Fair judgment.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 August

John 7.19-24.

The people of Jerusalem found Jesus teaching in temple, and wondered where he got his education; Jesus pointed out if we really pursued God instead of our own bright ideas, we’d know where he got his education.

Then he took a bit of left turn:

John 7.19-20 KWL
19 “Moses didn’t give you the Law, and none of you does the Law: Why do you seek to kill me?”
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill you?”

Where’d that come from? Well, largely the fact, two chapters ago, they totally sought to kill him.

John 5.17-18 KWL
17 Jesus answered them, “My Father works today, just like I work.”
18 So the Judeans all the more wanted him dead for this reason:
Not only was he dismissing Sabbath custom,
but he said God was his own Father, making himself equal to God.

And they still wanted him dead. Oh, they might’ve pretended otherwise, but Jesus knew better. So he bluntly called them on it: “Why do you seek to kill me?” And they flagrantly pretended otherwise: “You have a demon”—that culture’s way of saying, “You’re nuts.”

Yeah, certain Christians claim the Judeans meant “You have a demon” literally. Y’might recall the other gospels, in which the Jerusalem scribes decreed Jesus’s exorcisms were done by devilish power. John’s gospel doesn’t include that story; in fact Jesus never performs an exorcism in John. But this wasn’t an accusation of Jesus working via Satan’s power; it was the culture’s presumption about how madness works. Nowadays we’d leap to the conclusion you’re off your medication (or need some); back then they’d leap to the conclusion you had some critters in you. So we can dismiss the Judeans’ comment as mere hyperbole… for now.

But Jesus wasn’t nuts. He knew they intended to destroy them; he’d known it since they first started plotting. He knew they’d ultimately succeed. He was gonna use it as part of his grand plan to save the world. But he didn’t want them to think they were cleverly slipping anything past him, or getting away with anything. He knew what they were up to.

“Moses didn’t give you the Law.”

Most translations of verse 19 take the form we see in the KJV, “Did not Moses give you the law?” Jn 7.19 KJV But the Greek isn’t interrogative. It’s a statement: οὐ Μωϋσῆς δέδωκεν ὑμῖν τὸν νόμον/u Moÿsís dédoken ymín ton nómon, “Moses didn’t give you the Law.”

Because the commands of the Law did come to the Hebrew people through Moses, and therefore to their descendants the Judeans, we can’t accept Jesus’s statement at pure face value. Jesus is fully aware Moses gave the Law to the Hebrews and Judeans. This is why translators turn it into the question, “Did not…?” But I interpret it as a statement, not a question, because it is a statement, not a question. If Moses had successfully given these Judeans the Law, they oughta be following it, right? But they weren’t. They were following Pharisee loopholes instead. They couldn’t see past Pharisaism to recognize Jesus is accurately teaching the Law; they didn’t know the Law.

Yeah, this is an antagonistic statement. Doesn’t matter how kindly you say it—and of course Jesus said it kindly; he’s nothing but kind. (Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, remember.) But kindly or not, it’s really gonna frost some people when you state matter-of-factly they’re not right with God. Because it hits ’em right in their pride. Everybody, even the most depraved sinner, likes to imagine God’s okay with them. It’s how they salve their consciences. They just reimagine God as a big benign fuzzball who expects nothing of anyone, and lets us all into heaven. The Judeans weren’t that delusional, but they were just as guilty of reimagining God: They depicted him as a Pharisee just like them, who handed down Pharisee traditions as an “oral Law” of equal weight to the written Law. So they were following the Law—even though they obviously produced none of the Spirit’s fruit.

Jesus never broke the Law. Never. No matter what dispensationalists may claim. Sin is defined by Law, because sin is when we break it. 1Jn 3.4 And we’re not talking about some special secret “hidden in the New Testament’s principles” law, only found written in our hearts: We mean God’s revealed Law, explicitly stated in the scriptures, only interpreted properly by Christ Jesus, and reiterated by his apostles and Christian followers. The Law. Jesus was utterly blameless under this Law. And yet the Judeans sought to kill him because he “violated Sabbath”—as they defined it.

Hence Jesus stated the Judeans didn’t have the Law. If they did, they’d have followed it. They’d have recognized him as having been sent by God. They wouldn’t conspire to kill an innocent man. Yet that’s exactly what they were up to.

“Well, you’re nuts,” was the gist of how they responded. But Jesus knows better.

Different interpretations of Sabbath.

Two chapters ago, Jesus had visited the pools of Beit Eshdáthayin and cured a guy who’d been there 38 years. That’s mighty impressive, and a clear sign Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit… and Pharisees utterly rejected it ’cause Jesus did it on Sabbath.

Pharisees had plenty of loopholes which got ’em out of following various commands. But when it came to Sabbath, they took a different spin: They closed loopholes. They loved the idea of a weekly holiday where they had no obligations. (As do a lot of Americans, who try our darnedest to make sure we have nothing scheduled on our Saturdays or Sundays: We want our free day!) So absolutely nothing was permitted to interrupt their holiday. Including Jesus’s acts of charity. Really, especially Jesus’s acts of charity… because it’d mean now they had to be charitable on Sabbath, and they really didn’t wanna.

And as Jesus pointed out, there’s plenty of precedent in the Law for doing stuff on Sabbath.

John 5.21-24 KWL
21 In reply Jesus told them, “I do one work, and everyone’s awestruck.
22 For this reason Moses gave you circumcision—not that it’s from Moses, but from the patriarchs—
and you circumcise people on Sabbath.
23 If you accept circumcising people on Sabbath lest you break Moses’s law,
why are you angry with me because I made an entire person whole on Sabbath?
24 Don’t judge by appearance, but judge by fair judgment.”

Dispensationalists claim Jesus totally broke Sabbath because he was inaugurating a new Law. But Jesus never used any “new Law” bushwa to defend himself. His defense was always that good deeds are totally permissible on Sabbath; we’re never to take a break from doing good!

Ritual circumcision is an example of one of those good deeds. Eight days after a boy is born, the Hebrews were required to cut off his foreskin, as a indication this boy was to have a lifelong relationship with the LORD. Lv 12.3 The LORD didn’t declare any Sabbath exception, so the Hebrews didn’t observe one: If they eighth day happened to be Sabbath, they still performed the circumcision, because their relationship with the LORD took precedence. Pharisees still recognized this, and it was one of their few exceptions to their utter ban against working on Sabbath.

Following Pharisee logic—if a light biblical principle is true, a heavier one oughta be true, which they called קַל וְחֹמֶר/qal v’khomér, “light and weighty”—Jesus pointed out if you can “cure” a baby on Sabbath by removing his foreskin, what’s wrong with curing a sick man on Sabbath as well? If Pharisees rescued livestock on Sabbath, surely humans are more important! Mt 12.11 And by the time the Talmud was composed, Pharisees wound up adopting Jesus’s point of view:

Just as this priest, about whom there is uncertainty whether there is substance to his words of testimony or whether there is no substance to his words, is taken from the Temple service in order to save a life, and Temple service overrides Shabbat, so too, a fortiori, saving a life overrides Shabbat. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya answered and said: Just as the mitzva of circumcision, which rectifies only one of the 248 limbs of the body, overrides Shabbat, so too, a fortiori, saving one’s whole body, which is entirely involved in mitzvot, overrides Shabbat. Yoma 85b

It’s just commonsense. But the Judeans weren’t seeing sense at the time. They were so anti-Jesus, they couldn’t accept anything he taught, and couldn’t recognize their particular Sabbath customs were actually violating the Law.

Yeah, if you were a first-century physician, and saw patients as usual on Sabbath, that’s blatantly ignoring God’s command to rest. But that wasn’t the case with Jesus. Curing the sick was always on an ad hoc basis with him: If the Spirit empowered him to cure people, he’d do it. If the Father cures people every day of the week, Jn 5.17 what’s wrong with Jesus doing likewise?

Use your head, Jesus concluded: “Judge with right judgment.” A superficial judgment tends to be based on knee-jerk prejudices, crowd-pleasing, and emotion—usually anger. A proper judgment is based on what’s truly fair, what helps the needy, what defends the weak, and ultimately what honors and pleases God. It’s not what the flesh wants; not what people tend to selfishly pursue, and invent harebrained arguments to defend. Same as the Judeans did, God is just the excuse they use to do as they wish, regardless of what God wants. They don’t use their heads—and God forbid we follow the crowd.

Christ Almighty!