Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Questions on the Gospel of John

A reader poses these questions. If anyone can provide some helpful input, it would be appreciated. I'll try to do the same. She writes:

Can anyone answer these questions for me please. Thanks

What was it that Jesus had said or done that caused the Pharisees to say that He was claiming to be God in John 10:33?

What was it about what Jesus said in John 8:58 that caused the Pharisees to want to kill Him?

From the New World Translation perspective, what is it about saying, "I have been" (John 8:58) that would motivate the Jews to want to kill Jesus?

Do we see any prior account of anyone in the Bible being killed for claiming to pre-exist if Jesus was merely claiming pre-existence?

Could you please explain what it was the Pharisees misunderstood and what they were misunderstanding to cause them to say what they did about Jesus' claim?

sorry for choosing anon but i do have a facebook account


hgp said...

(Sorry in advance for grammar errors, this being my second language)

As to John 8:58, I'd say, that they were trying to kill Jesus all along. Several days earlier they were trying to kill him (see John 7:19,25; 8:40) and take him into custody (7:32,44). They were not acting according to the regulations in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 42b-45b).

Jesus was claiming to be a prophet speaking for God (7:16,28; 8:16,18,26,28,40,42). So his opponents were trying to turn his claim into a crime of making himself into a false prophet. Therefore they claimed him to be demon-possessed (so he couldn't have been under the influence of God's spirit) and a Samaritan (since they claimed that even a real prophet from Gallilee was impossible, a Samaritan was out of the question, see 7:52). Jesus claim to exist before Abraham was taken as a false word by a prophet, proving (for them!) that he was a false prophet (see Lev 20:27; Deut 18:12ss)

Jesus claimed rightfully to be superior to Abraham, being the Messiah. Since Abraham was the ultimate foundation of their authority, Jesus' oponents perceived this claim as an attack on their religious authority (compare John 11:48). In 8:33 they relied on Abraham in order not to have to listen to Jesus. Jesus subsequently told them, that they had no right to this claim, because they didn't act accordingly. John 8:58 was the ultimate step in this attack on their authority, which angered them accordingly.

As a side point: Jesus' opponents were misunderstanding him in almost every point of their discussion before John 8:58, so even IF they perceived his claims to be a claim to Godhood, this would have been another misunderstanding on their part (see 8:19,22,25,27,33,39,41,48,52,53,57).

A more complete discussion of this verse (in German) can be found on my blog.


Edgar Foster said...


I enjoyed your discussion on Jn 8:58 and your blog also looks good. I've written things on Jn 8:58 here and there. See for one recent post.

KentAZ said...

I don't have the time to offer specific comment on the passages mentioned, but I will state this:

I'm always amused when Trinitarians utilize the statements and rationale of the Pharisees to support their dogma.

Anonymous said...

Good points, hgp. This reminds me of the comments made by an insightful brother (Ryan) on another recently. After offering a similar analysis of the context, he offered these classic words:

"So the question is not, Why did the religious leaders try to stone him if he wasn't claiming to be God? The question is, Unless Jesus backed down, is there any way that conversation could have ended without them attempting to stone him?"

Aptly put, don't you think?

I have argued that at the very heart of John's gospel is the motif that Jesus is God's agent, and that the exalted language one finds in that wonderful literary masterpiece in reference to Christ is in harmony with the agency paradigm or principle, i.e. that “the one sent is equated with the sender”, legally speaking. The primary issue at John 8:58 is not that Jesus made a claim that could only be made by God, but that he made a claim that his opponents would never accept to be true. They would capitalize on the apparent unbelievability of the claim as their justification for condemning Jesus to death. A claim to be older than Abraham, from whose line the religious leaders derived their own authority, was so outlandish that it would immediately be seized upon as an instance of false testimony, a lie. Since the words of an agent of God offered in the context of fulfilling his commission would be understood as the equivalent of God's own words, it logically follows that a lie told by one who claimed to be God's agent in this context would make God a liar, as the agent's words were legally God's own words. That would be considered blasphemous.


Anonymous said...

I think that the best way discern what was behind the religious leader's charge at John 10:31 is by noting (i) how the phrase “Son of God” was understood in this context and (ii) how Jesus responded to his opponents' accusation.

Regarding #i, at this point in Jewish history “Son of God” was primarily a functional title (see the footnote below), and when used of Jesus during his earthly life it was synonymous with “Christ” (=Messiah). This is supported by the question that constituted the charge against Jesus at his trial, “Are you the Christ the Son of the Blessed One?” It seems pretty clear that the high priest wasn't asking “Are you the Christ AND ALSO the Son of God?”; no, he seems to have meant “Are you the Christ a/k/a the Son of God?”

The attempt of the religious leaders to build a case against Jesus at John 10 involved his claim to be the Messiah, as verse 24 says, “Therefore the Jews encircled him and began to say to him: 'How long are you to keep our souls in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us outspokenly.'” Jesus then confirmed his Messianic status by calling God his Father 3 times, and it was in response to this self claim to said functional status that his opponents charged him with committing blasphemy by making himself QEOS.

Regarding #ii, Christ's response confirms that their charge was based on an objection (whether feigned or real) of Jesus' self-proclaimed functional status, for he answers their accusation that he was making himself QEOS by reminding them that in their own law other agents of God, certain judges of old, are called “gods” (Ps. 82:6). Many have argued that it was Jesus' claim to be “one” with God that angered his opponents, and that when they charged that he was “making himself QEOS” they meant that he was claiming ontological status as the one God of the Bible (=Jehovah). To help demonstrate why this isn't likely, I'll paraphrase the dialogue in harmony with this presupposition:

Jesus: “I displayed to you many fine works from the Father. For which of those works are you stoning me?”

Opponents: “We are stoning you, not for a fine work, but for blasphemy, because you, though a man, make yourself to be none other than Jehovah himself.”

Jesus: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said: “You are gods”’? If he called the judges of old ‘gods’ then how is it that I blaspheme by claiming to be God’s Son?”

Do you see the problem? If the basis of the Jews' charge was that Jesus was making himself God (=Jehovah), then Jesus' reply becomes a non sequitur. It would be silly for Jesus to suggest that since agents of God can be called “gods” then his opponents shouldn't have a problem with his claim to be Jehovah. On the other hand, if the charge was based on opposition to Jesus' having made himself God or a god in a functional sense, then Jesus' response fits.

As final point, those who have claimed that it was Jesus' claim to be “one” with the Father in an ontological sense seem to overlook Jesus' own words. Notice that Jesus doesn't respond by saying “do you say to me...‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, I am one with the Father?”; rather, he says, “do you say to me...‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, I am God’s Son?” Jesus' response clearly shows that it wasn't ontological oneness but his functional sonship that was at the heart of their objection.

Footnote: See post #20166 on Evangelicals and Jws, entitled “Does 'Son of God' mean 'Possesses the (ontological) Nature of God'?, found here: