There has been discussion on this blog concerning Presuppositional apologetics and exegesis of Scripture. Beyond the specific points of the participants, I think it is a general truth that Presuppositionalism can benefit from further exegetical support.
What follows is a first draft from chapter two of my thesis. I was rather hesitant to post it up on here for multiple reasons. First, since my adviser have not read it I wasn’t sure if this was the most appropriate thing to do. Second, I prefer to remain anonymous in this blog. Third, I was also slow to want to put this up publicly as well, since there’s many things I still need to work on. One instance is my constant flaws when it comes to my written English grammar. Nevertheless, I thought it was appropriate to post this up as an effort to fuel some positive few steps in the general direction of the exegetical project in supporting Presuppositionalism with other brothers who are presuppositionalists.
Having expose myself here, I was wondering if there’s anyone that’s a Grammar Nazi who’s able to wade through the entire thesis? That’s a project in of itself. You would be a prayer come true. Let me know if you are interested.
DEBATING THE ISSUE OF AUTHORITY
One of the issues that followers of Van Til’s apologetics methodology have been astutely aware of is that defending the faith with unbelievers will eventually become an issue of authority. Presuppositionalists often hold that a meaningful apologetic encounter requires Christians to be faithful to Biblical authority while discerning and refuting conflicting authority embedded in false religious/philosophical system. However, what happens when the other side attacks the Christian’s ultimate authority? Luke 20:1-8 is an appropriate study of how Jesus handled attacks on His Messianic authority and His method here provide some Biblical precedence for the way Van Tillians debate on the issue of religious authority.
Method of Study
In this chapter, it is important to first comment about the situation in Luke chapter twenty in which the debate arose. Secondly, readers should understand just exactly who the opponents of Jesus were. Identifying His opponents allow for further background input from other Biblical and extra-biblical data which would lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of the challenge that Jesus faced in his debate concerning the issue of authority. With all this as background, this chapter will evaluate how Jesus dealt with the questions that was subversive to His authority. Implications of this towards Presuppositional apologetics methodology will be spelled out along the way, with a conclusion summarizing what tenets of Presuppositionalism methodology finds support in this text.
Situating the Debate
Commentating on the situation in Luke chapter twenty, Craig Evans succinctly summarizes, “The atmosphere is tense.” There are eight verses in this section concerning the authority of Jesus. The first verse situates the debate by providing details of the setting. By analyzing the information on the setting given in verse one, there is a lesson here for the Christian apologist concerning what kind of situation would likely lead to an appropriate public defense of the faith.
Luke writes in verse one, “And it was on one of the days while he was teaching the people in the temple when he was evangelizing, the Chief priests and the scribes with the elders came.” Luke begins verse one with his typical general introduction of καὶ ἐγένετο. Two participle verbs describe what Jesus was doing prior to the debate: διδάσκοντος and εὐαγγελιζομένου, with the first participle having the meaning of “teaching” while second participle means “evangelizing,” or “gospeling.” It seems best to understand the present tense participle for “teaching” as describing the action of teaching to be contemporaneous with the day in which the event in the passage was about to unfold. Whenever that day was, Luke has left it very indefinite with the Greek construction of ἐν μιᾷ τῶν ἡμερῶν (“in one of the days”). Bock struggled with the participle εὐαγγελιζομένου, noting that it has no object so he suggested supplying the object “the gospel” or “the kingdom.” However, supplying an object not found in the text seems unnecessary if one were to stay with what has been written and understand the present tense participle εὐαγγελιζομένου to be functioning as a complementary participle. As a complementary participle it is completing the thought of Jesus’ “teaching.” Luke was not so much describing Jesus as doing two separate acts where on the one hand He was teaching while on the other hand He was sharing the gospel. Rather, Jesus teaching was evangelistic since teaching and evangelizing need not to be separate from one another while true Christian teaching cannot be divorced from the Gospel. Fortunately during this particular day as Jesus taught on the gospel, the people at large in the crowd were outwardly favorable and receptive. However, the atmosphere was about to change with the arrival of a hostile group coming to question His authority.
This observation has implication for the Christian apologist. Jesus’ ministry of teaching Christian truths and sharing the gospel brought about opposition which led Him to resort to defending the faith. This was a pattern in Jesus’ ministry, and it can be illustrated as follows: Teaching/EvangelizingàOppositionàApologetics. By no means was this pattern unique to Jesus. Elsewhere the author Luke records the disciples and the early church facing opposition in their teaching and evangelism ministry where they had to defend the Christian faith and/or refute their opponent’s position. During the day of Pentecost, the Spirit gave the Apostles the gift of tongues to preach foreign Jews visiting Jerusalem in the language of their residence (Acts 2:1-11). Unfortunately, some in the crowd opposed the Apostle’s work, denying that it was the work of God even to the point of mockery (Acts 2:13). Peter then stood up to preach, rationally dismissing the objection that they were drunk (v. 15) and preached Jesus by citing Old Testament Messianic passages that Jesus fulfilled. The apologetic thrust of Peter’s use of Messianic prophecies must not be missed. Elsewhere in Acts 18:24-28, Luke records the account of a Jewish evangelist named Apollos. He taught concerning Jesus (v.24) in a bold fashion in the synagogue (v.26) and “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (v.28). Contemporary Christians who evangelize and teach today should not be surprise at opposition, but should always be ready to make a defense for the hope that they have (1 Peter 3:15).
