Do John 5:31 and John 8:14 contradict each other?


by Shawn Brasseaux

The Lord Jesus said, “If I bear record of myself, my witness is not true” (John 5:31). Later, He said, “Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true” (John 8:14). These two verses have been known to appear on just about any and every list of Bible “mistakes.” Scoffers and skeptics take great delight in parading two of the handful of verses they actually know! Is there a contradiction between these two verses? It will be a greater delight to let the Bible answer its critics. We just have to look at the Bible for ourselves.

“At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deuteronomy 17:6). In the Mosaic Law system, in order to determine a person worthy of death, two or three independent witnesses were needed. That is, a single witness was not enough to carry out the death penalty. The reason being that the testimony of one person may or may not be true. Having a second person, or even a third person, to bear witness of events is more advantageous because lies can be manifested and the truth can be established more confidently. Any honest distorted/hazy perception of one witness can be corrected by the other parties’ testimonies.

We can now proceed to letting the Bible answer this “contradiction” charge.

JOHN 5:31

When Jesus said in John 5:31, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true,” He was reminding the Jews of Moses’ words quoted above. Jesus did not simply want them to take His word for it. For all they knew, Him simply saying, “I am Messiah,” was a lie. (Note at Christ’s crucifixion, “Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews” [John 19:21]). They wanted to say Jesus was a “self-professed Messiah,” someone who had no validation apart from His own testimony. The Lord Jesus wanted Israel to see that He was Messiah, not merely because He claimed that He was, but because John the Baptist was another witness of that reality. John had water baptized Jesus and they had both heard the voice of Father God from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). We read in John 1:31 that John the Baptist’s water baptism identified Jesus as Messiah for all of Israel to see: “And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.” You may also cross-reference that with John 1:1-30.

However, John the Baptist was only one witness. John 5:36 says that Jesus had “greater witness than that of John.” It was the works that Jesus did, the works that His Heavenly Father had given Him to finish, they also demonstrated who He was (see Isaiah 35:3-6, for example, or Isaiah 61:1-2). “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.”

Additionally, the writings of Moses verified Jesus as Christ. The Jews had such great respect for Moses and the Law, supposedly, and yet they were totally unaware that Moses had predicted Jesus Christ in the various elements of that Law system they worshipped! Note the words of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in John 5:39-47: “[39] Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. [40] And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. [41] I receive not honour from men. [42] But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. [43] I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. [44] How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? [45] Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. [46] For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. [47] But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”

The Lord Jesus sternly rebuked Israel, especially her religious leaders, for being ever so ignorant of the Scriptures they professed to honor and know. (What would He say about the so-called “Christian church” today?) Had Israel really believed Moses, they would have believed Jesus Christ, for Moses wrote of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecies contained in the writings of Moses. Had Israel really paid attention to and believed the writings of Moses that they read every Sabbath day in their synagogues (cf. Acts 13:15; Acts 15:21), they would have recognized and accepted Jesus as their Messiah!

JOHN 8:14

When Jesus said in John 8:14, “though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true,” this in no way contradicts His previous words (John 5:31). As we mentioned earlier, one witness was not enough to bear testimony of the truth under the Mosaic Law economy. Still, this is not to say that the one witness was necessarily lying. For example, if you witnessed a struggle and saw someone being murdered, and then you saw the victim before dying kill his or her murderer, you would be the only living witness to those events. If you sat in a court of law and reported what you had seen, would you be telling the truth? Sure, but there is no other living person to corroborate your story. You would need other evidence—fingerprints, murder weapon, surveillance footage, et cetera. With or without that physical proof, your spoken testimony would be true, but your audience would have no way of knowing with absolute certainty the reliability or faultiness of your claims. That external, independent proof would strengthen your claims. So, whether or not Jesus had the witnesses (see previous section), His testimony was still reality. He was still who He said He was—the Son of the living God, Israel’s King and Messiah!

See John 8:14-20: “[14] Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true; for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. [15] Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. [16] And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me. [17] It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. [18] I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me. [19] Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also. [20] These words spake Jesus in the treasury, as he taught in the temple: and no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.”

The Lord Jesus said in John 8:24, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” Ultimately, it was up to them to believe on Him as Messiah-King. His words and deeds fit Moses and the other prophets of old. They were to decide for themselves whether He was whom they and their patriarchs had long waited for. If they wanted to die in their sins and go to hell, He would not stop them. He was the only Way to eternal salvation, but He would not force Himself on them!

Also see:
» Why does Acts 2:35 use “foes” but Psalm 110:1 use “enemies?”
» What about Romans 10:9-10?
» Does Hebrews 10:25 really teach we must attend church?