I agree that we do not have an explicit, valid deductive argument presented in the text--this leads me to suspect that at least one of the 3 following statements is true:
- There is a valid deductive argument, but it relies upon additional
premises implicitly known to the culture
- The people misunderstood what Jesus was saying
- Jesus did not directly answer the question that was asked of Him
Let’s examine each in turn.
A -- additional implicit premises
Any one of the three premises below would make 4 logically follow, and the first half of the argument would be valid:
- Premise 1.5: The Messiah was expected to be God
- Premise 2.5: only God can grant eternal life
- Premise 3.5: Oneness with God is indicative of Deity
Premise 1.5: that the Messiah was expected to be God - does not appear to have strong enough contemporary support to be clearly implied. Rather, the expectation that the Messiah would be a military liberator seems much more prevalent in the period. In a separate question I inquired as to whether the Jews expected the Messiah to be the Son of God, and at best that looks like a maybe. Even if true, we’d still need another premise later, that the Son of God is God (see below).
Premise 1.5 doesn’t look extraordinarily promising for knowledge that was so generally and implicitly known that it need not be stated.
Premise 2.5: that only God can grant eternal life, is never explicitly stated in the Old Testament, but it is supported by strong implication in several places, such as Ezekiel 18:
21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath
committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and
right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the
Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
25 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of
Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according
to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all
your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
The broader context of the chapter indicates that the life and death discussed here is of a spiritual nature (discussed further here)
Premise 2.5 looks like a reasonably promising case of implicit cultural knowledge (all the more so because John 10:28 says “they shall never perish” in the context of eternal life).
Premise 3.5: that oneness with God is indicative of Deity, is very open to interpretation. In its favor is the fact that Jesus’ declaration of oneness with the Father is what immediately precedes the attempted stoning (of course it follows very shortly after the promise of granting eternal life, so there may be something to be said for how long it took to rile up a mob). There may be some implicit knowledge here, but it is made all the more difficult to accept implicitly given the number of times Jesus spoke of His disciples being one with Him just like He was one with the Father (e.g. see posts here and here)
Premise 3.5 may not be off the table, but it looks less promising than premise 2.5.
If we can accept premise 2.5 (or one of the others), step 4 in the argument follows logically. Now let’s consider the latter half of the argument.
Deduction round 2
To deduce #8 we may not need any other premises--they already think He’s committed blasphemy, but the “therefore” in verse 39 at least suggests they think another blasphemy has been committed. We might not need any further premises for this one, but let’s at least take a look at what can be said for premises 5-7.
Premise 5: I don’t think implying blasphemy through the quotation of Psalms 82 is going to get us very far in the deductive argument. If anything, Jesus here would be showing that He’s claiming something for Himself very similar to what they claim about themselves. The passage could be read to say that He’s making a Divine claim about all of them, but their subsequent actions do not suggest this was how they took it.
Premise 6: The claim to be the Son of God is a potent one. Jesus clearly claimed God as His Father in a unique sense--were it not so, there would have been no point in the High Priest asking Him at His trial if He was the Son of God (see Matthew 26:63).
As Mr. Bond explained here:
The Jews have what is known as the "son of idiom" and it's throughout
the Bible...the title "sons of the prophets" is used throughout 1
Kings 2: to declare and authenticate the fact that the "sons" were
indeed real, honest-to-goodness prophets...
Other examples are "Sons of
valor, 1 Samuel 14:52, simply a brave man. Sons of murder 2 Kings 6:32
denotes a murderer. The idiom can also be found in the New
Testament. Son of peace at Luke 10:6 refers to a peaceful person. Sons
of disobedience at Ephesians 2:2 are those characterized by
disobedience. Who was the "Son of perdition?" John 17:12, that would
be Judas, the lost one.
While I confess I may not draw precisely the same conclusions as Mr. Bond does, his insight on the idiom implying shared nature is profound. If Jesus is applying the “sons of” idiom scattered throughout scripture (and He’s definitely saying He was sanctified for this role), He is claiming a Divine nature (to be sure, I'm not making a claim of homoousios, that's nowhere to be found in the passage) and mission that would surely offend those who did not believe His claim
The irony here is pointed out by Talmage:
There could be no crime in the claim of Messiahship or divine Sonship,
except that claim was false (Jesus the Christ p. 626)
That Jesus did not say what the religious leaders wanted Him to say, or do what He wanted them to do, gives ample explanation as to why they would be inclined to disbelieve--they didn’t want a Divine messenger or a Messiah who told them they were wrong.
I’m not going to delve into how this passage was interpreted in the fourth century; suffice it to say, premise 6 can reasonably be taken as the step in the process that led to a second charge of blasphemy. Perhaps for deductive clarity we could rewrite premise 6 in cultural context as “Jesus claims a Divine nature as the unique Son of God (from v36).”
