In John 1:19–23 a group of people press in on John the Baptist wanting to know who exactly he is. This got me to thinking about self-identification and labels and all that rigamarole. Here are some thoughts.
|Hebert Translation||Nestle-Aland 27|
|And this is the testimony of John, when the Judeans sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem in order to ask him: “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny, but confessed that “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him: “Who then? Are you Elijah?” And he said: “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered: “No.” Therefore, they said to him: “Who are you? So that we can give an answer to those sending us…What do you say concerning yourself?” He said: “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ just as the prophet Isaiah said.”||Καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μαρτυρία τοῦ Ἰωάννου, ὅτε ἀπέστειλαν [πρὸς αὐτὸν] οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐξ Ἱεροσολύμων ἱερεῖς καὶ Λευίτας ἵνα ἐρωτήσωσιν αὐτόν· σὺ τίς εἶ; καὶ ὡμολόγησεν καὶ οὐκ ἠρνήσατο, καὶ ὡμολόγησεν ὅτι ἐγὼ οὐκ εἰμὶ ὁ χριστός. καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτόν· τί οὖν; σὺ Ἠλίας εἶ; καὶ λέγει· οὐκ εἰμί. ὁ προφήτης εἶ σύ; καὶ ἀπεκρίθη· οὔ. εἶπαν οὖν αὐτῷ· τίς εἶ; ἵνα ἀπόκρισιν δῶμεν τοῖς πέμψασιν ἡμᾶς· τί λέγεις περὶ σεαυτοῦ; ἔφη· ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ· εὐθύνατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, καθὼς εἶπεν Ἠσαΐας ὁ προφήτης.|
In this story priests and Levites from Jerusalem sent by “the Judeans” badger John the Baptist into revealing who he is. This of course leads to the famous quotation from Isaiah 40:3 which is featured in all four New Testament Gospels.
The priests and Levites grow more and more desperate as John continues to give them negative answers. They are on a mission to reveal who John is or who John thinks he is.
There is a silly little life lesson to be gleaned from this. I know that in my 27 short years on this Earth, people have often sought to define me or to have me define myself. Because I am going through a job search right now, this has never been more apparent. I am constantly thinking about how to define myself. What are the appropriate labels to apply?
While we struggle to self-identify, we should also keep in mind that people will constantly be applying labels to us. In this passage the interrogators ask John if he is Elijah, the prophet, or the Messiah (implied by John’s initial response). We have no control over what the mob does. We do, however, have control over our response. John’s response was to self-identify based on Scripture.
Those who know me know that I am a big fan of Scripture. I think that there is a lot that can be gleaned from the Biblical text, both practical and impractical. This is where I choose to find my identity. Though I may not act like it all of the time, I’d like to constantly self-identify in the same way that Paul does in Romans 1: δούλος Χριστοῦ — slave of Christ. (For more on that idea, see my Romans 1:1 series.)