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John 5:31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
John 8:14 Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true...
Is Jesus being self-contradictory here? Let's look at the facts:
- The Greek of 5:31 is either a conditional of present reality or a future-more-vivid construction, having the initial ei and the particle an joined together by crasis for ean . The verb marturo is either present active indicative or present active subjunctive.
- The pronoun ego , "I", is emphatic.
- In Robertson's A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research , page 1018, he expresses the conditional statement in 5:31 is "If perchance I bear witness."
- Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p. 471) claims that given the present tense of eimi in the apodosis of 5:31, it seems to be the best option that Jesus "is not saying that it is probable that he wil bear testimony about himself. Rather, he is simply stating a supposition." This is what is termed a "fifth-class condition" in Wallace's grammar.
Now with these facts in tow we can examine 5:31. The verse states: "If I [and only I -- the pronoun is emphatic] bear witness of myself [a possibility but not a given]..." The context indicates that Jesus is here discussing the hopelessness of a man's testimony being accepted on itself alone.
Recall Deut 19:15, where two or three witnesses are required for acceptance of a testimony. Jesus seems to be stating that the Jews won't find his witness true, because the Jews think that Jesus is alone testifying concerning Himself. Jesus is not at all stating that in reality His witness is not true: He is God and the very incarnation of truth; Jesus is merely acknowledging what the Jews are or might be thinking. Jesus knows that His witness is true, for in reality it is -- but the Jews fail to recognize that "another bears witness" in 5:32, clearly a reference to God the Father.
Jesus knows that His testimony is true because it is supported by Jesus Himself and the Father who sent him, fulfilling Deut 19:5. But the Jews do not recognize that the Father also bears witness to Jesus. This is the most natural exegesis of 5:31-2.
The above is my solution, and seems natural. A check of various commentaries on John, such as RCH Lenski's The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel (pp. 402-3), Leon Morris' revised The Gospel of John , pp. 287-8 (see also the fascinating footnotes there), and William Hendriksen's New Testament Commentary volume on John, pp. 205-7, yields general agreement on my interpretation, which really isn't "mine" as I am sure that it is natural enough to suggest itself to any serious reader.
Now we exegete 8:14, where Jesus again speaks to the Pharisees, stating (NIV) "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going." Here the interpretation is self-evident. Whereas in 5:31 the natural context was of Jesus' self-testimony's validity with respect to the minds of the Jews, His testimony, being perceived as being solitary by the Jews would not be valid to the Jews. On the other hand, here in 8:14 he states that his self-witness is true with respect to reality . Jesus is also stating that the Pharisees are not in a position to judge the truth of Jesus' testimony because they do not know where he came from or where he was going.
I quote Morris (pages 390-1), who seconds this notion: "In 5:31 He [Jesus] has said , `If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true,' by which he meant that his witness had to be supported to be accepted. There he agreed with the Pharisees that unsupported testimony has no legal value. He did not mean that his words were not in fact true. They were true. But if his testimony was unsupported it was not to be received. Here he has two points to make: the one is that he is qualified to bear witness though his enemies are not, and the other that in any case his testimony is not unsupported. The Father bears witness of him. Jesus is contrasting himself with the Pharisees. He knows both his origin and his destination, but they know neither. They are not in a position to comment on his witness. They are totally unaware of the great heavenly verities." Again, see the interesting footnotes on those pages.
Keeping these solid exegeses of the two verses, we see that there is really no case for asserting that Jesus is contradicting Himself.