Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Questions from NT Survey: 9.28.15

How do we harmonize John 5:31 with John 8:14?

Here are the two verses side-by-side:
“If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.” (John 5:31)
“Jesus answered, ‘Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.’” (John 8:14)
These statements initially seem to contradict each other, but in context, I don’t think they do. In 5:31, Jesus is alluding to the standard of the Old Testament law, which requires at least two witnesses for an accusation to be deemed trustworthy (Deut. 17:6). In 8:14, Jesus is specifically responding to an accusation thrown his way by the Jews, who had claimed that Jesus was in fact bearing witness about himself, and therefore his word has no authority. But in both verses, the point that Jesus is driving at is that he doesn’t need to rely on his own testimony about himself, because there’s another witness that testifies about him also.

In John 5:31, the additional witness is John the Baptist, as Jesus goes on to say: “There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved” (John 5:32–34). In other words, Jesus points to John the Baptist as a second witness, not because he actually needs to do so, but so that the Old Testament standard will be upheld for the sake of the Jews.

In John 8:14, the additional witness is none other than God the Father, as Jesus goes on to say: “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me” (John 8:15–16). So in effect, the Jews were saying to Jesus, “See, look! You’re bearing witness about yourself right now, and that means your word isn’t true” (John 8:13). To which Jesus responds with words to this effect: “Even if I am bearing witness about myself, my testimony is still true. Why? Again, because there’s another who bears witness about me, namely my Father in heaven.”

Notice that in 8:14, Jesus does not say “Even if I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is true.” That would make 8:14 contradict 5:31. But that’s just the point: Jesus is not alone. He is so united with his Father that there are always at least two bearing witness. And in truth, we know that there are actually three who bear witness.

Why did Jesus occasionally instruct his disciples and others not to tell anyone that he was the Christ (Matt. 16:20), or not to tell anyone about the miracles he did (Matt 8:4)?

Some point out that the title “Christ” would have carried political connotations, such that to announce Jesus as the Christ would give everyone the impression that Jesus would be the earthly king they were expecting. That could be the case, but I’m content with a more general answer: It just wasn’t time to tell everyone yet.

To draw an analogy, an author who’s writing a novel doesn’t want a half-finished manuscript to get leaked to the public. He wants the work to be completed first. Jesus’s hour had not yet come (John 2:4). His work wasn’t yet completed. He didn’t want word to get out until his redemptive work could be seen and understood in its fullness. Of course, this “messianic secret,” as it’s often called, was only a temporary policy. After Jesus was resurrected, his instructions became very different: Go tell everybody (Matt. 28:19).

No comments: