Mary or John the Baptist?

“Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matt 11.11 NABRE)

Which is the “greater”?

Thank you

I love the use esoteric language as some sort of trap… Okay, let’s play this out. Assuming that what Christ means is that John the Baptist is the greatest ever. St Paul goes to heaven. Is St Paul now greater than John the Baptist? Then John the Baptist was not the greatest ever. And what if John the Baptist goes to heaven? Then is there someone in heaven who is less great than he is, since he’s now in heaven too? If so, then Christ was a liar… and we all know that Christ cannot be a liar.

The point Christ is making here is that the Saints in Heaven are orders of magnitude greater in righteousness and prayer than the humans who remain on earth. He uses John the Baptist who, at the time was famous, as a colloquial example here: “you know this guy as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but in heaven people are perfected!” He does NOT do it to disparage Mary, Elijah, Moses, etc.

And if the least in Heaven is greater than John the Baptist, then what of Mary, who is Queen of Heaven and the queen-mother of our Lord? If she stands beside Christ, then following Christ’s words is she not greater than John the Baptist as well (considering that being Queen of Heaven is FAR greater than being the least in heaven, which in turn is far greater than being John the Baptist)?

No trap. I’m genuinely curious as to the answer since I have been movie towards Catholicism for some time.

So if someone asks me, “Why is Mary revered more than John the Baptist,” I say?

Thank you

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that YOU were setting the trap here. Just that the situation of the language used is great for setting a trap. In other words, what Christ is saying here is not that John the Baptist is the greatest ever… what He is teaching is that our earthly nature is less great than our heavenly nature (we will be made even more than we are when we enter heaven). We cannot reinterpret this as “John the Baptist is greater than Mary because he’s the greatest ever” without springing the trap I mentioned in my first post.

So if someone asks me, “Why is Mary revered more than John the Baptist,” I say?

Thank you

The answer to that question is that Mary is the Queen Mother of the King Jesus (in Davidic Israel, the queen was the mother of the king until she died… THEN the wife became the queen). Given her status as Queen of Heaven (a position which derives from her unique relationship with Christ), she is FAR from the least in heaven. In that manner, we understand exactly what Christ tells us here. As queen of heaven, Mary is FAR above where John the Baptist ever was in perfection of nature, of faith, of righteousness, and prayer.

On this verse, Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary says, in part:
Maldonatus and Tolletus suppose the meaning to be, that he who is the least in sanctity in the Church of Christ is greater than John; not that John did not excel in sanctity many, nay even most of the children of the Church of Christ, but that those who belong to the Church, on account of this circumstance of their being under the new law, which is the law of children, are greater than those under the old law, which was the law of bondsmen, as the least among the children is greater than the greatest among the bondsmen. Now John in this respect did not belong to the Church of Christ, as he was slain before Christ’s death, before which time the gospel was not fully established. (Menochius) (source)

Some understand the comparision not between John the Baptist and other men in general but between John the Baptist and other Old Testament prophets. Some older translations of a similar passage in Luke 7:28 make this more explicit. For instance, the Douay-Rheims Bible for Luke 7:28 has, “For I say to you: Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist. But he that is the lesser in the kingdom of God, is greater than he.”

Was not Jesus born of a woman?

And here’s why: The NAB curiously overlooks the Greek word ἐγήγερται (“has risen,” or “has arisen”). Most translations include this phrase, and render it like the ASV:

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!

It’s the exact same phrase that is used to describe someone rising from the dead. The notion of “rising” in this context implies some particular stature. If we say that a fireman “has risen” then we imply he has somehow exceeded other firemen. We don’t mean that he has gotten out of bed.

But I think Actaeon got it right. It’s more a figure of speech (hyperbole) than an explicit teaching. Yesterday someone helped me out, and I replied, “thanks - you’re the greatest.” I wasn’t making an actual comparison to the rest of humanity.

