priestly race, send priests and levites to ask John who he is. In saying, I am not the Christ, he made a confession of the truth. The words are not, as one might suppose, a negation; for it is no negation to say, in the honour of Christ, that one is not Christ. The priests and levites sent from Jerusalem, having there heard in the first place that he is not the expected Messiah, put a question about the second great personage whom they expected, namely, Elijah, whether John were he, and he says he is not Elijah, and by his I am not makes a second confession of the truth. And, as many prophets had appeared in Israel, and one in particular was looked for according to the prophecy of Moses, who said, Deuteronomy 18:15 A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up to you of your brethren, like me, him shall you hear; and it shall come to pass that every soul that shall not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people, they, therefore, ask a third question, not whether he is a prophet, but whether he is the prophet. Now, they did not apply this name to the Christ, but supposed the prophet to be a second figure beside the Christ. But John, on the contrary, who knew that He whose forerunner he was was both the Christ and the prophet thus foretold, answered No; whereas, if they had asked if he was a prophet, he would have answered Yes; John 1:25 for he was not unconscious that he was a prophet. In all these answers John’s second testimony to Christ was not yet completed; he had still to give his questioners the answer they were to take back to those who sent them, and to declare himself in the terms of the prophecy of Isaiah, which says, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
5. There Were Two Embassies to John the Baptist; The Different Characters of These.
Here the enquiry suggests itself whether the second testimony is concluded, and whether there is a third, addressed to those who were sent from the Pharisees. They wished to know why he baptized, if he was neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet; and he said: I baptize with water; but there stands one among you whom you know not, He that comes after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. Is this a third testimony, or is this which they were to report to the Pharisees a part of the second? As far as the words allow me to conjecture I should say that the word to the emissaries of the Pharisees was a third testimony. It is to be observed, however, that the first testimony asserts the divinity of the Saviour, while the second disposes of the suspicion of those who were in doubt whether John could be the Christ, and the third declares one who was already present with men although they saw Him not, and whose coming was no longer in the future. Before going on to the subsequent testimonies in which he points out Christ and witnesses to Him, let us look at the second and third, word for word, and let us, in the first place, observe that there are two embassies to the Baptist, one from Jerusalem from the Jews, who send priests and levites, to ask him, Who are you? the second sent by the Pharisees, who were in doubt about the answer which had been made to the priests and levites. Observe how what is said by the first envoys is in keeping with the character of priests and levites, and shows gentleness and a willingness to learn. Who are you? they say, and What then? Are you Elijah? and Are you that prophet? and then, Who are you, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What do you say of yourself? There is nothing harsh or arrogant in the enquiries of these men; everything agrees well with the character of true and careful servants of God; and they raise no difficulties about the replies made to them. Those, on the contrary, who are sent from the Pharisees assail the Baptist, as it were, with arrogant and unsympathetic words: Why then do you baptize if you be not the Christ nor Elijah nor the prophet? This mission is sent scarcely for the sake of information, as in the former case of the priests and levites, but rather to debar the Baptist from baptizing, as if it were thought that no one was entitled to baptize but Christ and Elijah and the prophet. The student who desires to understand the Scripture must always proceed in this careful way; he must ask with regard to each speech, who is the speaker and on what occasion it was spoken. Thus only can we discern how speech harmonizes with the character of the speaker, as it does all through the sacred books.
6. Messianic Discussion with John the Baptist.
Then the Jews sent priests and levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you? And he confessed and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. John 1:19-20 What legates should have been sent from the Jews to John, and where should they have been sent from? Should they not have been men held to stand by the election of God above their fellows, and should they not have come from that place which was chosen out of the whole of the earth, though it is all called good, from Jerusalem where was the temple of God? With such honour, then, do they enquire of John. In the case of Christ nothing of this sort is reported to have been done by the Jews; but what the Jews do to John, John does to Christ, sending his own disciples to ask him, Matthew 11:3 Are you He that should come, or do we look for another? John confesses to those sent to him, and denies not, and he afterwards declares, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness; but Christ, as having a greater testimony than John the Baptist, makes His answer by words and deeds, saying, Go and tell John those things which you do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. On this passage I shall, if God permit, enlarge in its proper place. Here, however, it might be asked reasonably enough why John gives such an answer to the question put to him. The priests and levites do not ask him, Are you the Christ? but Who are you? and the Baptist’s reply to this question should have been, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The proper reply to the question, Are you the Christ? is, I am not the Christ; and to the question, Who are you?— The voice of one crying in the wilderness. To this we may say that he probably discerned in the question of the priests and levites a cautious reverence, which led them to hint the idea in their minds that he who was baptizing might be the Christ, but withheld them from openly saying so, which might have been presumptuous. He quite naturally, therefore, proceeds in the first place to remove any false impressions they might have taken up about him, and declares publicly the true state of the matter, I am not the Christ. Their second question, and also their third, show that they had conceived some such surmise about him. They supposed that he might be that second in honour to whom their hopes pointed, namely, Elijah, who held with them the next position after Christ; and so when John had answered, I am not the Christ, they asked, What then? Are you Elijah? And he said, I am not. They wish to know, in the third place, if he is the prophet, and on his answer, No, they have no longer any name to give the personage whose advent they expected, and they say, Who are you, then, that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What do you say of yourself? Their meaning is: You are not, you say, any of those personages whose advent Israel hopes and expects, and who you are, to baptize as you do, we do not know; tell us, therefore, so that we may report to those who sent us to get light upon this point. We add, as it has some bearing on the context, that the people were moved by the thought that the period of Christ’s advent was near. It was in a manner imminent in the years from the birth of Jesus and a little before, down to the publication of the preaching. Hence it was, in all likelihood, that as the scribes and lawyers had deduced the time from Holy Scripture and were expecting the Coming One, the idea was taken up by Theudas, who came forward as the Messiah and brought together a considerable multitude, and after him by the famous Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing. Acts 5:36-37 Thus the coming of the Messiah was more warmly expected and discussed, and it was natural enough for the Jews to send priests and levites from Jerusalem to John, to ask him, Who are you? and learn if he professed to be the Christ.
7. Of the Birth of John, and of His Alleged Identity with Elijah. Of the Doctrine of Transcorporation.
And John 1:21 they asked him, What then? Are you Elijah? And he said, I am not. No one can fail to remember in this connection what Jesus says of John, Matthew 11:14 If you will receive it, this is Elijah which is to come. How, then, does John come to say to those who ask him, Are you Elijah? — I am not. And how can it be true at the same time that John is Elijah who is to come, according to the words of Malachi, Malachi 4:5-6 And behold I send unto you Elijah the Tishbite, before the great and notable day of the Lord come, who shall restore the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his neighbour, lest I come, and utterly smite the earth. The words of the angel of the Lord, too, who appeared to Zacharias, as he stood at the right hand of the altar of incense, are somewhat to the same effect as the prophecy of Malachi: And Luke 1:13 your wife Elisabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And a little further on: Luke 1:17 And he shall go before His face in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him. As for the first point, one might say that John did not know that he was Elijah. This will be the explanation of those who find in our passage a support for their doctrine of transcorporation, as if the soul clothed itself in a fresh body and did not quite remember its former lives. These thinkers will also point out that some of the Jews assented to this doctrine when they spoke about the Saviour as if He was one of the old prophets, and had risen not from the tomb but from His birth. His mother Mary was well known, and Joseph the carpenter was supposed to be His father, and it could readily be supposed that He was one of the old prophets risen from the dead. The same person will adduce the text in Genesis, I will destroy the whole resurrection, and will thereby reduce those who give themselves to finding in Scripture solutions of false probabilities to a great difficulty in respect of this doctrine. Another, however, a churchman, who repudiates the doctrine of transcorporation as a false one, and does not admit that the soul of John ever was Elijah, may appeal to the above-quoted words of the angel, and point out that it is not the soul of Elijah that is spoken of at John’s birth, but the spirit and power of Elijah. He shall go before him, it is said, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. Now it can be shown from thousands of texts that the spirit is a different thing from the soul, and that what is called the power is a different thing from both the soul and the spirit. On these points I cannot now enlarge; this work must not be unduly expanded. To establish the fact that power is different from spirit, it will be enough to cite the text, Luke 1:35 The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. As for the spirits of the prophets, these are given to them by God, and are spoken of as being in a manner their property (slaves), as The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 1 Corinthians 14:32 and The spirit of Elijah rested upon Elisha. 2 Kings 2:15 Thus, it is said, there is nothing absurd in supposing that John, in the spirit and power of Elijah, turned the hearts of the fathers to the children, and that it was on account of this spirit that he was called Elijah who was to come. And to reinforce this view it may be argued that if the God of the universe identified Himself with His saints to such an extent as to be called the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, much more might the Holy Spirit so identify Himself with the prophets as to be called their spirit, so that when the spirit is spoken of it might be the spirit of Elijah or the spirit of Isaiah. Our churchman, to go on with his views, may further say that those who supposed Jesus to be one of the prophets risen from the dead were probably misled, partly by the doctrine above mentioned, and partly by supposing Him to be one of the prophets, and that as for this misconception that He was one of the prophets, these persons probably fell into their error from not knowing about Jesus’ supposed father and actual mother, and considering that He had risen from the tombs. As for the text in Genesis about the resurrection, the churchman will rejoin with a text to an opposite effect, God has raised up for me another seed in place of Abel whom Cain slew; Genesis 4:25 showing that the resurrection occurs in Genesis. As for the first difficulty which was raised, our churchman will meet the view of the believers in transcorporation by saying that John is no doubt, in a certain sense, as he has already shown, Elijah who is to come; and that the reason why he met the enquiry of the priests and levites with I am not, was that he divined the object they had in view in making it. For the enquiry laid before John by the priests and levites was not intended to bring out whether the same spirit was in both, but whether John was that very Elijah who was taken up, and who now appeared according to the expectation of the Jews without being born (for the emissaries, perhaps, did not know about John’s birth); and to such all enquiry he naturally answered, I am not; for he who was called John was not Elijah who was taken up, and had not changed his body for his present appearance. Our first scholar, whose view of transcorporation we have seen based upon our passage, may go on with a close examination of the text, and urge against his antagonist, that if John was the son of such a man as the priest Zacharias, and if he was born when his parents were both aged, contrary to all human expectation, then it is not likely that so many Jews at Jerusalem would be so ignorant about him, or that the priests and levites whom they sent would not be acquainted with the facts of his birth. Does not Luke declare Luke 1:65 that fear came upon all those who lived round about,— clearly round about Zacharias and Elisabeth— and that all these things were reported abroad throughout the whole hill country of Judæa? And if John’s birth from Zacharias was a matter of common knowledge, and the Jews of Jerusalem yet sent priests and levites to ask, Are you Elijah? then it is clear that in saying this they assumed the doctrine of transcorporation to be true, and that it was a current doctrine of their country, and not foreign to their secret teaching. John therefore says, I am not Elijah, because he does not know about his own former life. These thinkers, accordingly, entertain an opinion which is by no means to be despised. Our churchman, however, may return to the charge, and ask if it is worthy of a prophet, who is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, who is predicted by Isaiah, and whose birth was foretold before it took place by so great an angel, one who has received of the fullness of Christ, who shares in such a grace, who knows truth to have come through Jesus Christ, and has taught such deep things about God and about the only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, is it worthy of such a one to lie, or even to hesitate, out of ignorance of what he was. For with respect to what was obscure, he ought to have refrained from confessing, and to have neither affirmed nor denied the proposition put before him. If the doctrine in question really was widely current, ought not