Matthew 11:11

Rivalry between the early followers of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons)


    According to several reputed scholars  there was rivalry between the early followers of John the Baptist and Jesus. Matthew 11:11 is one passage that contains a clue to the tension that existed between the followers of Jesus and John. The verse reads as follows:

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

After citing the above verse Clarik Williamson states, “We know that the Jesus movement was involved in a strong rivalry with John’s community until late in the first century.” [1] Though the literary evidence isn’t explicit, a close and critical analysis of the relevant texts such as Matthew 11:11 do reveal a tension between John’s community and Jesus’ as Cynthia Bourgeault states, “You have to read beneath the surface to see this of course — but just barely beneath the surface. The gospels all reveal a growing rivalry between the John and Jesus camps…”. [2] Also citing the verse in question is James L. Weaver who mentions the possibility of rivalry between the followers of the two personalities saying, “In the Gospels, we have echoes of possible rivalry between the disciples of John and Jesus(see Matthew 9:14 and 11:11).”[3] According to critical scholars the first part of the verse was probably uttered by Jesus and circulated popularly among both John’s followers and Jesus’. It is the second part of the verse which circumvents the first part which is most probably not from Jesus and is in fact an addition that was inserted later by those who did not like the idea of John being in anyway superior to Jesus. How does the verse put John on a greater pedestal than Jesus? Well, the first part has Jesus saying that “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist”. Jesus must necessarily be included since he too was born of a woman(Mary). That would mean that John in actual fact is greater than Jesus. This bit of information was obviously not palatable to those who saw Jesus as the epitome of perfection and the only sinless man to have ever walked the earth. But what were  they able to do since the saying was already in popular circulation? The clever plan was to add an extra bit to be attached to the existing saying that would usurp the superior position designated to John. Thus we have the part which can be traced back to Jesus, that is, “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” and the section that was added later, that is, “yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Benedict T. Viviano in the New Jerusalem Biblical Commentary states that, “Verse 11b may be an early Christian gloss”[4] However, thinking that they would resolve the issue they actually introduced further problems to it.

Let’s have a look at some of those problems that were inadvertently introduced into the text. It says that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Which Christian devoid of humility will impertinently say that he is greater than John the Baptist when the latter actually met Jesus and even baptised him? Is a Christian believer superior to one who was martyred for his unwavering belief in God and was in fact appointed by Him? Further more, Jesus is said to have identified the “least in the kingdom of heaven” in Matthew 5:19 and they are those who break God’s laws and commandments. Does that mean that the lawless who according to the Law is unrighteous and deserving of God’s wrath, yet for some reason will be in the kingdom of heaven will be greater than the lawful John the Baptist? If the prophets including Abraham etc. will dine with Jesus in the kingdom of heaven[5] does that not include John the Baptist who is a fellow prophet? Thus if he is in the kingdom of heaven and even the least in it will be greater than he will he be greater than himself since he will be the least since the least(others) will be greater? Can you see the logical fallacy involved? Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover and the Jesus Seminar in The Five Gospels state:

“Jesus is probably the only speaker in Christian sources who would have called John the Baptist the greatest among all human beings (v. 11). Yet the second part of the saying downplays the first by excluding John from God’s domain. This qualification reflects the subsequent rivalry between the followers of the two leaders (the Baptist movement did survive and is known today as the Mandean religion in the Mesopotamia valley).”[6]

References:

[1] Williamson, C. M. (1993). Post-Holocaust Church Theology: A Guest in the House of Israel. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press. pp. 57

[2] Bourgeault, C. (2010). The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications. pp 99-100

[3] Weaver, J. L. (2008). Workbook for lectors and gospel readers. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications. pp. 45

[4] Viviano, B. T. (1990). The Gospel According to Matthew. In Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer & Roland E. Murphy (Eds.), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 653

[5] Sanders, E.P. (1995). The Historical Figure of Jesus. England: Penguin Books. pp. 186

[6] Funk, R. W., Hoover, R. W. & The Jesus Seminar (1993). The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. pp. 179

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7 Responses to “Matthew 11:11”

  1. mrk says:

    jc v john

    John comes from the desert before baptizing Jesus, Jesus goes to the
    desert after being baptized. Both men are suddenly arrested after
    becoming popular and executed for their political/religious wok. They
    are so identical that people think Jesus is John come back to life.

    Even when defining Jesus, he is defined in terms of John. Jesus
    drinks, hangs out with whores, parties with rich men and doesn’t fast;
    John doesn’t drink, hang out with whores, or party with rich men, but
    does fast.

    • Nur el Masih Ben Haq says:

      Mrk, by saying:

      “…Jesus drinks, hangs out with whores, parties with rich men and doesn’t fast;
      John doesn’t drink, hang out with whores,”

      You are foolishly going against the Islam you want to impress. Islam does not tolerate such attack on Jesus, who is considered as a Prophet in Islam.

  2. Nur el Masih Ben Haq says:

    Ibn Anwar, YOU EXEGGERATE AND MISINTERPRET MATTHEW 11:11

    First of all, let’s see what the Holy Bible actually says:

    Matthew 11:11 “ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

    Ibn Anwar then said among other thing, “…How does the verse put John on a greater pedestal than Jesus? Well, the first part has Jesus saying that “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist”. Jesus must necessarily be included since he too was born of a woman (Mary).

    First of all, contrary to the impression Ibn Anwar wants to give, Jesus said “there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” This is different from saying, “ there has not risen anyone as great as John the Baptist ” which, for some misleading reason, is the impression that Ibn Anwar tries to give so as to justify the impression that John was greater than Jesus.
    Even if Jesus is included among those born of women, it can ONLY mean that Jesus was not greater than John; but John was not necessarily greater than Jesus as at the time Jesus made the remark; and the both could be on the same pedestal of Prophethood.
    Nevertheless, there were other conditions. The use of figures of speech did not begin in our time. Thus, the phrase, ‘born of women’ might not have been literal — it could just mean ‘born naturally, or ‘natural men’ or ‘normal men’ such that Jesus, who was born spiritually, did not include himself.
    Also, the phrase ‘has not risen’ indicates a current (rather than permanent) condition. It means since the beginning to the time of the remark. That means no Prophet from the beginning to the time of John the Baptist was greater than the later. Remember that the incarnated Jesus, who was growing naturally, was still comparatively young and a rising (and not fully risen) Prophet then.
    Lastly, but most importantly, Jesus towards the end of the verse, implied that he was spiritually the greatest of all:
    Matthew 11: 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
    EVEN JOHN HIMSELF COMFIRMS HIS INFERIORITY TO JESUS
    “ I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am–so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” ( Matthew 3:11 ).

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      I have not exaggerated nor misinterpreted anything. In fact, the interpretation is not my own invention. It is the view taken by critical scholars such as the ones I have cited in the article.
      You said:
      “First of all, contrary to the impression Ibn Anwar wants to give, Jesus said “there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” This is different from saying, “ there has not risen anyone as great as John the Baptist ” which, for some misleading reason, is the impression that Ibn Anwar tries to give so as to justify the impression that John was greater than Jesus.
      Even if Jesus is included among those born of women, it can ONLY mean that Jesus was not greater than John; but John was not necessarily greater than Jesus as at the time Jesus made the remark; and the both could be on the same pedestal of Prophethood.”

      My reply:
      Well, if I were to say to you, “none is greater than you, sir” would I not be suggesting your superiority over others? In fact, the word used ‘meizon’ can be understood as greatest according to Strong’s concordance and other relevant Greek lexicons. Even in English if I were to say to a King that there is no one greater than him, I would be in actual fact promoting him to the greatest position. You said that “born of women” may be a figure of speech that means “born naturally” and that would exclude Jesus since according to you he was born “spiritually”. Jesus’ birth was natural insofar that he had to travel through the birth canal just like John the Baptist and every Tom, Dick and Harry has. It was no doubt miraculous since there was no male intervention, but the manner by which Jesus entered into the world was perfectly natural. The verse says “born of women” and not “conceived in women”. Jesus was born naturally, but was conceived unnaturally. Nevertheless, Matthew 1 describes Jesus’ GENESIS as coming from the womb of Mary.

