Jesus’s argument in John 10

Jesus-arguing-with-the-Pharisees-300x221You think that Jesus was good. But do you also think that Jesus was smart? So smart, that you have to carefully weigh his statements and carefully parse his arguments?

I do.

In this post, I submit his argument in a famous exchange in John 10 to philosophical analysis. I think it is a forceful and brilliant argument, and one that many readers and even commenters don’t fully appreciate the force of.

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.

Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”

Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ – and the scripture cannot be annulled – can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. (John 10)

Most people don’t realize the brilliance of Jesus’s argument that is packed tightly into the last portion here. Here is an analysis of it. Merely assumed premises are in brackets; the rest are either stated or obviously follow from things stated.

  1. The scriptures do not blaspheme.    (premise)
  2. The Scriptures address human recipients of God’s message as “gods.” (Psalm 82)
  3. The Scriptures do not blaspheme when they address human recipients of God’s message as “gods.” (1, 2)
  4. Jesus is God’s Messiah. (“the one whom the Father… sent into the world”)  (premise)
  5. [Jesus is greater than those human recipients of God’s message.] (4)
  6. [The title “Son of God” (i.e. Messiah) is a less exalted title than “god” or “God”.]  (unstated premise)
  7. Therefore, it is not blasphemy to describe Jesus as God’s Son. (3, 5, 6)

Jesus’s opponents grant 1 and 2, and so they must grant 3, which follows from 1 and 2. They would also grant that 4 implies 5. But they’re resisting 4, though Jesus has given them plenty of evidence for 4, in the form of his miraculous works, given him by God to validate his ministry. His opponents also assume, and would have to grant 6, and that 7 follows from 3, 5, and 6. If calling these lesser people “gods” isn’t bad, then it just can’t be bad to give this greater person (the Messiah) the lesser description, God’s Son.

In sum, the whole issue hinges on 4. The argument is valid (3 follows from 1 and 2, and 7 follows from 3, 5, and 6), and they would have to grant all the other other premises (1, 2, 6). In their blind anger, they want to say that he’s blaspheming by saying that he and God are “one” (i.e. working together). But that charge of blasphemy, Jesus brilliantly and forcefully points out, depends wholly on their stubborn belief, against the preponderance of evidence available to them, that Jesus is not God’s Messiah. Deftly, he shows how their charge of blasphemy assumes the very point at issue; it assumes that he’s not the Messiah. They are desperate to change the subject to alleged disrespectful speech, and so away from Jesus’s miraculous works, which he keeps bringing back to the forefront, because those are the most relevant evidence.

Jesus assumes they can still turn this around, so he urges them at the end of the passage above to again consider the evidence: “even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know… that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” That is, God really is with him, and they really are working together. But this gets only an angry response. They persist in their blindness.

In my experience, readers often don’t realize that 5 and  6 are in play. Often, because it fits their theology, they seize on the Jews’ reaction, “you… are making yourself God” (or “a god,” it can be translated). They don’t notice that Jesus corrects them about what he’s claiming! “I said, ‘I am God’s Son‘” – which in this gospel means that he’s the Messiah. (See the start of the passage – “I have told you”!)

See? Smart. So smart, that if you don’t work at it, you won’t fully feel the force of his argument. But his opponents did, to their own shame. We have an advantage over them: a written record, which we can ponder at length, if we choose.

Do you?


reblogged from Trinities by Professor Dale

Categories: Gospels, Jesus, Philosophy

3 replies

  1. Dale ignores the fact that scholars today consider the words attributed to Jesus in the fourth gospel to be mostly unhistorical. Even so he makes good points about the words as we have them. They refute the Trinitarian view.

  2. Dale Tuggy fails to understand what Psalm 82 is really saying.

    God is rebuking the unjust rulers and leaders who act like tyrants and dictators and don’t care about the poor and widows and orphans and think in their hears that they are “gods”.

    Psalm 82

    1 God takes His stand in His own congregation;
    He judges in the midst of the rulers. (“gods”, Elohim – rulers who are unjust and think they are ‘gods”)
    2 How long will you judge unjustly
    And show partiality to the wicked? Selah.
    3 Vindicate the weak and fatherless;
    Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
    4 Rescue the weak and needy;
    Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.

    5 They do not know nor do they understand;
    They walk about in darkness;
    All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
    6 I said, “You are gods,
    And all of you are sons of the Most High.
    7 “Nevertheless you will die like men
    And fall like any one of the princes.”
    8 Arise, O God, judge the earth!
    For it is You who possesses all the nations.

    Jesus, by quoting that in John 10, is not saying that humans are “gods”, rather He is rebuking the Pharisees for the same attitudes that these unjust rulers / judges had in Psalm 82; and their failure to recognize that Jesus really is the Messiah, the true Son of God by nature.

    “I said, You are gods” is a mocking statement, since they are unjust rulers/ judges (verses 2-5) and they will die like other mortal men (verses 7-8).

    Jesus is saying “the Scriptures say “you are gods”, although mockingly, but I truly am the Son of God, so it is not blasphemy, since I really am the Son of God.”

  3. He is trying to cunningly make Messiah and Son of God equivalent terms. Must be his new trick. His old trick is to call the Logos an attribute of God.

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