Origens Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew by Origen
20. Different Conceptions of John the Baptist.
|At that season Herod the tetrarch heard the report concerning Jesus and said unto his own servants, This is John the Baptist.| In Mark it is the same, and also in Luke. The Jews had different opinions, some false, such as the Sadducees held about the resurrection of the dead, that they do not rise, and in regard to angels that they do not exist, but that those things which were written about them were only to be interpreted figuratively, but had no reality in point of fact; and some true opinions, such as were taught by the Pharisees about the resurrection of the dead that they rise. We must therefore here inquire, whether the opinion regarding the soul, mistakenly held by Herod and some from among the people, was somewhat like this -- that John, who a little before had been slain by him, had risen from the dead after he had been beheaded, and was the same person under a different name, and being now called Jesus was possessed of the same powers which formerly wrought in John. For what credibility is there in the idea that One, who was so widely known to the whole people, and whose name was noised abroad in the whole of Judæa, whom they declared to be the son of the carpenter and Mary, and to have such and such for brothers and sisters, was thought to be not different from John whose father was Zacharias, and whose mother was Elisabeth, who were themselves not undistinguished among the people? But it is probable that the fact of his being the Son of Zacharias was not unknown to the people, who thought with regard to John that he was truly a prophet, and were so numerous that the Pharisees, in order to avoid the appearance of saying that which was displeasing to the people, were afraid to answer the question, |Was his baptism from heaven or from men?| And perhaps, also, to some of them had come the knowledge of the incident of the vision which was seen in the temple, when Gabriel appeared to Zacharias. What credibility, forsooth, has the erroneous opinion, whether of Herod or of some of the people, that John and Jesus were not two persons, but that it was one and the same person John who rose from the dead after that he had been beheaded and was called Jesus? Some one might say, however, that Herod and some of those of the people held the false dogma of the transmigration of souls into bodies, in consequence of which they thought that the former John had appeared again by a fresh birth, and had come from the dead into life as Jesus. But the time between the birth of John and the birth of Jesus, which was not more than six months, does not permit this false opinion to be considered credible. And perhaps rather some such idea as this was in the mind of Herod, that the powers which wrought in John had passed over to Jesus, in consequence of which He was thought by the people to be John the Baptist. And one might use the following line of argument. Just as because of the spirit and the power of Elijah, and not because of his soul, it is said about John, |This is Elijah which is to come,| the spirit in Elijah and the power in him having gone over to John -- so Herod thought that the powers in John wrought in his case works of baptism and teaching, -- for John did not one miracle, but in Jesus miraculous portents. It may be said that something of this kind was the thought of those who said that Elijah had appeared in Jesus, or that one of the old prophets had risen. But the opinion of those who said that Jesus was |a prophet even as one of the prophets,| has no bearing on the question. False, then, is the saying concerning Jesus, whether that recorded to have been the view of Herod, or that spoken by others. Only, the saying, |That John went before in the spirit and power of Elijah,| which corresponds to the thoughts which they were now cherishing concerning John and Jesus, seems to me more credible. But since we learned, in the first place, that when the Saviour after the temptation heard that John was given up, He retreated into Galilee, and in the second place, that when John was in prison and heard the things about Jesus he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, |Art thou He that cometh, or look we for another?| and in the third place, generally that Herod said about Jesus, |It is John the Baptist, he is risen from the dead,| but we have not previously learned from any quarter the manner in which the Baptist was killed, therefore Matthew has now recorded it, and Mark almost like unto him; but Luke passed over in silence the greater part of the narrative as it is found in them.|