      You said:
      Also, the phrase ‘has not risen’ indicates a current (rather than permanent) condition. It means since the beginning to the time of the remark. That means no Prophet from the beginning to the time of John the Baptist was greater than the later. Remember that the incarnated Jesus, who was growing naturally, was still comparatively young and a rising (and not fully risen) Prophet then

      My reply:
      You are just grasping at straws now. Matthew 11:11 is well after the so called annunciation by which time his ministry has already begun which means that he has already been fully appointed a prophet. In any case according to standard Trinitarian Christian theology, the hypostatic union and perfection bore by Jesus did not begin during his ministry, but remained constant before and forever, hence missionaries will cite the passage in Hebrews which describes him as being the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

      You said that Matthew 11:27 makes Jesus spiritually superior over everyone else during his time. I have no problem accepting the idea that Jesus was in his time in fact spiritually superior and had privileged information from the Father because every Prophet has his own unique qualities during his own dispensation, but to suggest that truly no one knew the Father except through Jesus is to negate the prophethood of John the Baptist and all other righteous individuals during that time who sought to please the Father by obeying his decrees. Jesus may have been referring to some but not all knowledge given to Him by the Father. The first part of my response in this paragraph does not mean I’m now throwing in the towel and submitting the point to Nur El Masih Ben Haq. Rather, I am affirming the fact that in God’s supreme knowledge Jesus was privileged, but that does not negate the historical value of the first part of the saying in Matthew 11:11. The point is, that saying was indeed historically uttered by Jesus and because in the perception of Jesus’ sympathisers it downplays his unnique superiority over all they introduced something extra to it. Rather than solving the conundrum they in fact made it worse as I have illustrated in the article. None of those points have been touched by Nur El Masih Ben haq. Matthew 3:11 is another one of those verses that according to the Jesus Seminar was introduced later by Jesus’ sympathisers. Why did they introduce that verse? It’s because Jesus actually went to John to be baptised and we know that he was baptising for the remission of sins. Why would Jesus who is supposed to be superior get baptised by an inferior when it ought to be the other way around. And why would Jesus go to be baptised when the purpose of the baptism was for the remission of sins. Was Jesus not sinless? Hence, the Jesus Seminar says:
      “The fact that Jesus had been baptized at all by John and that John was his mentor for a time was an embarrassment for the Christian community that wanted to distance itself from both the baptist movement and rabbinic Judaism, so it developed various apologetic ploys to explain those earlier connections to John and to Judean religion.” (The Five Gospels, pp. 133)
      The New Jerome Biblical Commentary pertinently remarks, “Here we must distinguish what JBap probably said from later Christian additions.” (The New Jerome Biblical COmmentary, pp. 637)

      • Ahmad A. says:

        wow. Mashallah brother. I’ve been researching and reading the bible and studying comparative religion for some time now. Did you take classes on Christianity and the bible? or do you have this knowledge from your own personal studies?

  3. mrk says:

    The meal was as good as the conversation: spicy and invigorating!

    The meal was greater than the conversation…

    i don’t know about greek, but bbc english explains

    Remember that when we are measuring or comparing things that are of unequal proportion, we need to use the structure comparative + than:

    Let me finish the report. I can type much faster than you (can).

  4. Orrin Sharp says:

    Mr. Ibn Anwar I appreciate the website. I am studying at a Christian University and it is very nice to see such a civil debate going on. Christians have a tendency to run from arguments such as these and I wish more people would be willing to mull over the thoughts going on here, let alone talk them through with smart individuals as yourself. That being said I do consider myself a Christian and so I am intrigued to discuss different opinions with you.

