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Luke 3: 10-18

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the gospel passage, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    10 Καὶ ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ ὄχλοι λέγοντες• τί οὖν ποιήσωμεν;10 Kai epērōtōn auton hoi ochloi legontes• ti oun poiēsōmen?10 And were asking him the crowds saying, What therefore shall we do?10 The crowds asked John, "What should we do?
    11 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς• ὁ ἔχων δύο χιτῶνας μεταδότω τῷ μὴ ἔχοντι, καὶ ὁ ἔχων βρώματα ὁμοίως ποιείτω.11 apokritheis de elegen autois• ho echōn dyo chitōnas metadotō tō mē echonti, kai ho echōn brōmata homoiōs poieitō.11 Then, answering, he was saying to them, the (one) having two tunics, let him give a share to the (one) not having, and the (one) having food, let him do likewise.11 His answer was to tell them this, "Whoever has two coats, let him share with him who has none, and whoever has food, let him do the same."
    12 ἦλθον δὲ καὶ τελῶναι βαπτισθῆναι καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς αὐτόν• διδάσκαλε, τί ποιήσωμεν;12 ēlthon de kai telōnai baptisthēnai kai eipan pros auton• didaskale, ti poiēsōmen?12 Then came also tax collectors to be baptized and they said towards him, Teacher, what shall we do?12 Customs officers came to him to be baptized and asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"
    13 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς• μηδὲν πλέον παρὰ τὸ διατεταγμένον ὑμῖν πράσσετε.13 ho de eipen pros autous• mēden pleon para to diatetagmenon hymin prassete.13 Then, him, he said towards them, nothing more beside the (thing), having been appointed to you, collect13 And he answered them, "Do not take anything more than what you have been commanded."
    14 ἐπηρώτων δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ στρατευόμενοι λέγοντες• τί ποιήσωμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς; καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς• μηδένα διασείσητε μηδὲ συκοφαντήσητε καὶ ἀρκεῖσθε τοῖς ὀψωνίοις ὑμῶν.14 epērōtōn de auton kai strateuomenoi legontes• ti poiēsōmen kai hēmeis? kai eipen autois• mēdena diaseisēte mēde sykophantēsēte kai arkeisthe tois opsōniois hymōn.14 Then, they were asking him also those serving as soldiers saying, What shall we also do us? And he said to them, No one you shall extort nor accuse falsely and be content with the wages of you.14 Military men also questioned him with the words, "And what shall we do?" He said to them, "Do not molest or slander anyone, and be content with your pay."
    15 Προσδοκῶντος δὲ τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ διαλογιζομένων πάντων ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν περὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου, μήποτε αὐτὸς εἴη ὁ χριστός,15 Prosdokōntos de tou laou kai dialogizomenōn pantōn en tais kardiais autōn peri tou Iōannou, mēpote autos eiē ho christos,15 Then, expecting the people and reasoning all in their hearts concerning the John whether ever he might be the anointed.15 As the people were waiting and everyone was debating in his heart if John was not the messiah,
    16 ἀπεκρίνατο λέγων πᾶσιν ὁ Ἰωάννης• ἐγὼ μὲν ὕδατι βαπτίζω ὑμᾶς• ἔρχεται δὲ ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ• αὐτὸς ὑμᾶς βαπτίσει ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ καὶ πυρί•16 apekrinato legōn pasin ho Iōannēs• egō men hydati baptizō hymas• erchetai de ho ischyroteros mou, hou ouk eimi hikanos lysai ton himanta tōn hypodēmatōn autou• autos hymas baptisei en pneumati hagiō kai pyri•16 He answered saying to all the John, I indeed, with water I baptize you; then, comes the (one) mightier than me, of whom I am not worthy to untie the strap of the sandals of him. Him, he will baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire,16 John answered, "I baptize you in water, but one who is stronger than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
    17 οὗ τὸ πτύον ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ διακαθᾶραι τὴν ἅλωνα αὐτοῦ καὶ συναγαγεῖν τὸν σῖτον εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην αὐτοῦ, τὸ δὲ ἄχυρον κατακαύσει πυρὶ ἀσβέστῳ.17 hou to ptyon en tē cheiri autou diakatharai tēn halōna autou kai synagagein ton siton eis tēn apothēkēn autou, to de achyron katakausei pyri asbestō.17 of whom the winnowing fork (is) in his hand to cleanse thoroughly the threshing floor of him and to gather the wheat into the barn of him. Then, the chaff he will burn up with fire unquenchable.17 He has in his hand the winnowing shovel to clean his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn. And as for the chaff, he will burn it in the fire that does not go out."
    18 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο τὸν λαόν.18 Polla men oun kai hetera parakalōn euēngelizeto ton laon.18 Indeed therefore with many different (things) exhorting, he was preaching the people the good news.18 With several other exhortations, he announced the good news to the people.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 10 The crowds asked John, "What should we do?"

    Literally: And were asking him the crowds saying, What therefore shall we do?

 
When people ask the question, "What shall we do?" they are indicating their desire to change their lives, to be converted. John has triggered this conversion movement, and people ask how to be consistent with this conversion. Note that we are at the moral level: everything is focused on action.

v. 11 His answer was to tell them this, "Whoever has two coats, let him share with him who has none, and whoever has food, let him do the same."

Literally: Then, answering, he was saying to them, the (one) having two tunics, let him give a share to the (one) not having, and the (one) having food, let him do likewise.

 
John's response echoes the call to compassion found in Judaism.
  • Isaiah 58:7: "What pleases God...is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless poor in your home, if you see a naked man, to clothe him, not to shrink from him who is your own flesh?"
  • Ezekiel 18:5: "Whoever is righteous... gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment..."

John does not invent or propose anything new, but only a return to the great values of Judaism.

John's response is also in line with the great themes of Luke: concern for the poor (4:18; 6:20; 7:22; 14:13; 16:20), compassion (10:30: the parable of the Good Samaritan), sharing (12:16: the parable of the rich fool; 19:1: the story of Zaccheus)

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus confirms that John the Baptist offered moral instruction to the people who listened to him, much like the Old Testament prophets. Specifically, he notes this when speaking of his death at the hands of Herod: "[117] For Herod had him killed, though he was a good man and simply excited the Jews to receive baptism, provided they practiced virtue, were just to one another and pious to God. For it was on this condition, according to John, that God would consider baptism pleasing, that is, if they used it not to have certain faults forgiven, but to purify the body, inasmuch as their souls had been previously purified by righteousness." (Jewish Antiquities, xviii, 5, 2)

v. 12 Customs officers came to him to be baptized and asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?"

Literally: Then came also tax collectors to be baptized and they said towards him, Teacher, what shall we do?

 
After his general response to everyone, John turns to particular groups, such as these customs officers or publicans. This means that in addition to the call to compassion and sharing, these customs officers receive a call specifically related to their type of work.

The customs officers were hated and frowned upon by the Jews, because they collaborated with the Roman and Gentile conquerors to whom the money collected went. The mention of their presence among the baptized shows the extent of John the Baptist's influence and, for Luke who gives us this account, their good will.

Since John the Baptist was baptizing in the region of the Jordan River, a border area with Perea (present-day Jordan), we understand the presence of these customs officers to collect taxes from visitors or citizens returning to the country.

v. 13 And he answered them, "Do not take anything more than what you have been commanded."

Literally: Then, him, he said towards them, nothing more beside the (thing), having been appointed to you, collect

 
The call of John the Baptist tells us that some customs officers did not hesitate to ask for "extras", and thus to take advantage of their role to enrich themselves, which today is called corruption. Thus, John does not ask them to stop their work, but to do it with honesty and integrity, avoiding all greed. This is not at all an invitation to compassion or generosity, but simply to demonstrate professionalism in their work.

v. 14 Military men also questioned him with the words, "And what shall we do?" He said to them, "Do not molest or slander anyone, and be content with your pay."

Literally: Then, they were asking him also those serving as soldiers saying, What shall we also do us? And he said to them, No one you shall extort nor accuse falsely and be content with the wages of you.

 
Who are these soldiers? They may be Romans in the service of the prefect sent from Rome, or Jews in the service of Herod. In any case, they are not a category that is well regarded in religious circles. Here again, Luke wants to show us their good will and the influence of the preaching of John the Baptist.

Why does John ask them to avoid molesting people or slandering them? It is understandable that the military are in a position of power, and they can abuse that power, either by abusing people or by accusing them unjustly. This situation is reminiscent of the situation of police officers in our modern societies. Once again, John demands respect and integrity in the exercise of their work, in short to demonstrate their professionalism, nothing more.

