John the Baptist played a pivotal role in the coming of the Kingdom of God. He is connected with the prophets of the Old Testament while at the same time he acts as a model for the new Kingdom of God.

The story of John the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1:5-38, 57-75) can be related to many other stories of births in the Old Testament, particularly in Genesis. Direct the students to some examples of how the Patriarchs were born: Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac (Gn 15:3; 16:1); Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob (Gn 25:21); Jacob, Rachel, and Joseph (Gn 29:31, 30:1-2, 22-24). In each case, the pregnancy was made possible by God. Two other births have close similarities to the infancy narrative of John the Baptist including the birth of Samson (Jgs 13:2-3), who like John took ascetic vows (Lk 1:15) and whose parents received a visit from an angel of the Lord. It is probably most likely that the birth of Samuel (1 Sm 1:9-2:11, 18-21) is the prototype of Luke’s infancy narrative: both had barren mothers (1 Sm 1:2; Lk 1:7); both had parents who prayed in the temple (1 Sm 2:9; Lk 1:9); both make ascetic vows (Lk 1:15; 1 Sm 1:11, 22); both are dedicated to the Lord (1 Sm 1:22)

The birth of John the Baptist is also closely related to the birth of Jesus Christ:

  • Announcement from an Angel (1:10; 1:26)
  • Mary has faith (1:45) in contrast to Zechariah who has doubt (1:20)
  • The Canticle of Zechariah (2:68-80) and the Magnificat (1:46-55) as responses to God’s gift.
Divide these various stories among groups of students. Have them read together both the infancy narrative of John and their passages. Have them find and cite each of the similarities. Then have them propose the reasons why Luke would make these connections to the Old Testament. Discuss their results as a class.

Notes on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist: According to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus. The feast of his birth, therefore, is on June 24th. In some countries, St. John’s Eve—like Christmas Eve—is celebrated the day before the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This custom is particularly popular in rural Ireland.