26 July 2016

Loads of proof in Jesus’s favor—but people don’t wanna see it.

John 5.31-47

If you know the story, Jesus cured some guy in Jerusalem who’d been disabled for decades—an event which should’ve triggered great rejoicing, ’cause God had a prophet in Israel who could cure the sick!

Instead the Judeans pitched a fit, ’cause Jesus cured him on Sabbath. And when Jesus correctly pointed out he could cure on Sabbath because his Father authorized him to do so—he is the Son of Man, after all—they didn’t care to hear it. This, despite the obvious evidence Jesus is precisely who he says he is. Today we’ll get into it.

Elsewhere in John, the Pharisees objected when Jesus made similar grand statements about himself:

John 8.13 KWL
So the Pharisees told Jesus, “You testify about yourself. Your testimony isn’t valid.”

Because alithís ordinarily means “true,” various interpreters leap to the conclusion the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of lying. And no doubt some of ’em believed he was lying. But interpreting it “Your witness is not true” (NKJV) means the average Christian will miss the historical context: John, Jesus, and the Judeans were speaking of the sort of “witness” which held up when people were trying a case in court. And for that, the Law mandated the following:

Deuteronomy 19.15-17 KWL
15 “Don’t stand up only one witness against a man
for any act of evil, offense, or trespass, which he committed.
From the mouth of two witnesses, or the mouth of three witnesses,
a word may stand.
16 For when you stand up a false witness against a man,
to accuse him of rebelling against the Law,
17 the two men who are in dispute are before the LORD’s face,
before the face of priests and judges who are in office in those days.

Jesus prefaced his remarks with “Amen amen,” Jn 5.19, 24, 25 which is an oath—he swore what he taught was true, that he is the Son of Man, and will judge the world on behalf of the Father. But he knew by Pharisee standards he only provided his own word, so they wouldn’t accept it. They’d demand further witnesses.

I should point out some commentators claim Judeans wouldn’t accept anyone’s testimony about themselves. Supposedly in a Judean court, neither the accused nor the plaintiff could make statements. Well, the scriptures demonstrate people could, and did. In the trials of Jesus, Peter and John, Stephen, and Paul, all of ’em made statements. (Stephen took a whole chapter. Ac 7) Jesus was even sentenced to death because nobody else’s testimony was valid but his—and he testified he’s Messiah. Mt 26.63-66 One person’s testimony is certainly valid; Jn 8.14 it’s just Jesus’s listeners in this chapter wanted more witnesses.

So Jesus brought ’em forth. Starting with John the baptist.

John 5.31-35 KWL
31 “When I testify about myself, my testimony ‘isn’t valid’:
32 The one who testifies about me must be another person.
Fine. I know a witness who is valid, who testified about me:
33 You sent for John, and he answered truthfully.
34 I don’t accept testimony from people, but I say this so you can be saved:
35 John’s a burning, shining lamp, and you wanted to rejoice in his light for an hour.”

John had referred to Jesus as “God’s ram, taking up the world’s sin!” Jn 1.29 KWL He knew Jesus had pre-existed; Jn 1.15, 30 he’d seen the Holy Spirit stay on Jesus, because he’s the one who baptizes with the Spirit. Jn 1.32-33 John knew who Jesus was, and if you considered John valid (as we Christians do), he counts as a second witness to Jesus.

True, some interpreters think John’s testimony was private, just for his pupils. It wasn’t. John spread this around. Remember, the reason he came to baptize was so he could make Messiah known. Jn 1.31 He’d be a crappy forerunner if he knew who Jesus was, yet hadn’t spread it around to everyone who’d hear.

Hence Jesus pointed to John. His listeners knew who John was, and what John taught. All of ’em “wanted to rejoice in his light for an hour”—they heard John announce Messiah was coming, and they were all for it. They heard John point to Jesus. But they balked when Jesus began to claim Messiah wasn’t just an earthly king, but a cosmic one—something the scriptures had already stated, but they were too fixated on their own End Times theories to realize any of this.

Okay, what about the miracles?

A lot of Christians don’t believe in miracles. Either they’re liberals who assume all the miracles in the bible are myths, or they’re conservatives who assume every miracle in the present day is fake or devilish. Weirdly, they all accept Jesus’s statement in the following passage: If he really did the supernatural acts attributed to him, he’s gotta come from God. Heck, lots of people accept that premise. Jn 3.2

But they don’t wanna believe in Jesus. And don’t really trust the scriptures. So they don’t believe.

John 5.36-35 KWL
36 I have a greater witness than John: The works the Father gave me so I’d complete them.
These works I do testify about me that the Father sent me.
37 The Father who sent me: He testified about me.
You’d never heard his voice, nor heard his form, before.
38 You don’t have his word living in you.
He sent it to you, and you don’t trust it.
39 Study the scriptures! You expect life in the age to come to be there?
They’re a witness about me— 40 and you don’t want to come to me so you can have life.

The problem, as Jesus said, was the people didn’t know God. Not really. They’d never seen his eídos/“visible form”—I added “before” to my translation because in Christ Jesus, they were definitely seeing it now; Cl 1.15 if you see the Son you see the Father. Jn 14.9 And if you knew the Father, you’d know the Son is telling the truth. But Jesus’s audience didn’t know the Father; hence their hostility towards the Son.

Didn’t know the Father. Didn’t have the Father’s word living in them; didn’t trust it. Jn 5.38 Therefore didn’t accept Jesus. They’re a package deal, y’know. If you accept Jesus, you gotta also accept the Father and his scriptures. Accepting one without the others will invariably make you go heretic.

Okay, what about the scriptures?

In recent translations, verse 39 gets rendered “You search the scriptures…” (ESV) despite the fact erafnáte/“study!” is a command. The KJV has it correct: “Search the scriptures.” Why rephrase it as a statement instead of a command? ’Cause interpreters assume the Judeans already were studying the scriptures. So they don’t see why Jesus would command ’em to do what they were already doing.

Probably the latter is the correct translation, for Jesus was stating a fact, not giving a command. After the destruction of the temple of Solomon in 586BC, the Jewish scholars of the Exile substituted the study of the Law for the observance of the temple ritual and sacrifices. They pored over the OT, endeavoring to extract the fullest possible meaning from its words, because they believed that the very study itself would bring them life. By so doing they missed the chief subject of the OT revelation. Jesus claimed the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Writings) as witnesses to his person and claims. Lk 24.44 He rebuked his hearers for their inconsistency in studying the scriptures so diligently while rejecting his claims, which were founded on those same scriptures. Merrill C. Tenney, Expositors Bible Commentary at John 5.39-40 

But Jesus wasn’t telling his hearers, “You already study the bible; you might’ve noticed it’s all about me.” He told them, “Study the bible!—for you don’t study the bible. If you were, you’d have found me in it.”

Yeah, the Judeans had a reputation for studying the bible. But it wasn’t legitimate. Just like American Christians claim the bible’s their favorite book, that they read it every day—and they try to prove this by quoting it like crazy. Often out of context, though. Y’see, quiz ’em on bible, and while they know a bunch about the fellas with the great Sunday school stories, like Samson and King David… they’ll know jack squat about what’s taught in the Law, the Proverbs, the Prophets, or by the apostles. When it comes to theology or revelation, the level of ignorance is dumbfounding. And depressing. America ain’t all that biblically literate.

Neither, really, was ancient Judea. The scribes knew the bible, but your average Pharisee, not so well. They knew what the rabbis taught, but likewise lost the forest for the trees. It’s why they went nuts when Jesus “broke Sabbath”—even though, from the Law’s standpoint, Jesus never did. Never sinned. Not once. Not ever.

So why do people prefer to teach, “You already study the bible”? I suspect it’s so they can make the same accusation to today’s bible scholars. “You guys study the bible, and think you know what it means, but you missed Jesus.” It’s a great way for a pious buffoon to take the piss out of a few puffed-up know-it-alls.

And yeah, a few of us know-it-alls really don’t know Jesus. That’s fair. But way more of us do than don’t. When times get rough, as they always will, we don’t see anywhere near as many bible scholars fall away from Christianity as we do newbies, Christianists, Sunday-morning-only Christians, or people who dabble in deeper things instead of actually going there. The only reason people wanna knock bible scholars is because we embarrass them with how often we catch ’em misquoting bible and misrepresenting Jesus. It’s a vengeance thing.

Being ignorant of the bible is hardly a new problem. It’s all too human to believe anything we hear, so long that it suits our biases, prejudices, and frame of mind. At the same time, we reject anything which doesn’t suit us, no matter whom it came from. Even if it came from God himself—or the Christ he sent us.

Jesus doesn’t care about our opinions.

People frequently misunderstand this next bit because they misdefine the word dóxa, which Jesus uses throughout. The KJV goes with “honour,” or as we Americans spell it, honor. Today’s translations tend to go with “glory” or “praise.” Like so:

John 5.41, 44 ESV
41 “I do not receive glory from people. […] 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”

Hence some Christians actually claim Jesus taught his glory and honor come from the Father, not us; our praises mean nothing to him. Wait, what?

Yeah, it’s bad theology. It’s not about greatness, might, power, or honor; those are things we covet. Jesus doesn’t, and readily gave ’em up to become human. Pp 2.5-11 The word dóxa means “what one thinks is true about something.” It’s one’s evaluation, esteem, prejudice, opinion. Could be a high opinion, like ours; could be a low opinion, like that of the Judeans. And when Jesus said he rejected people’s dóxan, he wasn’t rejecting our praises; he’s rejecting the general public’s two-bit opinions about who he is. They don’t know him. But he knows precisely who he is.

John 5.41-44 KWL
41 “I don’t accept people’s opinion, 42 because I know you:
You don’t have God’s love in yourselves.
43 I came in my Father’s name, and you don’t accept me.
Yet whenever some other person comes in their own name, you’ll accept them.
44 How can you trust me?—you who accept the opinions of one another,
and never seek the opinions which come from God alone.”

