Matthew 11:11

“**Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; **yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

I’m having difficulty understanding the first part. Obviously this doesn’t mean that John the Baptist was greater than Jesus, although Jesus WAS born of woman, so could someone help me out with the interpretation please?

Also, does this mean he is greater in holiness than even Mary?

Thanks!

D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Ver. 11. He that is the lesser, &c. Many understand this of Christ, who is less in as much as he is more humble, younger in age, and according to the erroneous opinion of men, of less sanctity than John. 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) — There hath not risen … a greater, &c. This comparison, by what we find, Luke vii. 28, is only betwixt John and the ancient prophets, to signify that John was greater than any of the prophets, at least by his office of being the immediate precursor of the Messias. The comparison cannot be extended to Christ himself, who was both God and man, nor to his blessed Virgin Mother; nor need we understand it of his apostles. (Witham)

Theophylact says

He declares this with certainty, that there is no one greater than John. But by saying “born of women” He excludes Himself, for Christ was born of a virgin, not of a woman, that is, one who is married. Notwithstanding, He that is younger is greater than he in the kingdom of heaven. Since He has extolled the praises of John, lest they think that John is greater than He says here more clearly, I am the younger in age and the lesser in your opinion, yet I am greater than he in the kingdom of heaven, that is, in regards to spiritual and heavenly good things. For here I appear less than he, both because his birth preceded Mine and because he appears great to you, but there in the kingdom of heaven I am greater.

Plus the Catena Aurea has great quotes

RABAN; As much as to say; What need to recount one by one the praises of John the Baptist; I say verily to you, Among them that are born of women &c. He says women, not virgins. If the same word mulier, which denotes a married person, is any where in the Gospels applied to Mary, it should be known that the translator has there used ‘mulier’ for ‘femina’; as in that, Woman, behold your son!

JEROME; He is then set before all those that are born in wedlock, and not before Him who was born of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit; yet these words, there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist, do not imply that John is to be set above the Prophets and Patriarchs and all others, but only makes him equal to the rest; for it does not follow that because others are not greater than him, that therefore he is greater than others.

PSEUDO-CHRYS; But seeing that righteousness has so great deepness that none can be perfect therein but God only, I suppose that all the saints tried by the keenness of the divine judgment, rank in a fixed order, some lower, some before other. Whence we understand that He that has none greater than Himself, is greater than all.

CHRYS; That the abundance of this praise might not beget a wrong inclination in the Jews to set John above Christ, he corrects this, saying, He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

AUG; The heretic argues from this verse to prove, that since John did not belong to the kingdom of heaven, therefore much less did the other Prophets of that people, than whom John is greater. But these words of the Lord may be understood in two ways. Either the kingdom of heaven is something which we have not yet received, that, namely, of which He speaks, Come, you blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom, because they in it are Angels, therefore the least among them is greater than a righteous man who has a corruptible body. Or if we must understand the kingdom of heaven of the Church, whose children are all the righteous men from the beginning of the world until now, then the Lord speaks this of Himself, who was after John in the time of His birth, but greater in respect of His divine nature and supreme power. According then to the first interpretation it will be pointed, He who is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he; according to the second, He who is less than he, is in the kingdom of heaven greater than he.

CHRYS; The kingdom of heaven, that is, in the spiritual; world and all relating thereto. But some say that Christ spoke this of the Apostles.

JEROME; We understand it simply, that every saint who is ready with the Lord is greater than he who yet stands in the battle; for it is one thing to have gained the crown of victory, another to be yet fighting in the field.

I just read something that helped me understand this passage. "Born of a woman’ can’t mean literally that, as Jesus and Mary both had mother’s. But it could mean ‘born with original sin’ as Jesus and Mary were not born with it (Mary’s was saved right at conception), so of all those with original sin, John the Baptist was the greatest, having committed no personal sin.

Perhaps Jesus was either being vague, or Matthew was not exact in his quotation of our Lord? When He said this,

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

we understand Him to mean this,

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of [merely] women [and men] there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Jesus was not born of merely a woman, for He was born of a woman and the Holy Spirit.

Here is my take on this and it revolves around the term "in the kingdom of heaven’. The kingdom of heaven is not just heaven but includes the church also. This is expressed in Catholicism as the “Communion of Saints” or “Body of Christ” and is the basis for Catholics requesting intercessory prayer by the heavenly saints. I am not sure how the “Communion of Saints” is interpreted in protestant denominations, if, indeed they even profess this doctrine. Anyway what Jesus is saying is that John the Baptist was the greatest of the Old Covenant peoples but he was still Old Covenant. John never lived to make it into the New Covenant. Scripture tells us that his baptism was ineffective in remitting sin and was for repentance only. But those in the church have been reborn in the Baptism of Jesus Christ [Trinitarian Baptism]. So those Old Covenant people, John the Baptist included, were only born of woman but those New Covenant people who are baptized are born [reborn] of the Spirit. That is what makes them greater than John.

What about Paul? He said of himself that he would be the least in the kingdom, and would be findable on the edge of the outer darkness. He was a spooky creature, wasn’t he?

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