"I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." (John 1:31)

Mary and Elizabeth both met up before John and Jesus were born, but it seems odd John and Jesus' paths did not cross again for thirty years. What took them in such different directions that they would never be in the same place at the same time?

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    I always thought that it meant that he didn't know who the Messiah was until God revealed it to him, not that he meant he didn't know who Jesus was.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 8:14
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    Linda this is a very simple yet profound question that you've asked. Thanks +1
    – user20490
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 11:51
  • @curiousdannii Yes I am of same interpretation, that John always knew Jesus but not as the Messiah. Non in his town believed this to be so they were even offended at the ide of him being a prophet (Mark 6:1-6) yet alone the awaited Messiah. Commented Jul 25, 2021 at 10:52

4 Answers 4



Elizabeth and Zecharia were of the priestly Levitical tribe. They lived in the hill country of Judah, probably at Hebron.

Joseph and Mary were of the children of Israel in the tribe of Judah. After traveling and living in Egypt, they returned and lived in Galilee in the city Nazareth.

The two towns were about 100 miles apart. Walking at 10 miles/hour, that's a 10 hour trip. Pretty far for "get togethers".

Luke 1:39:40 In those days Mary got up and went hurriedly into the hill country, to a town of Judah, and entered Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth.

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,

The two cousins could have seen each other at Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles when all the males were required to come to Jerusalem. But this is not to say that wives and children necessarily would have come. As well, the priests would have been very busy at the times.

There was a certain sense and tension that the different tribes "kept to themselves". As an example, there was this time in the temple.

Mt. 21:15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children [of Israel] crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,


With all of that in mind, however, there is no particular reason the two weren't familiar with each as they grew up. The virgin birth, flight to Egypt, return to Nazareth all had led to a fairly normal life of day to day work and survive over the last 30 years.

In John 1, however, the context changes. We are now introduced to John's priestly ministry. He was baptizing apart from the Temple structure authority. Jesus didn't perform miracles before His calling either. He wouldn't have "shown off" to John that He was the way, truth, life. He too was just another man until about age 30, also in the ministry. So, when John says "I knew him not, but I come baptizing. In that way, when the Spirit descends and remains, then I will know him." He is referring to Jesus as the Messiah, not as a cousin, friend, or unknown citizen.

John knew about Messiah's preexistence, but up until the God-given sign for him to be identified (Spirit descend and remain), he had no reason, except apparently wild tales to believe the actual Son of God was now before him. Besides, it wasn't up to John per se to identify Messiah. It was up to God. John says, I don't know until the Spirit descends and stays on Messiah.

  • ,Powerful answer Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 8:16
  • A plus-vote for the last sentence. Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 10:58
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    Very understandable. And, that helps me better understand John's questioning if Jesus (John's cousin) was really the chosen Messiah. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 7:58
  • Although it does seem odd that Elizabeth would give such a clear implication of the Christ upon seeing Mary in Luke 1:40-45 and then not tell John as he grew about his cousin being the Lord. John has such a heart for God and his Christ that it seems he would have sought him out. Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 23:49

The Gospels tell us that the word of God came unto John in the wilderness (Luke 3:2), sometime around the year 28 or 29 AD (the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; Luke 3:1). They do not tell us when John first left for the wilderness - only that he had already been in the wilderness when the word of God came upon him. Some early Church Fathers believed that he may have left for the wilderness while still very young, others when he was a teenager (see below).1

In any case, it was John's being in the wilderness that disconnected him from not only Jesus but from others in general for quite some time.

As for John stating (twice, v.31 and v.33) that he did not known Jesus (the Greek actually says had not known, not did not know), the explanation offered in antiquity was that John wanted to emphasize that he was not proclaiming Jesus solely because he was a blood relative. Byzantine commentator John Chrysostom (349-407) wrote:

Here he renders his testimony free from suspicion, by showing that it was not from human friendship, but had been caused by divine revelation. “I knew Him not,” he saith. How then couldest thou be a trustworthy witness? How shalt thou teach others, while thou thyself art ignorant? He did not say “I know Him not,” but, “I knew Him not”; so that in this way he would be shown most trustworthy; for why should he have shown favor to one of whom he was ignorant?

He puts the “I knew Him not” repeatedly. On what account, and wherefore? He was His kinsman according to the flesh. “Behold,” saith the angel, “thy cousin Elisabeth, she also hath received a son.” (Luke 1:36) That therefore he might not seem to favor Him because of the relationship, he repeats the “I knew Him not.” And this happened with good reason; for he had passed all his time in the wilderness away from his father’s house.2

1. Synaxarion of Simonas Petra (Mt. Athos, 2005), vol. 5, pp.601-602
2. Homily XVII on John (tr. from Greek)


A growing view among critical scholars is that the original form of the Gospel of Luke (called 'proto-Luke') lacked the episodes of John's birth and Jesus' birth and youth. Proto-Luke instead began its narrative, following its source Mark, with appearance of John in the wilderness and his subsequent baptism of Jesus (Luke 3). Hence, in this interpretation of the evidence, it is believed Luke 1.5-2.52 was a second century addition (possibly in response to Marcionism, cf. this related question.)

Joseph Tyson, Marcion and Luke-Acts, x-xi:

The author of canonical Luke, who was also the author of Acts, made use of the earlier text and added substantial material drawn from his Sondergut. This material includes the preface and infancy narratives of Luke 1-2 and, probably, the postresurrection appearances of Jesus in Luke 24. In my judgment these and other materials were added ca. 120-25 C.E., especially to serve the church in answering the Marcionite challenge.

There were already traditions that Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary who was betrothed to an upstanding man named Joseph (cf. Matthew 1-2), and we have other hagiographic infancy and youth narratives for Jesus from the second century and later. These late infancy narratives build on those earlier traditions with sweeping embellishments. For example, the Infancy Gospel of James (circa AD 140-150) invented the identities of Mary's grandparents and the details of Mary's birth, and heavily embellished what it borrowed from Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

Prior to the addition of this birth narrative into proto-Luke in the second century, there are no sources which indicate that Jesus and John were relatives, let alone that they should have been at least aware of each other prior to their meeting at the Jordan for Jesus' baptism. The reason John the baptist does not know who Jesus is in the Fourth Gospel is because the tradition that they were cousins didn't exist yet, being found nowhere in first century Christian texts.

Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 285:

If in the Fourth Gospel JBap has become an incipient Christian, Luke also brings JBap firmly within the Christian sphere by presenting him as a relative of Jesus on his mother's side (1:36). This latter detail is never suggested anywhere else in the four Gospels, and is very difficult to reconcile with John 1:33 where JBap says that he did not even know Jesus.

Since all male babies were being murdered by Harrod, at the time, (and they didn't stop at age 2... they went to age 6) Once astrologers brought the gifts to Jesus's parents, they were told by an angel to go to Egypt to keep Jesus from being murdered. They bought pack animals and necessities with the gifts, and moved out in the night, and lived in Egypt for some 5 years, (where they wouldn't be accepted) until the angel told them it was safe to return to Nazareth with Jesus, since Harrod was dead. Jesus would leave town again, at age 13 or so...to return at age 30 when Joseph his foster father died. Re: John the Baptist, the angel also appeared to his parents and told them to take the child to be raised in the desert with the Essenes, so that he would be safe and well educated. That's why they found one woman buried outside the gates of the Essene camp. It was Elizabeth, because women were not allowed inside the gate. Also, it explains why John the Baptist dressed in animal skins, (unlike his fellow Jews who could only dress in wool, according to the law...) and John, drank and ate milk and honey. This was taught to me in Catholic Grade school.

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