Nolland notes Luke 20:1’s “reference to teaching the people in the temple merely reiterates materials from 19:47-48.” Similar to Luke 20:1, Luke 19:47 describe Jesus teaching daily in the temple. The entirety of Luke chapter twenty must be understood in light of Luke 19:47-48, since the intent of the high priests, scribes and elders are stated here. According to Evans, “In 19:47 we were told that the chief priests and the teachers of the law desired to do away with Jesus. Now these same persons approach Jesus, questioning his authority to do these things he has done.”
Knowing that the Jewish religious leaders are out to destroy Jesus, the question then one has to ask is why? What was it that drove the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to want to destroy Him?
In answering this question it is important to understand that before this, Luke 19:45-46 describes Jesus’ second cleansing of the Temple. He drove out the merchants from the Temple of God. In the rest of the Synoptic gospel, each gospel records how the cleansing of the temple was followed by Jesus authority being questioned (Matthew 21:12-17, 23-27; Mark 11:15-17, 27-33). Apparently, this attack by Jesus hit too close to home for the Jewish religious leaders and they wished to rid themselves of Jesus. The Gospel of John also record a different temple cleansing earlier in Jesus ministry (John 2:13-15). This too was followed by a challenge to His authority (John 2:18). In the first temple cleansing, John records the question of the Jews directed to Jesus, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” To which Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). This was a clear prophetic reference to His resurrection, and as a “sign” it had evidential value attesting to Jesus authority from God. Of course, the actual fulfillment of this “sign” was yet future from the perspective of John chapter 2. It is interesting to note that Jesus had a different manner of answering the authority question after the second temple cleansing than after the first temple cleansing. During the time between the two events, Jesus has done many signs, wonders and miracles attesting to His message and His person. They testified to His authority, and no doubt some of the religious leaders must have known first hand these works were true, but they have hardened their hearts and rejected Him. The manner in which Jesus dealt with the question in 20:1-8 must be understood in light of the leader’s intellectual depravity.
It is also important to understand that the hostility against Jesus were not isolated to the events of Jesus cleaning out the Temple. Prior to this, the ministry of Jesus has witnessed ongoing oppositions to Him and His message. Luke 11:53-54 records the Pharisees and scribes trying to trap Jesus. Previously Jesus had withstand his enemies in the synagogues (4:16-30), during banquets (7:36-50) and during His journey (13:31-33). The physical setting of Jesus teaching and evangelizing in Luke 20:1 is significant, which is indicated by the geographical use of the preposition ἐν, and the Greek phrase τῷ ἱερῷ. Beginning in 9:51, Luke records the intent of Jesus to “march” towards Jerusalem, now Jesus was not only in Jerusalem but in the Temple area itself, in the very “front yard” of the religious leaders.
Understanding Jesus Opponents
Bock has made the observation that Luke has separated the people from the religious leadership in his narrative. The religious leaders’ attitudes are in stark contrasts to the favorable reaction of the crowd to Jesus in 19:48.
Three parties are described in verse one as approaching Jesus: the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. The more one understand the opponents of Jesus, the deeper the reader’s appreciation will be of what Jesus faced in Luke 20.
According to Hendriksen, “The Chief Priests constituted a group or order consisting of the present ruling high priest, those who had formerly occupied this high office, and other dignitaries from whose ranks the high priest were generally selected. The custody of the temple had been entrusted to these people, mostly Sadducees.”
Lightfoot believed that the “elders, may be the Israelites, or those elders of the laity that were not of the Levitical tribe. Such a one was Gamaliel the present president of the Sanhedrin, and Simeon his son, of the tribe of Judah.” Elders in ancient Israel tend to be leaders of towns and tribes.
Lightfoot believed that “the scribes seem in this place to denote either the Levites, or else, together with the Levites, those inferior ranks of priests who were not the αρχιερεις, or chief priests.” The normal Jewish use of γραμματεῖς (translated as scribe here in 20:1) is “first attested in the LXX in 2 Esr. and 1st Chronicles, γραμματεύς is a translation of the Heb. סֹופֵר which means a ‘man learned in the Torah,’ a ‘rabbi,’ an ‘ordained theologian.’” Hendriksen notes that this group during Jesus’ days mostly consisted of Pharisees.
What did these three groups have in common to be found together in Luke 20? Luke 22:66 makes a reference of the elders, High priests and the scribes being in a council. This is none other than the Sanhedrin council. Those coming to Jesus were representing the leadership of Israel. They made up the three components of the Sanhedrin.
Among the group of religious leaders that approached Jesus were members of the Jewish religious sect of the Pharisees. As mentioned above, the bulk of scribes consisted of Pharisees so it is highly probable that the Scribes questioning Jesus had Pharisees among them. After Jesus told the religious leaders that He will not answer their question in 20:8, He proceeded to tell the people a parable against the religious leaders (20:9-18). This same group of religious leaders then tried to seize Jesus (20:19). The Matthew parallel to Luke 20:19 describe this group as consisting of members of the Pharisees (Matthew 21:45).
Understanding the Pharisees provides us some glimpse of how they can be quite a formidable foe. They were first of all, political. After a survey of the primary sources on the Pharisees in his book, Judaism scholar Jacob Neusner comments on the Pharisees’ political clout:
The Pharisees are invariably represented as experts in the law, and of greater importance, as an important political party in charge of conduct of the war, able to make or break commanders in the field. In Jerusalem they enjoyed the highest offices. Their leaders are men of political experience and great power.
As a political force, the Pharisees were a dangerous lot to debate with, given that they can politically manipulate the system to get rid of their opponents. The political aspect of the Pharisees had an ever looming presence that threatened their opponent who might disagree with them. Eventually, they would get their way of putting Jesus to death.