Again, note that John the Baptist was baptizing in the region of the Jordan River, a border area with Perea (present-day Jordan), so we understand the presence of the military to protect the borders.

v. 15 As the people were waiting and everyone was debating in his heart if John was not the messiah,

Literally: Then, expecting the people and reasoning all in their hearts concerning the John whether ever he might be the anointed.

 
Luke seems to be saying that there was a widespread expectation of a messiah in Judaism at the time. In fact, in the imagination of religious people like the Pharisees, the coming of the messiah was associated with the approach of the end of time. And John the Baptist belongs to this eschatological movement which announces the end of time for soon and to which Jesus himself belongs. So it should not be surprising to see people discussing the messiah in such a context. At Qumran there was the idea of a priestly messiah or a Davidic messiah who would be the leader of Israel at the end of time.

One might ask: where does this eschatological (end times) and apocalyptic (God reveals himself) movement come from? Why did it intensify around the second century BC under the prophet Daniel and then subside towards the end of the first century of the Christian era? It usually appears in a context of political-religious tensions and loss of freedom. This is what happens in Palestine with the arrival of the Greeks and the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the 2nd century BC, followed by the Roman occupation: one has the impression that one's whole world is collapsing, that one is powerless, that only a direct intervention of God will be able to unravel the situation, and that the only way to really communicate in the community is in secret and in a coded language, waiting for the arrival of a messiah sent by God who will unravel this drama and open the door to the end of time.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus will preach that the end of the world is about to come. Both will preach that God is about to intervene, the difference being that, for Jesus, this intervention had already begun through the healings he performed. On the other hand, as much as it is clear that John the Baptist was waiting for the messiah, the position of Jesus on the subject is more obscure: of course the gospels tell us that his disciples, especially Peter, proclaim that he is the messiah or Christ (Matthew 16:16-20), but the critical analysis of these passages bears the imprint of the theology of the post-Easter evangelist writing around the year 80, and therefore may not reflect the historical Jesus.

v. 16 John answered, "I baptize you in water, but one who is stronger than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Literally: He answered saying to all the John, I indeed, with water I baptize you; then, comes the (one) mightier than me, of whom I am not worthy to untie the strap of the sandals of him. Him, he will baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire,

 
Why did John perform water baptism? Did he borrow it from someone? The Jews knew the gesture of ritual washing, a sign of purification. We know the story of Naaman the leper whom the prophet Elisha sent to bathe seven times in the Jordan to be healed (2 Kings 5:10). It is possible that John the Baptist was influenced by the Essenes of Qumran not far from where he baptized, who practiced frequent ritual washing for reasons of ritual purity. However, there were three fundamental differences in what he did:
  • This gesture was done only once
  • It did not aim at ritual purity, but expressed a desire for conversion
  • One could not baptize oneself, but received it through another, namely John the Baptist or one of his disciples

John announces someone stronger than him. Who is he talking about? For Luke's gospel, when he was writing around 80 AD, and for us today, it is of course Jesus. But if we place ourselves around the year 27 or 28, at the height of the preaching of the Baptist, it is quite likely that John himself did not know. He may have been imagining an eschatological figure, as was done at Qumran, where the idea of leaders of Israel at the end of time was kept alive, i.e. a priestly messiah or a Davidic messiah. But it was certainly not Jesus, as we can see in the scene where, in prison, he needs to send his disciples to inquire whether Jesus is really the one who is to come (Matthew 11:2).

Why does John announce someone stronger than himself? It is probable that in this drama of the end of time, he did not see himself fit to be the actor of the last act. This last act had two aspects, salvation by the gift of the Spirit of God announced in the Old Testament for those who had accepted the baptism of conversion, and destruction by the sacred fire which would consume the recalcitrant. All this was beyond the power of the Baptist who was only the messenger.

What is this baptism in the Holy Spirit? The Old Testament, intertestamental literature, and Qumran speak of the promise of the Spirit for the last days: After this I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your elders will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. Even on the slaves, male and female, in those days I will pour out my Spirit (Joel 3:1-2). Thus, God will pour out a part of His being in the hearts of the people, and they will be transformed to the point of seeing things His way. John the Baptist recalls this promise of God as he announces the end of time. In the way Luke takes up this theme from the Old Testament, we cannot help but see an allusion to Pentecost where the Spirit was poured out in the form of tongues of fire, the beginning of the Christian community.

v. 17 IHe has in his hand the winnowing shovel to clean his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn. And as for the chaff, he will burn it in the fire that does not go out."

Literally: of whom the winnowing fork (is) in his hand to cleanse thoroughly the threshing floor of him and to gather the wheat into the barn of him. Then, the chaff he will burn up with fire unquenchable.

 
The idea of God's intervention to signal the end of time or Day of the Lord appeared very early in the history of Israel:
  • Woe to those who long for the day of the LORD! What will the Day of Yahweh be to you? It will be darkness, not light (Amos 5:18, 8th century BC).
  • Howl for it is near, the day of Yahweh, it is coming like a devastation from Shaddai (Isaiah 13:6, 8th century BC).
  • The day of Yahweh is near, it is wonderful! It is near, it is coming with all haste! O bitter clamor of the day of Yahweh: now a mighty man crieth out for war! A day of fury, that day! A day of distress and tribulation, a day of desolation and devastation, a day of darkness and dark clouds, a day of clouds and darkness (Zephaniah 1:14-15, 7th century BC).
  • For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it shall be a day full of clouds, it shall be the time of the nations. The sword shall come into Egypt, and anguish into the land of Kush, when the slain shall fall in Egypt, and its wealth shall be carried away, and its foundations shall be overthrown (Ezekiel 30:4-5, 6th century BC).
  • In that day, says the LORD, I will strike all horses with confusion, and their riders with madness. And I will strike all the peoples with blindness. (But upon the house of Judah I will open my eyes.) Then the princes of Judah will say in their hearts, "Strength for the inhabitants of Jerusalem is in Yahweh Sabaot, their God." In that day I will make the princes of Judah like a fire kindled in a pile of wood, like a torch kindled in a sheaf. They will devour all the peoples around on the right and on the left. And Jerusalem shall still be inhabited in its place (in Jerusalem) (Zechariah 12:4-6, 6th century BC).
  • Let the nations be moved and go up to the valley of Jehoshaphat! For there I will sit to judge all the nations round about. Throw in the sickle, the harvest is ripe; come, tread, the winepress is full; the vats overflow, so great is their wickedness... The sun and the moon are darkened, the stars lose their brightness... But the LORD will be a refuge for his people... Jerusalem shall be a holy place; strangers shall pass through no more! (Joel 4:12-17, 5th century BC)
  • I listened without understanding. Then I said, "My Lord, what will this completion be?" He said, "Go, Daniel; these words are closed and sealed until the time of the End... As for you, go, take your rest; and you shall arise for your portion at the end of days. (Daniel 12:8-13, 2nd century BC).

The question may be asked: how did Israel develop this idea of history having an end, rather than a cyclical vision of life where events repeat themselves in an infinite loop like the seasons, as we see for example in Egypt? It is possible that the experience of a God who intervenes in the life of a people to save them from certain death, as recounted in the story of the exit from Egypt, or the return from the Babylonian exile, in short the experience of a God who is master of history, led the prophets to imagine that there will one day be a definitive intervention by God to eliminate evil and restore creation to its original order. The first texts of the Old Testament quoted above present the figure of Yahweh as a warrior furious at the state of his people. Later, the thought becomes universal and the Day of the Lord means the victory of Israel over its enemies. And with Daniel, this final judgment of God coincides with the end of the human adventure. If the world had a beginning, it should have an end.

To describe God's judgment, John uses the familiar image of the farmer who, after harvesting his wheat, winnowed it to separate the chaff from the grain by throwing it into the air with a shovel, so that the chaff and all the impurities were blown away and only the wheat immediately fell back to the ground. This judgment of God thus separates the good from the bad. But John emphasizes the activity that follows, i.e. a cleaning activity: the wheat is recovered to be carefully stored in a barn or a granary, while the chaff or straw that has become useless is destroyed by fire. The image suggests that God will keep the faithful alive and eliminate the unfaithful. In some Jewish circles, only faithful believers will experience the resurrection of the dead. As for the others, it is eternal death. Moreover, the image of fire is very often associated with destruction in the Old Testament:

  • Yahweh rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahweh (Genesis 19:24)
  • Now the people raised an evil lamentation in the ears of Yahweh, and Yahweh heard it. And his anger was kindled, and the fire of Yahweh was kindled in them; it devoured one end of the camp (Numbers 10:36)
  • This work of sin which you had made, this calf, I took, and burned it in the fire, and ground it, and made it into fine dust, and cast the dust of it into the brook that cometh down from the mountain (Deuteronomy 9:21).
  • Yes, a fire has gone forth from my anger, it will burn to the depths of Sheol; it will devour the earth and what it produces, it will set the base of the mountains on fire (Deuteronomy 32:22).
  • Finally, he who is chosen by lot for the anathema shall be delivered to the fire, he and all that he owns, for transgressing the covenant with Yahweh and for committing an infamy in Israel. (Joshua 7:15)
  • The light of Israel shall become a fire and her Holy One a flame; it shall burn and consume her thorns and briers in one day (Isaiah 10:17)
  • When the branches dry up, they are broken, women come and set them on fire. But this people is not wise, so their creator will not have mercy on them; he who made them will not be gracious to them. And it shall come to pass in that day, that Yahweh will thresh from the River to the brook of Egypt, and you shall be gleaned one by one, O children of Israel (Isaiah 27:11).
  • You conceive hay, you give birth to straw; my breath, like fire, will devour you (Isaiah 33:11).

What is this fire that does not go out? It was customary then as now to have public dumps. The fire was constantly kept burning, so that things could be thrown away at any time to be consumed. Let us not associate this fire with the idea of hell, a place of terrible suffering and damnation, developed in medieval or Renaissance Christianity: this idea is absent from Judaism and the Gospels.

v. 18 With several other exhortations, he announced the good news to the people.

Literally: Indeed therefore with many different (things) exhorting, he was preaching the people the good news.

 
After having spoken of judgment and destruction by fire, we may be surprised that Luke speaks of the announcement of good news. But in fact, for him the emphasis is on the coming of the one who is stronger than John and who will baptize in the Holy Spirit. And for his Christian audience, this coming is identified with Jesus. Moreover, in his infancy narrative, Luke is keen to draw a parallel between John the Baptist and Jesus. This approach is continued here by showing that both of them announced the good news. This is a clever way of showing the continuity between the Old Testament, represented by John, and the New Testament, represented by Jesus.

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    • Questions about the follow-up to John's baptism
      • In general, share with others if you are in abundance
      • For customs officers, remaining professional
      • For the military, staying professional
    • People's question about the identity of the Baptist: is he the promised messiah?
      • John's response: announcement of someone stronger than him who will offer a baptism in the Holy Spirit and exercise true judgment
    • Narrator's conclusion: an example of John's announcement of good news

  2. Context analysis

    • John fulfills Isaiah's prophecy by proclaiming a baptism of conversion for the forgiveness of sins (3:1-6)
    • John proclaims that it is not enough to be a Jew to avoid the coming judgment, but one must truly change one's life (3:7-9)
    • John specifies what conversion involves (3:10-14)
    • John makes it clear that he is not the messiah and that someone stronger than he will baptize in the Holy Spirit and establish judgment (3:15-18)
    • Herod Antipas imprisons John the Baptist (3:19-20)
    • Jesus in prayer receives the Holy Spirit and confirmation of being loved by God (3:21-22)
    • Genealogy of Jesus (3:23-38)
    • The Spirit leads Jesus into the desert where he is tempted by the devil in the desert (4:1-13)
    • The Spirit leads Jesus to Galilee where he teaches and sees his reputation grow (4:14-15)

    We can make some considerations about the context:

    • Our passage makes a transition from John the Baptist to Jesus: John is only there to prepare the way for Jesus by inviting people to conversion and to wait for someone who will really be able to give the Holy Spirit.
    • In short, John the Baptist only has value in relation to Jesus whom he announces.

  3. Parallels

    Recall that, according to the most accepted theory in the biblical world, Mark would have been the first to publish his gospel, Matthew and Luke would have reused much of Mark's work in their gospel, while incorporating another source, known to both of them and referred to as the "Q Document," as well as other sources of their own, and finally John would have published an independent gospel at a later date, with no knowledge of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, even though he seems to have had access to similar sources.

