John 7:15 & John 9 — “How knoweth this man letters.” John uses his wit, education, and testimony to poke fun at Jesus’s detractors — LeGrand Baker and Chauncey C. Riddle

15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?

Simple translation: How could he possibly know the scriptures when WE have not taught him.

Later, they would issue this challenge to some officers who were sent to arrest Jesus.

45 Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him?
46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?
49 But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.

Then Nicodemus sought to defend them, but was countered with name-calling and an argument that had nothing to do with what Jesus was teaching.

50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,)
51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?
52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.
53 And every man went unto his own house (John 7:45-52).

The Pharisees’s arguments against Jesus are a catalog of logical fallacies. These learned men were trapped by the arrogance of their already knowing, and the superiority of their education. John persists in drawing attention to those fallacies by giving us the dialog between these scriptural experts and an unlearned blind man and his parents. The Pharisees “win” the argument, but only when they cannot match his simple logic, so they “cast him out.”

When I was a student at BYU, I took some classes from Professor Chauncey C. Riddle. {1} One of those classes was an “Introduction to Logic.” That was a pivotal experience in my life. From Chauncey I learned how to Think. After I came back to BYU as a member of the faculty, I worked with him in both professional and church assignments. One of the great blessings of my life is that we became friends.

With the background of his logic class I took years ago, I read John 7 and 9 with great delight. I realize that John was using the Pharisees’s own arguments to show both the weakness and the absurdity of their claims against Jesus. However, even though I was able to recognized the fallacies in their logic, I did not remember the names philosophers have given to those fallacies. So I did what any fumbling student would do: I called my teacher and asked for help. He has been retired for a long time, and now is a sealer in the Provo Temple. He responded to my request with characteristic modesty.

LeGrand:
I am too rusty to trust my judgment on these questions. But here is what I think:
7:15 lack of credential (no formal training=lack of ability)
7:48 appeal to authority (only our sources are valid)
7:52 appeal to lack of evidence (only our evidence counts)
9:16 He doesn’t play by our rules
9:21 not a fallacy
9:24 ad hominem (attacking the person instead of his ideas)
9:28 false claim: they are Moses’ interpreters, not his disciples
9:29 lack of credential
9:34 ad hominem

Now we know what to call them, lets enjoy the story as I believe John intended us to enjoy it. I will begin with the three fallacies I have already mentioned.

7:15 And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?

7:15 lack of credential (no formal training=lack of ability)

7:48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?

7:48 appeal to authority (only our sources are valid)

7:52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.

7:52 appeal to lack of evidence (only our evidence counts)

In chapter 9, John introduces us to a blind man who is assailed by all the pomp, educated sophistication, and authority the Pharisees can muster. He and his parents respond with simple truth and testimony.

1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
8 The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?
9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.
10 Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?
11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.
12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.
13 They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.
14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.
15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.
16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day.

9:16 He doesn’t play by our rules

16b Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.
19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?
20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:
21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.

9:21 not a fallacy.

In its simplicity, this statement is a magnificent contrast to the arguments the Pharisees are using. As one reads this story, one gets the impression that John is almost teasing the Pharisees with their own show of arrogance.

22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.
24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.

9:24 ad hominem (attacking the person instead of his ideas)

25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
26 Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?
27 He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?
28 Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples.

9:28 false claim: they are Moses’ interpreters, not his disciples.

Had the Pharisees truly been disciples of Christ, they would have heeded the admonition to love God with all of our heart, soul and might. (Deuteronomy 6:5) Instead, they taught that it was their (the Pharisees’) interpretation of Moses that should take first precedence in the lives of the “ordinary” people. CCR

29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.

9:29 lack of credential

30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.
31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?

9:34 ad hominem

And they cast him out.

9:34 This comment shows that what they really were after was power over the people. Because Joshua of Nazareth (Jesus, in Greek) threatened their position of power, they took great lengths to protect their monopoly on interpreting the scriptures and wielding control over the people. CCR

Some people who have authority believe it gives them a monopoly on truth. This belief is a dangerous two edged sword. Not only does it give them a presumed licence to judge others as inferior to themselves, it also clouds their ability to learn from those “inferior” people. It distorts their own sense of Self. Seeing themselves as the ultimate academic and/or spiritual authority, they spend their energy cultivating the perfection of thir illusion, rather than trying to perfect their reality—leaving their reality to actually diminish in the presence of the growing illusion. Their pride is a smoke screen—a facade behind which they hide themSelves, and they distort their sense of Self by doing homage to that facade.

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth (John 9:1-41)

Jesus could have put all of the haughtiness to rest if they had listened when he said,

Judge not according to your traditions, but judge righteous judgment (JST John 7:24).

————————
FOOTNOTE

{1} Professor Riddle’s writings can be found on his website: “Chauncey Riddle, The Life’s work of a Latter-day Philosopher,” address: chaunceyriddle.com

His book, Think Independently (Provo, Utah, Rescate Publishing, 2009), can be purchased on Amazon.com

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