John to have hesitated to pronounce upon it, lest his soul had actually been in Elijah? And here our churchman will appeal to history, and will bid his antagonists ask experts of the secret doctrines of the Hebrews, if they do really entertain such a belief. For if it should appear that they do not, then the argument based on that supposition is shown to be quite baseless. Our churchman, however, is still free to have recourse to the solution given before, and to insist that attention be paid to the meaning with which the question was put. For if, as I showed, the senders knew John to be the child of Zacharias and Elisabeth, and if the messengers still more, being men of priestly race, could not possibly be ignorant of the remarkable manner in which their kinsman Zacharias had received his son, then what could be the meaning of their question, Are you Elijah? Had they not read that Elijah had been taken up into heaven, and did they not expect him to appear? Then, as they expect Elijah to come at the consummation before Christ, and Christ to follow him, perhaps their question was meant less in a literal than in a tropical sense: Are you he who announces beforehand the word which is to come before Christ, at the consummation? To this he very properly answers, I am not. The adversary, however, tries to show that the priests could not be ignorant that the birth of John had taken place in so remarkable a manner, because all these things had been much spoken of in the hill country of Judæa; and the churchman has to meet this. He does so by showing that a similar mistake was widely current about the Saviour Himself; for some said that He was John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Matthew 16:13-14 So the disciples told the Lord when He was in the parts of Cæsarea Philippi, and questioned them on that subject. And Herod, too, said, Mark 6:16 John whom I beheaded, he is risen from the dead; so that he appears not to have known what was said about Christ, as reported in the Gospel, Matthew 13:55 Is not this the son of the carpenter, is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Thus in the case of the Saviour, while many knew of His birth from Mary, others were under a mistake about Him; and so in the case of John, there is no wonder if, while some knew of his birth from Zacharias, others were in doubt whether the expected Elijah had appeared in him or not. There was not more room for doubt about John, whether he was Elijah, than about the Saviour, whether He was John. Of the two, the question of the outward form of Elijah could be disposed of from the words of Scripture, though not from actual observation, for we read, 2 Kings 1:8 He was a hairy man, and girt with a leather girdle about his loins. John’s outward appearance, on the contrary, was well known, and was not like that of Jesus; and yet there were those who surmised that John had risen from the dead, and taken the name of Jesus. As for the change of name, a thing which reminds us of mysteries, I do not know how the Hebrews came to tell about Phinehas, son of Eleazar, who admittedly prolonged his life to the time of many of the judges, as we read in the Book of Judges, Judges 20:28 to tell about him what I now mention. They say that he was Elijah, because he had been promised immortality (in Numbers Numbers 25:12), on account of the covenant of peace granted to him because he was jealous with a divine jealousy, and in a passion of anger pierced the Midianitish woman and the Israelite, and stayed the wrath of God as it is called, as it is written, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them. No wonder, then, if those who conceived Phinehas and Elijah to be the same person, whether they judged soundly in this or not, for that is not now the question, considered John and Jesus also to be the same. This, then, they doubted, and desired to know if John and Elijah were the same. At another time than this, the point would certainly call for a careful enquiry, and the argument would have to be well weighed as to the essence of the soul, as to the principle of her composition, and as to her entering into this body of earth. We should also have to enquire into the distributions of the life of each soul, and as to her departure from this life, and whether it is possible for her to enter into a second life in a body or not, and whether that takes place at the same period, and after the same arrangement in each case, or not; and whether she enters the same body, or a different one, and if the same, whether the subject remains the same while the qualities are changed, or if both subject and qualities remain the same, and if the soul will always make use of the same body or will change it. Along with these questions, it would also be necessary to ask what transcorporation is, and how it differs from incorporation, and if he who holds transcorporation must necessarily hold the world to be eternal. The views of these scholars must also be taken into account, who consider that, according to the Scriptures, the soul is sown along with the body, and the consequences of such a view must also be looked at. In fact the subject of the soul is a wide one, and hard to be unravelled, and it has to be picked out of scattered expressions of Scripture. It requires, therefore, separate treatment. The brief consideration we have been led to give to the problem in connection with Elijah and John may now suffice; we go on to what follows in the Gospel.
8. John is a Prophet, But Not the Prophet.
Are you that prophet? And he answered No. John 1:21 If the law and the prophets were until John, Luke 16:16 what can we say that John was but a prophet? His father Zacharias, indeed, says, filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesying, Luke 1:76 And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest, for you shall go before the Lord to prepare His ways. (One might indeed get past this passage by laying stress on the word called: he is to be called, he is not said to be, a prophet.) And still more weighty is it that the Saviour said to those who considered John to be a prophet, Matthew 11:9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. The words, Yea, I say unto you, manifestly affirm that John is a prophet, and that is nowhere denied afterwards. If, then, he is said by the Saviour to be not only a prophet but more than a prophet, how is it that when the priests and levites come and ask him, Are you the Prophet? he answers No! On this we must remark that it is not the same thing to say, Are you the Prophet? and Are you a prophet? The distinction between the two expressions has already been observed, when we asked what was the difference between the God and God, and between the Logos and Logos. Now it is written in Deuteronomy, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like me; Him shall you hear, and it shall be that every soul that will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among His people. There was, therefore, an expectation of one particular prophet having a resemblance to Moses in mediating between God and the people and receiving a new covenant from God to give to those who accepted his teaching; and in the case of each of the prophets, the people of Israel recognized that he was not the person of whom Moses spoke. As, then, they doubted about John, whether he were not the Christ, Luke 3:15 so they doubted whether he could not be the prophet. And there is no wonder that those who doubted about John whether he were the Christ, did not understand that the Christ and the prophet are the same person; their doubt as to John necessarily implied that they were not clear on this point. Now the difference between the prophet and a prophet has escaped the observation of most students; this is the case with Heracleon, who says, in these very words: As, then, John confessed that he was not the Christ, and not even a prophet, nor Elijah. If he interpreted the words before us in such a way, he ought to have examined the various passages to see whether in saying that he is not a prophet nor Elijah he is or is not saying what is true. He devotes no attention, however, to these passages, and in his remaining commentaries he passes over such points without any enquiry. In the sequel, too, his remarks, of which we shall have to speak directly, are very scanty, and do not testify to careful study.
9. John I. 22.
They said therefore unto him, Who are you? That we may give an answer to them that sent us. What do you say of yourself? This speech of the emissaries amounts to the following: We had a surmise what you were and came to learn if it was so, but now we know that you are not that. It remains for us, therefore, to hear your account of yourself, so that we may report your answer to those who sent us.
10. Of the Voice John the Baptist is.
He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. As He who is peculiarly the Son of God, being no other than the Logos, yet makes use of Logos (reason) — for He was the Logos in the beginning, and was with God, the Logos of God — so John, the servant of that Logos, being, if we take the Scripture to mean what it says, no other than a voice, yet uses his voice to point to the Logos. He, then, understanding in this way the prophecy about himself spoken by Isaiah the prophet, says he is a voice, not crying in the wilderness, but of one crying in the wilderness, of Him, namely, who stood and cried, John 7:37 If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He it was, too, who said, Luke 3:4 Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and all the crooked shall be made straight. For as we read in Exodus that God said to Moses, Behold I have given you for a God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet; so we are to understand — the cases are at least analogous if not altogether similar — it is with the Word in the beginning, who is God, and with John. For John’s voice points to that word and demonstrates it. It is therefore a very appropriate punishment that falls on Zacharias on his saying to the angel, Luke 1:18 Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years. For his want of faith with regard to the birth of the voice, he is himself deprived of his voice, as the angel Gabriel says to him, Behold, you shall be silent and not able to speak until the day that these things shall come to pass, because you have not believed my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. And afterwards when he had asked for a writing tablet and written, His name is John; and they all marvelled, he recovered his voice; for his mouth was opened immediately and his tongue, and he spoke, blessing God. We discussed above how it is to be understood that the Logos is the Son of God, and went over the ideas connected with that; and a similar sequence of ideas is to be observed at this point. John came for a witness; he was a man sent from God to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe; he was that voice, then, we are to understand, which alone was fitted worthily to announce the Logos. We shall understand this aright if we call to mind what was adduced in our exposition of the texts: That all might believe through Him, and This is he of whom it is written, Behold I send My messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you. Matthew 11:10 There is fitness, too, in his being said to be the voice, not of one saying in the wilderness, but of one crying in the wilderness. He who cries, Prepare the way of the Lord, also says it; but he might say it without crying it. But he cries and shouts it, that even those may hear who are at a distance from the speaker, and that even the deaf may understand the greatness of the tidings, since it is announced in a great voice; and he thus brings help, both to those who have departed from God and to those who have lost the acuteness of their hearing. This, too, was the reason why Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. Hence, too, John 1:15 John bears witness of Him, and cried, saying, Hence also God commands Isaiah to cry, with the voice of one saying, Cry. And I said, What shall I cry? The physical voice we use in prayer need not be great nor startling; even should we not lift up any great cry or shout, God will yet hear us. He says to Moses, Exodus 14:15 Why do you cry unto Me? when Moses had not cried audibly at all. It is not recorded in Exodus that he did so; but Moses had cried mightily to God in prayer with that voice which is heard by God alone. Hence David also says, With my voice I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me. And one who cries in the desert has need of a voice, that the soul which is deprived of God and deserted of truth— and what more dreadful desert is there than a soul deserted of God and of all virtue, since it still goes crookedly and needs instruction — may be exhorted to make straight the way of the Lord. And that way is made straight by the man who, far from copying the serpent’s crooked journey; while he who is of the contrary disposition perverts his way. Hence the rebuke directed to a man of this kind and to all who resemble him, Why do you pervert the right ways of the Lord? Acts 13:10
11. Of the Way of the Lord, How It is Narrow, and How Jesus is the Way.
Now the way of the Lord is made straight in two fashions. First, in the way of contemplation, when thought is made clear in truth without any mixture of falsehood; and then in the way of conduct, after the sound contemplation of what ought to be done, when action is produced which harmonizes with sound theory of conduct. And that we may the more clearly understand the text, Make straight the way of the Lord, it will be well to compare with it what is said in the Proverbs, Depart not, either to the right hand or to the left. For he who deviates in either direction has given up keeping his path straight, and is no longer worthy of regard, since he has gone apart from the straightness of the journey, for the Lord is righteous, and loves righteousness, and His face beholds straightness. Hence he who is the object of regard, and receives the benefit that comes from this oversight, says, The light of Your countenance was shown upon us, O Lord. Let us stand, then, as Jeremiah Jeremiah 4:16 exhorts, upon the ways, and let us see and ask after the ancient ways of the Lord, and let us see which is the good way, and walk in it. Thus did the Apostles stand and ask for the ancient ways of the Lord; they asked the Patriarchs and the Prophets, enquiring into their writings, and when they came to understand these writings they saw the good way, namely, Jesus Christ, who said, I am the way, and they walked in it. For it is a good way that leads the good man to the good father, the man who, from the good treasure of his heart, brings forth good things, and who is a good and faithful servant. This way is narrow, indeed, for the many cannot bear to walk in it and are lovers of their flesh; but it is also hard-pressed by those who use violence Matthew 11:12 to walk in it, for it is not called afflicting, but afflicted. For that way which is a living way, and feels the qualities of those who tread it, is pressed and afflicted, when he travels on it who has not taken off his shoes from off his feet, Exodus 3:5 nor truly realized that the place on which he stands. or indeed treads, is holy ground. And it will lead to Him who is the life, and who says, I am the life. For the Saviour, in whom all virtues are combined, has many aspects. To him who, though by no means near the end, is yet advancing, He is the way; to him who has put off all that is dead He is the life. He who travels on this way is told to take nothing with him on it, since it provides bread and all that is necessary for life, enemies are powerless on it, and he needs no staff, and since it is holy, he needs no shoes.
