Before they challenge the evidence for Jesus, it would be helpful to learn what is their source against the evidence of Jesus.
Credibility of the New Testament
The New Testament(NT) has proven its veracity and credibility and is the most reliable historical records there is to date about about anyone or any event. Even the combined history of Egypt, Roman empire, Alexander the Great, the Quran, etc has significantly less credibility than the NT.
Other Historical Records
Just to cite one example I recently learned from the RZIM Bible Elective course. Tacitus wrote 16 books on the Annals of Imperial Rome around 116 AD, but we only have 1 copy manuscript from the first 6 books, dated much later around 850 AD. While book 7-10 are lost and no more record. Whereas copies of the book 11-16 are dated more than 1000years after they were first written. The lack of copies and the years after it was copied, led to the high possibility of legends developing.
The New Testament Record
Whereas most of the NT were written within the first decade after Jesus’ death, and has over 5000 copies of the Greek manuscripts to back it up. Due to the short amount of time(by any historical record’s standard), as eyewitnesses who were still alive existed, and the overwhelming amount of accurate copies to the original manuscript available to us, it is harder for legends to develop and details be fabricated. This means that if we were to question the Bible’s credibility as a historical record, how much more so of any other non-biblical historical records that we should question.
Outside Sources to Consider
Plus outside of the NT Bible, the most credible source to write about Jesus are from the Jews of that time, as Jesus was their no. 1 public enemy. But there are no credible Jewish sources that actually question Jesus’ legitimacy. They only deny Jesus’ divinity.
Back to John 8:41
Going back to the verse in question, John 8:41, to say they were subtly accusing Jesus, like a brand of sarcasm being leveled at Jesus, is actually purely speculative and repugnant.
The Old Law
As I stated in my previous post, that Deuteronomy 23:2 had a rule that the Jews upheld with great importance, as they did for all their religious laws.
Deuteronomy 23:2 NASB
No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the Lord.
Jesus in the Assembly of the Lord
But Jesus had no problem walking in and out of synagogues, and even teaching and preaching, and as I stated also In Luke 4:16, that Jesus’ was part of their oral tradition and was given a scroll to read from, not taking by force, which means they recognized His full legitimacy to be a part of their own.
Jesus’ Probable Reference
Nowhere else do we see Jesus’ legitimacy was questioned. In fact, the reason the Jews answered that way is because Jesus was accusing them of spiritual fornication, idolatry. He was probably pointing them to Hosea 2:4.
Hosea 2:4 NASB
Also, I will have no compassion on her children,
Because they are children of harlotry.
Idolatry of Israel
This was an accusation of Israel’s idolatry. And hence the Jews vehemently retorted that they are not children of harlotry/fornication. It was evident in what they say next, “we have one Father: God.” (They were quoting from Deut 32:6, Isaiah 63:16, 64:8) Other probable text that they quote from was Exo 4:22, when God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh, that God says, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”
Summary of the Discourse
So if we actually follow the whole discourse of Jesus and the Jews in John 8, this is the most exegetic line of reasoning, and to say they are accusing Jesus of fornication is mere speculation and taking it out of context.
Further proof can be found earlier in John 6:42 NASB, when the Jews were grumbling about him:
They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”
Verdict: No Scandal
You can see the grumbling Jews were not questioning His birth legitimacy at all. You can see as well the account of Jesus’ birth in Matt 1:18-20. That it was well contained, and left no room for the Jews to see Jesus’ birth as a scandal.
I hope you are able to follow every step of this line of reasoning and help with your concern regarding the baseless accusation of Jesus’ suspect parentage.
Blessings in Christ