Answering The Atheist
June 27, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 26
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Was John the Baptist Elijah? Sometimes yes (Matthew 11:13-14; Matthew 17:12-13; Mark 9:13), and sometimes no (John 1:21). Is there a contradiction?
Was John the Baptist Elijah? The answer is both yes and no. Those who questioned John sought to know who he was. He told them he was not the Christ (v 20). They asked, "Are you Elijah?", to which he said, "I am not." (v 21). How can he say that, when other verses clearly identify him as the Elijah who would come?
Malachi had foretold that "Elijah" would come (Malachi 4:5), and the New Testament applies this to John (Matthew 17:10-13). We are told that John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). He was not (nor did he ever claim to be) the actual person of Elijah.
It would appear that as the representatives of the Pharisees questioned whether he was Elijah or not, they thought that Elijah was to literally return to the earth. He denied being Elijah come back to earth, just as he denied being the Christ or the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). What did he confess of himself? That he was "...the voice of one crying in the wilderness...", spoken of by Isaiah. That is, he was the one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the people back to the Lord.
There is no contradiction.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible