My interest in 1st century/2nd temple Judaism/early Christianity has been rekindled – I’ve spent the morning reading Wright, Sanders Segal, Metzger and others, and here’s an interesting snippet from Metzger about John the Baptist:
‘The other unique characteristic of John’s preaching was his insistence that in the coming judgment the privilege of belonging to the chosen people would count for nothing: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt. 3:9, Luke 3:9). In effect, John excommunicated the whole nation and received back such as would repent and be baptized.’ (Bruce Metzger, ‘The New testament, it’s Background Growth and Content’, pp. 109-110).
Wright is well known for the thesis ethnic boasting and exclusivity was a major problem for the apostolic church, and it would seem here that John the Baptist provides a bit of evidence to bolster that thesis. Part of John’s problem (it appears) was that people were resting content in the fact that they belonged to the ethnic family of Abraham, and so were safe on judgment day, to which John gives his spirited reply.