Was John The Immerser Elijah or Not?
Skeptics of the Bible continue to search for supposed "contradictions" that will show that a Divine Mind did not supernaturally superintend over its contents.
One of the supposed "contradictions" that skeptics have brought out is that the gospel writers seemed confused over whether John the Immerser was Elijah or not (http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/elijah.html). Was John the Immerser Elijah or not? Matthew and Mark give "yes" as an answer to that question that can be found in Matthew 11:13-14; 17:12-13; Mark 9:13. The gospel writer, John, gives a "no" as an answer to that question in John 1:21 from the mouth of John the Immerser himself. Have the skeptics finally found a contradiction? Absolutely not.
What is the true definition of a contradiction is? The law of non-contradiction states that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. A contradiction is only true if it is in the same sense.
Elijah was one of the most famous prophets in Israel (1 Kings 17 thru 2 Kings 2). He was known for his uncompromising stance against the cultic idol worship of Baal that had made its inroads into the northern kingdom of Israel on a national level by the notorious Jezebel and Ahab. It became such a heated battle that a contest was held on Mount Carmel between Elijah, who represented the God of Israel, and the prophets of Baal, who represented the god known to be the god of the weather (1 Kings 18). This should have been an easy contest for Baal, but he failed miserably! It was no contest though for the God of Israel, who does controls the weather.
Elijah was also known for his fiery preaching so much so that it could rekindle the hearts of the people to turn back to the true God (1 Kings 18:39).
Malachi, who served as a prophet to the post-exilic community of Israel, had made a prophecy in 400 B.C. that an "Elijah" would come who would bring back another restoration movement before the coming day of the Lord, which in this context, was likely referring to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Roman forces. This "Elijah" would be predicted to come before that awesome and terrible event of national judgment. Was this prophecy fulfilled before that time reference?
Zechariah had been given news by the angel named Gabriel while serving in the temple that he would have a son, even though his wife, Elizabeth, was barren. The angel then gave the aforementioned prophecy of Malachi and stated that Zechariah's son, who would be named John, would come "in the spirit and power of Elijah". When John grew up, he was called to be a prophet that would serve as the harbinger of the great King, Jesus (Isaiah 40:1-3).
John was also one of the most famous prophets. He was not afraid to preach on subjects such as repentance and hell that are looked down upon in modern times (Matthew 3). John was a preacher whose heart was on fire for the Lord. He did not back down from the truth on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, even if it cost him his life (Mark 6:17-18). John set out to fulfill the mission that God had given to him to help bring people out of idolatry back into fellowship with God. John was as bold and courageously strong as Elijah was in his preaching. Elijah had his enemies, Jezebel and Ahab, while John had his enemies, Herodias and Herod Antipas.
When the scribes and Pharisees approached John, they wanted to find out who he was. When John answered "no" - that he was not Elijah, he meant he was not Elijah reincarnated. The reason other passages state John the Immerser was "Elijah" was because he resembled Elijah in his character, manner of preaching, involvement in bringing people back into a restored fellowship with God, and the type of adversaries that he made.
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