As I prepare my paper for this year’s AAR-SBL PNW meeting I have taken interest in the role of the memory of John the Baptist as juxtaposed with Jesus that receives attention in all four Gospels and the Book of Acts. It has a prominent place in the message of these books and there are points where it seems like the authors are writing a semi-polemic against those who may be giving special honor to the Baptist (e.g. Acts 19.1-7). Yet the Apostle Paul seems to have no interest in the man, even if he is depicted in the Book of Acts as meeting people like Apollos and other disciples who identify with John’s baptism. Why?
Well, there are two things that stand out as likely reasons: (1) Paul doesn’t give much time to the Jesus’ ministry in Judea/Galilee. He may have talked about such matters, but his letters are to established churches, and he doesn’t seem to feel the obligation to tell stories from the life of Jesus to make his point. (2) He wrote to audiences who may not have known about the role of John being that they were Gentiles or diaspora Jews.
If passages like Acts 18.24-19.7 have grounding in history it seems like John was not a person whose memory had faded all that quickly. In fact, Paul is said to have met some “disciples” who knew of the baptism of John alone and the Apollos of 18.24-28 is likely the same one met in his letters. He was someone who knew of the baptism of John as well.
That works like Mark and Luke-Acts (which seem to have audiences foreign to Judea/Galilee) felt the need to address the person of John and that the Gospel of John contains a semi-polemic against John seem to indicate that John the Baptist was a relevant figure for many late into the first century (unless one dates John earlier).