Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 6, 1959
NUMBER 13, PAGE 12-13a

What Happened To John's Disciples?

James E. Cooper, Campbellsville, Kentucky

In response to a previous article of mine, which appeared in the Gospel Guardian of May 14, the following letter was received. Since it contains some questions of interest to more of our readers, the answers to his questions are submitted through these pages.

Birmingham, Alabama

May 12, 1959

Dear Bro. Cooper

I notice in your article in the "GOSPEL GUARDIAN" of May the 14th, "FOOLISH PREACHING ON THE ONE BAPTISM," you had something to say about "THE BAPTISM OF JOHN," and I am not sure that I understand you, so, I am curious to ask you a few direct questions concerning John's baptism.

(1) Did those who John baptized go defunct, i.e., were they required to be baptized again, in the "name of the Lord Jesus," after the day of Pentecost? in order to be admitted into the church of the firstborn?

(2) Was John's disciples and the twelve at Ephesus in the same category, i.e., did the apostles require all of John's disciples to be baptized again in the name of the Lord Jesus after Pentecost?


(4) What did it consist of? In other words, I want to know what became of all John's disciples. Were they added to the church on Pentecost? Were they added any time later, as were the twelve (12) at Ephesus? I will feel grateful to you if you will help me in solving this problem.

Yours in Christ;


The four questions asked by our Birmingham brother are intriguing ones, the answers to which are difficult because he wants to know about "all John's disciples." The answers lie, for the most part, in the realm of the un-revealed. Because the Bible does not specifically deal with these particular questions, their answers must lie in the realm of probability.

Whether those baptized by John were required to be baptized again in the "name of the Lord Jesus" after the day of Pentecost cannot be categorically answered "Yes" or "No." At least some of the apostles had been the disciples of John. Andrew and John, the son of Zebedee, were John's disciples (Jno. 1:35-40), and heard the baptizer when he pointed Jesus out as the "Lamb of God." Whether any of the others were disciples of John, we cannot accurately say, though it is possible and even probable that some of them were (Cf. Matt. 3:5-6). However, since that is not revealed, we cannot know of a surety.

We have no record that those apostles who had been disciples of John were baptized again "in the name of John" in order to enter the church on Pentecost. Neither is it recorded that those among the apostles who had not been John's disciples were so baptized.

The number of disciples is given as 120 in Acts 1:15. though that must not have been the complete number of the Lord's disciples at that time, as Paul mentions 500 to whom the Lord appeared after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:8). Whether any of them had been disciples of John, or whether they were baptized again on the day of Pentecost is not revealed.

In addition to all this is the consideration that Jesus taught and baptized disciples before Pentecost (Jno. 3:22). In fact, he was making and baptizing more disciples than John (Jno. 4:1-2).

In Acts 2:41 we find that 3000 souls were "added unto them" on Pentecost. McGarvey says that "they were added to the previous number of believers" (p. 45). This is problematical, however, as "unto them" does not appear in the original. The original has prosetethsan, which is the effective aorist of prostithemi, meaning "to put to, Thayer (p. 549) defines it as used in Acts 2:41 as "to add, i.e., join to, gather with any company, the number of ones followers or companions." It is used in Acts 2:47, when it is stated that those being saved were "added" to the church. It is used in Acts 5:14 and 11:24 to state that believers were "added" to the Lord. The comment by, H. Leo Boles in his commentary is, "Those who were baptized were 'added unto them'; that is, those who were baptized were added together, added to the church; there were 'about three thousand souls.' Some think that these three thousand were added to the hundred and twenty, but since the phrase 'unto them' is in italics, or supplied, they were simply added together" (p. 50).

