Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Did Jesus “accept” human testimony? (John 5:34)

Semantic range can be a pesky fellow. Take for example the range of meaning held by λαμβάνω.

In John 5:31 Jesus starts by saying, “If I bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true.” Then two verses later he says, “You have sent messengers to John, and he has borne witness to the truth” (5:33). So it sounds like Jesus is pointing people to what John said about him.

Jesus then concludes, “Not that I accept (λαμβάνω) human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved” (NIV).

Wait minute. Jesus just citeed John as witnessing to him, so why then would he say, “Not that I accept human testimony.” Of course he does! He just did.

The NLT gets amazingly expansive: “Of course, I have no need of human witnesses.” It’s not what Jesus said. The TEV is likewise impropely expansive: “It is not that I must have a human witness.” There is no “must” in the verse.

The NJB has, “not that I depend on human testimony,” and this is getting closer to the meaning.

BDAG gives the most used meaning as, “1. to get hold of someth. by laying hands on or grasping someth., directly or indirectly, take, take hold of, grasp, take in hand.” This is where the other translations are landing. While there is not a specific catepory in BDAG that fits our passage, the final one is quite general. “10. to be a receiver, receive, get, obtain.” Then you have to ask, in which sense did Jesus “receive” witness from John?

What makes sense in the context is that he receives it in the sense of “depending” on it. Jesus has other sources of witness, but he is willing to use John’s.

λαμβνάνω is a pretty fleible word, and sometimes you have to hunt a while to get just the right translation. But let’s not use one that defies the context.