John 1:29-34:

The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’

Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’

To me the implication is that John did not know that his own cousin / relation was the Messiah until His baptism!

Is this the correct understanding of "I myself did not know him"?

  • My understanding is that John is basically saying that he didn't know that Jesus was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, because this is the appositive statement to "I myself did not know Him." But I don't have time now to do the research required for a full answer; I'm sure someone else does.
    – Niobius
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 14:40

8 Answers 8


John was not saying that he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah in the way that we do not perceive or recognize a person's identity, like an old acquaintance or relative, but instead that Jesus had received recognition not from him (John), but from heaven that he (Jesus) was the Christ. The Greek word εἴδω is used the same way that we use the word "recognize" in English, such as when you are "recognized" in a police line-up as the suspect that committed the crime (identity), or when you are "recognized" for exceptional academic achievement by the Dean of the College (distinction). John is saying that it is not he who has made the formal recognition of Jesus as Christ, but God. It is not that he is unaware that Jesus is unique (identity), but that the formal recognition of being the Messiah is not from John, but from God (distinction).

So it is interesting that John uses these two meanings of this Greek verb in this passage. We see the former in John 1:26, when John accuses the Pharisees of not recognizing the person within their midst who is the anointed (like not recognizing an old acquaintance); and again in this passage, when John denies that it is he who is making the formal recognition of Jesus as the Christ (instead that distinct recognition is coming direct from heaven). So these two facets of the meaning of εἴδω occur in this chapter.

The sign from heaven, which John was to watch for, was that the Spirit would descend from heaven like a dove, at which time the voice from heaven had declared, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." It was this heavenly "recognition" that made Jesus to be the Christ, not John. John was the prophet by whom heaven made this recognition; thus it was not John who "recognized" Jesus as the Christ, but God in heaven. When John says that Jesus is the Son of God, he is making the connection that Jesus is the anointed "son" as described in the David Covenant (2 Sam 7:14) and in Psalm 2:7, where in both passages the "son" nexus appears in the Hebrew Bible in connection with the Anointed Christ. That is, the voice from heaven (God) is saying that Jesus is his son.

So here is the passage in question with my amplification [bracketed in bold] based on the previous paragraphs -

John 1:29-34 (NASB)
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not [formally] recognize him [as the Christ], but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not [therefore formally] recognize Him [as the Christ], but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen [the descending Spirit as a dove], and have testified [based on the explicit voice heard from heaven] that this is [the Christ,] the Son of God.”

To reinforce this interpretation, Jesus was very explicit that John was not the source of his authority, although John had testified to his authority as the Christ.

John 5:32-37 (NASB)
32 There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true. 33 You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. 37 And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form.

The form was the dove, which they had not seen, and the voice from heaven was the declaration of his anointing, which they had not heard either, but it was still John who had testified this truth to them. So Jesus was saying that his authority did not come from man (John), but from heaven (God). Jesus also mentions his works (miracles), which were superior to the miracles of Moses - for example, Jesus healed the blind, which was never recorded in the Hebrew Bible, and of course Jesus walked on water whereas Moses had to split the waters. The multiplication of bread came not from heaven (manna), but from his own hand, etc. So Jesus declares himself the be "Christ" based on his works and the truth evident from heaven, which John had seen and heard, and who therefore had testified to the truth.

Finally, and not unrelated, Jesus once asked the Scribes whether the baptism of John was from men or from heaven (Mark 11:29-33). While the Scribes refused to answer Jesus, based on the preceding paragraphs, Jesus could have answered the following: (a) If they believed that the baptism of John was from man, then John denied that he ever "recognized" Jesus as the Messiah, but instead testified that he saw the Spirit in the form of a dove and heard the voice, which was what "recognized" Jesus as the Anointed One; or (b) If they believed that the baptism of John was from heaven, then the authority of Jesus to teach stemmed from John's baptism, when the Spirit in the form of a dove descended and the voice declared him the "Son," which was the formal "recognition" that Jesus was the Anointed One.

In summary, the "recognition" of Jesus as Messiah (Christos = Anointed One) did not come from man on earth (such as John the Baptist), but from God in heaven.

