15. How the Baptist Answers the Question of the Pharisees and Exalts the Nature of Christ. Of the Shoe-Latchet Which He is Unable to Untie.
John 4906 answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, even He who cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” Heracleon considers that Johns answers to those sent by the Pharisees refer not to what they asked, but to what he wished, not observing that he accuses the prophet of a want of manners, by making him, when asked about one thing, answer about another; for this is a fault to be guarded against in conversation. We assert, on the contrary, that the reply accurately takes up the question. It is asked, “Why baptizest thou then, if thou art not the Christ?” And what other answer could be given to this than to show that his baptism was in its nature a bodily thing? I, he says, “baptize with water;” this is his answer to, “Why baptizest thou.” And to the second part of their question, “If thou art not the Christ,” he answers by exalting the p. 366 superior nature of Christ, that He has such virtue as to be invisible in His deity, though present to every man and extending over the whole universe. This is what is indicated in the words, “There standeth one among you.” The Pharisees, moreover, though expecting the advent of Christ, saw nothing in Him of such a nature as John speaks of; they believed Him to be simply a perfect and holy man. John, therefore, rebukes their ignorance of His superiority, and adds to the words, “There standeth one among you,” the clause, “whom ye know not.” And, lest any one should suppose the invisible One who extends to every man, or, indeed, to the whole world, to be a different person from Him who became man, and appeared upon the earth and conversed with men, he adds to the words, “There standeth one among you whom you know not,” the further words, “Who cometh after me,” that is, He who is to be manifested after me. By whose surpassing excellence he well understood that his own nature was far surpassed, though some doubted whether he might be the Christ; and, therefore, desiring to show how far he is from attaining to the greatness of the Christ, that no one should think of him beyond what he sees or hears of him, he goes on: “The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” By which he conveys, as in a riddle, that he is not fit to solve and to explain the argument about Christs assuming a human body, an argument tied up and hidden (like a shoe-tie) to those who do not understand it,—so as to say anything worthy of such an advent, compressed, as it was, into so short a space.
John i. 26.