The Pharisees were also polemical. That is, they were no strangers to debates and extra biblical primary sources hint that they were good at it. It seems that the Pharisees were witty in thinking before hand of how to handle their opponent in the area of public disputation. A good example demonstrating this comes from Flavius Josephus’s The Life Against Apion verses 197-198. It is an account of the Pharisees’ attempt to remove Josephus from the command of Galilee by sending a special delegate to attack the status of Josephus’ authority:
The scheme agreed upon was to send a deputation comprising persons of different classes of society but of equal standing in education. Two of them, Jonathan and Ananias, were from the lower ranks and adherents of the Pharisees; the third, Jozar, also a Pharisee, came of a priestly family; the youngest, Simon, was descended from high priests. Their instructions were to approach the Galilaeans and ascertain the reason for their devotion to me. If they attributed it to my being a native of Jerusalem, they were to reply that so were all four of them; if to my expert knowledge of the their laws, they should retort that neither were they ignorant of the customs of their fathers; if, again, they asserted that their affection was due to my priestly office, they should answer that two of them were likewise priests.
This event in the life of Josephus parallel Luke 20 in various ways. In both instances, the Pharisees wished to attack the status of their opponent in order that public opinion would not favor them. Both events involved an issue of their opponent’s prerogative with their status (that is, their authority). In both debates a witty trap for their opponent were laid out by the Pharisees. Knowing that Josephus was a contemporary of Jesus, this event reveals that the Pharisees’ polemical tactic was not unique with their interaction with Jesus only. The Pharisees must have had plenty of practices in sharpening their skills in public debates with other opponents before and after Jesus. There is no doubt that Jesus’ opponents were shrewd and cunning.
The Pharisees were also past-orientated in terms of their source of authority. This would inevitably conflict with the authority of Jesus. The Pharisees source of authority comes from oral tradition which means that for the Pharisees any issue that is the subject of debate must be adjudicated on the ground of whether it enjoys precedence within the Rabbinic “Oral Torah.” This past-orientated form of authority can be seen in an incident the Jews had with whether to observe the Passover (also know as the Pesahim) or the Sabbath when the Passover fell on the Sabbath. This is described in the Babylonian Talmud, under the Pesahim chapter six:
Our Rabbis taught: This halachah was hidden [i.e., forgotten by] the sons of Bathyra. On one occasion the fourteenth [of Nisan] fell on the Sabbath, [and] they forgot and did not know whether the Passover overrides the Sabbath or not. Said they, “Is there any man who knows whether the Passover overrides the Sabbath or not?” They were told, “There is a certain man who has come from Babylonia, Hillel the Babylonian by name, who served the two greatest men of the time, and he knows whether the Passover overrides the Sabbath or not.” [Thereupon] they summoned him [and] said to him, “Do you know whether the Passover overrides the Sabbath or not?”
Note that in the above, the people sought Hillel to solve their dilemma because Hillel has been trained by “the two greatest men of the time.” These two “greatest men of the time” were Rabbi “Shemaiah and Abtalyon.” As a result of knowing them, the people turned to Hillel for an answer. Hillel was even made into their leader: “They immediately set him at their head and appointed him Nasi [Patriarch] over them, and he was sitting and lecturing the whole day on the laws of Passover.” Hillel was able to solve the Jewish people’s dilemma by recollecting that the Passover overrides the Sabbath, and then pronouncing “Thus have I received the tradition from the mouth[s] of Shemaiah and Abtalyon.” Neusner comments of how
Hillel’s knowledge is of no consequence; all that matters is the ability to cite Shamaiah and Abtalion. But once he could do so, the opposition not merely agrees, but abdicates office and places Hillel in it instead! So Hillel owes his power to his discipleship, not to his logic. Discipleship is the key to authority, while mere ability to reason makes no difference.”
Hillel was a rabbi who in the end of his lifetime was a contemporary of Jesus’ early years. This episode from the Talmud is a window into the world of the Pharisees and their past-orientated authority.
In summary, knowing that the Pharisees was one party in the group that came to Jesus in 20:1-8, one can see Jesus’ opponents come to life from the pages of Scripture when extra Biblical primary sources are taken into consideration of situating the setting. It reveals that the Pharisees were political, polemical and past-orientated in their authority.
The Challenge of Authority
The religious leaders took the initiative by going to Jesus to question Him. Questioning authority is an aged old tactic employed against the faith, going back as far as Genesis 2 with the story of the serpent questioning Eve about the matters of what God has pronounced authoritatively.
Verse two in Luke 20 records the assembled religious leaders asking two questions: “And speaking they said to Him, ‘Say to us, by what authority these you do? Or who is the one who gave you this authority?’” The asking of double questions here is Jewish in its form.
The focus of these questions centered on Jesus’ authority. The Greek word for authority, ἐξουσία, is mentioned twice in this verse, appearing each time with each of their question. It has the idea of a given power and the prerogative to act. The use of this power is not arbitrary, and the power of ἐξουσία is assumed as being used responsibly.
While the second cleansing of the temple was the last straw that prompted the Sanhedrin to send delegates to question Jesus authority, it could not have been the only thing that they had in mind since the Greek pronoun ταῦτα is plural. Certainly, with the mention of “teaching” in both 19:47 and 20:1, the religious leaders must have had the contents of Jesus teachings in mind. But ταῦτα would have also covered more than Jesus teaching in light of the next word ποιεῖς in the text, which means “do, make.” Stein makes the observation of how the Jewish religious leaders prior to this event have questioned the authority of Jesus ministry in forgiving sins (5:24, 7:49) and healing on the Sabbath. It is best to conclude that ταῦτα concerns all of Jesus activities which the religious leaders questioned Jesus had authority to do.