  • Would you say that when John “leaped for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb he was recognizing the presence of the spirit, but he could not yet have recognized specifically Jesus (who hadn’t been born or even named at that point)? Commented May 15, 2014 at 13:49
  • Interesting. But when I look up the link on eido that you provide (Blue Letter Bible), i do not see 'recognize' as you suggest as a translation. The NASB and WEB translate it as recognize, but, even there, the sense seems to be more akin to know someone than to recognize as you suggest. Further, if the word does mean that, to translate it to the English word 'know', as at least 9 other translations do would be wrong. This description appears to be at odds with the translators understanding.
    – user6152
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 0:34
  • @BenjaminHoogterp - Ben, have you ever seen those maps at the backs of Bibles that describe and depict the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul? There is one verse in the New Testament (Rom 15:19) where Paul mentions his travels to (the Roman Province of) Illyricum, which is modern day Croatia (former Yugoslavia). I have never seen any Bible map anywhere reflect Paul ever having traveled to Illyricum. Is it fair to say, that Bible editors over the years missed this oversight? In other words, re-checking what the Bible texts say sometimes leads us to new discoveries.
    – Joseph
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 2:30
  • @Joseph Some have it on his 3rd Missionary Journey, between Thessaloniki and Berea. I do tend to doubt its a freshly noted detail, just not always included when constructed from Acts. Albeit, this is a little more than a stray detail. Issues concerning the direct translation of a text in Greek have always been the subject of intense scrutiny through the agency of many diverse and qualified panels. To recognize in a lineup is not to "formally recognize", but to merely identify by sight. I just think when one questions the actual translation, it demands a greater proof. I dont see that here.
    – user6152
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 8:54
  • @BenjaminHoogterp - Berea is 45 miles from Thessaloniki. Anyway, I must approach this subject with much humility and be very concerned that I may be wrong, which is my greatest fear and upon which I pray often, so that I would not lead others astray.
    – Joseph
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 14:53

Lots of discussion on this subject. But if i may clarify on the key question.

Although previous scripture indicates that John knew Jesus as a great teacher, a prophet, and perhaps even as one defined as the Messiah by his mother and aunt, the statement in John, Chapter 1:29-34 declares that until the moment of confirmation wherein the prophesy from God was physically and spiritually fulfilled, John could not officially declare nor confirm that Jesus was and is the Lamb of God.

Thus we have: “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit,” established as the defining moment. In my article, "Before Baptizing Jesus Did John Baptist Know Jesus Was God?" I cover the full text, including a discussion on how the scripture from Matt. 3:13-17 fits into this line of reasoning.

Let there be no confusion here. No matter how men desire to interpret the events of the baptism as described in Matthew chapter three, our full understanding must also take into consideration the account as given in John chapter one. By his own words, John the Baptist defines the sign that was necessary before he could know or confirm that Jesus was and is the Lamb of God. They were:

A baptism with water
The descending from heaven of the Holy Spirit
And the abiding presence of the Spirit as he remained upon Jesus.

Clearly a prophesy of this sign was given to John the Baptist by “he that sent me.” Therefore, before the conclusion of this prophesy, John could not earnestly and honestly define Jesus as the Son of God. He may have thought it. He may even have believed it. But so long as that word from God remained unfulfilled, John the Baptist lacked the solid ground necessary for full belief.

I do not say that John the Baptists did not leap in the belly of his mother when the expectant Mary came to visit. Neither do I claim that he did not, perhaps, have a conviction and an expectation. I say only that before baptizing Jesus, John had a word from God which declared how and when John would be able to identify the Son of God. And prior to the baptism, even John the Baptist must contain his judgment in the matter.


John the baptist knew when he was in his mother womb. It says in Luke 1:41-44:

and it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the holy ghost. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my lord should come to me. For, lo, as soon ass the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped with joy.

So soon as Mary was pregnant with Jesus she went to go see her cousin Elisabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist, came and said hello, and John inside the womb jumped with joy. John knew before he was even born that Jesus was the son of God.

  • Yea it does elisabeth knew that mary was carrying our lord. So when mary walked in with jesus. The babe jumped with joy and elisabeth was filled with the holy ghost.
    – davidx6
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 23:43
  • Sorry for the late reply. Why then did John say, "I myself did not know him"? Commented Apr 11, 2014 at 7:04
  • So, what exactly is the answer to the actual question. It doesnt ssem clear.
    – user6152
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 0:17

There are two possibilities for this statement.

  1. Either John did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but knew He was his cousin.
  2. Or John did not recognize Jesus as as Messiah, and also didn't recognize Him as his cousin.