12. Heracleon’s View of the Voice, and of John the Baptist.
The words, however, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, etc., may be taken as equivalent to I am He of whom the ‘voice in the wilderness’ is written. Then John would be the person crying, and his voice would be that crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. Heracleon, discussing John and the prophets, says, somewhat slanderously, that the Word is the Saviour; the voice, that in the wilderness which John interpreted; the sound is the whole prophetic order. To this we may reply by reminding him of the text, 1 Corinthians 14:8 If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle, and that which says that though a man have knowledge of mysteries, or have prophecy but wants love, he is a sounding or a tinkling cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1 If the prophetic voice be nothing but sound, how does our Lord come to refer us to it as where He says, John 5:39 Search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which bear witness, and John 5:46 If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, and Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, saying, This people honours me with their lips? I do not know if any one can reasonably admit that the Saviour thus spoke in praise of an uncertain sound, or that there is any preparation to be had from the Scriptures to which we are referred as from the voice of a trumpet, for our war against opposing powers, should their sound give an uncertain voice. If the prophets had not love, and if that is why they were sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, then how does the Lord send us to their sound, as these writers will have it, as if we could get help from that? He asserts, indeed, that a voice, when well fitted to speech, becomes speech, as if one should say that a woman is turned into a man; and the assertion is not supported by argument. And, as if he were in a position to put forth a dogma on the subject and to get on in this way, he declares that sound can be changed in a similar way into voice, and the voice, which is changed into speech, he says, is in the position of a disciple, while sound passing into voice is in that of a slave. If he had taken any kind of trouble to establish these points we should have had to devote some attention to refuting them; but as it is, the bare denial is sufficient refutation. There was a point some way back which we deferred taking up, that, namely, of the motive of John’s speeches. We may now take it up. The Saviour, according to Heracleon, calls him both a prophet and Elijah, but he himself denies that he is either of these. When the Saviour, Heracleon says, calls him a prophet and Elijah, He is speaking not of John himself, but of his surroundings; but when He calls him greater than the prophets and than those who are born of women, then He is describing the character of John himself. When John, on the other hand, is asked about himself, his answers relate to himself, not to his surroundings. This we have examined as carefully as possible, comparing each of the terms in question with the statements of Heracleon, lest he should not have expressed himself quite accurately. For how it comes that the statements that he is Elijah and that he is a prophet apply to those about him, but the statement that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, to himself, no attempt whatever is made to show. Heracleon only gives an illustration, namely, this: His surroundings were, so to speak, his clothes, and other than himself, and when he was asked about his clothes, if he were his clothes, he could not answer Yes. Now that his being Elijah, who was to come, was his clothes, is scarcely consistent, so far as I can see, with Heracleon’s views; it might consist, perhaps, with the exposition we ourselves gave of the words, In the spirit and power of Elijah; it might, in a sense, be said that this spirit of Elijah is equivalent to the soul of John. He then goes on to try to determine why those who were sent by the Jews to question John were priests and levites, and he answers by no means badly, that it was incumbent on such persons, being devoted to the service of God, to busy themselves and to make enquiries about such matters. When he goes on, however, to say that it was because John was of the levitical tribe, this is less well considered. We raised the question ourselves above, and saw that if the Jews who were sent knew John’s birth, it was not open to them to ask if he was Elijah. Then, again, in dealing with the question, Are you the prophet? Heracleon does not regard the addition of the article as having any special force, and says, They asked him if he were a prophet, wishing to know this more general fact. Again, not Heracleon alone, but, so far as I am informed, all those who diverge from our views, as if they had not been able to deal with a trifling ambiguity and to draw the proper distinction, suppose John to be greater than Elijah and than all the prophets. The words are, Of those born of women there is none greater than John; but this admits of two meanings, that John is greater than they all, or again, that some of them are equal to him. For though many of the prophets were equal to him, still it might be true in respect of the grace bestowed on him, that none of them was greater than he. He regards it as confirming the view that John was greater, that he is predicted by Isaiah; for no other of all those who uttered prophecies was held worthy by God of this distinction. This, however, is a venturesome statement and implies some disrespect of what is called the Old Testament, and total disregard of the fact that Elijah himself was the subject of prophecy. For Elijah is prophesied by Malachi, who says, Behold, I send unto you Elijah, the Tishbite, who shall restore the heart of the father to the son. Josiah, too, as we read in third Kings, 1 Kings 13:2 was predicted by name by the prophet who came out of Judah; for he said, Jeroboam also being present at the altar, Thus says the Lord, Behold a son is born to David, his name is Josiah. There are some also who say that Samson was predicted by Jacob, when he said, Genesis 49:16 Dan shall judge his own people, he is as one tribe in Israel, for Samson who judged Israel was of the tribe of Dan. So much by way of evidence of the rashness of the statement that John alone was the subject of prophecy, made by Heracleon in his attempted explanation of the words, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
13. John I. 24, 25. Of the Baptism of John, that of Elijah, and that of Christ.
And they that were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said to him, John 1:24-25 Why do you baptize then, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? Those who sent from Jerusalem the priests and levites who asked John these questions, having learned who John was not, and who he was, preserve a decent silence, as if tacitly assenting and indicating that they accepted what was said, and saw that baptism was suited to a voice crying in the wilderness for the preparing of the way of the Lord. But the Pharisees being, as their name indicates, a divided and seditious set of people, show that they do not agree with the Jews of the metropolis and with the ministers of the service of God, the priests and levites. They send envoys who deal in rebukes, and so far as their power extends debar him from baptizing; their envoys ask, Why do you baptize, then, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? And if we were to stitch together into one statement what is written in the various Gospels, we should say that at this time they spoke as is here reported, but that at a later time, when they wished to received baptism, they heard the address of John: Matthew 3:7-8 Generations of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance. This is what the Baptist says in Matthew, when he sees many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, without, it is clear, having the fruits of repentance, and pharisaically boasting in themselves that they had Abraham for their father. For this they are rebuked by John, who has the zeal of Elijah according to the communication of the Holy Spirit. For that is a rebuking word, Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father, and that is the word of a teacher, when he speaks of those who for their stony hearts are called unbelieving stones, and says that by the power of God these stones may be changed into children of Abraham; for they were present to the eyes of the prophet and did not shrink from his divine glance. Hence his words: I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And since they came to his baptism without having done fruits meet for repentance, he says to them most appropriately, Already is the axe laid to the root of the tree; every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. This is as much as to say to them: Since you have come to baptism without having done fruits meet for repentance, you are a tree that does not bring forth good fruit and which has to be cut down by the most sharp and piercing axe of the Word which is living and powerful and sharper than every two-edged sword. The estimation in which the Pharisees held themselves is also set forth by Luke in the passage: Luke 18:10-11 Two men went up to the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. And the Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank You that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. The result of this speech is that the publican goes down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee, and the lesson is drawn, that every one who exalts himself is abased. They came, then, in the character in which the Saviour’s reproving words described them, as hypocrites to John’s baptism, nor does it escape the Baptist’s observation that they have the poison of vipers under their tongue and the poison of asps, for the poison of asps is under their tongue. The figure of serpents rightly indicates their temper, and it is plainly revealed in their better question: Why do you baptize then, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? To these I would fain reply, if it be the case that the Christ and Elijah and the prophet baptize, but that the voice crying in the wilderness has no authority to do so, Most harshly, my friends, do you question the messenger sent before the face of Christ to prepare His way before Him. The mysteries which belong to this point are all hidden to you; for Jesus being, whether you will or not, the Christ, did not Himself baptize but His disciples, He who was Himself the prophet. And how have you come to believe that Elijah who is to come will baptize? He did not baptize the logs upon the altar in the times of Ahab, though they needed such a bath to be burned up, what time the Lord appeared in fire. No, he commands the priests to do this for him, and that not only once; for he says, Do it a second time, upon which they did it a second time, and Do it a third time, and they did it a third time. If, then, he did not at that time himself baptize but left the work to others, how was he to baptize at the time spoken of by Malachi? Christ, then, does not baptize with water, but His disciples. He reserves for Himself to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now Heracleon accepts the speech of the Pharisees as distinctly implying that the office of baptizing belonged to the Christ and Elijah and to every prophet, for he uses these words, Whose office alone it is to baptize. He is refuted by what we have just said, and especially by the consideration that he takes the word prophet in a general sense; for he cannot show that any of the prophets baptized. He adds, not incorrectly, that the Pharisees put the question from malice, and not from a desire to learn.
14. Comparison of the Statements of the Four Evangelists Respecting John the Baptist, the Prophecies Regarding Him, His Addresses to the Multitude and to the Pharisees, Etc.
