Friday, December 21, 2012

The Identity of the “We” Who Speak and Testify in John 3:11

In John 3:11 Jesus is reported as saying to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have beheld, yet you do not receive our testimony.” The main question in this verse is: to whom do the pronouns we and our refer?

The options suggested are that the pronouns we and our refer either to Jesus and his disciples, to the Trinity, to Jesus via a plural of majesty, or to Jesus and the Old Testament prophets (including John the Baptist).

Out of all of these options, it makes more sense in the context to take the pronouns we and our as referring to Jesus and the Old Testament prophets. Jesus links the concepts of speaking and testifying with knowing and beholding or seeing. In Jewish thinking, it is supremely the prophets who pass on what has been revealed to them. The prophets were people who heard or saw the mysteries of God, and passed such truths on to God’s people. The fact that John the Baptist has previously appeared speaking and testifying (see John 1:6–9, 19, 29–33, especially 1:34) helps to confirm this linkage.

The pronoun you in the final clause of this verse is in the plural. This pronoun refers, therefore, not just to Nicodemus, but to the Jewish leadership viewed as a whole. Overall, the meaning of this verse is that the Jewish people viewed as a whole did not receive the testimony of the prophets. The rejection of the prophetic word by old covenant Israel was a problem that Israel had experienced throughout her history, but it reached its climax with the Jewish rejection of the testimony of Jesus the Messiah.

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