Questions From Readers
Should John who baptized Jesus be referred to as “John the Baptist” or as “John the Baptizer”?
Both designations are correct and Biblically supported.
John was “to get ready for Jehovah a prepared people,” which he did by “preaching baptism in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 1:17; 3:3) The apostle Matthew wrote: “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’ . . . Then Jerusalem and all Judea . . . made their way out to him, and people were baptized by him in the Jordan River, openly confessing their sins.”—Matthew 3:1-6.
Notice that Matthew identifies John as “the Baptist.” Matthew, who was evidently tailoring his account to Jews, must have felt that the Jews would know who “the Baptist” was. He used “the Baptist” as a sort of surname. Jesus and his disciples used “John the Baptist,” as did the servants of Herod.*—Matthew 11:11, 12; 14:2; 16:14.
The disciple Mark reports a similar use of “the Baptist.” (Mark 6:25; 8:28) But when introducing John, Mark called him “John the baptizer.” (Mark 1:4) The Greek involved at Mark 1:4 differs slightly from that of the other verses. Mark 1:4 might also be rendered “the baptizing one.” Mark was highlighting what John was doing; he was the one doing baptizing, the baptizer.
It does not appear, however, that we must distinguish between these ways of referring to John. At Mark 6:24, 25, we read about Salome: “She went out and said to her mother: ‘What should I ask for?’ She said: ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she went in with haste to the king and made her request, saying: ‘I want you to give me right away on a platter the head of John the Baptist.’” The two designations were used interchangeably.
Some people might understand “the Baptist” according to the second definition in a dictionary: “A member or adherent of an evangelical Protestant denomination marked by congregational polity and baptism by immersion of believers only.” John certainly was not that.
Hence, both “John the Baptist” and “John the Baptizer” are correct and proper.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote of “John, surnamed the Baptist.”