John 1:33—Did John the Baptist know Jesus before His baptism or not?

Problem: Before His baptism John said categorically, “I did not know Him.” Yet in Matthew 3:13–14 John recognized Jesus before he baptized Him and said, “I have need to be baptized by You.”

Solution: John may have known Jesus before His baptism only by reputation, not by recognition. Or, he may have known Jesus only by personal acquaintance, but not by divine manifestation. After all, Jesus and John were relatives (Luke 1:36), even though they were reared in different places (Luke 1:80; 2:51). However, even though John may have had some previous family contact with Jesus, He had never known Jesus as He was revealed at His baptism when the Spirit descended on Him and the Father spoke from heaven (Matt. 3:16–17). The context indicates that, up to His baptism, no one really knew Jesus as He would then “be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.