Authority As The Key Characteristic Of “the Jews” In John

86525584“The Jews” in John constitute Israel’s formal religious authority

First, the Jews have authority to send priests and Levites to inspect John the Baptist’s ministry. What may be even more significant is that John responds to their inquiries (1:19-28). We read:

“And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ And he confessed, and did not deny, and he confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No’ They said then to him, ‘Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?’He said, ‘I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know.

Note that it is the priests and Levites who have been sent by “the Jews” from Jerusalem to inspect John’s activity (1:19). This statement shows that whoever else “the Jews” were they were Jerusalem formal authorities. Remember that “the Jews” in John do not only consist of the priestly elites, but also of Jerusalem’s powerful families many of whom were Pharisees. We may never know who first initiated such an enquiry. It is reasonable to suggest, however, that since the Pharisees were represented in a greater number outside of Jerusalem where Jesus was becoming very popular, it were the Jerusalem aristocrats some of whom were Pharisees that may have requested such an investigation (“Now they had been sent from the Pharisees” or “Now some Pharisees who had been sent”.

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Second, we read that because of “the Jews” the people were afraid to talk, even negatively, about Jesus in public. This fear of speaking about Jesus either positively or negatively would not make sense unless “the Jews” were the religious authorities who were simply bent on stamping out any public discussion about revolutionary movements that could threaten the status quo:

But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as it were, in secret. The Jews therefore were seeking Him at the feast, and were saying, “Where is He?” And there was much grumbling among the multitudes concerning Him; some were saying, “He is a good man”; others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He leads the multitude astray.Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews. (John 7:10-13)

Third, “the Jews” were considered by lay-people as the formal representatives of the religious authorities (7:14-15, 25-26):

Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me… At that point, some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? (John 7:25-26)

Fourth, “the Jews” challenged Jesus to submit his candidacy for Messiahship to them. Jesus refused, saying that His father and his deeds are enough, thus rejecting the authority of Jerusalem rulers (“the Jews”):

The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep (John 10:24-27).

This text is most often read as an instance of Jesus’ general lack of clarity in declaring his Messiahship. The request of “the Jews” should not be read: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell usplainly,” but “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” From the standpoint of “the Jews”, given their religious authority as the formal representatives of the Judean religion, their authority to validate Jesus’ candidacy for Messiahship was not being honored. Jesus drew large crowds who followed him. The blind saw, the lame walked, lepers were cured, the deaf heard, and the dead came back to life (Mat.11:2-5). Jesus’ identity as Messiah was self-evident, but he had failed to declare himself as such to the Jerusalem authorities. This was the reasoning behind their demand (How long will you keep us in suspense?). He, however, consistently stated that his miracles, and therefore his Father’s witness of his Messiahship, were enough to establish him as God’s Messianic Servant (Jn. 10:25-42). Jesus refused to acknowledge the Jerusalem rulers’ authority over him and by extension, over the whole of Israel. Jesus was the One to Whom Israel’s Covenantal Lord had entrusted such authority and therefore submitting himself to the illegitimate authority was out of the question (Matt.26:63-64).

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. Jackson Ambe Ndecheck

    Dr Eli, your thoughts, insight and thorough approach to the Gosple of John are very helpful.
    Since I’m currently memorizing through the bible and plan to take on John Gospel before the end of this year, I have found your take on the culture very enlightening. Do you have similar insights on the Gospel of Luke and Mark? These I memorized Mark last year along with other books and now currently working on Luke.
    Your thoughts on thoughts on their historicity and cultural clues?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Not yet, but I am planning to pick up a similar study with Mark next year.

  2. Bernard J Snowden

    Dr. Eli,

    I absolutely agree with your thoughts on this. From a youth I have seen this. But also, as with all Biblical text, there is a lesson for today. It is not a persons position or knowledge, or combination of such that is the authority. So we must not allow ourselves to be deceived by them. It is the Almighty that is the authority. As is, the point of your message, it is not “us” that is the Authority. It is the Almighty that is the Authority. It was so, it is so, and it will always be so. Let us not forget who it is that is “I AM” It is not “us”.
    I am blessed by your teaching. May you continue in the blessings he ahs given you.


    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for your comment, Bernard and welcome to our study group! Let’s us keep on thinking together. Dr. Eli

  3. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    Read my intro, please. There is a light in the end of the tunnel :-).

    1. jefferis peterson

      I was reading it since this section is part of it and then just read about the Samaritan purpose. I see a lot of the Samaritan hooks you point out. Would Greek have been the most natural language to use to reach them? From my study of John from a literary/critical point of view, I believe John was originally written in Greek, unlike Matthew. The Greek is so pure and the use of double meanings for words is so critical to the message and dependent upon Greek connotations that it seems unlikely to have been authored in Aramaic.

  4. jefferis peterson

    Okay, I see a possible correlation between the authorities an the use of the term Judeans, however, it doesn’t appear to be exclusively used of the authorities:
    “Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” John 11:45-48, KJV.

    Here the Jews are contrasted with the authorities. I am also wondering how clear this term referencing authorities would have been to the Hellenists and diaspora. If John is writing to them, knowing they are already considered second class by those in Jerusalem, the Judeans vs the Galileans and the Hellenistic Jews would be immediately understood by the diaspora.

  5. Charlotte Mecklenburg

    Thanks for the reminder of Chiasm and its importance. It is very helpful to be reminded that the point at which it reverses is the focus and main point of the writer.