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Were the Pharisees being sarcastic in John 7:52, when they claimed that "no prophet ever came out of Galilee"? It is written that Jonah came from Gath-hepher, in Galilee (2 Kings 14:25).

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That's a good question. I didn't realize that Jonah was also from Galilee. Best guess it was just prejudice against Galileans. Kind of like how people use the bible to support racism. – crownjewel82 Sep 12 '13 at 14:27
Or was Jonah a false prophet? His prophecy, after all, was not fulfilled. – Bruce Alderman Sep 4 '15 at 19:33
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Many commentators have enjoyed pointing out the Pharisees' mistake, which is just one of several errors they make in this chapter.

A "pure" sarcasm would mean that the Pharisees considered Galilee to be the place where prophets came from - a bit like associating Washington, DC with politicians. But the context is their rejection of Jesus (known to them as a Galilean) as a prophet, which makes that reading a bit tricky. It is more likely that they are being rude or sarcastic, but at the same time, incorrect to dismiss Galilee as a prophet-free zone.

Thomas Aquinas in the Catena Aurea collated some earlier discussion on this passage. This includes John Chrysostom (Homily 52 on the Gospel of John) characterizing the tone of the Pharisees as "rude" and "insulting" (rudius, iniuriose), which would cover sarcasm; and on the other hand Alcuin of York's Commentary on the Gospel of John, where the emphasis is on their ignorance. If it is sarcasm, then it is still misaimed sarcasm, because the Pharisees are incorrect.

But their mistake is significant. The story of Jonah prefigures that of Jesus in several important ways, and so it is interesting that the two prophets are, in a sense, rejected together.

N. T. Wright says of this verse:

The Pharisees further show their ignorance of Scripture in that both the prophets Jonah and Hosea came from Galilee. And when John has them say that no prophet "rises up" or "arises" from Galilee, the word he uses is almost always used elsewhere in the book to refer to the resurrection. Jonah was proverbial for coming, so it seemed, "back from the dead" after three days in the belly of the fish; and Hosea contains the prophecy that God will "raise us up on the third day" (Hosea 6:2).1

The Greek verb in question is ἐγείρεται (ἐγείρω), which originally meant "to wake up" or "to arouse", and was later applied to rising from a sick-bed or death-bed, as well as from sleep. It can also mean rousing someone to activity from a previous state of torpor. The other instances in John's gospel are as follows:

  • Jesus's resurrection / metaphor of raising the Temple: 2:19, 2:20, 2:22, 21:14
  • Healing at the pool of Bethesda: 5:8
  • Raising the dead in general: 5:21; and Lazarus specifically: 12:1, 12:9, 12:17
  • Standing up / being called to action: 11:29, 13:4, 14:31

The "resurrection" sense is also strongly present elsewhere in the New Testament. So we could say that John's account has a certain level of irony, even if the Pharisees are not themselves being sarcastic.

Some versions of John 7:52 have the Pharisees talking about the prophet, rather than a prophet. They would then be arguing about whether the Messiah ought to be from Galilee, as opposed to whether prophets in general could come from there. If this is the reading then the Jonah question does not arise - but instead, we have to ask about the Pharisees' knowledge or interpretation of the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9 (or in the Hebrew, starting at 8:23). Here, "Galilee" is to be made glorious by a son who is to be called "Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace". The application to Jesus hinges on him being "from" Nazareth as well as Bethlehem, and of the line of David - facts which were not generally known (John 7:42). As before, the tone of the argument could very well be sarcastic, with the Pharisees being wrong, but this time for a different reason.

1. N. T. Wright. John: 26 studies for individuals and groups (InterVarsity Press, 2009). Chapter 10, Disputes about Jesus, p. 60.

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,well presented answer which i accept. – 77 Clash Sep 12 '13 at 19:52
I am a little surprised that no mention was made of John 1:46 (Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” [ESV]) – Paul A. Clayton Sep 13 '13 at 1:46

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