(or we could keep premise 6 as is and add premise 6.5 that “the Son of God”--sanctified by the Father--implied a uniquely Divine nature in Jewish culture)
Premise 7: this passage has been so widely interpreted and reinterpreted over the years, there is a real risk of reading post-first-century theology into a first century text. Suffice it to say that Jesus Himself later taught:
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in
thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that
thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given
them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
23 I in them, and thou
in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may
know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved
me. (John 17:21-23)
It is entirely possible (in fact I think likely) that the people did not understand what He was saying. Following closely upon His claim to be the Son of God, though, the religious leaders recognized He was making a claim of authority and position that threatened the legitimacy of their own.
Premise 7 may have been taken as blasphemous, though it seems more likely than anything to be a springboard towards arguing that the people didn’t understand what Jesus’ said.
B--they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying
This wouldn’t be the first time an audience failed to grasp the message of the Master Teacher. And verse 24 itself suggests some frustration that they didn’t understand:
How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us
plainly. (John 10:24)
In this case, we may not be able to discern what it was that the people understood and why they took it as blasphemy.
However, we are left then with the perplexing question: why did John include the story at all if there was no clear point to it? Clearly John expected His audience to understand what had happened here, otherwise the implicit cultural premises (discussed above) would have been included.
While I can’t rule out completely the possibility that this was all just a terrible misunderstanding, (a) the exalted claims John records about Jesus in other settings and (b) John’s overall stated thesis at the end of chapter 20 suggest that John was not trying to tie his readers in knots about what was said vs. what was meant vs. what was heard vs. what was understood.
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his
name. (John 20:31)
Ergo, John is honest about the dialogue that took place but is not speaking in riddles.
C--Jesus did not directly answer the question that was asked of Him
It’s also possible that the request for clarity in verse 24 is intended as a trap, as were other questions asked of Him at other times (taxes for Caesar anyone?). The religious leaders may have been trying to solicit from Jesus a plain statement that they could use against Him, much as the High Priest indeed did later at Jesus’s trial.
- If Jesus explicitly acknowledged Messiahship, the Sanhedrin could
have Him arrested as a threat to Rome, since the prevailing belief at
the time was that the Messiah would overthrow Roman rule.
- If Jesus explicitly acknowledged Divinity, the Sanhedrin could have
Him charged with blasphemy.
Such traps were laid on a number of occasions (such as discussed in this post), and Jesus proved effective at outsmarting them. If it wasn’t time for Him to be arrested, He wasn’t going to be arrested.
If C is true we should infer that Jesus did not explicitly affirm or deny on this occasion that He was the Messiah, He sidestepped the question and showed them the inconsistency of their own accusations. While possible, it does still leave the question we encountered in section B -- what then is John trying to tell us here if not “Jesus in the Messiah and the Son of God”?
I suggest B is the least likely (though not impossible) -- this was all a terrible misunderstanding. I think Jesus was an effective enough teacher to answer hard questions without putting His foot in His mouth, and to get a message across clearly when He wanted to.
I’ll leave C in the middle of the pack -- this could have been a trap. But John does seem to want to tell us a lot about Jesus in this passage, suggesting that John believes His readers will understand the leaps in logic being made.
That leads me to option A, which I think is the most likely. There is some form of deductive argument going on here. Since Jesus did not at this time explicitly answer the question put to Him, the people were connecting the dots in their heads. Using the premises discussed above we could construct several valid deductive arguments; here’s the one I find the most straightforward:
- (2 above) Jesus claims to be able to give eternal life to his sheep (from v27 and v28).
- (2.5 above) only God can grant eternal life
- (4 above) Therefore, the Jews conclude that Jesus, being a man, makes himself God, which is considered blasphemy (from v33).
- (6 above) Jesus claims to be the Son of God (from v36).
- (6.5 above) “the Son of God”--sanctified by the Father--implied a uniquely Divine nature in Jewish culture
- (8 above) Therefore, the Jews conclude once again that Jesus is blaspheming and seek to arrest him (from v39)
Other premises/statements can be added and doubtless played a role in the anger that led people to pick up stones, but we can get from point A to B deductively using just the 4 premises and 2 conclusions above.
Were the Jews using deductive reasoning? If so, are there implicit premises not stated in the text which may help us understand the logic that led them to conclude points 4 and 8?
Yes I believe they were, while acknowledging that:
- Not every statement made in verses 22-39 is necessary to make the
- Not all cultural background necessary to make the deduction was
explicitly written in verses 22-39 (this carries fascinating implications for
John’s intended audience, but that’s a discussion for another