During Christmas, the story of Jesus’s mother Mary and her miraculous conception is often told in churches and other similar prayers as part of Christian tradition. In addition to retelling how Mary conceived through the Holy Spirit, another famous tale is recounted as part of the celebration— that of John the Baptist’s unusual conception and birth. John the Baptist is known as the Herald of Christ and the one who baptized Him in the River Jordan. It is said that John’s mother, Elizabeth, is a relative of Mary; that’s why many followers of the Christian faith are quick to conclude that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins. But, were they cousins? Is there biblical evidence to support this family tie?
Based on biblical scripture, there is no concrete evidence to support that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins; however, we know that they were related in some way because their parents were relatives. We conclude that there are two ways in which Jesus and John the Baptist could have been cousins. The first way would be if their mothers Mary and Elizabeth, were cousins based on traditional family tree dynamics. The second way is to rely only on the 17th century meaning of the word cousin, which means “any relative.”
In this article, we will learn more about who John the Baptist was by discussing his birth and works on earth. We will also take a deep look at his relationship with Jesus Christ to clarify why many people believe that They are cousins.
Who was John the Baptist?
John the Baptist was a fiery preacher and reformer who was known to have baptized Jesus Christ in the River Jordan. He played a significant role in preparing the people for Christ’s arrival, thus being called as His forerunner. In the Gospel, there are several passages that link John to the Prophet Elijah, who performed the same role in the Old Testament. Luke 1:16-17 (NIV) gives us a clear picture of their connection.
16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Matthew 17:10-13 also affirms that John the Baptist is, in fact, the Prophet Elijah as Jesus references the prophecy of Malachi:
10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
The first encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist
The parents of John the Baptist were an old righteous couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. They remained childless for a long time because Elizabeth was not able to conceive. Through praying ceaselessly, God heard them and sent the angel Gabriel to deliver the news that Elizabeth would finally bear a son as written in Luke 1:13:
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.”
The Bible shows us that Jesus and John the Baptist shared a close bond that started before either of them were born. In fact, when Mary found out she was pregnant with Jesus, she went to visit her relative Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, it was told that John the Baptist “leaped” while still in Elizabeth’s womb, telling us that even as infants, there was an intimate connection between Jesus and John.
The work of John the Baptist
As we analyze the kinship of Jesus and John, the Bible shows us that not only were they kinsman but that John’s determination to preach a gospel of repentance and Final Judgement was to prepare Israel for Jesus’ arrival. People all around the region Judea went to the wilderness to listen to him preach. Even the Pharisees, who were the Jewish synagogue leaders, would come to hear his sermons.
John also worked hard to oppose injustice and corruption. He asked the rich to share with the less fortunate, and he exposed the transgressions of the tax collectors. He openly criticized King Herod for his abuse of power and sinful behavior, which ultimately led to John being put to death.
John’s baptism of Jesus
Further analysis of the relationship between Jesus and John reveals that God always had a plan to have them cross paths at various times throughout their lives. This was evident when Jesus came to John to be baptized by him in the desert and said that the moment was “to fulfill all righteousness.”
However, before John’s baptism of Jesus, many Israelites believed that John was, in fact, the Messiah sent from God. John dismissed this idea, as stated in Matthew 3:11-12 (NIV):
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
As we can see from the details provided to us from the Bible, it suggests that not only was John a kinsman of Jesus, but he also maintained a duty to prepare a foundation for the future Gospel of Jesus.
Are Jesus and John the Baptist cousins?
To understand if Jesus and John the Baptist are cousins based on traditional family-tree dynamics, it must be established that their mothers are also cousins based on the same criteria. Let’s revisit the biblical details of the family connection between Mary and Elizabeth:
Mary and Elizabeth’s family relationship
We know that when the angel of God visited Mary to share the news that she was going to conceive Jesus, he also mentioned about the miraculous conception of her “relative,” Elizabeth.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. – Luke 1:36 (NIV)
This establishes that both Mary and Elizabeth are related, but the NIV version of the Bible doesn’t specifically allude to the type of family relationship they share. It is important to note that not all versions use the same terminology to describe the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth. For example, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible uses the word “cousin” to describe their relationship.
And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. – Luke 1:36 (KJV)
However, the KJV was written in the 17th century, and the word cousin during that time was used to address any relative, so we can consider its definition also vague.
Unfortunately, the Bible does not provide concrete evidence to classify the specific family-tree dynamic at work between Mary and Elizabeth. Some scholars of the scripture claim that Elizabeth is Mary’s aunt, given the age difference, while others say that they are distant relatives. The same goes for identifying the relationship between their sons Jesus and John the Baptist, as their family relationship is not addressed in any accounts in the Bible.
Conclusion: Jesus and John the Baptist are relatives
John the Baptist played a significant role in preparing a foundation for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was considered as the Herald who proclaimed Jesus’ arrival, and he was also the baptist who encouraged people to repent to be saved from their sins, as well as introducing for the first time in history the concept of water baptism.
Some Christians believe that he is a cousin of Jesus, but the dynamics of their kinship is somewhat vague, and we cannot know for sure what their exact relationship is. Regardless of their connection, we know that they loved each other and were destined to play key roles in God’s destiny for mankind.