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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Epithets of Saint John the Baptist in the Gospels (St. Andrew of Crete)

By St. Andrew of Crete

Many, excellent and great are the epithets and titles of the Honorable Forerunner, which he is called in the Gospels and by Christ Himself.

That which he is first called is "Son." Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. (Lk. 1:13) When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. (Lk. 1:57)

The next is "Baby." When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (Lk. 1:41-44)

Another name is "Child." And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High. (Lk. 1:76) And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. (Lk. 1:80)

He was even called "Great." He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. (Lk. 1:14-15)

And "John." On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” (Lk. 1:59-63)

And of course, "Prophet." What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (Matt. 11:7,9,13)

The Lord called him "Elijah." And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. (Matt. 11:14) And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah. (Lk. 1:17)

Many called him "Teacher." Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” (Lk. 3:12)

They even called him "Prodromos."* And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him. (Lk. 1:76)

And he was called a "Preacher." And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And this was the message he preached: “After me comes the one more powerful than I." (Lk. 1:4,7)

He described himself as a "Voice." He was asked by men sent from the Pharisees: “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (Jn. 1:22-23)

He is and was called a "Baptist." Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. (Matt. 3:13) And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mk. 1:4)

Undoubtedly he is a "Martyr." He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.** (Jn. 1:7,8) His testimony was sealed with the martyrdom of blood, when his honorable head was cut off, because he preached the truth, and rebuked all lawlessness.

He was also called "Righteous" and "Holy." Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. (Mk. 6:20)

He called himself an "Apostle." "You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’"*** (Jn. 3:28)

Another excellent name of his is "Evangelist." And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.**** (Lk. 3:18)

He is even called a "Nymphagogos,"***** who leads souls to the Bridegroom Christ, as he once said: "The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must increase; I must decrease." (Jn. 3:29-30)

He is also called a "Lamp." John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. (Jn. 5:35)

He also had the title of "Rebuker of Herod." For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mk. 6:18) But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done. (Lk. 3:19)

John received such great and important names. He is honored by these because his works were in accordance with his titles. Thus John was "greater than among those born of women." (Matt. 11).


* Prodromos is often translated as Forerunner or Precursor, but the literal translation is closer to "he who prepares the way."

** The Greek word for Martyr is martyra, which is translated as "witness."

*** The Greek word for Apostle is apostolos, which is translated as "one who is sent."

**** The Greek word for Evangelist is evangelistis, which is translated as "one who proclaims the good news."

***** A Nymphagogos is a Conductor or Attendant of the Bride or Bridegroom, whose job it was to lead and attend to the bride or bridegroom to their spouse and to their house.

(Excerpt from his Homily on the Cutting Off of the Honorable Head of John the Forerunner)

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