We deem it necessary to compare with the expression of the passage we are considering the similar expressions found elsewhere in the Gospels. This we shall continue to do point by point to the end of this work, so that terms which appear to disagree may be shown to be in harmony, and that the peculiar meanings present in each may be explained. This we shall do in the present passage. The words, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, are placed by John, who was a disciple, in the mouth of the Baptist. In Mark, on the other hand, the same words are recorded at the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Scripture of Isaiah, as thus: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Now the words, Make straight the way of the Lord, added by John, are not found in the prophet. Perhaps John was seeking to compress the Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God, and so wrote, Make straight the way of the Lord; while Mark combined two prophecies spoken by two different prophets in different places, and made one prophecy out of them, As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold I send My messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. The words, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, are written immediately after the narrative of Hezekiah’s recovery from his sickness, Isaiah 40:3 while the words, Behold I send My messenger before your face, are written by Malachi. What John does here, abbreviating the text he quotes, we find done by Mark also at another point. For while the words of the prophet are, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God, Mark writes, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. And John practises a similar abbreviation in the text, Behold I send My messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you, when he does not add the words before you, as in the original. Coming now to the statement, They were sent from the Pharisees and they asked Him, John 1:24 we have been led by our examination of the passage to prefix the enquiry of the Pharisees— which Matthew does not mention — to the occurrence recorded in Matthew, when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, and said to them, You generations of vipers, etc. For the natural sequence is that they should first enquire and then come. And we have to observe how, when Matthew reports that there went out to John Jerusalem and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, to be baptized by him in Jordan, confessing their sins, it was not these people who heard from the Baptist any word of rebuke or refutation, but only those many Pharisees and Sadducees whom he saw coming. They it was who were greeted with the address, You offspring of vipers, etc. Matthew 3:7 Mark, again, does not record any words of reproof as having been used by John to those who came to him, being all the country of Judæa and all of them of Jerusalem, who were baptized by him in the Jordan and confessed their sins. This is because Mark does not mention the Pharisees and Sadducees as having come to John. A further circumstance which we must mention is that both Matthew and Mark state that, in the one case, all Jerusalem and all Judæa, and the whole region round about Jordan, in the other, the whole land of Judæa and all they of Jerusalem, were baptized, confessing their sins; but when Matthew introduces the Pharisees and Sadducees as coming to the baptism, he does not say that they confessed their sins, and this might very likely and very naturally be the reason why they were addressed as offspring of vipers. Do not suppose, reader, that there is anything improper in our adducing in our discussion of the question of those who were sent from the Pharisees and put questions to John, the parallel passages from the other Gospels too. For if we have indicated the proper connection between the enquiry of the Pharisees, recorded by the disciple John, and their baptism which is found in Matthew, we could scarcely avoid inquiring into the passages in question, nor recording the observations made on them. Luke, like Mark, remembers the passage, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, but he for his part treats it as follows: Luke 3:2 The word of God came unto John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the region round about Jordan preaching the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Luke, however, added the continuation of the prophecy: Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. He writes, like Mark, Make His ways straight; curtailing, as we saw before, the text, Make straight the ways of our God. In the phrase, And all the crooked shall become straight, he leaves out the all, and the word straight he converts from a plural into a singular. Instead of the phrase, moreover, The rough land into a plain, he gives, The rough ways into smooth ways, and he leaves out And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and gives what follows, And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. These observations are of use as showing how the evangelists are accustomed to abbreviate the sayings of the prophets. It has also to be observed that the speech, Offspring of vipers, etc., is said by Matthew to have been spoken to the Pharisees and Sadducees when coming to baptism, they being a different set of people from those who confessed their sins, and to whom no words of this kind were spoken. With Luke, on the contrary, these words were addressed to the multitudes who came out to be baptized by John, and there were not two divisions of those who were baptized, as we found in Matthew. But Matthew, as the careful observer will see, does not speak of the multitudes in the way of praise, and he probably means the Baptist’s address, Offspring of vipers, etc., to be understood as addressed to them also. Another point is, that to the Pharisees and Sadducees he says, Bring forth a fruit, in the singular, worthy of repentance, but to the multitudes he uses the plural, Bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. Perhaps the Pharisees are required to yield the special fruit of repentance, which is no other than the Son and faith in Him, while the multitudes, who have not even a beginning of good things, are asked for all the fruits of repentance, and so the plural is used to them. Further, it is said to the Pharisees, Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For the multitudes now have a beginning, appearing as they do to be introduced into the divine Word, and to approach the truth; and thus they begin to say within themselves, We have Abraham for our father. The Pharisees, on the contrary, are not beginning to this, but have long held it to be so. But both classes see John point to the stones aforesaid and declare that even from these children can be raised up to Abraham, rising up out of unconsciousness and deadness. And observe how it is said to the Pharisees, Matthew 3:10 according to the word of the prophet, Hosea 10:13 You have eaten false fruit, and they have false fruit —Every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire, while to the multitudes which do not bear fruit at all, Luke 3:9 Every tree which brings not forth fruit is hewn down. For that which has no fruit at all has not good fruit, and, therefore, it is worthy to be hewn down. But that which bears fruit has by no means good fruit, whence it also calls for the axe to lay it low. But, if we look more closely into this about the fruit, we shall find that it is impossible that that which has just begun to be cultivated, even should it not prove fruitless, should bear the first good fruits. The husbandman is content that the tree just coming into cultivation should bear him at first such fruits as it may; afterwards, when he has pruned and trained it according to his art, he will receive, not the fruits it chanced to bear at first, but good fruits. The law itself favours this interpretation, for it says Deuteronomy 19:23 that the planter is to wait for three years, having the trees pruned and not eating the fruit of them. Three years, it says, the fruit shall be unpurified to you, and shall not be eaten, but in the fourth year all the fruit shall be holy, for giving praise unto the Lord. This explains how the word good is omitted from the address to the multitudes, Every tree, therefore, which bears not fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. The tree which goes on bearing such fruit as it did at first, is a tree which does not bear good fruit, and is, therefore, cut down, and cast into the fire, since, when the three years have passed and the fourth comes round, it does not bear good fruit, for praise unto the Lord. In thus adducing the passages from the other Gospels I may appear to be digressing, but I cannot think it useless, or without bearing on our present subject. For the Pharisees send to John, after the priests and levites who came from Jerusalem, men who came to ask him who he was, and enquire, Why do you baptize then, if you be not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? After making this enquiry they straightway come for baptism, as Matthew records, and then they hear words suited to their quackery and hypocrisy. But the words addressed to them were very similar to those spoken to the multitudes, and hence the necessity to look carefully at both speeches, and to compare them together. It was while we were so engaged that various points arose in the sequence of the matter, which we had to consider. To what has been said we must add the following. We find mention made in John of two orders of persons sending: the one, that of the Jews from Jerusalem sending priests and levites; the other, that of the Pharisees who want to know why he baptizes. And we found that, after the enquiry, the Pharisees present themselves for baptism. May it not be that the Jews, who had sent the earlier mission from Jerusalem, received John’s words before those who sent the second mission, namely, the Pharisees, and hence arrived before them? For Jerusalem and all Judæa, and, in consequence, the whole region round about Jordan, were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins; or, as Mark says, There went out to him the whole land of Judæa, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now, neither does Matthew introduce the Pharisees and Sadducees, to whom the words, Offspring of vipers, etc., are addressed; nor does Luke introduce the multitudes who meet with the same rebuke, as confessing their sins. And the question may be raised how, if the whole city of Jerusalem, and the whole of Judæa, and the whole region round about Jordan, were baptized of John in Jordan, the Saviour could say, Matthew 11:13 John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking, and you say he has a devil; and how could He say to those who asked Him, Matthew 21:23 By what authority do you do these things? I also will ask you one word, which if you tell me, I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or of men? And they reason, and say, If we shall say, From heaven, He will say, Why did ye not believe him? The solution of the difficulty is this. The Pharisees, addressed by John, as we saw before, with his Offspring of vipers, etc., came to the baptism, without believing in him, probably because they feared the multitudes, and, with their accustomed hypocrisy towards them, deemed it right to undergo the washing, so as not to appear hostile to those who did so. Their belief was, then, that he derived his baptism from men, and not from heaven, but, on account of the multitude, lest they should be stoned, they are afraid to say what they think. Thus there is no contradiction between the Saviour’s speech to the Pharisees and the narratives in the Gospels about the multitudes who frequented John’s baptism. It was part of the effrontery of the Pharisees that they declared John to have a devil, as, also, that they declared Jesus to have performed His wonderful works by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.
15. How the Baptist Answers the Question of the Pharisees and Exalts the Nature of Christ. Of the Shoe-Latchet Which He is Unable to Untie.
John John 1:26 answered them, saying, I baptize with water, but in the midst of you stands one whom you know not, even He who comes after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. Heracleon considers that John’s answers to those sent by the Pharisees refer not to what they asked, but to what he wished, not observing that he accuses the prophet of a want of manners, by making him, when asked about one thing, answer about another; for this is a fault to be guarded against in conversation. We assert, on the contrary, that the reply accurately takes up the question. It is asked, Why do you baptize then, if you are not the Christ? And what other answer could be given to this than to show that his baptism was in its nature a bodily thing? I, he says, baptize with water; this is his answer to, Why do you baptize. And to the second part of their question, If you are not the Christ, he answers by exalting the superior nature of Christ, that He has such virtue as to be invisible in His deity, though present to every man and extending over the whole universe. This is what is indicated in the words, There stands one among you. The Pharisees, moreover, though expecting the advent of Christ, saw nothing in Him of such a nature as John speaks of; they believed Him to be simply a perfect and holy man. John, therefore, rebukes their ignorance of His superiority, and adds to the words, There stands one among you, the clause, whom you know not. And, lest any one should suppose the invisible One who extends to every man, or, indeed, to the whole world, to be a different person from Him who became man, and appeared upon the earth and conversed with men, he adds to the words, There stands one among you whom you know not, the further words, Who comes after me, that is, He who is to be manifested after me. By whose surpassing excellence he well understood that his own nature was far surpassed, though some doubted whether he might be the Christ; and, therefore, desiring to show how far he is from attaining to the greatness of the Christ, that no one should think of him beyond what he sees or hears of him, he goes on: The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. By which he conveys, as in a riddle, that he is not fit to solve and to explain the argument about Christ’s assuming a human body, an argument tied up and hidden (like a shoe-tie) to those who do not understand it — so as to say anything worthy of such an advent, compressed, as it was, into so short a space.
16. Comparison of John’s Testimony to Jesus in the Different Gospels.
It may not be out of place, as we are examining the text, I baptize with water, to compare the parallel utterances of the evangelists with this of John. Matthew reports that the Baptist, when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, after the words of rebuke which we have already studied, went on: Matthew 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. This agrees with the words in John, in which the Baptist declares himself to those sent by the Pharisees, on the subject of his baptizing with water. Mark, again, says, Mark 1:6-7 John preached, saying, There comes after me He that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. And Luke says Luke 3:16 that, as the people were in expectation, and all were reasoning in their hearts concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ, John answered them all, saying, I indeed baptize you with water; but there comes one mightier than I, whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
17. Of the Testimony of John to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel,
These, then, are the parallel passages of the four; let us try to see as clearly as we can what is the purport of each and wherein they differ from each other. And we will begin with Matthew, who is reported by tradition to have published his Gospel before the others, to the Hebrews, those, namely, of the circumcision who believed. I, he says, baptize you with water unto repentance, purifying you, as it were, and turning you away from evil courses and calling you to repentance; for I have come to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him, and by my baptism of repentance to prepare the ground for Him who is to come after me, and who will thus benefit you much more effectively and powerfully than my strength could. For His baptism is not that of the body only; He fills the penitent with the Holy Ghost, and His diviner fire does away with everything material and consumes everything that is earthy, not only from him who admits it to his life, but even from him who hears of it from those who have it. So much stronger than I is He who is coming after me, that I am not able to bear even the outskirts of the powers round Him which are furthest from Him (they are not open and exposed, so that any one could see them), nor even to bear those who support them. I know not of which I should speak. Should I speak of my own great weakness, which is not able to bear even these things about Christ which in comparison with the greater things in Him are least, or should I speak of His transcendent Deity, greater than all the world? If I who have received such grace, as to be thought worthy of prophecy predicting my arrival in this human life, in the words, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, and Behold I send my messenger before your face; if I whose birth Gabriel who stands before God announced to my father so advanced in years, so much against his expectation, I at whose name Zacharias recovered his voice and was enabled to use it to prophesy, I to whom my Lord bears witness that among them that are born of women there is none greater than I, I am not able so much as to bear His shoes! And if not His shoes, what can be said about His garments? Who is so great as to be able to guard His coat? Who can suppose that He can understand the meaning contained in His tunic which is without seam from the top because it is woven throughout? It is to be observed that while the four represent John as declaring himself to have come to baptize with water, Matthew alone adds the words to repentance, teaching that the benefit of baptism is connected with the intention of the baptized person; to him who repents it is salutary, but to him who comes to it without repentance it will turn to greater condemnation. And here we must note that as the wonderful works done by the Saviour in the cures He wrought, which are symbolic of those who at any time are set free by the word of God from any sickness or disease, though they were done to the body and brought a bodily relief, yet also called those who were benefited by them to an exercise of faith, so the washing with water which is symbolic of the soul cleansing herself from every stain of wickedness, is no less in itself to him who yields himself to the divine power of the invocation of the Adorable Trinity, the beginning and source of divine gifts; for there are diversities of gifts. This view receives confirmation from the narrative recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, which shows the Spirit to have descended so manifestly on those who receive baptism, after the water had prepared the way for him in those who properly approached the rite. Simon Magus, astonished at what he saw, desired to receive from Peter this gift, but though it was a good thing he desired, he thought to attain it by the mammon of unrighteousness. We next remark in passing that the baptism of John was inferior to the baptism of Jesus which was given through His disciples. Those persons in the Acts Acts 19:2 who were baptized to John’s baptism and who had not heard if there was any Holy Ghost are baptized over again by the Apostle. Regeneration did not take place with John, but with Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the laver of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit; for the Spirit now comes in addition since it comes from God and is over and above the water and does not come to all after the water. So far, then, our examination of the statements in the Gospel according to Matthew.
