• Steve Derenge

Fallacious Reasoning of the Pharisee


“When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ 41 Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, ‘Why did you not bring him?’ 46 The officers answered, ‘No one ever spoke like this man!’ 47 The Pharisees answered them, ‘Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’ 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’ 52 They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’” (John 7:40-52 ESV)

What logical fallacies from the religious leaders can you identify in that passage?

Interestingly, some confusion about Jesus was due to inadequate information about him. In vs. 41-43, such confusion would have been cleared up if they understood how although Jesus grew up in Galilee, he was originally born in Bethlehem. Thus he was from both places. For example, this summer a co-worker told me that he was from Bhutan. Later, when I heard him speaking Nepali and he told me that he grew up in Nepal, I was confused and wondered if he lied to me. A month later, I talked to another Nepalese co-worker who said he was born in Bhutan. Then the lights clicked on and I realized how my two co-workers were both from Bhutan and Nepal, since they were born in one country but later migrated and grew up in another. The same can be said of Jesus in regards to Bethlehem and Galilee.

The point here is that sometimes we assume things about people that are unclear or incorrect until more research or adequate information is given for our understanding. As happened to Jesus, we might assume that a minister is a heretic or teaches a particular doctrine based upon rumors we hear from our faith community rather than upon actual research from primary sources. Or we might be so dependent on a minister for spiritual nutrition that we don’t obey Jesus’ instruction to be taught by the Holy Spirit guiding us through the Word of God. c.f . Matthew 23:1-12; John 14:12-26; 15:26-16:15; 1 John 2:20-27. We should be under the authority of shepherds in the context of a local church, but their job is to feed the lambs through teaching the word of God. If they fail to guide us toward increasingly getting to know the Holy Spirit as our Counselor, Teacher, and Helper, then idolatry may occur as the ministers take the place that God is meant to take.

“Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’” (vs. 50-51). One would like to think that the religious leaders would applaud such an intelligent and fair question as the one asked by Nicodemus. But how did they reply? “They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’” (vs. 52)

They commit the ad hominem fallacy. They basically name-call or brand Nicodemus as a “Galilean,” discrediting his question altogether on the basis of a perceived character flaw in Nicodemus rather than on the merits of his question. They likewise commit the genetic fallacy by discrediting Jesus’ message on the basis of his perceived origin (1). Likewise interesting are their words “Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” They presume that they are wise, intellectual, and well-read with all the information they need to arrive at the correct conclusion. It is as if they are saying, “Well, Nicodemus, if you did your research like we did, you would conclude that Jesus is a prosperity-gospel heretic who casts out demons and heals the sick by satanic power.” Ironically, it was Nicodemus who met with Jesus at night in John 3 to do his own research.

Nicodemus’ open-mindedness is likewise expressed in his attitude when he met with Jesus: “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:2 ESV). The other Pharisees were close-minded to the possibility that Jesus was from God and thus had to explain away Jesus’ miracles by attributing them to satan’s power. c.f. Matthew 12:22ff.

Their foolish pride is likewise expressed in their condescending, critical attitude: “The Pharisees answered them, ‘Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’” (John 7:47-49 ESV). The discipleship know-it-alls of their day, the religious leaders were jealous of their “competition.” Ironically, it was they who were deceived by demonic spirits of jealousy and religion. C.f. 2 Chronicles 18:18-22; Jeremiah 23; Mark 3:1-6; Matthew 3:7f; 23:33. Their human wisdom was in reality foolish, as evidenced by the logical fallacies they committed. c.f. 1 Corinthians 1:18ff; 2 Corinthians 10:4-6. 

Application: Get to know the Holy Spirit as your Teacher. Only then, by the Word of God abiding in us, will we not be tossed here and there by every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. c.f. John 15; Ephesians 4. If a minister of the gospel is taken captive by a lying spirit, we will be in a place to discern it and respond as the Holy Spirit directs according to the Word of God. 

  1. According to RationalWiki.org, “A genetic fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when a claim is accepted or rejected based on the source of the evidence, rather than on the quality or applicability of the evidence.” [Found by Google search].



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