John 5:31—Was Jesus’ self-testimony true or false?

Problem: In John 8:14 Jesus said, “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true.” But here in John 5:31 He seems to say just the opposite, namely, “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.”

Solution: There are two ways to understand this verse—hypothetically or actually. On the first interpretation, Jesus is saying in essence, “Even if you don’t accept my testimony about Myself, you should accept that of John the Baptist in whose ministry you rejoiced” (cf. 5:32).

Others take the verse as declarative, not hypothetical, claiming both texts are true, but in different senses. That is, everything Jesus said was actually true, but officially it was only considered true if it was verified by “two or three witnesses” (Deut. 19:15). Since Jesus was “truth” incarnate (John 14:6), everything He said was true. However, since He is trying to establish His claims to the Jews, He notes that they need not accept His words alone, but also the witness of the Scriptures and the Father. The difference between these two passages can be outlined as follows:

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.