18. Of the Testimony in Mark. What is Meant by the Saviour’s Shoes and by Untying His Shoe-Latchets.
Now let us consider what is stated by Mark. Mark’s account of John’s preaching agrees with the other. The words are, There comes after me He that is mightier than I, which amounts to the same thing as He that comes after me is mightier than I. There is a difference, however, in what follows, The latchets of His shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. For it is one thing to bear a person’s shoes — they must, it is evident, have been untied already from the feet of the wearer — and it is another thing to stoop down and untie the latchet of his shoes. And it follows, since believers cannot think that either of the Evangelists made any mistake or misrepresentation, that the Baptist must have made these two utterances at different times and have meant them to express different things. It is not the case, as some suppose. that the reports refer to the same incident and turned out differently because of a looseness of memory as to some of the facts or words. Now it is a great thing to bear the shoes of Jesus, a great thing to stoop down to the bodily features of His mission, to that which took place in some lower region, so as to contemplate His image in the lower sphere, and to untie each difficulty connected with the mystery of His incarnation, such being as it were His shoe-latchets. For the fetter of obscurity is one as the key of knowledge also is one; not even He who is greatest among those born of women is sufficient of Himself to loose such things or to open them, for He who tied and locked at first, He also grants to whom He will to loose His shoe-latchet and to unlock what He has shut. If the passage about the shoes has a mystic meaning we ought not to scorn to consider it. Now I consider that the inhumanisation when the Son of God assumes flesh and bones is one of His shoes, and that the other is the descent to Hades, whatever that Hades be, and the journey with the Spirit to the prison. As to the descent into Hades, we read in the sixteenth Psalm, You will not leave my soul in Hades, and as for the journey in prison with the Spirit we read in Peter in his Catholic Epistle, 1 Peter 3:18-20 Put to death, he says, in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit; in which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which at one time were disobedient, when the long-suffering of God once waited in the days of Noah while the ark was a preparing. He, then, who is able worthily to set forth the meaning of these two journeys is able to untie the latchet of the shoes of Jesus; he, bending down in his mind and going with Jesus as He goes down into Hades, and descending from heaven and the mysteries of Christ’s deity to the advent He of necessity made with us when He took on man (as His shoes). Now He who put on man also put on the dead, for Romans 14:9 for this end Jesus both died and revived, that He might be Lord both of dead and living. This is why He put on both living and dead, that is, the inhabitants of the earth and those of Hades, that He might be the Lord of both dead and living. Who, then, is able to stoop down and untie the latchet of such shoes, and having untied them not to let them drop, but by the second faculty he has received to take them up and bear them, by bearing the meaning of them in his memory?
19. Luke and John Suggest that One May Loose the Shoe-Latchets of the Logos Without Stooping Down.
We must not, however, omit to ask how it comes that Luke and John give the speech without the phrase to stoop down. He, perhaps, who stoops down may be held to unloose in the sense which we have stated. On the other hand, it may be that one who fixes his eyes on the height of the exaltation of the Logos, may find the loosing of those shoes which when one is seeking them seem to be bound, so that He also looses those shoes which are separable from the Logos, and beholds the Logos divested of inferior things, as He is, the Son of God.
20. The Difference Between Not Being Sufficient And Not Being Worthy.
John records that the Baptist said he was not worthy, Mark that he was not sufficient, and these two are not the same. One who was not worthy might yet be sufficient, and one who was worthy might not be sufficient. For even if it be the case that gifts are bestowed to profit withal and not merely according to the proportion of faith, yet it would seem to be the part of a God who loves men and who sees before what harm must come from the rise of self-opinion or conceit, not to bestow sufficiency even on the worthy. But it belongs to the goodness of God by conferring bounties to conquer the object of His bounty, taking in advance him who is destined to be worthy, and adorning him even before he becomes worthy with sufficiency, so that after his sufficiency he may come to be worthy; he is not first to be worthy and then to anticipate the giver and take His gifts before the time and so arrive at being sufficient. Now with the three the Baptist says he is not sufficient, while in John he says he is not worthy. But it may be that he who formerly declared that he was not sufficient became sufficient afterwards, even though perhaps he was not worthy, or again that while he was saying he was not worthy, and was in fact not worthy, he arrived at being worthy, unless one should say that human nature can never come to perform worthily this loosing or this bearing, and that John, therefore, says truly that he never became sufficient to loose the latchets of the Saviour’s shoes, nor worthy of it either. However much we take into our minds there are still left things not yet understood; for, as we read in the wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach, Sirach 18:7 When a man has done, then he begins, and when he leaves off, then he shall be doubtful.
21. The Fourth Gospel Speaks of Only One Shoe, the Others of Both. The Significance of This.
As to the shoes, too, which are spoken of in the three Gospels, we have a question to consider; we must compare them with the single shoe named by the disciple John. I am not worthy, we read there, to untie the latchet of His shoe. Perhaps he was conquered by the grace of God, and received the gift of doing that which of himself he would not have been worthy to do, of untying, namely, the latchet of one of the shoes, namely, after he had seen the Saviour’s sojourn among men, of which he bears witness. But he did not know the things which were to follow, namely, whether Jesus was to come to that place also, to which he was to go after being beheaded in prison, or whether he was to look for another; and hence he alludes enigmatically to that doubt which was afterwards cleared up to us, and says, I am not worthy to untie His shoe-latchet. If any one considers this to be a superfluous speculation, he can combine in one the speech about the shoes and that about the shoe, as if John said, I am by no means worthy to loose His shoestring, not even at the beginning, the string of one of His shoes. Or the following may be a way to combine what is said in the Four. If John understands about Jesus’ sojourn here, but is in doubt about the future, then he says with perfect truth that he is not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoes; for though he loosed that of one shoe, he did not loose both. And on the other hand, what he says about the latchet of the shoe is quite true also; since as we saw he is still in doubt whether Jesus is He that was to come, or whether another is to be looked for, in that other region.
22. How the Word Stands in the Midst of Men Without Being Known of Them.
As for the saying, There stands one among you whom you know not, we are led by it to consider the Son of God, the Word, by whom all things were made, since He exists in substance throughout the underlying nature of things, being the same as wisdom. For He permeated, from the beginning, all creation, so that what is made at any time should be made through Him, and that it might be always true of anything soever, that All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made; and this saying also, By wisdom did you make them all. Now, if He permeates all creation, then He is also in those questioners who ask, Why do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet? In the midst of them stands the Word, who is the same and steadfast, being everywhere established by the Father. Or the words, There stands among you, may be understood to say, In the midst of you men, because you are reasonable beings, stands He who is proved by Scripture to be the sovereign principle in the midst of every body, and so to be present in your heart. Those, therefore, who have the Word in the midst of them, but who do not consider His nature, nor from what spring and principle He came, nor how He gave them the nature they have, these, while having Him in the midst of them, know Him not. But John knew Him: for the words, Whom you know not, used in reproach to the Pharisees, show that he well knew the Word whom they did not know. And the Baptist, therefore, knowing Him, saw Him coming after himself, who was now in the midst of them, that is to say, dwelling after him and the teaching he gave in his baptism, in those who, according to reason (or the Word), submitted to that purifying rite. The word after, however, has not the same meaning here as it has when Jesus commands us to come after Him; for in this case we are bidden to go after Him, so that, treading in His steps, we may come to the Father; but in the other case, the meaning is that after the teachings of John (since He came in order that all men through Him might believe), the Word dwells with those who have prepared themselves, purified as they are by the lesser words for the perfect Word. Firstly, then, stands the Father, being without any turning or change; and then stands also His Word, always carrying on His work of salvation, and even when He is in the midst of men, not comprehended, and not even seen. He stands, also, teaching, and inviting all to drink from His abundant spring, for John 7:37 Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.
23. Heracleon’s View of This Utterance of John the Baptist, and Interpretation of the Shoe of Jesus.
But Heracleon declares the words, There stands one among you, to be equivalent to He is already here, and He is in the world and in men, and He is already manifest to you all. By this He does away with the meaning which is also present in the words, that the Word had permeated the whole world. For we must say to him, When is He not present, and when is He not in the world? Does not this Gospel say, He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. And this is why those to whom the Logos is He whom you know not, do not know Him: they have never gone out of the world, but the world does not know Him. But at what time did He cease to be among men? Was He not in Isaiah, when He said, Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me, and Isaiah 65:1 I became manifest to those who sought me not. Let them say, too, if He was not in David when he said, not from himself, But I was established by Him a king in Zion His holy hill, and the other words spoken in the Psalms in the person of Christ. And why should I go over the details of this proof, truly they are hard to be numbered, when I can show quite clearly that He was always in men? And that is enough to show Heracleon’s interpretation of There stands in the midst of you, to be unsound, when he says it is equivalent to He is already here, and He is in the world and in men. We are disposed to agree with him when he says that the words, Who comes after me, show John to be the forerunner of Christ, for he is in fact a kind of servant running before his master. The words, however, Whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose, receive much too simple an interpretation when it is said that in these words the Baptist confesses that he is not worthy even of the least honourable ministration to Christ. After this interpretation he adds, not without sense, I am not worthy that for my sake He should come down from His greatness and should take flesh as His footgear, concerning which I am not able to give any explanation or description, nor to unloose the arrangement of it. In understanding the world by his shoe, Heracleon shows some largeness of mind, but immediately after he verges on impiety in declaring that all this is to be understood of that person whom John here has in his mind. For he considers that it is the demiurge of the world who confesses by these words that he is a lesser person than the Christ; and this is the height of impiety. For the Father who sent Him, He who is the God of the living as Jesus Himself testifies, of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, and He who is greater than heaven and earth for the reason that He is the Maker of them, He also alone is good and is greater than He who was sent by Him. And even if, as we said, Heracleon’s idea was a lofty one, that the whole world was the shoe of Jesus, yet I think we ought not to agree with him. For how can it be harmonized with such a view, that Heaven is My throne and the earth My footstool, a testimony which Jesus accepts as said of the Father? Matthew 5:34-35 Swear not by heaven, He says, for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet. How, if he takes the whole world to be the shoe of Jesus, can he also accept the text, Jeremiah 23:24 Do not I fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. It is also worth while to enquire, whether as the Word and wisdom permeated the whole world, and as the Father was in the Son, the words are to be understood as above or in this way, that He who first of all was girded about with the whole creation, in addition to the Son’s being in Him, granted to the Saviour, as being second after Him and being God the Word, to pervade the whole creation. To those who have it in them to take note of the uninterrupted movement of the great heaven, how it carries with it from East to West so great a multitude of stars, to them most of all it will seem needful to enquire what that force is, how great and of what nature, which is present in the whole world. For to pronounce that force to be other than the Father and the Son, that perhaps might be inconsistent with piety.
24. The Name of the Place Where John Baptized is Not Bethany, as in Most Copies, But Bethabara. Proof of This. Similarly Gergesa Should Be Read for Gerasa, In the Story of the Swine. Attention is to Be Paid to the Proper Names in Scripture, Which are Often Written Inaccurately, and are of Importance for Interpretation.
These things were done in Bethabara, beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:28 We are aware of the reading which is found in almost all the copies, These things were done in Bethany. This appears, moreover, to have been the reading at an earlier time; and in Heracleon we read Bethany. We are convinced, however, that we should not read Bethany, but Bethabara. We have visited the places to enquire as to the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples, and of the prophets. Now, Bethany, as the same evangelist tells us, was the town of Lazarus, and of Martha and Mary; it is fifteen stadia from Jerusalem, and the river Jordan is about a hundred and eighty stadia distant from it. Nor is there any other place of the same name in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, but they say that Bethabara is pointed out on the banks of the Jordan, and that John is said to have baptized there. The etymology of the name, too, corresponds with the baptism of him who made ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him; for it yields the meaning House of preparation, while Bethany means House of obedience. Where else was it fitting that he should baptize, who was sent as a messenger before the face of the Christ, to prepare His way before Him, but at the House of preparation? And what more fitting home for Mary, who chose the good part, Luke 10:41, 43 which was not taken away from her, and for Martha, who was cumbered for the reception of Jesus, and for their brother, who is called the friend of the Saviour, than Bethany, the House of obedience? Thus we see that he who aims at a complete understanding of the Holy Scriptures must not neglect the careful examination of the proper names in it. In the matter of proper names the Greek copies are often incorrect, and in the Gospels one might be misled by their authority. The transaction about the swine, which were driven down a steep place by the demons and drowned in the sea, is said to have taken place in the country of the Gerasenes. Now, Gerasa is a town of Arabia, and has near it neither sea nor lake. And the Evangelists would not have made a statement so obviously and demonstrably false; for they were men who informed themselves carefully of all matters connected with Judæa. But in a few copies we have found, into the country of the Gadarenes; and, on this reading, it is to be stated that Gadara is a town of Judæa, in the neighbourhood of which are the well-known hot springs, and that there is no lake there with overhanging banks, nor any sea. But Gergesa, from which the name Gergesenes is taken, is an old town in the neighbourhood of the lake now called Tiberias, and on the edge of it there is a steep place abutting on the lake, from which it is pointed out that the swine were cast down by the demons. Now, the meaning of Gergesa is dwelling of the casters-out, and it contains a prophetic reference to the conduct towards the Saviour of the citizens of those places, who besought Him to depart out of their coasts. The same inaccuracy with regard to proper names is also to be observed in many passages of the law and the prophets, as we have been at pains to learn from the Hebrews, comparing our own copies with theirs which have the confirmation of the versions, never subjected to corruption, of Aquila and Theodotion and Symmachus. We add a few instances to encourage students to pay more attention to such points. One of the sons of Levi, the first, is called Geson in most copies, instead of Gerson. His name is the same as that of the first-born of Moses; Exodus 2:22 it was given appropriately in each case, both children being born, because of the sojourn in Egypt, in a strange land. The second son of Juda, Genesis 38:4 again, has with us the name Annan, but with the Hebrews Onan, their labour. Once more, in the departures of the children of Israel in Numbers, we find, They departed from Sochoth and pitched in Buthan; but the Hebrew, instead of Buthan, reads Aiman. And why should I add more points like these, when any one who desires it can examine into the proper names and find out for himself how they stand? The place-names of Scripture are specially to be suspected where many of them occur in a catalogue, as in the account of the partition of the country in Joshua, and in the first Book of Chronicles from the beginning down to, say, the passage about Dan, and similarly in Ezra. Names are not to be neglected, since indications may be gathered from them which help in the interpretation of the passages where they occur. We cannot, however, leave our proper subject to examine in this place into the philosophy of names.
25. Jordan Means Their Going Down. Spiritual Meanings and Application of This.
Let us look at the words of the Gospel now before us. Jordan means their going down. The name Jared is etymologically akin to it, if I may say so; it also yields the meaning going down; for Jared was born to Maleleel, as it is written in the Book of Enoch— if any one cares to accept that book as sacred — in the days when the sons of God came down to the daughters of men. Under this descent some have supposed that there is an enigmatical reference to the descent of souls into bodies, taking the phrase daughters of men as a tropical expression for this earthly tabernacle. Should this be so, what river will their going down be, to which one must come to be purified, a river going down, not with its own descent, but theirs, that, namely, of men, what but our Saviour who separates those who received their lots from Moses from those who obtained their own portions through Jesus (Joshua)? His current, flowing in the descending stream, makes glad, as we find in the Psalms, the city of God, not the visible Jerusalem — for it has no river beside it — but the blameless Church of God, built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus our Lord being the chief corner-stone. Under the Jordan, accordingly, we have to understand the Word of God who became flesh and tabernacled among us, Jesus who gives us as our inheritance the humanity which He assumed, for that is the head corner-stone, which being taken up into the deity of the Son of God, is washed by being so assumed, and then receives into itself the pure and guileless dove of the Spirit, bound to it and no longer able to fly away from it. For Upon whomsoever, we read, you shall see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, the same is He that baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Hence, he who receives the Spirit abiding on Jesus Himself is able to baptize those who come to him in that abiding Spirit. But John baptizes beyond Jordan, in the regions verging on the outside of Judæa, in Bethabara, being the forerunner of Him who came to call not the righteous but sinners, and who taught that the whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. For it is for forgiveness of sins that this washing is given.
26. The Story of Israel Crossing Jordan Under Joshua is Typical of Christian Things, and is Written for Our Instruction.
Now, it may very well be that some one not versed in the various aspects of the Saviour may stumble at the interpretation given above of the Jordan; because John says, I baptize with water, but He that comes after me is stronger than I; He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit. To this we reply that, as the Word of God in His character as something to be drunk is to one set of men water, and to another wine, making glad the heart of man, and to others blood, since it is said, John 6:53 Unless you drink My blood, you have no life in you, and as in His character as food He is variously conceived as living bread or as flesh, so also He, the same person, is baptism of water, and baptism of Holy Spirit and of fire, and to some, also, of blood. It is of His last baptism, as some hold, that He speaks in the words, Luke 12:50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished? And it agrees with this that the disciple John speaks in his Epistle 1 John 5:8 of the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, as being one. And again He declares Himself to be the way and the door, but clearly He is not the door to those to whom He is the way, and He is no longer the way to those to whom He is the door. All those, then, who are being initiated in the beginning of the oracles of God, and come to the voice of him who cries in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, the voice which sounds beyond Jordan at the house of preparation, let them prepare themselves so that they may be in a state to receive the spiritual word, brought home to them by the enlightenment of the Spirit. As we are now, as our subject requires, bringing together all that relates to the Jordan, let us look at the river. God, by Moses, carried the people through the Red Sea, making the water a wall for them on the right hand and on the left, and by Joshua He carried them through Jordan. Now, Paul deals with this Scripture, and his warfare is not according to the flesh of it, for he knew that the law is spiritual in a spiritual sense. And he shows us that he understood what is said about the passage of the Red Sea; for he says in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, how that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and did all eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of the spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ. In the spirit of this passage let us also pray that we may receive from God to understand the spiritual meaning of Joshua’s passage through Jordan. Of it, also, Paul would have said, I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that all our fathers went through Jordan, and were all baptized into Jesus in the spirit and in the river. And Joshua, who succeeded Moses, was a type of Jesus Christ, who succeeds the dispensation through the law, and replaces it by the preaching of the Gospel. And even if those Paul speaks of were baptized in the cloud and in the sea, there is something harsh and salt in their baptism. They are still in fear of their enemies, and crying to the Lord and to Moses, saying, Exodus 14:11 Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you brought us forth to slay us in the wilderness? Why have you dealt thus with us, to bring us forth out of Egypt? But the baptism to Joshua, which takes place in quite sweet and drinkable water, is in many ways superior to that earlier one, religion having by this time grown clearer and assuming a becoming order. For the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord our God is carried in procession by the priests and levites, the people following the ministers of God, it, also, accepting the law of holiness. For Joshua says to the people, Joshua 3:5 Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow; the Lord will do wonders among you. And he commands the priests to go before the people with the Ark of the Covenant, wherein is plainly showed forth the mystery of the Father’s economy about the Son, which is highly exalted by Him who gave the Son this office; That at the name of Jesus Philippians 2:9-11 every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This is pointed out by what we find in the book called Joshua, In that day I will begin to exalt you before the children of Israel. And we hear our Lord Jesus saying to the children of Israel, Joshua 3:9-10 Come hither and hear the words of the Lord your God. Hereby you shall know that the living God is in (among) you; for when we are baptized to Jesus, we know that the living God is in us. And, in the former case, they kept the passover in Egypt, and then began their journey, but with Joshua, after crossing Jordan on the tenth day of the first month they pitched their camp in Galgala; for a sheep had to be procured before invitations could be issued to the banquet after Joshua’s baptism. Then the children of Israel, since the children of those who came out of Egypt had not received circumcision, were circumcised by Joshua with a very sharp stone; the Lord declares that He takes away the reproach of Egypt on the day of Joshua’s baptism, when Joshua purified the children of Israel. For it is written: Joshua 5:9 And the Lord said to Joshua, the son of Nun, This day have I taken away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Then the children of Israel kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month, with much greater gladness than in Egypt, for they ate unleavened bread of the grain of the holy land, and fresh food better than manna. For when they received the land of promise God did not entertain them with scantier food, nor when such a one as Joshua was their leader do they get inferior bread. This will be plain to him who thinks of the true holy land and of the Jerusalem above. Hence it is written in this same Gospel: Your fathers ate bread in the wilderness, and are dead; he that eats of this bread shall live forever. For the manna, though it was given by God, yet was bread of travel, bread supplied to those still under discipline, well fitted for those who were under tutors and governors. And the new bread Joshua managed to get from grain they cut in the country, in the land of promise, others having laboured and his disciples reaping — that was bread more full of life, distributed as it was to those who, for their perfection, were able to receive the inheritance of their fathers. Hence, he who is still under discipline to that bread may receive death as far as it is concerned, but he who has attained to the bread that follows that, eating it, shall live forever. All this has been added, not, I conceive, without appropriateness, to our study of the baptism at the Jordan, administered by John at Bethabara.
27. Of Elijah and Elisha Crossing the Jordan.
Another point which we must not fail to notice is that when Elijah was about to be taken up in a whirlwind, as if to heaven, 2 Kings 2:8, 11 he took his mantle and wrapped it together and smote the water, which was divided hither and there, and they went over both of them, that is, he and Elisha. His baptism in the Jordan made him fitter to be taken up, for, as we showed before, Paul gives the name of baptism to such a remarkable passage through the water. And through this same Jordan Elisha receives, through Elijah, the gift he desired, saying, Let a double portion of your spirit be upon me. What enabled him to receive this gift of the spirit of Elijah was, perhaps, that he had passed through Jordan twice, once with Elijah, and the second time, when, after receiving the mantle of Elijah, he smote the water and said, Where is the God of Elijah, even He? And he smote the waters, and they were divided hither and there.
