Testimony In John’s Gospel The Puzzle Of 5:31 And 8:14 -- By: Thomas W. Simpson

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 65:1 (NA 2014)
Article: Testimony In John’s Gospel The Puzzle Of 5:31 And 8:14
Author: Thomas W. Simpson


Testimony In John’s Gospel
The Puzzle Of 5:31 And 8:14

Thomas W. Simpson

Summary

Testimony is a central theme in John’s Gospel and John has a developed view on how it works. This paper makes two contributions. First, I show the complexity and sophistication with which John handles different kinds of testimony in his narrative; this constitutes a category of evidence for the centrality of testimony not noted hitherto. Second, I address the central puzzle, namely the prima facie contradiction between 5:31 and 8:14. At issue is whether Jesus’ testimony about himself requires corroborating testimony for it rationally to be believed. I argue that 8:14 has interpretative priority: according to John, no such corroboration is required.

1. Introduction

Testimony is one of the central themes of the Fourth Gospel. This has been widely recognised by biblical scholars. Philosophers ought to have recognised this but have not. They have not recognised it because of a disciplinary myopia, with biblical writings presumed not to be sources of philosophical insight. They ought to have recognised it because the writer or final editor of the Fourth Gospel—henceforth John—answers some of the enduring questions of religious epistemology.

This paper is a contribution to remedying the lacuna. It makes two contributions. First, I show the philosophical sophistication with which John develops the theme of testimony. This constitutes a category of evidence for the centrality of the theme in the Gospel not noted hitherto by biblical scholars. Second, I address in depth the puzzle posed by two statements attributed to Jesus which are in prima facie

contradiction. These are 5:31, where Jesus declares that his testimony is not true if he bears witness to himself; and 8:14, where Jesus declares that his testimony is true even if he bears witness to himself.1 I defend the conclusion that 8:14 has interpretative priority. Jesus’ testimony about himself requires no further attestation by other testifiers for hearers to acquire propositional knowledge by believing him.

The puzzle has received only cursory attention from commentators. Yet resolving it is necessary for some vital questions of theological and philosophical interpretation. Its resolution is central to understanding John’s views on how testimon...

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