The “I Don’t Know” Defense

question-markThe Gospel of Mark presents us with a very instructive record of an exchange that took place between our Lord Jesus and His enemies. These men questioned the authority of Christ to “do these things,”1 which is not here defined clearly but Matthew’s account tells us that He was “teaching” in the Temple2 and Luke states that He was also “preaching the Gospel,”3 Thus, the enemies of our Lord were demanding that He reveal to them the source of His authority to teach and preach. More specifically, they were demanding that He reveal to them the source of His authority to teach and to teach what He was teaching. Christ refuted the errors of His enemies in numerous places, asserting in their place the Truth of His Divine Word. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord declares “You have heard it said…,” introducing thereby the opinions of the false teachers of His day, and goes on to say “…But I say unto you…” indicating His superior authority to correct all of the teachers who were in His presence, as well as those whom they taught and those who taught them! From where does this Man derive His authority?

In short, Christ did not, properly speaking, derive His authority from anyone but Himself. Christ is God; therefore, He, as the Perfect Author of His own Word, knows what His own Word means. “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”4 Christ teaches authoritatively because He possesses all authority in heaven and in earth; and the substance of His teaching is true because He is True. It is a simple response, but it is nonetheless the case. Note that our Lord’s response answers their question and exposes their hypocrisy. In response to their question He replies:

I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”5

In addition to the fact that their answers will produce rather undesirable effects for Christ’s enemies, what is implicit to this question is a questioning of their very ability to demand that Christ tell them the source of His authority. For if the Pharisees & Co. were unable to judge whether or not the baptism of John was from heaven or from men, then on what basis do they assume that they have the capacity to judge whether or not Jesus’ testimony about Himself is true or false. John the Baptist clearly identified himself as one who had been sent by God;6 therefore, if they did not accept his testimony, then they believed his baptism was from men. On the other hand, if they did not contradict his own testimony about himself, then why would they not accept his testimony regarding Christ, for whose purpose God had sent John to baptize in the wilderness? In other words, if the Pharisees reject John’s baptism as being merely from man, then their rejection of Christ is a natural consequence of that. However, if they accepted John’s baptism, then should they not also accept John’s message about Jesus?

Thus, their refusal to answer, couched in the form of theological agnosticism, is nothing more than an attempt to slip out of the iron grip of the logical consequences of their admission to either of the options that Christ places before them. But now note the irrationality that they exhibit: They reject Christ’s attestation to His own authority and then ask Him to explain the source of the authority He wields. How can they reject His own claims about Himself and yet claim to be without knowledge? Their question already assumes that Christ’s Words are not true; therefore, their question assumes knowledge that shows that Christ is not whom He claims to be. This means that they are not theologically agnostic about who Christ is: They know what He claims about Himself and, well, they reject it. Likewise, although the Spirit of God was speaking through the prophet John the Baptist, the Pharisees rejected the Word of God and questioned the authority of John.7

-h.

1Mark 11:28

2cf. Matt 21:23

3cf. Luke 20:

41st Cor 2:11

5Mark 11:29-30

6cf. John 1:33-34

7cf. John 1:19

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