The baptism of John, whence was it?
&c.] By the baptism of John, is meant the ordinance of water baptism, which was first administered by him; from whence he took the name of John the Baptist: and the doctrine which he preached concerning it, and previous to it, and even the whole of his ministry; which is denominated from a principal part of it, and which greatly distinguished his ministry from all others: and the question put by Christ concerning it is, whence it was? by what authority did John administer the ordinance of water baptism, which had never been administered before by any? who sent him to preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, a doctrine the world had never heard of before? who gave him a commission to discharge the several parts of his ministry, which he performed in such a wonderful and powerful manner? did he receive his authority
from heaven, or of men?
that is, from God or man? as the opposition requires; and as it was usual for the Jews to call God by the name of "heaven": in this sense it is used by them, when they say F2, that such have no part in the world to come, who affirm, that the law is not (Mymvh Nm) , "from heaven", that is, from God; which is exactly the phrase here: and when they observe F3, that care should be taken that a man does not pronounce (Mymv Mv) , "the name of heaven", that is, God, in vain: and when they tell F4 us of a certain man that built large buildings by the way side, and put food and drink there, so that everyone that came went in and eat, and drank, (Mymvl Krbw) , "and blessed heaven"; that is blessed, or gave thanks to God; and when they speak of F5 (Mymvl htym) , "death by heaven"; that is, death which is immediately inflicted by God. So when Christ here asks, whether John's baptism was from heaven, or of men, his meaning is, whether it was of divine institution, and that John acted by divine authority, and commission; or whether it was an human device of his own, or of other men, and that he took the office of preaching and baptizing upon himself of his own head, or by some human appointment: to this he requires a direct answer, as is said in Mark, "answer me"; whether it was from the one, or from the other;
and they reasoned with themselves;
either "within themselves", as the Arabic version renders it, "in their own minds", as the Syriac; or they took some little time and privately conferred together, what answer they should return; when they argued the point among themselves,
saying, if we shall say from heaven;
if we shall return for answer, that the baptism and ministry of John were of divine appointment, and that he acted by a divine authority,
he will say unto us, why did ye not believe him?
why did not ye believe the doctrine that he preached? and receive the testimony that he gave concerning the Messiah? and why were ye not baptized by him? why did ye reject the counsel of God against yourselves? They saw plainly, that if they owned the divine authority of John's baptism and ministry, they must allow Jesus to be the true Messiah, John bore witness to; and consequently, that it was by a divine authority he did what he did; and then there was an end of the question, and is the very thing that Christ had in view.
F2 T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 27. 3. Vid. ib. fol. 19. 3. T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 99. 1.
F3 T. Bab. Megilla, fol. 3. 1.
F4 Abot. R. Nathan, c. 7. fol. 3. 2.
F5 Ib. c. 11. fol. 4. 1. Vid. ib. c. 14. fol. 4. 4. & 5. 1. & c. 27. fol. 7. 1.