In Matthew 21:25 we see priests and elders reasoning within themselves:

The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?

My question here is how did they not believe him? What exactly did they do that showed that they did not believe him? What things exactly (of what John the baptist was saying) did they not believe? Was it something like they had refused to be baptized from John?

(Answers supported by the verses from the Gospel of Matthew are most preferable)

4 Answers 4


Well, in the preceding verses, they were questioning Jesus about his authority. Jesus answered by asking them about John the Baptist's authority, to draw an analogy. So the obvious answer would be that they didn't believe John's testimony of Jesus:

John 1:19-34

19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?

20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.

22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?

23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.

25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?

26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;

27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.

28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.

31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.

33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.

  • Thanks for your answer, but I would rather prefer to have something from gospel of Matthew to have a more consistent answer within the context of one book. From the Gospel of Matthew (3:7) we see that Pharisees and Sadducees were rebuked by John the baptist. Your passage also deals specifically with Pharisees (1:24). However, the passage that I quote in my question is not specifically about Pharisees and Sadducees, but about priests and elders.
    – brilliant
    Jun 3, 2012 at 15:03
  • 2
    Priests and Elders = Sadducees and Pharisees, roughly. Similarly, lawyers and scribes are somewhat interchangeable... recall that the Sadducees were the temple caste, so the priests would have likely been Sadducees, and the elders - or 'rulers' of the synagogues would have been Pharisees.
    – user304
    Jun 4, 2012 at 18:22

I think the question Jesus asked them was about the source of John's baptism. Was it from heaven (God-given) or simply by human authority (from men). Obviously, the Pharisees did not believe that John's baptism came from God and therefore they did not believe him when he said that they needed to repent and be baptized. They might have simply shown up for baptism (Matthew 3:7) to gain some favor with the people who believed he was a prophet (Matthew 21:26), but there wasn't any real repentance. John knew their hearts and warned them about "bearing fruits that befit repentance" (Matthew 3:8).


The purpose of Jesus asking the question was not to ask what they did or did not believe about John's preaching, or even his affirmation of Jesus as the messiah. What Jesus was doing was; knowing that they were trying to hold on to their positions as determining what was or was not of God, he was publicly humbling them.

In asking them if the Baptism of John was from God or from man; he was publicly showing that they were no more qualified to determine God's intent than any other person, He was further humbling them by implying what makes you think you can determine the mind of God, but I cannot; in saying "I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things:". And thereby placing them in a position for him to demonstrate that he was indeed the son of God.

In reading what they were reasoning:

Matthew 21:25 through 27 The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?" And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' 26 But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet." 27 So they answered Jesus and said, "We do not know." And He said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

It is obvious that they understood the trap Jesus had set for them.

The best thing about this Chapter is that Jesus went on in the following verses to further humble them.

Matthew 21:28 through 32 "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' 29 He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to Him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

The humbling nature of this parable is two fold in that Jesus first berates them for not even being able to understand what the most debased in their society could understand, but went on to berate them for not even believing after those miscreants had showed them.

But Jesus wasn't through yet and gave them a second parable to consider:

Matthew 21:33 through 41 "Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" 41 They said to Him, "He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons."

The true beauty of this humbling lies in the fact that Jesus has caused them to admit even before his crucifixion that that is God's plan of salvation, and their part in it!

And the final humbling comes in his:

Matthew 21:42 through 44 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED HAS BECOME THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE. THIS WAS THE LORD'S DOING, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES' ? 43 "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."

Jesus is telling them that they will soon not be the ones who dictate the way into the Kingdom of God, and warns them that when it happens those who repent and accept him as Savior will fall from their lofty perch, but that those who refuse to accept God's grace are destined for destruction.

and the chapter ends with their realizing that he had just chopped them down to size:

Matthew 21:45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them.

Since you desired an answer from the book of Matthew it seemed that the answer was in the same chapter of Matthew which you referred to, and I hope this will satisfy your question, as it was not what they disbelieved about John that is being asked, but instead it is what was not believed about God.

  • In my view, in the context that you're using it, it would be far preferable to replace the words 'humiliating'/'humiliate'/'humiliation' with the words 'humbling'/'humble'/'humbling' - the former have a sense that is not really consistent with Christ's nature. Oct 17, 2014 at 13:33
  • @bruisedreed My use of the words humiliating/humiliate/humiliation was used to show result not intent.
    – BYE
    Oct 17, 2014 at 13:47
  • @bye I gathered your intention from the context, but the word choice is poor - it has additional connotations beyond what you are intending. If you wish to ignore feedback, just ignore it - there is no need to reply comment. Oct 17, 2014 at 14:06
  • @bruisedreed I am not rejecting feedback I only wished to say that my choice of words, was due to my desire to show the true degradation of the people as a way of expressing that Jesus was who he was. It really doesn't make that much difference to me which set of words are used and if you would like those better please be my guest and edit my answer. I do not mind you doing that if you feel my choice is offensive. I did make one mistake in my 76 years on the Earth so it is possible that I could make another one.
    – BYE
    Oct 17, 2014 at 14:46

My question here is how did they not believe him? What exactly did they do that showed that they did not believe him?

Mat 3:7-9 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

The Sadducees were famous for thinking they had privileged status because of their position. The Pharisees were famous for thinking they had earned their own righteousness.

John tells them that they do not have works that would indicate a changed mind (repentance).

The scribes and temple leaders did have the right to ask Jesus by what authority he performed miracles by reason of their position in the temple.

The question of Jesus was a test rather than a trap. They had the opportunity to respond with the truth. In their deliberations the effect of various responses was evaluated, but no record is found of any interest in what a true answer would be to the question.

Their response "we do not know" was true, but it was selected for political reasons. Jesus said the he would not either answer their question. They had the right to ask Jesus, but they abrogated that right when they showed no interest in truth.

The authorities lost the right to an answer from Jesus not because they did not know the truth, but because they were not interested in truth.

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