28. Naaman the Syrian and the Jordan. No Other Stream Has the Same Healing Power.
Should any one object to the expression He smote the water, on account of the conclusion we arrived at above with respect to the Jordan, that it is a type of the Word who descended for us our descending, we rejoin that with the Apostle the rock is plainly said to be Christ, and that it is smitten twice with the rod, so that the people may drink of the spiritual rock which follows them. The smiting in this new difficulty is that of those who are fond of suggesting something that contradicts the conclusion even before they have learned what the question is which is in hand. From such God sets us free, since, on the one hand, He gives us to drink when we are thirsty, and on the other He prepares for us, in the immense and trackless deep, a road to pass over, namely, by the dividing of His Word, since it is by the reason which distinguishes (divides) that most things are made plain to us. But that we may receive the right interpretation about this Jordan, so good to drink, so full of grace, it may be of use to compare the cleansing of Naaman the Syrian from his leprosy, and what is said of the rivers of religion of the enemies of Israel. It is recorded of Naaman 2 Kings 5:9-10 that he came with horse and chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go, wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh shall come again unto you, and you shall be cleansed. Then Naaman is angry; he does not see that our Jordan is the cleanser of those who are impure from leprosy, from that impurity, and their restorer to health; it is the Jordan that does this, and not the prophet; the office of the prophet is to direct to the healing agency. Naaman then says, not understanding the great mystery of the Jordan, Behold, I said that he will certainly come out to me, and will call upon the name of the Lord his God, and lay his hand upon the place, and restore the leper. For to put his hand on the leprosy Matthew 8:2-3 and cleanse it is a work belonging to our Lord Jesus only; for when the leper appealed to Him with faith, saying, If You will You can make me clean, He not only said, I will, be clean, but in addition to the word He touched him, and he was cleansed from his leprosy. Naaman, then, is still in error, and does not see how far inferior other rivers are to the Jordan for the cure of the suffering; he extols the rivers of Damascus, Arbana, and Pharpha, saying, Are not Arbana and Pharpha, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Shall I not wash in them and be clean? For as none is good but one, God the Father, so among rivers none is good but the Jordan, nor able to cleanse from his leprosy him who with faith washes his soul in Jesus. And this, I suppose, is the reason why the Israelites are recorded to have wept when they sat by the rivers of Babylon and remembered Zion; those who are carried captive, on account of their wickedness, when they taste other waters after sacred Jordan, are led to remember with longing their own river of salvation. Therefore it is said of the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, clearly because they were unable to stand, and wept. And Jeremiah rebukes those who wish to drink the waters of Egypt, and desert the water which comes down from heaven, and is named from its so coming down — namely, the Jordan. He says, What have you to do with the way of Egypt, to drink the water of Geon, and to drink the water of the river, or, as it is in the Hebrew, to drink the water of Sion. Of which water we have now to speak.
29. The River of Egypt and Its Dragon, Contrasted with the Jordan.
But that the Spirit in the inspired Scriptures is not speaking mainly of rivers to be seen with the eyes, may be gathered from Ezekiel’s prophecies against Pharaoh, king of Egypt: Behold I am against you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great dragon, seated in the midst of rivers, who sayest, Mine are the rivers, and I made them. And I will put traps in your jaws, and I will make the fishes of the river to stick to your fins, and I will bring you up from the midst of your river, and all the fish of the river, and I will cast you down quickly and all the fish of the river; you shall fall upon the face of your land, and you shall not be gathered together, and you shall not be adorned. For what real bodily dragon has ever been reported as having been seen in the material river of Egypt? But consider if the river of Egypt be not the dwelling of the dragon who is our enemy, who was not even able to kill the child Moses. But as the dragon is in the river of Egypt, so is God in the river which makes glad the city of God; for the Father is in the Son. Hence those who come to wash themselves in Him put away the reproach of Egypt, and become more fit to be restored. They are cleansed from that foulest leprosy, receive a double portion of spiritual gifts, and are made ready to receive the Holy Spirit, since the spiritual dove does not light on any other stream. Thus we have considered in a way more worthy of the sacred subject the Jordan and the purification that is in it, and Jesus being washed in it, and the house of preparation. Let us, then, draw from the river as much help as we require.
30. Of What John Learned from Jesus When Mary Visited Elisabeth in the Hill Country.
The next day John sees Jesus coming unto him. John 1:29 The mother of Jesus had formerly, as soon as she conceived, stayed with the mother of John, also at that time with child, and the Former then communicated to the Formed with some exactness His own image, and caused him to be conformed to His glory. And from this outward similarity it came that with those who did not distinguish between the image itself and that which was according to the image, John was thought to be Christ Luke 3:14 and Jesus was supposed Matthew 14:2 to be John risen from the dead. So now Jesus, after the testimonies of John to Him which we have examined, is Himself seen by the Baptist coming to him. It is to be noticed that on the former occasion, when the voice of Mary’s salutation came to the ears of Elisabeth, the babe John leaped in the womb of his mother, who then received the Holy Spirit, as it were, from the ground. For it came to pass, we read, Luke 1:41-42 when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry and said, etc. On this occasion, similarly, John sees Jesus coming to him and says, Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. For with regard to matters of great moment one is first instructed by hearing and afterwards one sees them with one’s own eyes. That John was helped to the shape he was to wear by the Lord who, still in the process of formation and in His mother’s womb, approached Elisabeth, will be clear to any one who has grasped our proof that John is a voice but that Jesus is the Word, for when Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at the salutation of Mary there was a great voice in her, as the words themselves bear; for they say, And she spoke out with a loud voice. Elisabeth, it is plain, did this, and she spoke. For the voice of Mary’s salutation coming to the ears of Elisabeth filled John with itself; hence John leaps, and his mother becomes, as it were, the mouth of her son and a prophetess, crying out with a loud voice and saying, Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Now we see clearly how it was with Mary’s hasty journey to the hill country, and her entrance into the house of Zacharias, and the greeting with which she salutes Elisabeth; it was that she might communicate some of the power she derived from Him she had conceived, to John, yet in his mother’s womb, and that John too might communicate to his mother some of the prophetic grace which had come to him, that all these things were done. And most rightly was it in the hill country that these transactions took place, since no great thing can be entertained by those who are low and may be thence called valleys. Here, then, after the testimonies of John, — the first, when he cried and spoke about His deity; the second, addressed to the priests and levites who were sent by the Jews from Jerusalem; and the third, in answer to the sharper questions of those from the Pharisees — Jesus is seen by the witness-bearer coming to him while he is still advancing and growing better. This advance and improvement is symbolically indicated in the phrase, On the morrow. For Jesus came in the consequent illumination, as it were, and on the day after what had preceded, not only known as standing in the midst even of those who knew Him not, but now plainly seen advancing to him who had formerly made such declarations about Him. On the first day the testimonies take place, and on the second Jesus comes to John. On the third John, standing with two of his disciples and looking upon Jesus as He walked, said, Behold the Lamb of God, thus urging those who were there to follow the Son of God. On the fourth day, too, He was minded to go forth into Galilee, and He who came forth to seek that which was lost finds Philip and says to him, Follow Me. And on that day, after the fourth, which is the sixth from the beginning of those we have enumerated, the marriage takes place in Cana of Galilee, which we shall have to consider when we get to the passage. Note this, too, that Mary being the greater comes to Elisabeth, who is the less, and the Son of God comes to the Baptist; which should encourage us to render help without delay to those who are in a lower position, and to cultivate for ourselves a moderate station.
31. Of the Conversation Between John and Jesus at the Baptism, Recorded by Matthew Only.
John the disciple does not tell us where the Saviour comes from to John the Baptist, but we learn this from Matthew, who writes: Then comes Jesus from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptized of him. And Mark adds the place in Galilee; he says, And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in Jordan. Luke does not mention the place Jesus came from, but on the other hand he tells us what we do not learn from the others, that immediately after the baptism, as He was coming up, heaven was opened to Him, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. Again, it is Matthew alone who tells us of John’s preventing the Lord, saying to the Saviour, I have need to be baptized by You, and You come to me? None of the others added this after Matthew, so that they might not be saying just the same as he. And what the Lord rejoined, Suffer it now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness, this also Matthew alone recorded.
32. John Calls Jesus a Lamb. Why Does He Name This Animal Specially? Of the Typology of the Sacrifices, Generally.
And he says, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29 There were five animals which were brought to the altar, three that walk and two that fly; and it seems to be worth asking why John calls the Saviour a lamb and not any of these other creatures, and why, when each of the animals that walk is offered of three kinds he used for the sheep-kind the term lamb. The five animals are as follows: the bullock, the sheep, the goat, the turtle-dove, the pigeon. And of the walking animals these are the three kinds — bullock, ox, calf; ram, sheep, lamb; he-goat, goat, kid. Of the flying animals, of pigeons we only hear of two young ones; of turtle doves only of a pair. He, then, who would accurately understand the spiritual rationale of the sacrifices must enquire of what heavenly things these were the pattern and the shadow, and also for what end the sacrifice of each victim is prescribed, and he must specially collect the points connected with the lamb. Now that the principle of the sacrifice must be apprehended with reference to certain heavenly mysteries, appears from the words of the Apostle, who somewhere says, Who serve a pattern and shadow of heavenly things, and again, It was necessary that the patterns of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. Now to find out all the particulars of these and to state in its relation to them that sacrifice of the spiritual law which took place in Jesus Christ (a truth greater than human nature can comprehend)— to do this belongs to no other than the perfect man, Hebrews 5:14 who, by reason of use, has his senses exercised to discern good and evil, and who is able to say, from a truth-loving disposition, 1 Corinthians 2:6 We speak wisdom among them that are perfect. Of these things truly and things like these, we can say, Exodus 29:38-44 Which none of the rulers of this world knew.
33. A Lamb Was Offered at the Morning and Evening Sacrifice. Significance of This.
Now we find the lamb offered in the continual (daily) sacrifice. Thus it is written, Exodus 29:38-44 This is that which you shall offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually, for a continual sacrifice. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at even, and a tenth part of fine flour mingled with beaten oil, the fourth part of a hin; and for a drink-offering the fourth part of a hin of wine to the first lamb. And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening, according to the first sacrifice and according to its drink-offering. You shall offer a sweet savour, an offering to the Lord, a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of tent of witness before the Lord, where I will make myself known to you, to speak unto you. And I will appoint you for the children of Israel, and I will be sanctified in my glory, and with sanctification I will sanctify the tent of witness. But what other continual sacrifice can there be to the man of reason in the world of mind, but the Word growing to maturity, the Word who is symbolically called a lamb and who is offered as soon as the soul receives illumination. This would be the continual sacrifice of the morning, and it is offered again when the sojourn of the mind with divine things comes to an end. For it cannot maintain for ever its intercourse with higher things, seeing that the soul is appointed to be yoked together with the body which is of earth and heavy.
34. The Morning and Evening Sacrifices of the Saint in His Life of Thought.
But if any one asks what the saint is to do in the time between morning and evening, let him follow what takes place in the cultus and infer from it the principle he asks for. In that case the priests begin their offerings with the continual sacrifice, and before they come to the continuous one of the evening they offer the other sacrifices which the law prescribes, as, for example, that for transgression, or that for involuntary offenses, or that connected with a prayer for salvation, or that of jealousy, or that of the Sabbath, or of the new moon, and so on, which it would take too long to mention. So we, beginning our oblation with the discourse of that type which is Christ, can go on to discourse about many other most useful things. And drawing to a close still in the things of Christ, we come, as it were, to evening and night, when we arrive at the bodily features of His manifestation.
