John the Baptist’s Role

Q. Why is John the Baptist not listed among Jesus’ apostles?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

We are so used to reflecting on John the Baptist’s praises of Jesus we may be quite surprised to encounter details in John the Evangelist’s Gospel account that describe Jesus himself (or at least his disciples) also baptizing (see Jn 3:22; 4:1). Someone even remarks on Jesus’ popularity to John, “Rabbi…here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him” (Jn 3:26).

The Catholic editors of “Sacra Pagina” (Liturgical Press, 1998) suggest this means Jesus and John may have begun a joint ministry of baptism that eventually took different courses, although the two certainly knew one another, as the Gospel texts testify. The Evangelist observes this took place before John’s imprisonment (see Jn 3:24), which, of course, brought his career to an end. Meanwhile, Jesus’ ministry became one of preaching, and when Jesus commands his disciples to baptize, as he does before his ascension, this baptism is something entirely different.

Could John the Baptist have become one of Jesus’ disciples? He certainly saw himself as Jesus’ precursor, and his lack of concern at the success of Jesus’ ministry indicates he did not consider him a competitor. This remains a tantalizing question; sadly, political events intervened, so we shall never know the answer.