According to Nolland, the two questions in verse two has no real difference other than “the former is more general, while the second becomes more precise by focusing on the issue of authorization.” But closer attention to the Greek of verse two reveals nuances between the two questions beyond just the claim that one is general and the other is specific.
The first question begins with the combination ἐν ποίᾳ, where the ἐν is understood by Bock to be used to designate a sphere or quality of Jesus authority. Drawing from this insight, Bock notes the first question is asking about the sphere of authority whereas the second question was asking about the source of authority. The presence of ποίᾳ in the first question indicated that they were asking about what kind of authority Jesus had, whether that was human, Divine, rabbinic, civil, etc. The second question was asking about a source of authority that was personal who instead of a what (τίς= “who”). Godet summarizes the differences between the two questions best, when he commented that the first question relates to the nature of Jesus commission and the second relates the immediate agent that Jesus receive His authority from. The second question anticipates Jesus reply to the first question would be “By the Messiah’s authority,” with another question that in essence asked, “Who made you the Messiah?”
What was the religious leader’s strategy in asking these two questions? Commentator Lenski writes,
the Sanhedrists had thought farther. They had also known that Jesus claim authority from God, his Father. These men expected Jesus to assert once more that such is, indeed, his authority, and they intend then to demand of Jesus the fullest proof for his having God’s authority, being prepared on their part to deny the validity of any proof Jesus might venture to offer.
What was the game plan that they might have had in denying the authenticity of Jesus authority? While Jesus in 20:1-8 derailed any planned response His opponents might have up their sleeves, it seemed that their tactics can be found with the observation that Luke distinguished three groups approaching Jesus instead of one body of official delegates of the Sanhedrin. Why the reference to this body as chief priests, scribes and elders? As noted above, some of these were Pharisees and no doubt the chief priests would have included Sadducees. This collection of different religious sects has conflicting beliefs, conflicting sources of authority and conflicting understanding of how one was authorized as a religious leader. It seems reasonable that the method in attacking Jesus authority involved having various religious groups with their various source of authority clash against any possible argument Jesus might have for his authority: “It may be that the claim of these leadership groups to be able to authorize in various ways sits in the background at this point.” The different religious leaders’ authority rests on the “purity of their birthright (in the case of the priests), in their education (in the case of the scribes), in their good fortune in having been born into Jerusalem families of high status, and above all in their proximity and relationship to the Jerusalem temple.” Asking Jesus the first question of what spheres His authority rest upon is really a sly way of confronting Jesus with the reality that He did not possess religious authority in the way that was acceptable to them. He was not born into any of the chief priest’s family, nor did He possess rabbinical training, etc. While the acceptable sphere of authority is subject to each sect’s understanding of authority, there is a sense in which these religious leaders, as part of the greater council of the Sanhedrin has seen themselves as a source of authorization for religious leadership, which again they could invoke against Jesus:
Jesus’ questioners come from the leadership groups that made up the Sanhedrin, the highest level of Jewish authority. They want to know what gives Jesus the right to teach as he is doing; he has certainly not been authorized to do so by them! If the question had been put to another, he might have been answered by giving the name of one who had been his own teacher in matters of the law.
An important observation for the Christian apologist here is that the nature of debating the question of authority is such that in attacking the authority of another, this endeavor inevitably presupposes one’s own structure of authority to begin with and as a given during the debate itself. In other words, the debate on authority is Presuppositional in character. That is, the nature of the debate is not just simply a matter of what the facts are, but it touches on the principles that control the interpretation and “construction” of facts themselves. These beliefs are so deeply entrenched in one’s worldview since they are required to make sense of the world that they are hard to give up. Any attempt to reject or modify these presuppositions will result in the individual believing them resisting strongly.
The religious leaders were not hoping to deny Jesus authority for argument sake only. According to commentator Joel Green, they were hoping to attack the authority of Jesus in front of the people, so as “to portray him as an outsider, not one to be held in high regard or trusted. Because status is a product of one’s claim to a certain position together with public affirmation of that claim, these Jerusalem leaders attempt to shame him publicly by casting doubt on his authority base.”  The religious leaders wanted to change the public opinion of the people listening to Jesus’ teaching. Questioning Jesus was the intended method in reaching that goal.
As noted above, Green has commented on the fact that the leaders wished “to shame” Jesus publicly. The status of honor was an important aspect in the back-and-forth debate that would ensue for the rest of the chapter. In the Mediterranean milieu, the embedded concept of shame and honor are equally as important as the rationality of the arguments themselves:
Yet in ordinary social interactions in the world of Luke-Acts, honor is typically acquired in the ever-present, public game of push and shove, which we call challenge and riposte. As we appreciate the agonistic quality of the culture in which the Jesus-movement group lived, we know that acquired honor derives from the ceaseless contests in which Jesus and his disciples were endlessly engaged. Those contests may be negative or positive challenges to their honored status.
Jesus’ Indirect Method
How would Jesus respond to these two questions? Before diving into Jesus response, it is essential to explore just what kind of authority Jesus possessed.
There was a sense that Jesus’ authority was self-attesting. This means that it was adequate on the basis of His word alone that what He said was true was because He said it and what He did was right because He did it and saw/said it was right. The authority of Jesus essentially was not derived authority, but an authority that was native to the person of Jesus. The words of Jesus itself were self-evidencing. In John 8:12, Jesus said to the Pharisees in the Temple, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” The Pharisees responded to this claim in the next verse saying, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true” (John 8:13). In John 8:17 Jesus acknowledged before the Pharisees that Old Testament law required the testimony of two men to establish the truth of a manner, but then in John 8:18 He counted Himself and God the Father as the two witnesses sufficient in supporting the veracity of His claim: “I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.” Jesus apparently believed He had the prerogative to testify on His own behalf, and that God the Father would be perfectly fine as the second witness while accepting Jesus Himself as one of the two witnesses. As astounding as Jesus’ claims were, the proposition looks modest in comparison with His statement in John 8:14: “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but do not know where I come from or where I am going.” Here Jesus was hinting that His words were self-evidencing because He words were that of God, a claim He made more implicit in John 8:58 which the Jews understood and attempted to stone Him because of it (John 8:59). This episode must have been in the memory of the Pharisees who were there that day and probably present in Luke 20. They were probably hoping to reignite an old debate on Jesus’ authority as self-attesting because He was God, so that it would offer the opportunity for the crowd to get excited and stone Him.
Yet what should Jesus do when there is an attack on His self-attesting authority? The religious leaders’ had their own final authority other than Jesus and this compound the problem. To add more difficulties, recall earlier the point that was made that one’s authority in one’s belief system is the least negotiable for change or rejection, and that one’s authority is assumed to be true at the outset in critiquing other’s source of authority. How does one vindicate the true final authority in such a circumstance? Are believers left only to resort to direct appeals to the authority itself to self-authenticate one’s own final authority during such debates? Does this mean that debates on authority end in a stalemate or that the task of worldview apologetics is futile? What would Jesus do?
The passage in John 8:12-18 indicates that there is nothing wrong with the direct method of appealing to one’s final authority to authenticate one’s own final authority because Jesus has done so. In fact, philosophically if the final authority is going to be the final authority, it cannot appeal to another authority outside of itself lest it forfeit its status as the final authority, and the thing to which it appeals to then become the final authority. Eventually the direct method is unavoidable for self-evidencing authority, because the authority attests to itself. Besides the direct method of asserting the self-evidencing authority of Jesus and His Word, Jesus answer to the religious leaders in verses three and four reveals an indirect method that can also be employed as well.
The Greek word ἀποκριθεὶς in the beginning of verse three indicates that what follows is a reply from Jesus. Verse three states, “But answering He said to them, ‘I also will ask you a word and you say to me.’” Here in verse three, Jesus laid down the principle of how He will ask them a question, and they shall answer Him instead. The Greek word Jesus used that has been translated “ask” or “inquire”, ἐρωτήσω, is a dignified verb. There is a sense where Jesus was trying to be as polite as possible in asking a question back to the religious leaders by using this verb. Jesus declaring that He will ask the question and they shall answer Him is reminiscent of how God responded to Job in Job 38:1 and it might be a subtle assertion of His authority even as His authority is being subversively questioned. There is no need in the task of apologetics to disavow the truth and true authority while engaging with nonbelievers, a lesson Christian apologist must take to heart.
It is important to realize that Jesus was not evading the original question posed to Him. It was appropriate for Jesus to ask the question in this context as well, since the religious leaders were teachers, and obligated to speak first. The question Jesus asked is found in verse four: “The baptism of John is it from heaven or from men?”
This question of Jesus to the leaders’ questions is known as a counter-question. This is not the first time Jesus has done so. As early as in Luke 5:23, Jesus employed this technique. Other passages where Jesus provides a counter-question in Luke include 5:34, 6:4-4, 9; 7:40-42;10:26; 11:18-19; 13:15-16; 14:3-5; 20:24. Counter-questions were apparently common practices among Rabbis. Hendriksen does add the caveat here though, that while Rabbis do use such methods, in Jesus case He is able to vanquish His opponents in ways that were generally not the case with rabbis.
The subject of Jesus’ question was on the baptism of John. The baptism of John was a way to refer to his whole message. Here one can see that Jesus was not directly addressing the question of His own authority. He makes an indirect appeal in the form of a question concerning John the Baptist.
In contrasts to the question which the religious leaders asked Jesus, here Jesus offered a multiple choice question with two possibilities. The two ἐξ of verse four denotes the origin of the authority involved in John the Baptist. There is not a third possibility here with Jesus question. The two possibilities, “from heaven” and “from men” should be understood as “from God” and “from men only.” The Greek word η is used here as a disjunctive conjunction between “from heaven” and “from men.” That is, in the context of this verse it is functioning as a way to suggest opposing alternative. In terms of logic, the two are mutually exclusive. They are truly logical contradiction. In his textbook on logic, Christian philosopher Gordon Clark explains what contradictory propositions are: “Two forms, or two propositions, are contradictory if they cannot both be false.” If the authority of John the Baptist was from God, then it cannot originate from men only. However, if it was not from God, then by necessity the authority of John the Baptist means it originated with men only. It is a situation of either/or.
Why did Jesus bring up John the Baptist when the two original questions were about the authority of Jesus? Jesus employed an “indirect” method of sorts. John the Baptist was born to prepare the way for the Lord (1:17). When people flocked to the ministry of John the Baptist they started wondering whether John was the Messiah (3:15). John the Baptist revealed that he was not the “One” but was going to point to the fact that the Messiah was coming after Him (3:16). During his baptism of Jesus, the occasion was marked by a miraculous attestation by God the Father and the descending Holy Spirit that Jesus was the beloved Son of God (3:21-22). John the Baptist then testified in John 1:29 concerning Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John the Baptist as a prophet of God would have the derived authority from God to point to Jesus. Thus, “if one were to allow that John’s message originated with God, this would be tantamount to admitting that Jesus’ ministry was itself sanctioned by God.”
By answering the religious leaders in the form of a question about John the Baptist’s authority instead of directly presenting John the Baptist as His evidence, Jesus has also moved from the defense to the offense. He has now shifted the burden of proof upon His opponents: while His question was multiple choices, an explanation for their answer would certainly be expected from these religious leaders. Again, one should not think that Jesus was avoiding an answer to their questions. It turns out that answering Jesus counter-question correctly (John the Baptist’s authority was from heaven) would have also answered the religious leaders’ question also (Jesus’ authority was from heaven because John the Baptist authoritatively testify to it).
Jesus’ question also turned the table from defense to the offense in another way. John the Baptist was already dead at this point in Luke 20, yet “even after his death John the Baptist still functions as a forerunner to Jesus.” Jesus was putting the Sanhedrin’s honor on the line when He asked them about John: They would have had plenty of time during the lifetime of John the Baptist and now in retrospect after his death to come to a conclusion about him. There is the pressure that if these religious leaders are to possess religious authority they should know what the source of John the Baptist’s authority was.
The Jewish Leader’s Dilemma
Verse five begins the Jewish leaders’ revealing discussion about the dilemma they faced from Jesus counter-question. There is an issue with understanding the meaning of the word συνελογισαντο here in verse five. It is a hapax legomenon. According to Nolland, Mussies has made a convincing argument that the range of this word means something “to reason” rather than “disputing.”
Συνελογισαντο is an ingressive aorist in this context, meaning that “They began to discuss this.” The third person plural of this verb makes it likely for this discussion to be audible among each other rather than quiet internal reflection of the individuals. It is interesting to note that the parallel account in the rest of the Synoptic Gospels uses the Greek verb διελογίζοντο instead, in Mark 11:31 and Matthew 21:25. The verb διελογίζοντο has the meaning of debate. Surely in their discussion of the possible authority behind John the Baptist, there were disagreements. Here in verses five and six, Luke takes the readers into the huddle of the religious delegates to see the challenges they now faced with Jesus question.
There are two horns to the dilemma. The first dilemma is over the possibility that John the Baptist’s authority was from heaven. Verse five states, “And they reasoned to themselves saying, ‘If we should say from heaven He will say ‘On account of this why did you not believe him?’” εὰν here in verse five indicate a conditional statement. The conditional class of this verse is a third class conditional statement, since it has a subjunctive verb in the protasis while the apodosis can be any verb in any tense or mood. Here the verb in the apodosis is an aorist indicative active. As a third class conditional sentence it is communicating a hypothetical situation. Bock commented on how the third class condition present the “ifs” without any indication of preference, almost as if they were saying “If, and we are not saying we will or will not reply this way…”
In Luke 7:38, Jesus mentioned that the Jewish leaders, specifically the Pharisees, have rejected God when they rejected John’s baptism of repentance. If somehow they were to answer (contrary to their true conviction) that John the Baptist’s authority was from heaven then they would be caught in a catch-22 with Jesus demanding the reason (διὰ τί) from them of why they did not “believed in him” (ἐπιστεύσατε αὐτῷ). Regarding the pronoun αὐτῷ, the antecedent here is referring to John the Baptist, though the nearest antecedent is Jesus as the one who is speaking, but as the one who is speaking these words it makes better sense that the third person singular pronoun is a reference to John. They saw the obvious logical consequence of claiming John’s source of authority to be from heaven, and what it means concerning John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus. This was not the direction that the religious leaders wanted. The choice of John the Baptist’s heavenly authority was not an option because they were already committed ahead time to the presupposition that Jesus was not to be believed. Their presupposition about Jesus ruled out the first option, and the only logical possibility for them is to believe the second option.
The second option was what the leaders really believed. Verse six states, “But if we should say from men all the people will stone us for they have believed John to be a prophet.” The phrase ο λαος απας (“all the people”) was first introduced in Luke 19:49 and here it appears again. There is an irony in mentioning the same “all the people” who were taught by Jesus in 19:49, and whom the leaders in 20:1-8 attempted to get to stone Jesus by forcing Him to say the same thing as He did in John 8 during His defense of His authority by claiming He was God. The irony is that their attempt to destroy Jesus might possibly backfire against them because of the question that Jesus asked. Luke’s account is the only one which provided the details that the religious leaders feared all the people stoning them because of what their answer would be. The danger was real, since the New Testament record spontaneous stoning (or attempted stoning) taking place by angry mobs in Acts 5:26, 7:54-60 and John 10:31-33. In light of these passages, it is best to understand the Jewish leader’s dilemma of being stone literally rather than a hyperbole. It was enough to push them away from publicly confessing this option.
The answer that the religious leaders finally gave is recorded in verse seven: “And they answered, ‘Unable to know that.’” The dilemma that Jesus counter-question posed was too much, and they took the route of pleading ignorance. In the end, “political expediency demanded that they should utter neither of the answers that Jesus’ question allowed.”
There is of course, the issue of whether the leaders were sincere in their ignorance. Stein comments, “Even if their claim of ignorance were sincere, this would indicate that they, the religious leadership of Israel, were incompetent to decide such a basic religious issue as whether a man was truly a prophet.”