Jesus was speaking to John’s disciples, who had been sent (by John himself) to “check him out.” The point Jesus was trying to make was about the sanctity of the Saints, not establishing John’s absolute superiority. He used John to make his point because John was already recognized and respected by these disciples, and he may have been the only righteous person that everyone already knew about.

Matthew 11:1-15 is about prophets. Jesus is talking about prophets.

Amen, I say to you, among those (prophets) born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.

The context is prophets. John is the greatest prophet. Mary is the pinnacle of all creation.


The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t merely the Heaven after death. I think that Jesus also used the term in the present tense to mean the church. Thus, I think he was saying that the least in His church is greater than John the Baptist.

Except that totally would not make sense. That would make John himself the “least” and thus John would be lesser than himself.

He was the greatest of the OT prophets.

CCC 523 St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. “Prophet of the Most High”, John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being “the friend of the bridegroom”, whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.

CCC 719 John the Baptist is “more than a prophet.” In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah. He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Israel; he is the “voice” of the Consoler who is coming. As the Spirit of truth will also do, John “came to bear witness to the light.” In John’s sight, the Spirit thus brings to completion the careful search of the prophets and fulfills the longing of the angels. “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. . . . Behold, the Lamb of God.”

I believe when Jesus made this comment He was referring to the standard of greatness held by those who embrace this world of sin and misery. He was comparing the Baptist to men like alexander the great and Aristotle, et al.

He was in effect demolishing the values of this world. in the kingdom of heaven and according to the standards of God, even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest in the kingdom of this world.

how people rate in the kingdom of heaven is not spoken of in any great detail by the Lord.

On the icon screen in the vast majority of Orthodox Churches, you will see Panagia (Mary) and John the Forerunner at Christ’s right and left hand, the positions Salome had requested for her sons James and John, which Jesus said, “belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

Jesus and Mary were not conceived and born in the usual way. Jesus’ conception was miraculous, virginal, and an Incarnation, and his birth was miraculous. So he is not included in the phrase “born of women” (which really means conceived and born in the usual way). Mary was conceived by the Immaculate Conception, so she was not conceived in the usual way. I also think that Mary’s conception and birth were each miraculous (in my opinion).

John the Baptist was conceived and born in the usual way. He was conceived with original sin. So of all those conceived with original sin, none is greater than John – but some might be his equal (such as Saint Joseph).

What was miraculous about Mary’s birth? I wasn’t aware that her birth (as opposed to her conception) was anything other than a birth.

Bingo, that is what Jesus is saying there.

Mary is THE woman mentioned in Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12. She is, IMO, the greatest created being ever.

I thought the same question before.

I am leaning away from these questions. I am not worthy to comment on what I think either to be, other than I feel they are both better than me.

Seriously, people? Of course Jesus was “born of woman.” Paul makes a big point of that - “born of woman, born under the Law.”

When Jesus says, “No man born of woman has arisen that is greater than he,” Jesus is not including Himself – because you don’t ever include yourself when you’re giving a spoken judgment about history! It would sound really egotistical if you did. Welcome to good rhetorical practice! Also, He’s not strictly speaking a professional prophet, although He does prophesy. He’s God and the Messiah by profession.

He doesn’t say that John is the greatest prophet, mind you. He just says that none of the other prophets are greater than him. So it does leave the possibility that Elijah, Moses, Jeremiah, etc. are equally as great as John, although that’s not normally how tradition has taken it.

And it doesn’t mention Mary, because Jesus is talking about “all the prophets,” when he’s talking about “gennetois gynaikon” (male-plural of “born of woman”, which can include women in the typical Indo-European way, but doesn’t have to). It’s true that Mary does act as a prophet on some occasions (namely the Visitation and the Wedding at Cana), but it’s not her profession like John or Elijah or Anna’s. Also, it was considered really bad manners to talk about a living woman in public and mention her name (unless you had to), so He wouldn’t have said “except my mom Mary, she’s really awesome.”

Really, if you’re going to worry about a text in this passage, “John is Elijah if you can accept it” is a lot more weird.

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