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I am really scratching my head on this verse.

John 15:22, “If I [Jesus] had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

It seems from the context just before this that the “them” and “they” pronouns refer to “the world.”

What on earth could this mean? If jesus had not “spoken to them” they would not have sin?!

Now I can only think of one place in the text where someone talked to humanity and caused sin... that is Genesis 3, and the agent that spoke to humans and caused “the world” to have sin is the serpent! This would identify Christ with the serpent in Eden?!

This is the NRSV translation and seems to track the greek well. This sense is conserved across to the KJV too.

Any ideas?

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  • Most of the commentaries that I read mangle it to mean that he says They would not have a pretext for sin... given the following verses... but that is not what it says... it says they would not have SIN itself. Is the answer that a word (e.g. Cloak) was left out in a copy?
    – Gus L.
    Jun 19, 2020 at 2:27
  • The word in question is πρόφασις which means excuse or pretext. I doi not know where the KJV got its "cloak" from!
    – Dottard
    Jun 19, 2020 at 2:35
  • What do you mean “the word in question?” I am asking the question about the first half of this verse. The commentaries say he means “pretense for sin” not “sin” but that makes no sense. Sin has been critiqued since Genesis 4. It is not like it was a new revelation from Jesus that we have sin.
    – Gus L.
    Jun 19, 2020 at 10:37
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    See also Romans 3:20, 5:13, 7:7.
    – Lucian
    Jun 19, 2020 at 10:38
  • @Lucian - It is the word translated "pretext" or "excuse".
    – Dottard
    Jun 19, 2020 at 11:00

5 Answers 5

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If Jesus had not “spoken to them” they would not have sin [sic]?!

As your quote shows, the text does not say they would not have sinned. It says they would have no excuse - πρόφασις (prophasis) - for sin. Meaning, having been preached to by Jesus they should have been well aware that they were sinning.

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You have shared a great example of how misinterpretation can turn God into Satan, Christ into devil. The meaning of the saying only talk about their guilt due to rejection of Christ; it only depicts the irony of the Good news, that it becomes bad news, incidently for those who reject (John 3:18-19). They will be judged (relatively) severely than Sodom and Gomorrah who had not the chance of receiving the revelation with miracles/proofs around them.

[Matt 11:20-24 NASB] Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in [the] day of judgment than for you. "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. "Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in [the] day of judgment, than for you."

The same is said in Rom 5:13 until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. The people without the knowledge of God are less culpable for their guilt. By "excuse" he means they could have some reason to on the judgment day to have leniency due to their ignorance (Rom 2:6-16).

[John 9:39-41 NASB] And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.

In a way of rhetorical irony, he says that he came to make sinners into righteous, and righteous into sinners. Those who are sinners can get forgiveness by receiving him, but those who are not having much sin will turn into greater sinners by the virtue of rejecting & hating him.

[John 15:22-23 NHEB] If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me, hates my Father also.

Those who reject the word of Christ, reject the Father as well. Man is judged only in proportion to the level of revelation received of God. The natural revelation of God is given through the nature and the moral conscience/heart to each, this is the most basic revelation.

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  • Your interpretation of the serpent as satan is not surprising, but also non-biblical. The nachash is a symbol of God’s power both in Moses’s staff and in the bronze serpent. John directly links it as a type to Jesus in 3:14-16. The serpent in Genesis 3 is similarly a symbol of God.
    – Gus L.
    Apr 22 at 12:16
  • I am surprised that such doctrines exists among Christians openly, though we shouldn't be surprised given their overall theology since the beginning of tradition.
    – Michael16
    Apr 23 at 14:03
  • @GusL. I'd recommend you check your hermeneutic on the title "serpent" with reference to Satan: "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Revelation 12:9) - "He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:2) It says it right there: "that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan".
    – Cork88
    May 22 at 4:56
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The Apostle James writes:

James 4:17 To him therefore who knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin.

The logic operative in this passage is that sin is the wilful doing of something which one knows (or, equivalently, thinks) is evil. Therefore, when God makes known to men something He wills, it becomes a sin for one to reject or refuse to fulfill it.

They would have had an excuse were Jesus not to have came and spoke to them what God wills. But as it stood when He said this, God's will was made known, yet they refused it, and so were guilty of sin: which is the wilful rejection of God's will, either objectively, or subjectively (you thought God wanted something, but refused Him it anyway).

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Jesus is talking to [teaching] his disciples. [not just the 12]. In context the ‘them’ are the Jews,specifically those who reject his teachings because their foundation is the oral interpretation of Torah. (The Pharisee interpretation of Torah).

Jesus was not saying that those who had rejected Him had no sin. The Scriptures say that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). This very verse shows that Jesus didn’t cause them to sin but simply removed the cloak they were hiding their sin behind.

If jesus had not “spoken to them” they would not have sin?! - Jesus, through his teaching of Torah, through His revelation of Torah was revealing their ‘sin’ - but this exposed their hypocrisy - hence the reaction.

Earlier in this chapter, in John 15:21, Jesus said they didn’t know the Father. In John 15:23, He said, “He that hateth me hateth my Father also.” The Jews, of whom He was speaking, already had the sin of unbelief in their hearts, but they were covering it over with their pious acts. When Jesus came revealing the sins of the heart, their cover was blown, and their sin appeared in their hatred and rejection of Jesus. Th ‘oral traditions’ of the Pharisees had ways/routines through which if followed would ensure one’ wouldn’t [actually be] sin[ning]

Jesus was saying these things in reference to persecution, and, as He went on to say in John 15:25, this persecution came through no fault of His. The purpose of these statements was to warn His disciples against feeling guilty or condemned when persecution came. The Word strips people of the disguises they have been hiding their sins behind, and persecution is a natural result.

So ‘them’ and ‘they’ does not refer to ‘the world’ - is was specifically ‘aimed’ at the other [Jewish] religious sects that used Torah, particularly the Pharisees. His ministry was to the Jews - not [at this time] the ‘world’.

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Metaphorically, Jesus is referring to the worldly people, not literally the physical world.

He continues in John 15:25:

But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: 'They hated me without reason.'

This references Psalm 69:4

Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me.

Here, it is clear that it refers to people.

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  • Yes, I know. That is what I meant. “They” are humans in the world.
    – Gus L.
    Jun 19, 2020 at 2:20

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