man raising his hands with heart illustration

John 5:31 – 40

[New to our exegesis of John’s Gospel? Try starting at The BeginningJohn 1:1-2].

31 “If I were to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be valid. 32 But someone else is also testifying about me, and I assure you that everything he says about me is true. 33 In fact, you sent investigators to listen to John the Baptist, and his testimony about me was true. 34 Of course, I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. 35 John was like a burning and shining lamp, and you were excited for a while about his message. 36 But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, 38 and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.

39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

31 Ἐὰν ἐγὼ μαρτυρῶ περὶ ἐμαυτοῦ, ἡ μαρτυρία μου οὐκ ἔστιν ἀληθής· 32 ἄλλος ἐστὶν ὁ μαρτυρῶν περὶ ἐμοῦ, καὶ οἶδα ὅτι ἀληθής ἐστιν ἡ μαρτυρία ἣν μαρτυρεῖ περὶ ἐμοῦ. 33 ὑμεῖς ἀπεστάλκατε πρὸς Ἰωάννην, καὶ μεμαρτύρηκε τῇ ἀληθείᾳ· 34 ἐγὼ δὲ οὐ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου τὴν μαρτυρίαν λαμβάνω, ἀλλὰ ταῦτα λέγω ἵνα ὑμεῖς σωθῆτε. 35 ἐκεῖνος ἦν ὁ λύχνος ὁ καιόμενος καὶ φαίνων, ὑμεῖς δὲ ἠθελήσατε ἀγαλλιαθῆναι πρὸς ὥραν ἐν τῷ φωτὶ αὐτοῦ· 36 ἐγὼ δὲ ἔχω τὴν μαρτυρίαν μείζω τοῦ Ἰωάννου, τὰ γὰρ ἔργα ἃ δέδωκέν μοι ὁ πατὴρ ἵνα τελειώσω αὐτά, αὐτὰ τὰ ἔργα ἃ ποιῶ, μαρτυρεῖ περὶ ἐμοῦ ὅτι ὁ πατήρ με ἀπέσταλκεν, 37 καὶ ὁ πέμψας με πατὴρ ἐκεῖνος μεμαρτύρηκεν περὶ ἐμοῦ. οὔτε φωνὴν αὐτοῦ πώποτε ἀκηκόατε οὔτε εἶδος αὐτοῦ ἑωράκατε, 38 καὶ τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔχετε ἐν ὑμῖν μένοντα, ὅτι ὃν ἀπέστειλεν ἐκεῖνος τούτῳ ὑμεῖς οὐ πιστεύετε.

3Ἐραυνᾶτε τὰς γραφάς, ὅτι ὑμεῖς δοκεῖτε ἐν αὐταῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἔχειν· καὶ ἐκεῖναί εἰσιν αἱ μαρτυροῦσαι περὶ ἐμοῦ· 40 καὶ οὐ θέλετε ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχητε.

Heart Burn

There is something critically important and even radical going on here. Jesus continues his soliloquy about who he is and his relationship to the Father. This section of his explanation (v. 19) starts like a courtroom scene. It might appear he is saying that his testimony to himself is not valid, meaning, it is not correct. Rather, he’s referring to Jewish law: testimony by himself about himself alone is not a valid legal testimony in a Jewish court.

Verse 32 is a bit puzzling and is a good example of the struggle of biblical translation. “Someone else” is giving testimony about Jesus ( ἄλλος ἐστὶν ὁ μαρτυρῶν περὶ ἐμοῦ). Who is this? The context has two subjects this could refer to: the Father or John (the Baptist). I put the Baptist in parentheses because that is not in the Greek. The NLT translators added that because they are assuming with Chrysostom in the Fourth Century that this someone else giving testimony is John (the Baptist).

Or is it? Church leader Cyprian, writing more than a hundred years before Chrysostom, believed this someone else was Someone Else, or in another translation, Another. The text can be read as, “But there is Another who is testifying on my behalf,” meaning, the Father.

So, it could be either the Father or John (the Baptist). But, as with all other ambiguities of this sort in the Bible, nothing earth shattering rises or falls on this (e.g. the resurrection of Jesus).

In any event, reading this whole passage, Jesus makes it clear that both the Father and John (the Baptist) give testimony that Jesus is the Expected One, Messiah of God. So that, in this verbal argument as if in a legal court, there are enough witnesses to prove Jesus right.

But I love this next part. We can talk here about legal arguments, or later about atonement transactions, but Jesus narrows it in to something deeper: you do not have his message in your hearts.

Wow. There is in the Gospel a sense that all this rhetoric about God, and Bible arguments, and legal talk…well, it has its place…but when it comes down to it: is The Message in your heart?

Jesus here changes the conversation — it suddenly goes deep. I can talk all I want about my legal marriage to my wife, the terms of the marriage, and even give “witness” that I love her…but if she’s not in my heart than it’s only surface deep. My love for her would not be lodged deep inside me. It would be a paper marriage and not a heart marriage.

If you add emotion to this text, one can even hear sadness in Jesus words. As if he is saying, “You talk about God, you exhibit great piety about God, but if you really knew my Father God, you would know me. But you don’t!”

We might think, “At least we are not like those religious leaders!!” But really? I see it in me.

I want more of the heart message.