The Pharisees had formed an opinion on who ought to be a prophet and from where the prophet ought to come from. Their ego and bias could not allow them to be objective. They had no time to examine the history (as recorded in the Old Testament), understand it, apply correct reasoning and mellow their hearts for God. The following portion of a verse from John 7:52 demonstrates it.
“Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself–no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”
A closer investigation of the above argument shows an error in reasoning, committed by the Jewish scholars. And we are not exempt; we also make mistakes in our observations, judgments and conclusions. The best way forward is to admit that we are fallible.
In John chapter 7, during the Feast of Booths, the Chief Priests and the Pharisees had sent its officers out to seize Jesus, but the officers came back without him.
An argument broke out. Technically speaking, an argument is a series of statements (rightly put as propositions) intending to persuade someone of something.
The Jewish Leadership is arguing that Jesus must be fibbing about his speaking on God’s behalf because he comes out of Galilee, and they tell Nicodemus, that “no prophet arises from Galilee.”
In many occasions, we tend to judge people from where they come from. We tend to look at their history and make determinations about them. This is a reasoning error that philosophers (or logicians) term as the genetic fallacy. In this scenario, we don’t look at the merits of the argument, but we simply dismiss it because of its source. It’s like arguing that because my standard two math teacher was placed in jail for perjury, I shouldn’t believe his claim that 2+2=4. That’s not just sloppy but stupid too!
Here, the officers are reporting that Jesus’s teaching is exceptional, something that needs to be counted. However, the Priests and Pharisees reject their claim, declaring that it cannot be true because Jesus comes from the wrong area of Israel. Sometimes, people will never give a chance to what you say, but instead, they will attack you as a person.
They invite Nicodemus to “Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” Here, the leaders were dead wrong – factually. There were at least two prophets of the Old Testament that came from the Galilean region, Jonah, who came from Gath-Hepher (2 Kings 14:25), which is just north of Nazareth, and Nahum. It is good, before we quote from history, to refresh ourselves with some solid facts. In Jesus’s day, the people of Galilee were composed of many different races, and as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “Their mixed origin explains the differences in speech which distinguished them from their brethren in the South, who regarded Galilee and the Galileans with a certain proud contempt (Joh 1:46; 7:52).” So it may very well be their prejudice against people from Galilee that the leaders were trying to exploit against Jesus.
The Jewish leadership attempted another form of the genetic fallacy when they faced off against Jesus in John 8. In an exchange that became a bit tense, Jesus challenged them by saying, “I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” The Pharisees reacted by saying they were true Jews: “Abraham is our father,” they hollered. But just being the biological offspring of Abraham doesn’t make one righteous or right. This is a literal version of the genetic fallacy! Jesus admonished them and stated that they didn’t follow the faith of Abraham, and instead they were following their spiritual father, the Devil. Being born in a Christian family, and attending Sunday Services religiously does not make you Born Again. You can dress a monkey in a suit and tie, and train it to behave like a human being, but that does not make it a human being. For that monkey to become a human being, then it must be ‘born again’ as a human being.
Errors after goofs
In the first instance, we see the Pharisees rejecting Jesus’s claims because he isn’t from Galilee. The Jewish leadership does not recognise anyone from Galilee as authentic. This is very much like those who would dismiss any biblical teaching because they say the source, which is the Bible, is invalid. In the second example, the leadership held that they couldn’t be wrong because they came from the right source; they were the descendants of Abraham. This is very much like the claim that science and scientists hold the authority over any other claims because they come from a scientific origin. These guys were full of themselves.
Neither of these arguments is logically valid. One needs to study the actual argument and the reasons sustaining it to decide its merit. To prejudge either for or against a view based on its origin—whether it is new or old, faith-based or scientific, comes from an expert or a postulant—without examining the argument itself is a form of bias. It’s the genetic fallacy, and something we should shun.