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Before reading the remainder of this post, keep in my that this is my first post here. I am unfamiliar with whether this sort of post is reasonable on here (I usually post on the Mathematics StackExchange, which tends to be filled with extremely high-level mathematics bordering on research questions). If this is in fact not an appropriate question for StackExchange, please kindly let me know in the comments. Otherwise, I hope you may give me your time, as well I pray that the Father's presence may guide you in your response. Bless!


The full verse reads as follows:

John 5:30

I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

For context, I am currently amidst my deep dive into scripture, currently working my way through the Book of John. The question I have pertains to how one should interpret this verse, but before getting into what exactly I'm thinking, let me first list some of the many questions that would eventually lead me to my interpretation:

  1. "As I hear,..."
    Hear? What is He hearing? The voice of the Father? The Holy Spirit? Man?

  2. "...I judge..."
    Okay, so we know that the Son doesn't enforce judgment in his first arrival (in fact, this sentiment is explicitly stated only a few verses prior; therefore, it would make no sense to interpret those two statements as contradictory), but enforcing judgment is different than to judge. For instance, Jesus may observe human behavior, conjure up thoughts as to whether this is behavior the Father would approve of, and reach a conclusion.

  3. "I can do nothing on my own."
    This part of the verse should serve as a reminder of the context in which this verse exists: Jesus is testifying before Jewish officials as to why his behavior of healing the invalid on the Sabbath is not in contradiction with that of the Father, and therefore should not be seen as going in violation with the supernaturally-inspired Jewish law.

Interpretation: Jesus hears the Father's judgment as to what behavior is just, and therefore Jesus is able to judge whether an act of His will be just, such as when Jesus chose to heal the invalid at the pool of Bethesda.

Keeping in mind the context of this verse -- as emphasized by the introductory statement "I can do nothing on my own" -- the interpretation I have landed upon from reading this verse is that Jesus "hears" what the Father is telling Him. And that which the Father is speaking to Jesus is His (the Father's) judgment. So when Jesus does choose to act as He had in healing at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, He knows that this behavior doesn't contradict the teachings of God the Father for His judgment is (or discernment abilities are) in direct correspondence with that of the Father.

An additional, non-contradictory interpretation one can garner from this is that Jesus is stating that His opinion on the actions of a person is just, however, I tend not to find much fulfillment in this interpretation. For one, Jesus specifically chose the Hebrew equivalent term to "hear": Is Jesus only judging what He specifically hears? Or what does He mean by "hear"? For two, the idea of Jesus mentioning that He can do nothing of his own, and then proceeding to ramble on something entirely unrelated (especially given the context of testifying before Jewish officials) doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Yes, the prior verses do discuss judgment day and such; however, I believe that in Jesus (or John, the author) choosing to specifically start this verse the way that he did, there was intention in doing so.

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3 Answers 3

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There is much here of interest, and it has been very well expressed. However, the point of asking a question on this site is to get others to expound the text, the OPs question in view, and then the OP selects an answer that is most helpful (if there is one.) It is not meant to be a place where the OP explains what the answer already appears to be, so that the question really amounts to, "Do you agree with my interpretation, or not?" "Yes" or "No" answers here are not allowed, nor are personal opinions encouraged. Yet there are aspects that can be responded to, by way of an answer. I refer to:

"What is He hearing? The voice of the Father? The Holy Spirit? Man?" This is linked to making a sound judgment (of a matter) and doing (the right thing). To help interpret those points, I would quote from a book I just finished reading a couple of days ago, which explains how all three are linked to the significance of what Jesus heard.

"Hearing - Obedience is not a question of doing anything. It is a question of hearing... If the hearing is not [there], neither will be the obedience. Ever.

Hearing is a matter of receiving. And of not hearing something else. Of the attention being on the speaker, not upon another speaker. Of the inward receptivity being attuned to the speech of one; and not to the speech of another. "My sheep hear my voice. And they" - inevitably, I would say - "follow me."

In the beginning was the Word.

Hearing is by the word of God.

Faith cometh by hearing.

And faith works by love.

And love is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.

