Dr. R. Jared Staudt, PhD
Director of Content

A Martyr for Marriage: The Beheading of John the Baptist

John the Baptist was the greatest of the sons of women and the forerunner of the Messiah, paving the way for Jesus’s own ministry. Like Jesus, he preached the coming of the Kingdom of God through conversion from sin. We also recognize him as a martyr, giving his life for God’s truth. He was not put to death for his witness to Jesus but was killed for upholding the dignity of marriage as a lifelong and unbreakable union of one man and one woman. 

Herod the Great was not an Israelite but an Edomite, a descendant of one of Israel’s ancient enemies. He and his successors, however, sought to position themselves as legitimate Jewish kings, and so put on a show of following the Law. John the Baptist confronted Herod Antipas, Herod the Great’s son, for taking his sister-in-law as his second wife, involving not only divorce but also incest. As a public leader, claiming to represent the Jewish people, this action created great scandal, and could even be seen as an act of defiance against God.

Perhaps John’s preaching against Herod did provide witness to Jesus, even if in an indirect way. Jesus came as the bridegroom who invited guests to the great wedding feast where he would marry his bride, the Church. This seems to be why Jesus performed his first public miracle at a wedding feast, indicating that the hour of his Passion would have a marital significance, offering himself to his bride to be mystically joined as one. Although the Jews had tolerated divorce, Jesus restored marriage to its original meaning of two becoming one, in part because this union reflects his own plan of salvation to be one with us.

Too often we hear people say, that matters of marriage and sexuality do not really matter, almost implying that God does not care that much about these issues. John’s death tells us that these things do matter to God. They are worth dying over (as we also see in John the Baptist’s namesake St. John Fisher, who also died for the sanctity of marriage). God created us for communion, and he created marriage to reflect his self-giving love. Marriage is meant to entail a complete gift of self that holds nothing back, so much so that the two become one, fruitfully sharing their love with their children. Divorce and adultery undercut the truth that God has imprinted into our nature and which finds fulfillment in marriage. 

The beheading of John the Baptist calls us to greater fidelity to God’s love and his plan for human sexuality and marriage. We too must be joyful witnesses to God’s plan and refuse to compromise with the culture. Only by following God’s plan can we enter into the wedding feast of the Lamb. 

Dr. Staudt serves as Director of Content for Exodus and as an Instructor for the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is the author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today (Angelico Press). He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Ave Maria University and B.A. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN). He and wife, Anne, have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.