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In the Gospel of John we read what seem to conflicting admissions by Christ's Jewish audience, one on the verse of stoning Him:

John 8:39-41: "They answered and said to Him, 'Abraham is our father.' Jesus said to them, 'If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41You are doing the deeds of your father.' They said to Him, 'We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.'"

What, exactly, did they mean. Is this not a clear contradiction by the very same the people?

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    @Lucian I'm sorry this post affected you so personally. Perhaps my question really did not meet your (or others') expectations but I would suggest that we all make mistakes. My OP was modified quite a bit; nonetheless I'll endeavor to improve my contributions in the future.
    – Xeno
    Aug 12, 2021 at 20:05
  • @Xeno: You could also have asked (equally senselessly) whether they (also) deny their own biological fathers (!). The expression one father is not meant to deny a plurality of ancestors or patriarchs (in succession: God, Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.), but simply to contrast it with the idea of adultery, mentioned immediately before (wherein a man has two fathers: one official, and one unofficial).
    – Lucian
    Aug 12, 2021 at 20:21
  • @Lucian - you should recall that only few people have reached your exalted status and advanced way of thing and spiritual maturity. Please be patient with lesser mortals and help fulfill your duty to teach others where possible. Otherwise, how could we learn?
    – Dottard
    Aug 13, 2021 at 5:39
  • Recently we also had couple of Qs on Greek words where the person has no idea about the basic declension so this isn't the worst question we see here, however I inclinde towards closing or deletion of such Qs which have extremely low quality. Downvote from me.
    – Michael16
    Aug 13, 2021 at 11:46
  • @Dottard: I'm very glad to see that my deep, long-held frustrations are amusing at least to some... :-) I mean, seriously, what's next ? Asking us to "harmonize" the "thorny contradiction(s)" between Luke 3:23, 18:38-39, 22:70 ? Or those between the two sentences John is the brother of George, and George is the brother of Mary (because, clearly, both cannot possibly be true at the same time; and whether this implies that the speaker condones transsexuality) ?
    – Lucian
    Aug 13, 2021 at 12:56

5 Answers 5

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How could the Jews claim “Abraham was their father” (Jn. 8:39) while in the next breath, insist that “God was their Father” (Jn. 8:41)?

Literal father

Abraham is our father: They are literal descendants of Abraham and so they believe that they have the same faith as God's friend Abraham.

John 8:39: "They answered and said to Him, 'Abraham is our father.' Jesus said to them, 'If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.

Jesus gives them a shocking reply

40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. 41You are doing the deeds of your father.'

Spiritual father

(41b)They said to Him, 'We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.'"

By asserting to be true worshippers of God like Abraham, they claim to have one father-God

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Those literal descendants of Abraham well knew the Hebrew scriptures where God is stated to have 'fathered' the nation of Israel. Here is a sample:

Israel "forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation... Of the Rock that begat thee thou are unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee." (Deuteronomy 32:15 & 18)

"Wherefore David blessed the Lord before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, Lord God of Israel our Father, for ever and ever." (1 Chronicles 29:10)

"He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation." (Psalm 89:26)

"For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour... But they rebelled..." and Isaiah replies, "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not. Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our redeemer, thy name is from everlasting." (Isaiah 63:8-10 & 16)

"A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a Father, where is mine honour? And if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name." (Malachi 1:6)

That is the background which enables readers of this exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders in Jerusalem to understand what the point was. As literal descendants of Abraham, and as part of the nation of Israel that came from Abraham, they knew and believed that God was their ultimate Father, who 'birthed' the nation of Israel back in Egypt. God formed the nation of Israel, to honour his promise to Abraham, and to make a people for his own name's sake.

So, both senses of fatherhood are correct, which is why Jesus did not find any fault with the premise, but he did find fault with those who claimed to have God as their Father, but who did not honour and fear him as they should. Why, they were seeking to put to death the only-begotten Son of God standing in front of them!

When those ones who hated Jesus spoke of not being born of adultery, they were making a snide reference to their belief that Jesus had been born out of wedlock (which wasn't true, but they so hated Jesus, they preferred to believe lies rather than acknowledge his legitimate line of earthly descent.)

That is why Jesus denied their claim to have God as their Father, telling them that they were of their father, the Devil, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning (John 8:44) They sought to murder Jesus because they would not believe the truth from God that he was telling them. Thus, there is no contradiction.

