"If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:46-47)
Testimony is foundational to Christianity, and for our own faith in Christ. Much of what we hold true in life is not the result of our own direct experience, but is believed upon the testimony of others. Very few of us have been to the moon -- or witnessed historical events or peered through a microscope at molecules or heard Lincoln speak the Gettysburg address -- but we believe what others have said or observed or wrote down for us. We believe the testimony of those whom we deem credible. We consider them authoritative. Our very court system is built upon the necessity of having credible witnesses to testify to the truth.
The witnesses. In the latter part of John chapter five, our Lord Jesus appeals to witnesses in support of his identity as the Son of God. He could have begun with the testimony of creation and providence as evidence for God's existence and care (Psalm 19; Acts 14:17), but this testimony his hearers already accepted. Here Jesus names as witnesses the following: his Father (5:32, 37, 43), John the Baptist (5:33-35), Jesus' own works (5:36), the Scriptures (5:39), and specifically, Moses (5:45-47). Later on, Jesus will include the testimony of the Holy Spirit (Jn 15:26) and of the Apostles (15:27), which by extension includes the ongoing testimony of the church.
These are arresting words from Jesus: "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? ... If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (Jn 5:44, 46-47) "How can you believe... how will you believe?" highlights their inability to see and trust Jesus for who he is. The authorities they accepted, that they gloried in, were mainly themselves. They received validation from one another, and this is how they justified what they believed. They did not give proper weight to Scripture, to John the Baptist, and to Christ's miracles and works. As long as they discounted these witnesses, they simply would not come to Jesus as Lord.
This is the point our Lord is making: as long as people receive glory from one another -- seeking validation and defining truth in light of mere human opinion -- they simply will not come to faith in Jesus, because their faith rests elsewhere. If they do not accept Moses and the Old Testament as authoritative, they will not believe, or are not believing, in the historical, true, and living Lord Jesus.
This helps explain the ongoing influence of Antisemitism. "Then what advantage has the Jew? ... To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God" (Rom 3:1-2). The term "Judeo-Christian" holds an important truth: the Old Testament and the New Testament go together. If you can destroy or rewrite or revise or destroy or bury the testimony of the Jewish Scriptures then you have gone a long way toward denying biblical Christianity. You open the door for a revision of the identity of Jesus, for example, making him to be a Gnostic mystic or Stoic philosopher, instead of the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
This is a very real reason we should never unhitch the gospel from, or apologize for, the Old Testament. There is a progress of revelation in them, to be sure, and there is a growing clarity of God's purposes in the NT. Some specific practices and customs are discontinued, but all of them had a divine purpose. Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matt 5:17-18). It should never be our goal to disconnect the gospel from its witnesses, or to make the gospel simpler or easier than God himself has declared it to be.
Note, however, we do not believe God's witness in a merely mental way, we must still come to Jesus for life. We need to personally receive him and trust who he is and what he says. He said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (Jn 5:39-40). Nevertheless, faith in Christ is founded upon the testimony of Scripture.
So, where does ultimate authority lie? Is it, "scientists say..., government officials say..., my friends say..., this famous person says..., this religious leader says..., the polls say..., Google says..." All of these may have some role in our lives, but our eternal hope does not rest upon any of them. Ultimately we must ask, whose testimony will I trust? Have you trusted the testimony of the Scriptures?
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.