35. Jesus is a Lamb in Respect of His Human Nature.
If we enquire further into the significance of Jesus being pointed out by John, when he says, This is the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world, we may take our stand at the dispensation of the bodily advent of the Son of God in human life, and in that case we shall conceive the lamb to be no other than the man. For the man was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb, dumb before his shearers, Isaiah 53:7 saying, I was as like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. Jeremiah 11:19 Hence, too, in the Apocalypse a lamb is seen, standing as if slain. This slain lamb has been made, according to certain hidden reasons, a purification of the whole world, for which, according to the Father’s love to man, He submitted to death, purchasing us back by His own blood from him who had got us into his power, sold under sin. And He who led this lamb to the slaughter was God in man, the great High-Priest, as he shows by the words: John 10:18 No one takes My life away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
36. Of the Death of the Martyrs Considered as a Sacrifice, and in What Way It Operates to the Benefit of Others.
Akin to this sacrifice are the others of which the sacrifices of the law are symbols, and another kind of sacrifice also appears to me to be of the same nature; namely, the shedding of the blood of the noble martyrs, whom the disciple John saw, for this is not without significance, standing beside the heavenly altar. Who is wise, Hosea 14:10 and he shall understand these things, prudent, and he shall know them? It is a matter of higher speculation to consider even slightly the rationale of those sacrifices which cleanse those for whom they are offered. Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter should receive attention; it was by vowing it that he conquered the children of Ammon, and the victim approved his vow, for when her father said, Judges 11:35 I have opened my mouth unto the Lord against you, she answered, If you have opened your mouth unto the Lord against me, do that which you have vowed. The story suggests that the being must be a very cruel one to whom such sacrifices are offered for the salvation of men; and we require some breadth of mind and some ability to solve the difficulties raised against Providence, to be able to account for such things and to see that they are mysteries and exceed our human nature. Then we shall say, Wisdom 17:1 Great are the judgments of God, and hard to be described; for this cause untutored souls have gone astray. Among the Gentiles, too, it is recorded that many a one, when pestilential disease broke out in his country, offered himself a victim for the public good. That this was the case the faithful Clement assumes, on the faith of the narratives, to whom Paul bears witness when he says, Philippians 4:3 With Clement also, and the others, my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life. If there is anything in these narratives that appears incongruous to one who is minded to carp at mysteries revealed to few, the same difficulty attaches to the office that was laid on the martyrs, for it was God’s will that we should rather endure all the dreadful reproaches connected with confessing Him as God, than escape for a short time from such sufferings (which men count evil) by allowing ourselves by our words to conform to the will of the enemies of the truth. We are, therefore, led to believe that the powers of evil do suffer defeat by the death of the holy martyrs; as if their patience, their confession, even unto death, and their zeal for piety blunted the edge of the onset of evil powers against the sufferer, and their might being thus dulled and exhausted, many others of those whom they had conquered raised their heads and were set free from the weight with which the evil powers formerly oppressed and injured them. And even the martyrs themselves are no longer involved in suffering, even though those agents which formerly wrought ill to others are not exhausted; for he who has offered such a sacrifice overcomes the power which opposed him, as I may show by an illustration which is suited to this subject. He who destroys a poisonous animal, or lulls it to sleep with charms, or by any means deprives it of its venom, he does good to many who would otherwise have suffered from that animal had it not been destroyed, or charmed, or emptied of its venom. Moreover, if one of those who were formerly bitten should come to know of this, and should be cured of his malady and look upon the death of that which injured him, or tread on it, or touch it when dead, or taste a part of it, then he, who was formerly a sufferer, would owe cure and benefit to the destroyer of the poisonous animal. In some such way must we suppose the death of the most holy martyrs to operate, many receiving benefit from it by an influence we cannot describe.
37. Of the Effects of the Death of Christ, of His Triumph After It, and of the Removal by His Death of the Sins of Men.
We have lingered over this subject of the martyrs and over the record of those who died on account of pestilence, because this lets us see the excellence of Him who was led as a sheep to the slaughter and was dumb as a lamb before the shearer. For if there is any point in these stories of the Greeks, and if what we have said of the martyrs is well founded — the Apostles, too, were for the same reason the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things, 1 Corinthians 4:13 — what and how great things must be said of the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for this very reason, that He might take away the sin not of a few but of the whole world, for the sake of which also He suffered? If any one sin, we read, 1 John 2:1-2 We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world, since He is the Saviour of all men, 1 Timothy 4:10 especially of them that believe, who Colossians 2:14-15 blotted out the written bond that was against us by His own blood, and took it out of the way, so that not even a trace, not even of our blotted-out sins, might still be found, and nailed it to His cross; who having put off from Himself the principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them by His cross. And we are taught to rejoice when we suffer afflictions in the world, knowing the ground of our rejoicing to be this, that the world has been conquered and has manifestly been subjected to its conqueror. Hence all the nations, released from their former rulers, serve Him, because He saved the poor from his tyrant by His own passion, and the needy who had no helper. This Saviour, then, having humbled the calumniator by humbling Himself, abides with the visible sun before His illustrious church, tropically called the moon, from generation to generation. And having by His passion destroyed His enemies, He who is strong in battle and a mighty Lord required after His mighty deeds a purification which could only be given Him by His Father alone; and this is why He forbids Mary to touch Him, saying, John 20:17 Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go and tell My disciples, I go to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God. And when He comes, loaded with victory and with trophies, with His body which has risen from the dead — for what other meaning can we see in the words, I am not yet ascended to My Father, and I go unto My Father, — then there are certain powers which say, Who is this that comes from Edom, red garments from Bosor; this that is beautiful? Isaiah 63:1 Then those who escort Him say to those that are upon the heavenly gates, Lift up your gates, you rulers, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in. But they ask again, seeing as it were His right hand red with blood and His whole person covered with the marks of His valour, Why are Your garments red, and Your clothes like the treading of the full winefat when it is trodden? And to this He answers, I have crushed them. For this cause He had need to wash His robe in wine, and His garment in the blood of the grape. Genesis 49:2 For when He had taken up our infirmities and carried our diseases, and had borne the sin of the whole world, and had conferred blessings on so many, then, perhaps, He received that baptism which is greater than any that could ever be conceived among men, and of which I think He speaks when He says, Luke 12:50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished? I enquire here with boldness and I challenge the ideas put forward by most writers. They say that the greatest baptism, beyond which no greater can be conceived, is His passion. But if this be so, why should He say to Mary after it, Touch Me not? He should rather have offered Himself to her touch, when by His passion He had received His perfect baptism. But if it was the case, as we said before, that after all His deeds of valour done against His enemies, He had need to wash His robe in wine, His garment in the blood of the grape, then He was on His way up to the husbandman of the true vine, the Father, so that having washed there and after having gone up on high, He might lead captivity captive and come down bearing manifold gifts — the tongues, as of fire, which were divided to the Apostles, and the holy angels which are to be present with them in each action and to deliver them. For before these economies they were not yet cleansed and angels could not dwell with them, for they too perhaps do not desire to be with those who have not prepared themselves nor been cleansed by Jesus. For it was of Jesus’ benignity alone that He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and suffered the penitent woman who was a sinner to wash His feet with her tears, and went down even to death for the ungodly, counting it not robbery to be equal with God, and emptied Himself, assuming the form of a servant. And in accomplishing all this He fulfils rather the will of the Father who gave Him up for sinners than His own. For the Father is good, but the Saviour is the image of His goodness; and doing good to the world in all things, since God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, which formerly for its wickedness was all enemy to Him, He accomplishes His good deeds in order and succession, and does not all at once take all His enemies for His footstool. For the Father says to Him, to the Lord of us all, Sit on My right hand, until I make Your enemies the footstool of Your feet. And this goes on till the last enemy, Death, is overcome by Him. And if we consider what is meant by this subjection to Christ and find an explanation of this mainly from the saying, 1 Corinthians 15:26 When all things shall have been put under Him, then shall the Son Himself be subjected to Him who put all things under Him, then we shall see how the conception agrees with the goodness of the God of all, since it is that of the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world. Not all men’s sin, however, is taken away by the Lamb of God, not the sin of those who do not grieve and suffer affliction till it be taken away. For thorns are not only fixed but deeply rooted in the hand of every one who is intoxicated by wickedness and has parted with sobriety, as it is said in the Proverbs, Thorns grow in the hand of the drunkard, and what pain they must cause him who has admitted such growth in the substance of his soul, it is hard even to tell. Who has allowed wickedness to establish itself so deeply in his soul as to be a ground full of thorns, he must be cut down by the quick and powerful word of God, which is sharper than a two-edged sword, and which is more caustic than any fire. To such a soul that fire must be sent which finds out thorns, and by its divine virtue stands where they are and does not also burn up the threshing-floors or standing grain. But of the Lamb which takes away the sin of the world and begins to do so by His own death there are several ways, some of which are capable of being clearly understood by most, but others are concealed from most, and are known to those only who are worthy of divine wisdom. Why should we count up all the ways by which we come to believe among men? That is a thing which every one living in the body is able to see for himself. And in the ways in which we believe in these also, sin is taken away; by afflictions and evil spirits and dangerous diseases and grievous sicknesses. And who knows what follows after this? So much as we have said was not unnecessary — we could not neglect the thought which is so clearly connected with that of the words, Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and had therefore to attend somewhat closely to this part of our subject. This has brought us to see that God convicts some by His wrath and chastens them by His anger, since His love to men is so great that He will not leave any without conviction and chastening; so that we should do what in us lies to be spared such conviction and such chastening by the sorest trials.
38. The World, of Which the Sin is Taken Away, is Said to Be the Church. Reasons for Not Agreeing with This Opinion.
The reader will do well to consider what was said above and illustrated from various quarters on the question what is meant in Scripture by the word world; and I think it proper to repeat this. I am aware that a certain scholar understands by the world the Church alone, since the Church is the adornment of the world, and is said to be the light of the world. You, he says, Matthew 5:14 are the light of the world. Now, the adornment of the world is the Church, Christ being her adornment, who is the first light of the world. We must consider if Christ is said to be the light of the same world as His disciples. When Christ is the light of the world, perhaps it is meant that He is the light of the Church, but when His disciples are the light of the world, perhaps they are the light of others who call on the Lord, others in addition to the Church, as Paul says on this point in the beginning of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, where he writes, To the Church of God, with all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Should any one consider that the Church is called the light of the world, meaning thereby of the rest of the race of men, including unbelievers, this may be true if the assertion is taken prophetically and theologically; but if it is to be taken of the present, we remind him that the light of a thing illuminates that thing, and would ask him to show how the remainder of the race is illuminated by the Church’s presence in the world. If those who hold the view in question cannot show this, then let them consider if our interpretation is not a sound one, that the light is the Church, and the world those others who call on the Name. The words which follow the above in Matthew will point out to the careful enquirer the proper interpretation. You, it is said, are the salt of the earth, the rest of mankind being conceived as the earth, and believers are their salt; it is because they believe that the earth is preserved. For the end will come if the salt loses its savour, and ceases to salt and preserve the earth, since it is clear that if iniquity is multiplied and love waxes cold upon the earth, Matthew 24:12 as the Saviour Himself uttered an expression of doubt as to those who would witness His coming, saying, Luke 18:8 When the Son of man comes, shall He find faith upon the earth? then the end of the age will come. Supposing, then, the Church to be called the world, since the Saviour’s light shines on it — we have to ask in connection with the text, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world, whether the world here is to be taken intellectually of the Church, and the taking away of sin is limited to the Church. In that case what are we to make of the saying of the same disciple with regard to the Saviour, as the propitiation for sin? If any man sin, we read, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world? Paul’s dictum appears to me to be to the same effect, when he says, 1 Timothy 4:10 Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful. Again, Heracleon, dealing with our passage, declares, without any proof or any citation of witnesses to that effect, that the words, Lamb of God, are spoken by John as a prophet, but the words, who takes away the sin of the world, by John as more than a prophet. The former expression he considers to be used of His body, but the latter of Him who was in that body, because the lamb is an imperfect member of the genus sheep; the same being true of the body as compared with the dweller in it. Had he meant to attribute perfection to the body he would have spoken of a ram as about to be sacrificed. After the careful discussions given above, I do not think it necessary to enter into repetitions on this passage, or to controvert Heracleon’s careless utterances. One point only may be noted, that as the world was scarcely able to contain Him who had emptied Himself, it required a lamb and not a ram, that its sin might be taken away.