Was His Witness True or Not?
Many verses in the Bible appear to be contradictory. This gives rise for the opponents of Christianity to denounce the legitimacy of the Bible. John 5:31 and John 8:14 seem to present such a situation. In John 5:31 Jesus says, “If I testify of myself, my witness is not true.” Jesus then states, “If I testify of myself, my witness is true.” So, what gives? Is this a contradiction, or is there an answer to this apparent mystery? It appears to be illogical.
When Jesus acknowledged to the Jews the fact that His testimony was “not true” in John 5:31, He was in no way admitting to being a liar. An understanding of the legal system of that day provides insight as to what it was He was really saying. Jesus was reacting to a familiar law of that era. In Greek, Roman, and Jewish jurisprudence, the testimony of a witness was inadmissible in his / her own case. Evidence or testimony was always presented by someone else. Jesus was actually reiterating details established in the law of Moses: “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15). The Pharisees understood this legal fact perfectly, as is obvious by their immediate response to Christ: “You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true” (John 8:13). In John 5:31, Jesus is fulfilling the requirements of the law. The implications of this point cannot be overstated. The efficacy of His sacrificial death for the redemption of mankind was predicated on His sinless and perfect life, which included explicit obedience to the requirements of righteousness established in the Old Testament. His statement in John 5 points to the impossibility of anyone’s testimony being accepted on the basis of their own word. The evidence in the trial regarding His deity would have been deemed inconclusive without corresponding eyewitness testimony. Jesus appreciated the judicial reality that the attending audience had a right to demand greater evidence than just His word. When Jesus said, “My witness is not true,” He was simply stating, in agreement with the established legal guidelines, His personal testimony separate from other witnesses would be considered unacceptable because it failed to provide sufficient evidence of the truth.
Obviously, John 8:14 needs clarification. In this verse Christ says His personal declaration is to be deemed as accurate. The difference between the two passages is rather simple. They are not contradictory whatsoever. In John 8:14, Jesus was stressing the fact that His words were true. He was pointing to the credibility of His teachings. Jesus declared His sayings to be correct for the simple reason that His testimony revealed the facts regarding Himself. He was not bearing legal testimony of who He was in a court of law. The context is altogether different. The answer to this inconsistency is just that simple.