There’s a sense here that Jesus by means of His counter-question has reduced their objection to His authority to the point of absurdity. His counter-question had led the religious leaders to admit the rational incompetence of their own religious epistemology to figure out the status of one claiming to be a prophet. A prophet like John the Baptist would be a minor religious figure compared to the Messiah that John the Baptist was supposed to point towards. If these religious leaders were unable to come to a public conclusion of whether or not John the Baptist was a prophet, what would make them trustworthy in their discernment of the Messiah? Jesus counter-question here packs a punch—a punch at the very authority of his opponents, opening the door for the leaders to be mocked by the crowd. It was after all, their supreme duty to know the answer and confess it and here their answer is shamefully pitiful.
It is important to see the dilemma faced by the religious leaders were the result of certain commitments and presuppositions that Jesus counter-question called attention to. Van Til used the term “reasoning by presupposition” more frequently than he did the term “Transcendental Argument,” though the two were the synonymous. He writes, “The method of reasoning by presupposition may be said to be indirect rather than direct.” William Edgar provides a brief commentary of what this “indirect” manner means for a Van Tillian apologist: “This distinction simply means that an apologist cannot appeal to supposedly neutral facts directly. All facts are preinterpreted, either truly, or falsely. The apologist must first discover by what set of rules the interlocutor is construing the facts, and challenge these rules.” Jesus counter-question can be seen as an example of “reasoning by presuppositions.” While Jesus in 20:1-8 did not flushed out a fully orbed Transcendental Argument for His authority, readers should note that Jesus took the steps towards that direction in His counter-question (1) by not directly appealing to supposedly neutral facts, (2) His presentation of the evidence (“the baptism of John…”) in a manner that probed the opponents’ presupposition governing the conclusion of John’s authority (ie., the controlling belief that “Jesus cannot be believed”) and (3) Jesus also managed to challenged the leaders’ false conclusion of the evidence (“John the Baptist’s authority came from man”) to the point that they resort to agnosticism concerning the source of John the Baptist’s authority. This claim of ignorance on the part of the religious leaders was no honorable retreat, since it was the undercutting defeater to their own authority as discussed earlier. Jesus has also framed His multiple choice question in such a way that it involves true contradictories (where one of the pair of propositions must be true only if the other is false, and both cannot be false), which are the necessary logical relationships between competing claims for Van Til’s famous argument “from the impossibility of the contrary” to work. Jesus could have argued from the “impossibility of the contrary” after His counter-question if He wanted to. But instead Jesus took another direction in this debate on authority, after the leaders’ confessed ignorance of the source of John’s baptism.
Presuppositions and Whether to Answer or Not
Jesus response to the leader’s professed ignorance is found in verse eight: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I say to you by what authority this I do.’” Jesus response to them was simply a statement that He will not answer their questions. Why did Jesus choose not to answer?
Proverbs 26:4-5 states, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you wil also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he will not be wise in his own eyes.” Greg Bahnsen has cited the need for the Christian apologist to practice Proverbs 26:4-5: “In Proverbs 26:4-5 we are instructed as to how we should answer the foolish unbeliever—how we should demonstrate that God makes foolish the so called ‘wisdom’ of this world.” It is not easy at times to know what the application of this principle looks like in actual practices of apologetics. Here in Luke 20, the apologist can sees a concrete example of Jesus applying Proverbs 9:7-8 in apologetics.
Verse 8 is a demonstration of how not to answer a fool lest one becomes a fool like them. It is crucial to remember that the correct answer to Jesus’ counter-question was the key to the answer of the leaders’ double questions. If they had a correct understanding of the origin of John the Baptist’s authority, it would have testified to Jesus authority. Since they refused to come to the right conclusion on John the Baptist and proceeded to professed ignorance, there was no need for Jesus to go ahead with a positive presentation of evidence(s) since they have rejected ahead of time that the truth of the evidence(s) will not follow. Theirs was a culpable ignorance. Jesus was not going to go down the path of “naïve evidentialism” if their philosophy of facts ahead of time has falsely ruled out the evidences. A Christian apologist must also never become a fool themselves by disavowing the truth and compromise with the authority of God’s revealed Word, just as Jesus never abandoned His final authority in the task of apologetics but even subtly hints at it, as mentioned earlier in this chapter. To compromise with this when answering a fool is to forget that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), thereby becoming like one of them.
How has Jesus in Luke 20:1-8 demonstrate how to answer a fool, so they don’t think they are wise? The Christian apologists should learn that it is appropriate at times to answer a critic’s question/objection with a counter-question. They should explore the presuppositions operating in their opponent’s worldview and then challenging it.
One must also not forget that there is an audience of our apologetics that goes beyond the immediate opponent. There are people who are watching, listening and observing our defense of the faith, sometimes without our knowing. The people, though in the backdrop of this story, are ever important characters in this particular narrative. The Greek word for people, λαὸς, is significant enough in Luke’s eyes to have been mentioned three times between 19:48-20:8. At a superficial reading, one may asks why Jesus did not present a positive evidential case for His authority publicly in 20:1-8 despite the leaders’ rejection of the truth, for the importance of the people and their salvation demanded it. Bock’s comments solves this dilemma, “For those aware of John’s ministry, the first round of the theological battle goes to Jesus.”
Luke 20:1-8 is a treasure trove of exegetical insights confirming several important methods of Presuppositionalism when debating the issue of authority. Of course, the believers do not possess intrinsic authority like Jesus did, but the manner that Jesus defended His authority does apply to the Christian’s defense of God’s final authority revealed in the Bible. In terms of its implication towards a Van Tillian apologetics, Luke 20:1-8 gives insight concerning the following areas:
- The inter-relationship of evangelism and apologetics.
- The Christian presupposing and affirming God’s and Christ’s authority even when it is being questioned or the subject of debate.