And people have a lot of uninformed, ignorant, biased opinions about Jesus. I know I’ve sure spouted a bunch, back when I didn’t know any better. I grew up in churches which taught a lot of Christian-sounding junk. Some of it political, some sexist, some stingy or faithless or stupid or otherwise fruitless. None of it biblical, but it suited our biases. We swallowed it whole, and repeated it to whoever’d listen.

The flaw in our opinions? Same as the Judeans: We didn’t have God’s love in ourselves. We didn’t wanna love our neighbors, help the needy, acknowledge our powerless, pathetic relationships with God. We liked our opinions, and fought off any attempts to change them—even when they came from the Holy Spirit himself. We were willing, same as the Judeans, to listen to any idiot who told us what we wanted to hear. We embraced ’em like game show hosts who wanted to give us free cars. No tests for rotten fruit; we just swallowed the shiny fruit whole.

If that’s the way we behave, of course we’re gonna struggle to know and follow Jesus. We’ve sank his message in a fetid lagoon of waste matter, and are too busy wondering why our lives smell so foul.

Moses for the prosecution.

Pharisees believed, same as a lot of Christians do, that when they died they’d stand on trial before God. Satan would fulfill its original job as their prosecutor, Rv 12.10 and the angel Michael would serve as their defense attorney. When Christians borrow this idea, we often assume Jesus will be our defense attorney (an idea borrowed from 1 John 2.1-2). But actually he’s our judge, Jn 5.25 so no.

So it’s interesting when Jesus teaches the following, he says, “Don’t assume I’m the plaintiff.” Jn 5.45 The plaintiff, the Pharisees figured, was the devil’s role. Hey, so many doubters had called Jesus the devil, Jn 7.20, 8.48, 52, 10.20 ’cause that’s what Judeans did: If you don’t like someone’s teachings, call ’em a devil. (Just like Christians call ’em “heretics” or “cultists.”) Maybe Jesus figured he’d play with the idea, and turn it on its head. Here ya go:

John 5.45-47 KWL
45 “Don’t assume I’m the plaintiff against you before the Father.
Your plaintiff is Moses, in whom you put your hope.
46 For if you trust Moses, you should trust me: He wrote about me!
47 If you don’t trust what Moses wrote, how’ll you trust my words?”

If you wanna know your real prosecutor, it’ll be the Law. The Law defines sin. Ro 2.12 (If you’re a pagan gentile who tries to claim you don’t know the Law, so it shouldn’t apply, fair enough; Jesus’ll judge you by your conscience. Ro 2.15-16 Good luck.) In Jesus’s teaching, the Law is represented by Moses, the judge who received the Law from the LORD himself.

Pharisees (and Jews today) see Moses as Israel’s advocate. When the Hebrews built the gold calf, an outraged God said he wanted to smite ’em and start over with Moses, Ex 32.10 and Moses talked him down by offering his own life for theirs. Ex 32.30-32 Hence Pharisees believed when they stood on trial, Moses would testify on their behalf. It’s in their myths, like The Assumption of Moses.

The Lord has on their behalf appointed me to pray for their sins and make intercession for them. For not for any virtue or strength of mine, but of his good pleasure have his compassion and longsuffering fallen to my lot. Assumption of Moses 12 

Yeah, I know the Assumption of Moses isn’t bible. Still reflects what Pharisees believed. So it was a huge twist for Jesus to say Moses wasn’t on their side: He was their prosecutor. He’d told the Hebrews one day a prophet was coming whom they should definitely listen to, Dt 18.15 and they didn’t. ’Cause Jesus is that prophet Ac 3.22 —and they rejected and killed him.

Christians skim over this idea because we imagine our trial before God way differently. And wrongly. As I said previously, there is no trial; just sentencing. Plus a lot of us ignore Moses. We don’t know the Law; we don‘t care about it; we figure Jesus did away with it. He didn’t, Mt 5.17 but we don’t care. Grace covers everything, right?

But back to Jesus’s point: Moses pointed to Jesus, and if you know your bible, you’ll know this. If you don’t, you won’t. Study the scriptures!

In summary…

So Jesus listed three witnesses in his favor: John the baptist, the supernatural works his Father had empowered him to do, and the bible. They back up who he is.

Same as people today, the Judeans weren’t impressed by these witnesses. They figured John was some demoniac; Lk 7.33 who cares what he thought? They figured the supernatural works were merely devilish tricks. Mt 12.24 They figured they knew their bible better than Jesus did, and they couldn’t see him in it. Really, they didn’t reject the witnesses so much as ignore them.

It’s what I keep warning Christians whenever they insist on studying apologetics, then trying to inflict those arguments upon skeptics. The skeptics don’t wanna believe. It doesn’t matter how logical we are; humans aren’t logical. It doesn’t matter how much evidence we have on our side; you realize nearly every scientist believes human pollution causes climate change, yet only 27 percent of Americans agree with them? Overwhelming evidence doesn’t matter when people are certain they know better—or even just that you don’t.

Kind of a bummer to end upon. Sorry. Hey, next time I’ll move on to Jesus forgiving taxmen. ’Cause everybody loves taxmen, right?