Friday, March 2, 2012

Why Is My Language Not Clear to You?

We are continuing through a section of the Gospel of John. Recently some Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery to Jesus as a trap, but He ended up turning her condemners by telling the person without sin to cast the first stone. Later, some Pharisees challenged Jesus in a nonsensical manner; by claiming that He was acting as His own witness. Jesus essentially agreed with them, but said that His testimony was still valid.

Why Is My Language Not Clear to You?
The language used by the author of the Gospel of John, particularly the language used by Jesus in that Gospel, is quite different than what you will find in the other three Gospels. This is more than just a matter of word choice by different authors. This is a different kind of Jesus. John's Jesus never speaks in parables and is prone to having lengthy, lecturing dialogs which do not have an equivalent in the other three Gospels. The trouble is that John's author was rarely clever enough to pull off an intrinsically logical dialog.

In John 8:21-29, Jesus spoke to some Jews, where, among other things, He confirmed in a somewhat less-than-direct way that He was God's son and the Messiah. Some of them did not buy it, but, according to John 8:30:
Even as [Jesus] spoke, many put their faith in Him. NIV
Great news! In John 8:31-32, Jesus, presumably sensing these many believers, speaks directly to them:
To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, "If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." NIV
Jesus essentially said to them that believing is not enough; you also have to follow His teaching. And we get to that oh-so-famous line that "the truth will set you free." I am sure it was attractive lines like that which made John's Gospel so hard to resist including it in the canon.

Here is where the Gospel of John takes one of its characteristically odd turns in dialog. Those Jews replied to Jesus by saying that they are sons of Abraham and that they have never been slaves. So they ask how can they be set free (John 8:33).

The odd part of that reply is the reference to being sons of Abraham. It is not necessary. You are either free or a slave, or some hybrid thereof, but being a descendant of Abraham has nothing to do with it. If they hail all the way back to Abraham, then their descendants were slaves in Egypt.

More importantly, God's Law (Deuteronomy 15:12-15) had provisions for them to sell themselves as bonded servants, essentially temporary slaves, so being of Abraham's lineage actually makes it possible for some of those Jews in the audience to be slaves (or at least not truly "free" men)! Yet this odd suggestion is presented as the consensus rebuttal of that entire group of Jews.

Jesus then explained that everyone who sins is a slave to sin, but if the son (implicitly Jesus) of the slave owner (implicitly God) sets them free, then they will be free indeed (John 8:34-36). Yes, you read that right. Check it out for yourself. You can tell that the author of John did not mean to say that, but the convoluted metaphor he used equates slavery to sin as slavery to God, and both conditions are therefore equally undesirable, but that is just one shocking thing in Jesus' alleged reply. Read the next verse, John 8:37:
"I know you are Abraham's descendants. Yet you are ready to kill Me, because you have no room for My word." NIV
OK, do you remember to whom Jesus was speaking? As we saw above, according to John 8:31, Jesus was speaking to "the Jews who had believed Him." So the Jews who believed Jesus had no place for His word, and they were trying to kill Him. That seems logical, right?

As the conversation continued, Jesus told them that He does what He has seen God do, but they do what they learned from their father. They replied that Abraham is their father. Jesus replied that they want to kill Him, which is not what Abraham would have done, but what their father would do. They replied that God is their only father (John 8:38-41). There is no reason for them to have changed their appeal, to change from Abraham to God being their father. It is just a convenient segue for John to elaborate on his point.

John's version of Jesus' reply in John 8:42-47 is priceless:
Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on My own; but He sent Me. Why is My language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me! Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe Me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." NIV
So the Jews were unable to truly hear what Jesus said, making them unable to believe Him, because they belong to the devil, not to God. This, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him. Is it really any wonder why Judaism still exists today, as opposed to converting to Christianity?

If the situation really was that intractable, one must also wonder why Jesus wasted His limited time and breath on these Jews. It makes no sense, unless, perhaps, this text is partly propaganda to put the Jews at arms' length from the still-burgeoning, increasingly Gentile, cult of Christianity.


  1. John's Jesus is clearly a god right from the beginning.

    This post is fantastic, I never thought about these issues. The contrived nature of this gospel is so blatant. Thanks for the tour!

    1. Yeah, I have been shocked in studying John for those two points exactly; that John's Jesus is God from the beginning, and that it is so blatantly contrived.

      I have heard/read critics say that Jesus had never really claimed that He was God, but that kind of argument has very little merit to me unless you exclude John from consideration. Of course, based on John's construct, it probably should be excluded! :-)