As the presidential primaries gear up, it's time again for Gotcha Questions; or at least the accusation of Gotcha Questions.There is much disagreement about what constitutes a fair question. I don't blame candidates for being annoyed by some such questions. If I was on a talk show and was asked to spell the capital of Somaliland, I would not be pleased. ("Dang! The 'I before E' rule doesn't apply for Hargeis?") A candidate that can't recall what the Fourth Amendment is all about gets less sympathy in my book. The motivation behind the questions makes all the difference. Is the questioner genuinely trying to get information or just trying to embarrass or harm the person answering the question?
Gotcha Questions are not a new phenomenon. They've been around for at least a couple of thousand years. Jesus got a slew of Gotchas. I think it would be helpful for your average presidential candidate (which obviously doesn't include Donald Trump) to look at how Jesus handled them. I think his answers might also be helpful for the average voter...And Christian. So, four observations about how Jesus dealt with verbal traps through looking at for different Scriptures:
1) Jesus acknowledged the fact that it was a Gotcha Question, but answered nonetheless.
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They
came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by
others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in
accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay
or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a
denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is
this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12)
Notice what Jesus said in verse 15? "Why are you trying to trap me?" He acknowledged that
that his answer could cause real controversy and perhaps even get him in real trouble with certain
answers to those questions. If he said, "Sure, pay your taxes. You don't want to get the Romans
mad", he would have been portrayed as a coward and a collaborator with the Evil Empire and
lost favor with his Jewish followers. If he said, "Caesar is a pagan infidel, don't give him a red
cent" he might have found himself charged with treason by the Romans.
The religious teachers are playing dirty little games and Jesus doesn't let them get by without
pointing it out. But he goes on to answer the question nonetheless. Note first that he slows things
up by asking for a coin. He doesn't rush an answer.
Then his answer is short and succinct and yet profound. His few words have provided fodder for
discussion for theologians, ethicists, and philosophers for centuries.
2) Jesus questions the premise of the question.
18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third.22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too.23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of
God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like
the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in
the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of
Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly
mistaken!” (Mark 12)
Jesus isn't about to let someone ask a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" type of question
(and not just because he wasn't married). The Herodians are asking a brain teaser that has no
Scriptural basis. Despite the impression you get these days from sappy romantic fantasy films,
the Bible never says romantic love or marriage is eternal.
And again, Jesus moves beyond oratorical games to an issue of great importance: eternal life. He
uses one of the most important passages of the Scriptures, at the heart of Jewish tradition, to teach about the eternal nature of God and man.
3) Jesus treats everyone with respect.
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and
he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman
caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this
woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such
women.Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis
for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.7 When they kept on
questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be
the first to throw a stone at her.”8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus
was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman,
where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8)
Most anyone who looks at this story can't help but notice that the woman is used by the
questioners as a prop. The man who was committing adultery is nowhere to be seen. Jesus treats
the woman with kindness. While all eyes might otherwise have been focused on her, Jesus subtly
draws attention to himself by stooping down to write on the ground.
But I recently heard it pointed out in a sermon that Jesus also treats the accusers with kindness.
After his statement, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her"
forces the men to examine their hearts, he allows them to do so in private by again stooping to
write on the ground.
Jesus would at time criticize people (calling Pharisees "whitewashed tombs"), but he never
weasels out of answering questions with name calling. These questions were intended to be
confrontational, but Jesus manages to avoid hostile confrontations in these situations.
4) And on a few rare occasions, Jesus doesn't answer the Gotcha Question.
One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good
news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to
him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this
3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of
5 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why
didn’t you believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because
they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”
7 So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”
8 Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Luke 20)
Yup, sometimes Jesus just doesn't bother. They asked a Gotcha Question that Jesus saw no
benefit in answering. So he didn't. Jesus didn't let himself be a slave of the question. Because he was the answer.