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  • Very good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Aug 12, 2021 at 10:54
  • @Anne Apparently, vs. 41 is what set them off: "You are doing the deeds of your father." What, then, could have been racing through their minds? Recall that this is an audience on the verge of stoning Him. Vs. 44 soon follows "You are of your father the Devil..." What could be more incendiary? Jesus seems to intentionally plant the seeds for His demise, John 8:40: "But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me…" It's very interesting that He often drops these unexpected grenades (cf. John 7:20). Obviously, the idea had to be planted in their thoughts since He must die to save all humanity.
    – Xeno
    Aug 18, 2021 at 20:34
  • @Xeno Long before the ch.8 exchange, Jesus had incurred the hatred of these religious men with his miracles (including doing some on the Sabbath day Jn 5:16-18), of staying with Samaritans for 2 days so that they believed he was the Messiah. Don't forget either the testimony of John the Baptist which those religious men did not believe. They already saw Jesus as a threat to their authority, without any 'incendiary' comments from Jesus! He knew their murderous hearts and, as his time approached, exposed them for who they really were, and quite right too.
    – Anne
    Aug 19, 2021 at 15:44
  • @Anne You'll certainly not receive any objections from me about any of this. :-)
    – Xeno
    Aug 19, 2021 at 18:33
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In both Greek and Hebrew father meant more than ones immediate father. Abraham was father as ancestor. God is father as creator of mankind. They considered God their spiritual Father.

πατήρ, πατρός, ὁ ...1. lit.—a. of the immediate (male) ancestor... b. gener. forefather, ancestor, progenitor: of Abraham... 2. fig.—a. of spiritual fatherhood ... 3. of God—a. as the originator and ruler... c. as Father of mankind... -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 635). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:14–17, ESV)

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Ro 9:6–8, ESV)

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There is no contradiction here.

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age being ( as was supposed ) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, ... which was the son of Joseph, ... Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Judah ... which the son of Nathan, which was the son of David, ... which was the son of Judah, Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Serug, which was the son of Reu, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, ... which was the son of Shem, which was the son of Noah, which was the son of Lamech, ... which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
Luke 3:23-38 (KJV)

Luke lists Jesus' family tree: Joseph to David, and David to Judah, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. However, Luke didn't stop at Abraham, but continued Jesus' genealogy all the way back to creation, finishing his list with, "and Adam, which was the son of God.". If Adam was the son of God, then so too were all his descendants, i.e. all humanity. Luke's genealogy establishes that Jesus was the son of Abraham, i.e. Abraham was his father, and that he was thereby the son of God, i.e. God was his father.

Now, Luke would have discovered his information concerning Jesus' heritage in the same way other Jews would have done in regard to their own. So, for those who had done so, both claims -- Abraham as father, and God as father -- would be legitimate.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray in this manner:

9... Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11Give us this day our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13 (KJV)

Our Father is the legitimate claim of every human being, not least the religious leaders of Jesus' time. However, not every human being loves him as such.

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  • (+1) Good answer - great to see more contributions from you the past few days enegue, hope you're doing well.
    – Steve can help
    Aug 19, 2021 at 12:06
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    @SteveTaylor Thank you, Steve. Yeah, I doing well. I visit the site every day, though I don't contribute as much as I used to. I hope all it well with you also. God, bless!
    – enegue
    Aug 19, 2021 at 12:31
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The word "father" appears 21 times in John 8. It is a theme of the chapter. The Jews were being argumentative and not logical in this chapter.

John 8:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

No matter what Jesus said, the Jews just wanted to argue. At this point, they picked up the word "free" to argue about.

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

They directly contradicted Exodus 20:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

This was the setup for the next argument. Jesus continued:

38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

Now, they picked up the word "father" and proudly announced:

39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

The Jews thought that by invoking the name "Abraham", Jesus would give them respect and backdown. But he didn't. Now, they invoke "God" to argue against Jesus.

How could the Jews say “We have one father: God”, directly after saying “Abraham is our father”? What, exactly, did they mean. Is this not a clear contradiction by the very same the people?

The Jews were not being logical. They were being emotional and argumentative.

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  • Interesting points. I agree; in the heat of the moment, they weren't making much sense. +1.
    – Xeno
    Aug 13, 2021 at 18:41

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