The question of those to whom they were added, even if McGarvey is correct, should not cause us undue anxiety. Whether they were baptized by Jesus and his disciples or by John does not materially change the situation. The church was spoken into existence, miraculously, by the Lord. How the first members became members does not change God's law for entrance into the church of today, God spoke the world into being and miraculously made the first human pair. We do not expect God to make human beings miraculously now, but realize that we must follow God's law of procreation. The same principle holds true in the church. It was begun by a miracle, but all who enter it since then must be born anew (Jno. 3:3-5).

The connection between John's disciples and the twelve at Ephesus is in that the twelve in Ephesus knew only the baptism of John (Acts 19:3). They had been baptized "into John's baptism." This event, of Paul's instructing them, took place some twenty-five years after the death of John. In Acts 18:25 we learn that Apollos, the eloquent preacher who came to Ephesus, knew only the baptism of John. We are not told whether Apollos was baptized in the name of Jesus or not. McGarvey supposes that the failure to do so may have been either because Aquila didn't know what should be done in such cases, or that Apollos may have been baptized by John himself some years before on a journey to Judea. However, we must be reminded that this is merely supposition, At whose hands the twelve had been baptized into John's baptism cannot be determined. Both McGarvey and Boles are of the opinion that they had been baptized by some of John's disciples after John's baptism ceased to be valid at John's death. This may be so. However, the case in hand illustrates what must be done about those who had received John's baptism after the church had come into existence. John's baptism certainly had ceased to be valid since the day of Pentecost, when baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was preached for the remission of sins. These twelve were regarded as not having received baptism at all. Their case shows that John's baptism could not be the "one baptism" of Eph. 4:5. It was for that purpose that I mentioned them in my article in the May 14 issue of the Guardian.

John did come to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Lk. 1:17). What he did in his work indicates what was involved. He preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. 3:2). He preached repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (Matt. 3:1-6; Mk. 1:2-5; Lk. 3:1-78). He pointed Jesus out as the "Lamb of God" (Jno. 1:15 ff). Luke 3:4 quotes the prophecy as being fulfilled in John's preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Hence, we must conclude that the preparation consisted in preparing the people spiritually, both in life and in anticipation, for the coming of the Lord, and to point Jesus out to them. When he had done this, he had fulfilled his mission. After the baptism of Jesus, the glory of Jesus overshadowed all the work that John had done, as John said should be (Jno. 3:30).

We cannot categorically say that all of John's disciples were made members of the church on Pentecost. The only disciples of John, about whom specific information is given in the New Testament with respect to their being in the church, are those among the apostles, Apollos, and the twelve at Ephesus. That those disciples, who had been disciples of John, were not baptized on Pentecost cannot be determined, other than the fact that no suggestion is made that the apostles were baptized. Whether any of John's disciples were included in the 3000 who heard Peter's sermon, and because of previous instruction by John, were disposed to accept it cannot be determined. There may have been some of John's disciples included in that number. If so, they were baptized, along with others who had never been John's disciples. We do know that some from Judea were present (Acts 2:9, 14). As far as Apollos is concerned, we simply don't have the information supplied in the Scripture to make a categorical statement. We do know that the twelve in Ephesus were baptized in the name of the Lord.

That not all of John's disciples were added to the church on Pentecost is evident from the case of Apollos and the twelve at Ephesus. Even if we separate Apollos as not being in the same condition as the twelve, he still is an example of one who had known only John's baptism who was not in the church, and that was long after Pentecost. If he had been baptized by John himself, he was not in the church. I am inclined to accept McGarvey's suggestion that Aquila simply didn't know what to do about such cases. Or, Apollos may have been baptized and the event is not recorded, since in the next chapter Luke does record what was done about the twelve at Ephesus who were taught by Paul.

That the disciples of John were added to the church at any later time, as the twelve at Ephesus, would depend upon whether they heard the gospel and obeyed it as did the twelve. Following Pentecost, people became members of the church by hearing the gospel and obeying it whether they had been disciples of John, or whether they had not. This seems to be the conclusion which results from the above considerations. There are several "ifs" in this discussion, but I trust that it will assist, at least in the study of this problem.