John the Forerunner famously says that his listeners cannot claim their Abrahamic lineage as protection against judgment. John says, “… and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Lk. 3:8)
What are “these stones” that Jesus is referring to?
Frequently I believe it is assumed that “these stones” is just a generic reference to the power of God. He can make sons of Abraham out of trees, rocks, geese, whatever. Don’t be so arrogant, O Israel.
But remember where John is. John is at the Jordan. And all the indicators are that John is inviting his listeners to join him in a new conquest, to cross the Jordan in baptism and join the new Joshua (Jesus) in His conquest of the land.
That being so, is it possible that “these stones” are the very stones that Joshua had the people set up on the shore of the Jordan River centuries before? Or even if John isn’t pointing at a literal pile of stones, could he be referring to “those stones”?
If that is the case, John’s point could still be partially concerned with the arrogance of Israel and God’s power, but it makes it more pointed referring to the previous Jordan crossing and conquest.
First, it’s a reference to the fact that God has performed this sort of thing before. Refusal to follow the example of that second generation of Israel across the Jordan means that they are really more like the first generation in the wilderness, whose bodies were scattered in the desert.
Second, “those stones” clearly represented Israel. There were twelve of them for the twelve tribes, and therefore, perhaps the “power of God” is not so much that God can turn anything into sons but rather specifically resurrection power. God is able to raise the dead; He is able to even raise that ancient and faithful generation of Israel from the dead. If God needs an Israel with enough faith to take this Canaan, He can raise “these stones” from dead.
I heard Craig Evans speak in Canada about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the NT. He said that the DSS show that the phrase "these stones" almost always refer those specific stones in the Jordan. John probably was saying just this. Perhaps Jesus even meant this when speaking to the Pharisees at his Triumphal Entry about the stones crying out.
By the way, I agree that John was a forerunner, but are you avoiding "Baptist" as a way of distancing from a certain school of theology? The word "Baptizer" would remedy this. I personally prefer "Immerser" 😛
Thanks, Andrew, very helpful.
And on John's title, I tend to vary how I refer to him and "the baptist" doesn't really bother me. But I do particularly like how "forerunner" highlights his ministry as a Moses or Elijah who comes before Jesus, the greater Joshua/Elisha.
Kelly Kerr says
See the article by Oscar J. F. Seitz in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 79, No. 3 (Sep., 1960), pp. 247-254.
Thanks for the tip, Kelly. Great article.