- The legitimacy of the Christian apologist to ask counter-questions.
- The presentation of evidence in an indirect fashion over against a direct presentation appealing to the neutrality of facts.
- Exposing the nonbeliever’s presuppositions.
- The need to challenge the nonbeliever’s false conclusion.
- Reducing the nonbeliever’s position to the point of absurdity.
- Presenting evidence presuppositionally.
 Craig Evans, Luke, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 297.
 All subsequent translation for Luke chapter twenty is my own translation. Citation of other verses will be from the New American Standard Bible.
 Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 2: 9:51-24:53, BECNT, 12 vols., edited by Moises Silva, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996) ,1584.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 625.
 William Hendriksen, Luke, New Testament Commentary, 12 vols., edited by William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978) ,887.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1584.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 646.
 I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke. The New International Greek Testament Commentary, edited by Donald A. Hagner and I. Howard Marshall, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 724.
 John Nolland, Luke, World Biblical Commmentary (Dallas, Texas: Word Books Publishers, 1993), 943.
 Evans, Luke, 297.
 Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commmentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 487.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1584.
 Hendriksen, Luke, 888.
 John Lightfoot, Luke-John, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew-1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1979), 196.
 Hendriksen, Luke, 888.
 Lightfoot, Luke-John, 196.
 Joachim Jeremias, “γραμματεύς” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., ed. by Gerhard Kittel translated by Geoffrey Bromiley, 1:740-742. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 740.
 Hendriksen, Luke, 888.
 Stein, Luke, 488.
 Hendriksen, Luke, 887.
 Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels with Explanations and Essays, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978), 186.
 Jacob Neusner, From Politics to Piety: The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism, (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003), 48.
 Josephus, Life against Apion, translated by H. St. j. Thackeray (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926), 75.
 Bathyra was a town near Jerusalem.
 Pesahim 66a, quoted from Pesahim: Translated into English with Notes, Glossary and Indices, The Babylonian Talmud, translated by I. Epstein (London: Soncino Press, 1939), 333-334.
 Ibid., 335.
 Ibid., 334-335.
 Neusner, From Politics to Piety, 31.
 Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 724.
 Werner Foerster, “ἐξουσία” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., ed. by Gerhard Kittel translated by Geoffrey Bromiley, 2:562-574. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 568.
 Ibid, 570.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1585.
 Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke. The International Critical Commentary, edited by Alfred Plummer, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Briggs, (Edinburgh, UK: T&T Clark, 1975), 456.
 Stein, Luke, 488.
 Nolland, Luke, 943.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1585.
 Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke, 456.
 Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on Luke, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1981), 431.
 Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke, 456.
 R.C.H Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, (Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1946), 973.
 Nolland, Luke, 943.
 Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 18 vols., edited by Gordon Fee, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 696.
 Nolland, Luke, 944.
 Green, The Gospel of Luke, 696.
 The principle of shame and dishonor is important in the next section 2:9-19, and without this prior understanding the parable of the wicked tenets would be unintelligible.
 Bruce J. Malina and Jerome H. Neyrey, “Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts: Pivotal Values of the Mediterranean World,” in Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation, edited by Jerome H. Neyrey (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Incorporated, 1991), 49.
 The thought of exciting the crowd to spontaneously stone Jesus must have been fresh in their minds as they confronted Jesus, which explains why in verse six they suddenly thought the crowd might stone them for their answer.
 Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 724.
 Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, 974.
 Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, edited by N. B. Stonehouse, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954) ,496.
 Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke, 456.
 Stein, Luke, 177.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1586.
 Hendriksen, Luke, 889.
 Green, The Gospel of Luke, 701.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1586.
 Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, 974.
 Stein, Luke, 488.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 672.
 There are at times people popularly confuse contraries with contradictions, when the two are different.
 Gordon Clark, Logic, (Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), 43.
 Green, The Gospel of Luke, 701.
 Ibid, 696.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1586.
 Ibid., 1587.
 Nolland, Luke, 943.
 Stein, Luke, 488.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina, 18 vol., edited by Daniel J. Harrington, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991) ,304.
 Wallace, Greek Grammar, 696-697.
 Ibid., 696.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1587.
 Stein, Luke, 488.
 Remember this is so, since the two claim are true contradictories where one is either true and the other necessarily false.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1587.
 Ibid, 1588.
 Stein, Luke, 488.
 Nolland, Luke, 945.
 Stein, Luke, 488.
 Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, 975.
 Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 129.
 Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, (Nacogdoches, Texas: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 61.
 Christians ought to be aware of the category of culpable and non-culpable ignorance. If a man was ignorant of the name or the wedding anniversary of a stranger in the bus stop, he would not be held responsible for his ignorance. However, if the man has forgotten his wife’s name and was ignorant of their wedding anniversary, he is culpable for that ignorance because he should have known. He is culpable because he was obligated to know these facts. Similarly, the religious leaders who approached Jesus should have known the source of John the Baptist’s authority, and they are culpable for claiming to be ignorant.
 Bock, Luke Volume 2, 1588.
 The subject of how to give evidence within a Van Tillian framework is an area that many presuppositionalists admit needs to be done. One attempt at the solution can be found at: Jimmy Li, “A Proposal on the Occasion and the Method of Presenting Evidence within a Van Tillian Framework”, Reformed Perspective Magazine 12, no. 9 (February 28th, 2010 to March 6th, 2010). It seems that Luke 20:1-8 is a confirmation of the point made in the article that when an opponent’s philosophy of evidence has rejected the possibility of the evidence beforehand, it’s best not to provide a positive presentation of the evidence.