Apologetics in the Gospel of John
Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). (1)
The Gospel of John records: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).
In this post, I will highlight some of the different ways John utilizes apologetics in his testimony of who Jesus is.
1.Jesus Appealed to Testimony and Witness
Because Jesus was Jewish, he was well aware of the principles of the Torah. The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes that the Biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony.
Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15). In John Ch 5:31-39, Jesus says,” If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” Far from the verification, Jesus declares that singular self-attestation does not verify, it falsifies. We see in this passage that Jesus says the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of the Father, the witness of the Word (the Hebrew Bible), and the witness of His works, testify to His Messiahship. (2)
2. Moses and Jesus both claim to speak the words of God
John emphasizes the relationship between Jesus and Moses.
“ The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”– Deut 18: 15-18
Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).
We see in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority. Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent from God. In response, Moses defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have. Moses says, ” Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord” (Num.16:28).
As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:
So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7: 16-18)
So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”-(John 8:28)
I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)
For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).
For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).
3.Signs and Miracles
While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophetssuch as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God. Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that the “signs” will confirm his call:
God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign” to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
“If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).
We see the signs are used to help people believe.
Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)
The Works of Jesus
“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do allthese works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)
“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does, 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod 4: 1-9). In the exchange between Nicodemus said to Jesus, Nicodemus said, We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signsyou are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2
Also, regarding miracles, in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37).
4. Jesus as the Shechinah
In the Bible, the Shechinah is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in which He descends to dwell among men. While the Hebrew form of the glory of the Lord is Kvod Adonai, the Greek title is Doxa Kurion. The Hebrew form Schechinah, from the root “shachan,” means “dwelling” while the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle.
The Shechinah glory is seen in the Tankah in places such as Gen.3:8; 23-24; Ex.3;1-5; 13:21-22; 14;19-20; 24; 16:6-12; 33:17-23; 34:5-9. In these Scriptures, the Shechinah is seen in a variety of visible manifestations such as light, fire, cloud, the Angel of the Lord, or a combination of all of these. The ultimate manifestation of the Shechinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20).
The Shechinah continued to dwell in the holy of holies in Tabernacle and the Temple (Ex.29:42-46; 40:34-38; 1 Kin.8:10-13). Upon the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity, the second temple was finished. However, the Shechinah was not present in this temple. Haggai 2:39 is a critical passage since it discusses that the Shechinah would return in an even different and more profound way. Therefore, in relation to the incarnation, the Shechinah takes on greater significance in John 1: 1-14. As John says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” As already stated, the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle. John 1:14 literally says,” the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” (3)
As the Shechinah, Jesus is the agent to bring someone out of epistemic darkness
Biblically speaking, revelation is needed because of sin. People do not find God, rather God finds us. He has to take the initiative to reveal His plans and intentions for humanity. The reason He is the one to do this is because sin has dampened the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. In other words, sin affects the whole person—mind, emotions, and will. People can and do harden their hearts towards God. And sadly, sometimes people can reach the point where they are desensitized towards the ways of God. Another way to say this is that they are extensively affected by sin. One of the main themes of John’s Gospel is people’s epistemic darkness and how an encounter with the revelation of Jesus can transfer a person from darkness to light. These main epistemic themes occur throughout John’s Gospel:
1. Epistemic darkness
3. Jesus as the revelation of God/ His teaching
4. Saving truth
5. Sensory Perception
6. Cognitive perception
7. The Spirit as a cognitive agent
8. People’s response
9. The relationship between the Father and the Son
10. The relationship between the believer with the Father and the Son (4)
For Judaism the Torah had been the main source of knowledge of God. But now we see that with the coming of the Messiah that the entire epistemic foundation for knowing God has now become the person and work of Jesus the Messiah (John 1:17-18; 5:39, 46).
- Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79.
- Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, J. and A. Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1984, 19.
- These points were laid out systematically in Fruchtenbaum, A.G, The Footsteps of Messiah: A Study of Prophetic Events. Tustin CA: Ariel Press, 1977, 409-432.
- Mary Healy and Robin Parry, The Bible And Epistemology: Biblical Soundings On The Knowledge of God Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster).