After Jesus informed us that the Kingdom of God was coming soon (sometime before everyone to whom He was speaking had died), and after Jesus briefly turned into the one-man light show, known as the Transfiguration, a couple of the Gospels take a moment to remind us just who John the Baptist was.
Who Was John Again?
Mark 16:9-20), there are no extant early copies to prove my theory.
In the following study, we will find what appears to be evidence of progressive assembly. As I have pointed out in prior studies, here we again will see indirect evidence of Matthew's aggregation, and direct evidence of Luke's editing skills. So let us begin with the alleged primary source, Mark.
Right after the Transfiguration, Mark 9:11-13 records this:
And [Peter, James, and John] asked [Jesus], "Why do the Teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?"So in Mark's version, the Disciples are ignorant of the prophesy about Elijah. Jesus replying that Elijah had come, and that "they" did what they wished to him is a tacit reference to John the Baptist, who was recently beheaded in the storyline, but readers of Mark and the Disciples have to connect those dots themselves.
Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him." NIV
In the middle, there is that awkward rhetorical question posed by Jesus, about the "Son of Man" suffering and being rejected. This is just to say; yes, Elijah came, just as it was written, and I (Jesus) will be rejected, just as it is also written; the prophesies cannot be broken.
Now, let us move on to the parallel passage of Matthew 17:10-13, where we find:
The Disciples asked Him, "Why then do the Teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?"There are many interesting differences in Matthew's account, but the major two are a refinement in Jesus' reply (getting rid of the awkward rhetorical question and emphasizing the similar treatment Jesus would experience) and the explicit mention that John the Baptist was Elijah. It was then that these Disciples realized John the Baptist was Elijah.
Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He was talking to them about John the Baptist. NIV
Now, quickly on to Luke, and quick it will be, because Luke edited out this snippet of dialog from his Gospel. Why would he do that?
To answer that question, we have to step back in Gospel-time. This is the closest, and the only time, that Mark ever approaches referring to John the Baptist as Elijah. However, both Matthew and Luke have explicit references to John the Baptist being Elijah earlier in the storyline which are not found in Mark. Their shared material, excluded from Mark, begins with John the Baptist questioning if Jesus was the Messiah, which then prompts Jesus to explain how John the Baptist was the preparatory agent prophesied by Malachi, the one who Malachi would later call (and to whom Jesus would refer as) Elijah.
Here is where it gets interesting. In Matthew's version, that earlier extra material, where Jesus ultimately declares that John the Baptist is Elijah, happened while the Disciples were away on their First Mission, so it kind of makes some sense that they would not have understood about the prophesy of Elijah coming first or John the Baptist's alleged real identity until the moment of this post-Transfiguration discussion.
However, in Luke's version, John the Baptist questioned Jesus' Messiah status before the Disciples had gone on their First Mission, meaning that they were all present when Jesus explained that John the Baptist was Elijah. So Luke had to edit out this conversation which took place after the Transfiguration in order to remain internally consistent in his Gospel, because it would have been illogical for the Disciples to ask such a question if they had already heard Jesus explain John the Baptist's position in prophesy, but that potential error which he edited out is now made manifest when looking at the other Gospels.
We find that Matthew was willing to make refinements in the language for clarity. However, Luke went much further in his changes, preserving the chronologically earlier, more detailed reference to John the Baptist being Elijah while dropping out this post-Transfiguration discussion because it conflicted with his own version of the legend's timeline.
I have heard some believers claim that, when compared against Matthew and Mark, Luke really got the timeline correct. Well, if so, he did it at the abuse and expense of the veracity of those prior accounts.