Whether John recognized him as his cousin is not relevant, and not necessary to know. John lived in the wilderness, and so it is quite understandable that he would not have recognized Jesus by sight.

The primary sense of the phrase, however, is that He did not know Jesus was the Christ. From the text, John received instructions for his Baptizing from 'someone', presumably an angel. The angel told him that the person whom the Spirit would descend upon and remain was the Messiah (the one who would baptize with the Spirit). It is conceivable that the Spirit may have 'descended' upon some, but did not remain, although this is conjecture, even as He filled Elisabeth during pregnancy.

When John was in the womb, as a non-aware infant, his spirit responded to the presence of Messiah and his mother being filled with the Spirit by leaping for Joy. This does not necessarily equate with him having the same conscious knowledge of who Jesus was. Likewise, towards the end of his life, he sent disciples to ask if Christ truly was the Christ, or if they should look for another, because he had not seen the fulfillment of what he looked for (Christ would not actually baptize with the Spirit until after His resurrection).

But, John confesses both that he did not know him as Messiah as an adult, although, given other circumstances and calling, one could conjecture that he would have come to believe in due time just like the apostles did. But, it is clear that he is saying that what he was doing, he was doing only in his role as prophet, and he was only ministering as the 'voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord'.


Jesus knew John, because Jesus knows who everyone is.

Jesus spent a lot of time living in Egypt. It's possible that they had met infrequently as John's parents lived some way from Nazareth. There is no record of them meeting even at a barmitzvah, as cousins would normally do. But if they had, 17 years will have flown by.

Before they meet at the Jordan, John has a kind of premonition that the Christ has arrived and is standing in the crowd. John, although not a miracle worker, was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother's womb as the angel promised his father .when Jesus mother was expecting Jesus, she visited John's mother. At that moment John had an inside of body experience and was filled with joy at being close to the unborn Jesus. Like his priest father, John is one who heard from God So it's no surprise that John recognised Jesus before he baptised him.


I have always understood that John knew Jesus was the Messiah from the womb. Then Yahweh hid this knowledge until the baptism of Yeshua. So that both could carry out their paths Yahweh had planned. I have been trying to understand the prison proclamation. In Matt. 11:3. I wish I could read the original txt. As I feel it would translate differently than what was translated into English. Does anyone have insight on this.

  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. It is not sufficient to simply make a claim, you are required to provide support for it. For example, your claim that John knew Jesus from the womb, that Yahweh hid knowledge, and that Matthew 11:3 means something different than the English already written, have no weight without evidence to back them up.
    – enegue
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 6:11

It is interesting that John baptizes Jesus, then the voice and dove appear in the story (who wrote the event) and in other places John says Jesus should be baptizing him. But I am confused when John later in prison sent a message by his disciples to Jesus asking “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” It would appear that he wasn't sure after all that we have read.

Sometimes I think we get too hung up on trying to make sense of a group of stories and wonder first of all, who heard and wrote them down, and then secondly, who cares. It all comes together after Jesus shows himself after the tomb to the disciples that they show that they believe by the way they lived their lives from that point on.


The good, the great thing is what God wanted mankind to know is that; The Father sent Jesus, and that Jesus Christ whom the Prophets prophosied about came according to the time God said.

Who knew that Jesus is that sacrificial Lamb of God?

Thank you Father, you gave many to know. You opened our understanding and enlightened many.

Perhaps knowing you Jesus Christ, intimately will help others to know you also. Perhaps our focus on our relationship with you will spill out & overflow into a world to those whom desire to know you, that need to know you.

Dear John the Baptist, as a young believer in Jesus Christ, where I read what you said:

John 1:29 KJV — The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

I was bought under such a conviction by the Holy Spirit! My heart could recognize Jesus Christ as That Sacrifucial Lamb! I did and do behold The Savior, of the world and my Savior, full of Light, Life and Love!

Thank you Father, the work that you did in John the Baptist spilled over to many, and to me!

  • 1
    Hi Berg and welcome to the site. When you have a minute, please take the site tour. Thanks: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 22:01
  • Hi, Berg. Many Christians here will agree with your view of what God did by sending Jesus. However, what is your answer to Wiki's question? E.G. Did John the Baptist know Jesus was God's Chosen One at John 1:29? Some time before that? Try to present an answer and support it with something like Biblical quotes, etc. Thanks. Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 20:23

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