Determining the timing of John’s arrest and imprisonment is confusing when we read the different gospel accounts. It has largely been assumed that John was arrested and imprisoned once by Herod. This presumption creates conflicts in the Gospel timeline that cannot be easily resolved. The best way to fix these timeline conflicts is to consider the theory that John was arrested and later released by the Jewish Leaders shortly after Jesus’ baptism and then imprisoned by Herod about a year later. The clues that point to this being a plausible theory are:
- Both Matthew and Mark tell us that John was imprisoned shortly after the Autumn Feasts in 29AD just after Jesus returned from his 40 days of fasting. But then John tells us he is still baptising people around Passover of 30AD in Aenon.
- Matthew and Mark tell us that John was arrested in Judah. This would be very odd for Herod to arrest him at this time as he only had jurisdictional authority in Galilee, not Judah.
- Matthew uses the word ‘withdraw’ to describe Jesus leaving Judah ‘to take refuge’ in Galilee after John’s arrest. Jesus returned to Galilee to get away from the threat that existed in Judah. That threat came from the Jewish leaders, not Herod.
- The religious leaders in Jerusalem were probably not satisfied with the answers John had given to the Priests and Levites they had sent so they had him arrested so they could question him further (October 29AD). They probably released John on the condition that he stop his preaching and baptising the people. With no intention of listening to the Jewish leaders he moved out of their jurisdictional authority and the next time we find John he is in Galilee during Passover (April) of 30AD.