    In this context, the study of parallels allows us to better identify what is specific to each evangelist. Here is our convention: we have underlined the words of Mark found as well under the other evangelists' pen; we have put in blue what is common to Matthew and Luke only. In red are words of John found as well in othe gospels, probably due to the fact that different sources have some commonalities.

    Mark 1Matthew 3Luke 3John 1
      10 And were asking him the crowds saying, What therefore shall we do? 
      11 Then, answering, he was saying to them, the (one) having two tunics, let him give a share to the (one) not having, and the (one) having food, let him do likewise. 
      12 Then came also tax collectors to be baptized and they said towards him, Teacher, what shall we do? 
      13 Then, him, he said towards them, nothing more beside the (thing), having been appointed to you, collect 
      14 Then, they were asking him also those serving as soldiers saying, What shall we also do us? And he said to them, No one you shall extort nor accuse falsely and be content with the wages of you. 
       24 And (those) having been sent were out from the Pharisees.
       25 And they asked him and they said to him, Why therefore do you baptize if you are not the anointed nor Elijah, nor the prophet.
      15 Then, expecting the people and reasoning all in their hearts concerning the John whether ever he might be the anointed. 
    7-8 And he was preaching saying, he comes the mightier than me after me, of whom I am not sufficient having stooped down to untie the strap of the sandals of him. I, I baptized you with water, then him he will baptize you in holy spirit. 11 I indeed I baptize you in water concerning repentance. Then, the (one) after me is coming mightier than me he is, of whom I am not sufficient to carry the sandals. Him, he will baptize you in holy spirit and fire.16 He did answer saying to all the John, I indeed, with water I baptize you; then, he comes the mightier than me, of whom I am not sufficient to untie the strap of the sandals of him. Him, he will baptize you in holy spirit and fire,26-27 He answered them the John saying, I, I baptize in water, in the midst of you has stood whom you, you do not know, the (one) after me is coming, of whom I, I am not worthy that I should untie of him the strap of the sandal.
     12 of whom the winnowing fork (is) in his hand and he will cleanse thoroughly the threshing floor of him and he will gather the wheat of him into the barn. Then, the chaff he will burn up with fire unquenchable. 17 of whom the winnowing fork (is) in his hand to cleanse thoroughly the threshing floor of him and to gather the wheat into the barn of him. Then, the chaff he will burn up with fire unquenchable. 
      18 Indeed therefore with many different (things) exhorting, he was preaching the people the good news. 
       28 These things in Bethany took place on the other side of the Jordan, where was the John baptizing.

     

    We can make some considerations on these parallels:
    • Luke's verses 10-14 are unique to him and probably come from a particular source. His moral exhortations are typical of those expected of a prophet and only reflect the great values of Judaism.
    • V.15 is also unique to Luke and is probably redactional, i.e. it is a personal composition: many leaders or prophets in the first century would be given the title of messiah, and therefore it is understandable that some might have given this title to John the Baptist. Luke sums up an era in his own way.
    • Mt 3:11-12 and Lk 3:16-17 are almost identical and likely come from a common source for both called the Q Document. This source makes four points: 1) John was baptizing in water as a gesture of repentance; 2) he was waiting for someone stronger than himself to bring the final drama to a conclusion; 3) this other person would be able to fulfill the promise of the gift of the spirit; 4) this other person will exercise the final judgment
    • The four evangelists knew the distinction between water baptism and baptism in holy spirit and the fact that the Baptist was waiting for a being stronger or greater than himself for the final judgment. But John adds elements of his theology where he takes up some favorite themes: that of sending (John the Baptist was sent by God just like Jesus), that of knowing (in your midst someone you do not know) and of dwelling (the spirit descending and dwelling in him).
    • Finally, Luke ends this passage with a conclusion that is unique to him and which makes John the Baptist a proclaimer of good news, just like Jesus: just as he did with the infancy narratives (chs. 1 and 2), this parallelism between John the Baptist and Jesus shows that the Old and New Testaments constitute the same story of which Jesus is the keystone.
    • How can we explain the similarities between John and the other evangelists? Christian reflection on the place of John the Baptist in the mission of Jesus was so intense that it was found in several traditions, the one used by Mark, the Q Document, and the one in John's hands; it is normal to find commonalities in all these traditions, which may have come from a common source.

