John the Baptist’s Doubt & its Relevance to Apologetics.

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If we look at what Jesus says in Matthews gospel, namely that “among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (11:11) we find that he believed that John the Baptist was a godly man who was raised in a godly home. His parents served God and his mother, Elizabeth, knew that Jesus was the “Lord” even while he was still in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:39-45). It would therefore seem that John grew up with this information that Jesus was the Messiah. This was only further confirmed when he saw God’s Spirit descend on Jesus during the baptism in the river (Luke 3:22). Thus, one would think that if there was a person who should have been certain of Jesus’ identity it would be John the Baptist.

But we find that there was a moment of massive doubt in John’s life. Even after John had heard from the disciples all that Jesus had done, and his reputation with the crowds who had witnessed his miracles, John still sent two of his own disciples to Jesus. John wanted them to ask him a question, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:19). Jesus’ response is hugely informative. He tells the disciples to “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me“”(Luke 7:22-23).

This is important so what can we learn from Jesus’ response? A few things. We should realize that Jesus did not condemn John for his question nor did he simply demand that John put blind faith in him. No, Jesus provided John with evidence to convince him that he was the “Expected One.” Jesus performed miracles as a powerful sign of this especially since miracles were consistent with the Messianic expectations found in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 29:18; 35:5-6). This is hugely relevant to the contemporary Christian’s life too. It shows is that doubt is experienced by everyone even by some of the most convinced people of faith. In fact, if one never doubted then he or she isn’t thinking very hard about what he or she believes. As a theological rationalist, and Christian apologist, doubt has been part of my journey too, and there’s no shame in admitting that. To admit we can struggle is to be humble, to accept that we’re human, but also willing to use doubt as a step for learning and growing. But what is also important in the face of doubt is to know why we believe what we do. Being aware of these reasons will keep us firm in faith just as Jesus knew that evidence for his remarkable deeds would dispel John’s doubt.

This is why apologetics is important. It shows Christians that their beliefs are evidentially based and therefore rational to hold. Likewise it appeals to the critical thinker who is a skeptic. It shows the skeptic that to be a Christian is not to turn off one’s critical thinking capacities and, as a result, many have been saved and come to belief in Jesus as saviour because of reason. Jesus didn’t condemn John, and neither should Christians condemn others for asking sincere, genuine questions. Like Jesus did with John we Christians need to put the evidence on the table and show why we believe what we do. Jesus would certainly agree.

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2 responses to “John the Baptist’s Doubt & its Relevance to Apologetics.

  1. Actually, St Francis de Sales points out in one of his Advent sermons that St John was sending his disciples to be taught by Jesus, not to answer any doubts of his own.

    De Sales points out times in Scripture when the Lord asks a question – it’s always rhetorical. He already knows the answer, but He asks for a different purpose.

    It was likewise a common rabbinical practice (also popular in ancient Greece & was how the early universities taught)to give one’s students a question to seek the answer to.

    John had said “I must decrease and He must increase”, and was sending his own followers to look to the One he had been sent to proclaim for their answers.

    It’s an excellent sermon; I can’t do it justice. If you can locate a copy, it’s worth the full read.

  2. “It shows is that doubt is experienced by everyone. In fact, if one never doubted then he or she isn’t thinking very hard about what he or she believes.”
    ——– That sounds nice to modern ears, but isn’t biblical. The biblical response to doubters is that they are unstable and have no right to think God will give them anything they ask for:

    6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
    7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
    8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (Jas. 1:6-8 NAU)

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