And the Holy Ghost is given, as a gift, by the Father.

"I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me", saith the hearing one, John 6:38. "I do always those things that please him", [the Father] saith the obedient one, John 8:29.

"Why do ye not understand my speech," he asks, John 8:43. And answers, "for they do not: because ye cannot hear my word." For they hear something else.

They hear it so loudly, so often, so exclusively, so persistently, that they can hear nothing else. Even when God, manifest, stands in front of them and utters a true witness. They sin because they cannot hear him. Because they already hear something else." Light and Life, pp.67-8, Nigel Johnstone, Belmont, 2013, http://www.belmontpublications.co.uk

This is why Jesus' judgment is just; he is the Word of God, and he hears the word of God when on Earth, being anointed with the Holy Spirit. He receives from the Father and the Spirit. He it utterly attuned to God and the Spirit. Therefore, he can do the right thing, and does the right thing - always. Because he hears God.

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A. "I can do nothing on my own".
This is a restatement from John 5:19. John 5:19-20 explains the meaning of the statement.

19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.

John 5:19 tells us that this means that Jesus does what He sees the Father do. Jesus can heal because the Father heals and has shown the Son. Jesus can raise the dead because the Father raises the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24) and has shown Him. Jesus judges because God judges and has given Jesus authority to execute judgment. Korah is judged in Numbers 16 and Elijah is judged in 2 Kings 11.

So "I can do nothing on my own" means that Jesus only does what He has seen the Father do.

B. "As I hear, I judge"
As you mention, the word translated "hear" is more than just with the ears.

"Jesus knew what they were thinking" - Luke 5:22
We are told in Revelation 20:12, that books will be opened.

C. "...I judge..."

In addition to future judgment, Jesus has already made the judgment that "Your sins are forgiven", both in Luke 5:20 and implied here in John 5:14.

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Question: What is He hearing? The voice of the Father? The Holy Spirit? Man?

Short Answer: The scripture speaks of the Father. So the voice heard is the voice of the Father. Scripture even says in John 16:13 that the Spirit of Truth does not speak of it's own authority.

I like what Barnes' has to say because he covers each part. But first, let's look at scripture:

  • John 5:19 NKJV - Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.

Let's look at Barnes' Notes on the Bible:

Of mine own self - The Messiah, the Mediator, does nothing without the concurrence and the authority of God. Such is the nature of the union subsisting between them, that he does nothing independently of God. Whatever he does, he does according to the will of God.

Now what does Barnes' has to say about hearing?

First note John 8:26 NKJV

  • I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.”

As I hear I judge - To "hear" expresses the condition of one who is commissioned or instructed. Thus John 8:26, "I speak to the world those things which I have "heard" of him;" John 8:28, "As the Father hath taught me, I speak those things." Jesus here represents himself as commissioned, taught, or sent of God. When he says, "as I 'hear,'" he refers to those things which the Father had "showed" him John 5:20

  • that is, he came to communicate the will of God; to show to man what God wished man to know.

What of judgement?

I judge - I determine or decide. This was true respecting the institutions and doctrines of religion, and it will be true respecting the sentence which he will pass on mankind at the day of judgment. He will decide their destiny according to what the Father wills and wishes - that is, according to justice.

Ellicott says:

The judgment must be just, because it is not one of an isolated will, but one in accord with the eternal will of God. He seeth the Father’s works (John 5:19), and in like manner doeth them; He heareth the Father’s will, and that alone He seeketh.

The tenses in this verse are present, and the judgment is therefore to be interpreted without limitation of time. It is one which He is evermore passing on every act and word and thought. (Comp. John 9:39.)

Back to Barnes':

Because I seek ... - This does not imply that his own judgment would be wrong if he sought his own will, but that he had no "private" ends, no selfish views, no improper bias. He came not to aggrandize himself, or to promote his own views, but he came to do the will of God. Of course his decision would be impartial and unbiased, and there is every security that it will be according to truth. See Luke 22:42, where he gave a memorable instance, in the agony of the garden, of his submission to his Father's will.

I would also like to note this scripture:

  • John 16:13 NKJV - However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.

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