  4. Intention of the author when writng this passage

    • Historically, we know that it was John the Baptist who somehow awakened Jesus to his calling and for a time Jesus was his disciple (see Meier on this) and it was only after the Baptist's imprisonment that Jesus took flight and drew some of his followers to himself. John had many questions about the identity of Jesus and he does not seem to have resolved this question before he died. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 19:3) tells us that about 20 years later in Ephesus, there are still followers of John the Baptist who are completely unaware of this baptism in the Holy Spirit of Jesus. What does this mean? The presentation of John the Baptist that we have throughout the gospels does not seek to give a word-for-word account of his exchanges with Jesus, but is the fruit of Christian reflection several years later to situate the Baptist in the Jesus event and the action of God. While John the Baptist probably saw himself as the precursor of God's final intervention in the world, Christians saw him as the precursor of Jesus.

    • Yet, apart from his ending in v. 18, Luke does not seem to have invented the content of this passage from scratch: in vv. 10-14 he takes up a story from his own source, and in vv. 11-17 he takes up the Q Document. The very fact that these two different accounts are pasted together says something about his intention: John's preaching and the moral conversion to which he invites his audience is really an mandatory step towards faith in Jesus. But at the same time, John is only one step in the holy story of which Jesus is really the pivot.

    • If I had to summarize Luke's thinking as he addresses his Christian community, perhaps the one in Corinth, I would say this: "My dear Corinthians, don't think you can access what Jesus offers without first changing your life by embracing the best that Judaism offers, but at the same time Jesus will bring you beyond into a truly different world."

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    This passage offers several angles of reading, and thus several ways to look at current events.

    • A first angle is the very idea of a forerunner. For Luke and the early Christians, John the Baptist was an important step in the Jesus event, he was in some way his forerunner, even if historically this is not quite accurate. From history and our experience, we know the importance of witnesses who open us up at key moments. Here are some contemporary situations that offer such a perspective.
      • Nelson Mandela and South Africa: we have here someone who contributed to change the mentalities and to put an end to apartheid; however it is an unfinished revolution when we look at the current situation with its inequalities and its violence.
      • Abraham Lincoln can be seen as an instrument in ending slavery. Yet all this was only one step in the long march towards equality, to which we must add people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.
      • Everyone can look back on their lives and name the people who have been instrumental in what we have become.
      • If we look at the first century of Palestine, would the Jesus event have been possible without the John the Baptist event? Conversely, if there had been only the event of John the Baptist, what would have been the outcome of the history of Israel and of humanity in general?

    • One angle of reading is that of moral conversion (sharing and remaining professional) to which John the Baptist invites his audience.
      • Why does he invite people to this conversion? Is this the main criterion to be considered in the face of God's impending judgment? In other words, will those who share or do not yield to corruption pass the test of God's judgment very well?
      • Can one become a Christian without going through a moral conversion? In other words, someone cannot claim to be a Christian if he or she does not share his or her possessions, avoid bribes, never molest, never abuse his or her power. Conversely, is it enough to live these moral values to be a Christian? What is missing then? Why is this so?
      • On the moral level, is there generally a difference between a Christian and a non-Christian, between a religious person and a non-religious person?
      • In John's eyes this moral conversion seems insufficient, because he has to announce a new intervention of God which is beyond his capacities?
      • When we look at the corruption at all levels of the public sector, we ask ourselves: why do people give in to the temptation of corruption? And therefore, can we not say that many people have not been capable of a moral conversion? Where did they "miss the boat"?

    • Another angle is the question of the Messiah.
      • In all our societies, we are looking for a messiah who will get us out of the detestable situation we are in; but who can really be a messiah? On what condition?
      • John the Baptist seems to be saying that one cannot play the role of messiah without this capacity to spread the Spirit and to be able to operate in this world a universal judgment; is he right?
      • If Jesus is truly the hoped-for Messiah, why is this world of ours not a true paradise? What went wrong?

    • Another angle is that of cleaning up our world between good guys and bad guys.
      • In all our societies, we would like to be able to eradicate evil by eliminating all troublemakers: is this really possible?
      • The United States, and to some extent Canada, have increased the penalties for people convicted of offences under the law: is this the direction to take if we are inspired by the Gospel?
      • Can we eradicate evil without knowing its root cause?
      • Can we not say that people like Nero and Hitler can be associated with this straw that the messiah "will burn with the fire that does not go out"?

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, November 2012