John the Baptist Evoking the Sodom and Gomorrah Memory

I recently ran across an interesting gem which adds another dimension to the preaching account of John the Baptist recorded in Matt. 3:1-13 and Luke 3:1-9. Both records indicate that John’s preaching circuit took place in the region of the Jordan – ἡ περίχωρος τοῦ Ἰορδάνου (Matt. 3:5; cf. Luke 3:3). This exact phrase shows up twice in, what I think is, a deliberate parallel. It comes from the passage in Genesis 13:10-13:

Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan (τὴν περίχωρον τοῦ Ιορδάνου), that it was well watered everywhere– this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah– like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan (τὴν περίχωρον τοῦ Ιορδάνου), and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD.

If attentive readers of the passage in Matthew and Luke made the connection with Gen. 13:10-13, then they would likely connect the ‘region of the Jordan’ with the Sodom and Gomorrah incident. Genesis even tells the reader in 13:10 that the LORD eventually destroys the cities, even though that account does not come until chapter 19. You may recall that Lot was spared because of his relationship to Abraham, and then only by the skin of his teeth.

axeWith this in mind, I find the kerygma of John the Baptist to be rather interesting. He is in the same region at the Sodom and Gomorrah incident. He preaches repentance and the coming wrath which will, coincidentally, involve a judgment with fire, just like the fires of judgment mentioned in Genesis 19. John tells his audience that they should not presume that their relationship to Abraham would grant them immunity in the coming judgment, as it did with Lot. No, they should produce fruit worthy of repentance.

What do you think? Is it likely that John the Baptist is drawing on the memory of Sodom and Gomorrah in his preaching?



One thought on “John the Baptist Evoking the Sodom and Gomorrah Memory

  1. I think you’re absolutely right. In addition to the allusion to Gen 13, your post reminded me of Isaiah 1, which also mentions Sodom & Gomorrah. Upon looking at it more closely I found many similarities between it and John’s message.

    Notably Isaiah is addressing the leadership in Jerusalem just as John was. The fact that John was standing in the region of S & G while preaching a message so similar to Isaiah 1 would, I imagine, have driven the point home quite powerfully.

    “Hear the word of the LORD,
    you rulers of Sodom!
    Give ear to the teaching of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!

    Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
    cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
    seek justice,
    correct oppression;
    bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

    But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
    and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.

    For you shall be like an oak
    whose leaf withers,
    and like a garden without water.
    And the strong shall become tinder,
    and his work a spark,
    and both of them shall burn together,
    with none to quench them.”

    Isa 1:16-17, 28, 30-31

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