Was Jesus ever a disciple of John the Baptist? A historical study
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This study asks if the historical Jesus was ever a disciple of John the Baptist, where by ‘disciple’ is meant someone who would have been in a close personal relationship to John as their leader and teacher, and who would have spent considerable time in his presence. The current majority view of scholars is that Jesus is likely to have been John’s disciple at some time before beginning his own ministry (and in the opinion of some, during the early part of his ministry too). However, this study argues that, although we cannot be sure, he is actually unlikely to have chosen to submit himself to John in this way. Reasons are provided for believing that, even early in his ministry, Jesus had a profound confidence in his (sometimes distinctive) beliefs across a range of religious issues, including those beliefs that had to do with his own extremely important place in God’s plan. It is argued too that if Jesus was ever John’s disciple, he would very probably have to have first become his disciple no more than a matter of months before beginning his own ministry. The shortness of the time in which his confidence in his religious beliefs could have developed means that, during the period in which any potential discipleship would have begun, it is probable that Jesus had at least a fairly deep assurance about what he believed in religious matters, including what he believed concerning his own crucial place in God’s plan. This assurance makes it unlikely that he would have wished to become John’s disciple. Further – related – reasons for thinking that Jesus’ discipleship is historically unlikely are also provided. These are (a) that Jesus may well have had a spiritual experience at the time of his baptism (before any discipleship could have occurred), something that would not have cohered well with a decision then to become John’s disciple; and (b) that Jesus may have spent time alone in the wilderness very soon after his baptism. In addition to presenting these arguments against Jesus’ discipleship, most of the study involves detailed examination of the most cogent arguments that have been used to support the view that Jesus was once John’s disciple. It finds that even the strongest of these are relatively weak.