    Ironically there are still a small sect of people that worship, in a sense, John the Baptist. They believe he was a sort of messiah in a way. So it is true that there was tension between Christianity and followers of John the Baptist early on. It would be foolish to deny as such, because there are still some who believe John the Baptist was the messiah.

    It does, therefore, leave some teachings of John the Baptist as suspect in the Christian text. And I admit the one in particular you analyze here in particular is something to consider. I do have something to say though in that regard:

    I wonder how scholars who consider the possibility that Jesus’ words are quoted in the New Testament, misquoted in the New Testament, or made up in the New Testament reach such conclusions. That is to say, scholars have an overarching belief Jesus was a real man, they believe he said many things, many of them are quoted correctly in the Bible, but some of the apparent quotes of Jesus are just later additions of Christians. It would be easy to conclude that if there were extremely early dated texts that were missing key lines written into today’s used manuscripts. We have some of the earliest written manuscripts considered plausible, and this is where we have our translation. It would be ideal to have the first manuscript ever written, but alas, we don’t. I am just curious to see your thoughts as to how such conclusions could be made other than using a sharp-shooter fallacy as an argument. I mean you can grab a bunch of lines that seem to address a problem from the New Testament and just call them later additions. I can do that with a lot of religious texts. The problem is that the legitimacy of the argument is minimal compared to an argument that presents two different manuscripts of which the earliest is missing key lines.

    Also, if I am an early Christian conspirer, I just rewrite the whole thing to say: “John the Baptist was great, but I am better.” I don’t add problems to my cause by just adding a confusing line at the end.

    Now as far as your connection to Matt 5:19 and Matt 11:11, I find it a bit problematic. Kingdom of Heaven is mostly considered today by scholars as synonymous to Kingdom of God. So the Kingdom of God which contains people like Abraham Moses, etc calls those who sin and teach others to do so the least. Whereas those who obey the law and and teaches it will be called great in the Kingdom of God. You think this is referring to heaven when we are all sitting around a table with each other? No this is not a reference to heaven or hell, just to the fact that Kingdom of Heaven/God recognizes those who do good verses those who do bad, whereas the kingdoms of earth may not distinguish the two. Matt 11:11, the scripture refers to those IN the Kingdom of Heaven and compares them to John the Baptist who could be considered a greater man than anyone on earth. You have to take this verse in context too, John the Baptist is asking a question. He doesn’t understand why his ministry doesn’t seem to be working according to plan. Matt 11:12 discusses the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, yet at the same time is receiving forceful attacks from people(most likely by zealots and pharisees). What does that have to do with Matt 11:11? The work of John the Baptist and Jesus are in and of the same thing. John the Baptist prepares the way, while Jesus advances the Kingdom of Heaven by proclaiming it to those who would accept to hear it. John the Baptist is the greatest man, but the Kingdom of Heaven contains people who have witnessed the advancement of the Kingdom that John the Baptist did not fully see. As person and law obeyer John the Baptist is surpassed by no one, but as witness to the Kingdom, he is surpassed by all of those who accept Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom.

    Anyway, you assume that Jesus is talking about a conference up in heaven and that Matt 5:19 and Matt 11:11 mean that John the Baptist will be sitting as low as the sinners. However, Matt 5:19 is not usable under Matt 11:11. So Jesus doesn’t put John the Baptists with lowly sinners, he doesn’t put John the Baptist at the same level as himself as a prophet. He is sort of answering John’s question to the crowd. Telling them that he is great for what he has done for the advancement of the Kingdom, but he isn’t going to see the fulfillment of it in his day and therefore will be called the least amongst the witnesses in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    The early Christian “conspirers” would not miss such a logical fallacy if this were an addition. This is unlikely an addition by early Christian writers because of the fact that it is so problematic in interpretation. If I were a conspirer I would have simply deleted this or replaced it with something less cryptic. It is not a logical fallacy because it must be taken in full context, I can take any words out of their context and they will almost always prove to be a logical fallacy.

    Anyway, look forward to discussing more issues with you. You seem very educated and I think you will help me in learning some things about my own religion!

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