"Abraham is our father," they answered. "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father." (John 8:39-41)
Are they really arguing over whether Abraham is their father?Actually, they were referring to Abraham as their lord, not father. It would be silly for them to have been arguing that Abraham was their father. Abraham lived over a thousand years before they were born. Obviously, Abraham wasn't their father.
Oh, but were they using this phrase metaphorically - as if Abraham was the father of their religion? Like a patriarch? This is contradicted by the back and forth between them. Why would they necessarily do what Abraham did if they were the children of Abraham's body?
This supposedly metaphorical reference to father is actually a mistranslation.*
Here the Greek word πατήρ (patēr) is being comparatively used by both the Pharisees and Jesus. According to the Greek lexicon, πατήρ (patēr) can refer to one's direct physical father, an ancestor, a guide or spiritual leader, or the Supreme Being, depending upon its context.
The Pharisees are referring to Abraham as their spiritual leader - not their father as we find in this NIV translation.* In other words, a better translation* would be, "if you were Abraham's followers ..."*
This is the context in which Jesus can say that if they were Abraham's followers, they would do what Abraham did. This is what a follower does: A follower follows in the footsteps of the person they follow.
Jesus is criticizing that position because if the Pharisees were following Abraham, they would be following Abraham’s example. In this case, Jesus clarifies, they would not be persecuting Jesus. Instead, Jesus says the Pharisees are following the ways of their physical fathers, rather than their supposed spiritual leader, Abraham.
If they were following Abraham as their spiritual leader, Jesus indicates, they would follow Abraham's example.
Indeed, we find sectarian translators have doubled down on this notion that the discussion is about children and fathers. In John 8:41, for example, we find the following translation of the Pharisees' statement:
"We are not illegitimate children." (John 8:41)
But here again, we find a gross mistranslation. What does "illegitimate children" have to do with their relationship with Abraham and God? There is no relationship in this context.
Actually, the Greek word translated to "illegitimate children" here is πορνεία (porneia). This word can mean "adultery" or "homosexuality" if used literally. But when used metaphorically, in this context, it means, "of the defilement of idolatry."
This means that the more appropriate translation would relate to their not saying that they worshipped idols - thinking that Jesus is accusing them of idol worship because they honored Abraham.
This interpretation makes sense because after that they say:
"The only Father [Lord] we have is God Himself." (John 8:41)
What did Abraham do?
"Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the Name of the LORD, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time." (Gen. 21:33-34)What does it mean to "call upon the name of the LORD"? It means to praise God's Holy Names, in song or prayer or otherwise. While the praising of God's Holy Names is professed throughout the scriptures, Biblical scholars tend to overlook the importance of this practice. Why? Because they also have not followed Abraham's example. Yet this was the central element of Abraham's life. He was focused on his relationship with God. He praised God's Holy Names. He loved God and he served God.
Next, Jesus describes himself as "a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God" in relation to Abraham. What does this say? This indicates that Jesus is doing what is pleasing to Abraham. He is speaking about God. He is praising God. He is trying to help people remember and focus on God.
Why were they 'determined to kill' Jesus?It is interesting that Jesus says that the Pharisees are "determined to kill me." This indicates very clearly that the Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus. Why did they feel threatened? Because Jesus was speaking the Truth about God. In contrast, the intent of the Pharisees was to use God (and His representatives like Abraham) to maintain their power and positions of authority.
This is because Jesus had real power and authority. His authority, as he indicates clearly, was not his own, but came from God. "The truth that I heard from God" is a clear statement. It does not indicate that Jesus was God. It clearly indicates that Jesus was God's representative.
Anyone who delivers a message they have heard from someone else is a messenger. Because they are speaking the words of someone else, they are the messenger and thus the representative of that person. Jesus was clearly God's messenger and representative. From his own words, we can know this. And what was Jesus' "first and greatest" instruction?
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)
*Here is the translation of these verses according to the Lost Gospels of Jesus:
They replied to him, saying, “Abraham is our lord.” And he replied, “If you are Abraham’s followers, then you should serve Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill me – a man who has spoken the Truth to you, which I have heard from God. Abraham would not do such things. You are serving your own lord.” (John 8:39-41)