John 5:37—Can God’s voice be heard?

Problem: Jesus declared to the Jews, “You have neither heard His [God’s] voice at any time, nor seen His form.” Yet the voice of God was heard many times in the OT (cf. 1 Sam. 3:4–14), and the Father spoke from heaven three times during Jesus’ earthly ministry (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28).

Solution: There are a number of interpretations of this passage. First, some claim that Jesus is simply referring to the crowd to whom He is ministering here, thus, not excluding the fact that God’s voice had been heard by others. However, this seems unlikely in view of the sweeping phrase “at any time,” as well as the fact that Jesus seems to be addressing the Jewish nation in general which rejected Him (cf. John 1:10–11; 5:39; 12:37).

Second, still others believe Jesus is contrasting their state of knowledge with that of the OT prophets who heard God’s voice and saw His form (manifested in theophanies). If so, their inability to understand it was due to the fact that they were “not willing” to respond to God speaking in and through it (John 5:40).

Third, many scholars hold that this refers to their not heeding God’s unique or inner voice speaking to their hearts, since they were not receptive to His Word (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). This fits with the fact that they could search the Scripture (John 5:39) and still miss its main message, Christ. In addition, the reference to the Father’s testimony of Him (v. 37) may be a reference to the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, which, like the later voice from heaven (John 12:28), they dismissed as “thunder” (John 12:29).

See All Problems

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.