Did Jesus back down from being God in John 10?March 28, 2009
John 10 is commonly used against Christians to try and prove that Jesus denies being God. I have heard many arguments by many different Christians when defending this passage. Here is what I believe to be the best argument, and the most Scriptural:
John 10:30-36 says “I and the Father are one.”
31Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? 35If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?
The argument commonly goes like this: The Jews assume that Jesus is claiming to be God. Then Jesus backs down and says “hey… fellas… let’s not jump to conclusions. Some dudes in the Old Testament were called gods so why can’t I? I’m not saying I’m God, but kinda god-like ya know?!”
So this interpretation obviously caters to those who want to say that Jesus never claims to be God. The funny thing about this interpretation is that when Jesus gets done with His defense, the Jews all the more want to stone Him. Why in the world would they all the more want to kill Him if He’s backing down from the very reason they want to kill Him?! You know your interpretation is suspect when it doesn’t comport with the surrounding verses. Verse 39 says “They sought again to take him”.
So how in the world are we supposed to make sense of this passage?
I think it is really easy. The questions we first need to ask are: What is Jesus claiming and what do the Jews believe He’s claiming? Does Jesus even claim to be God here? Do the Jews actually think He’s claiming to be God in this passage?
Jesus says in verse 30 “I and the Father are one.” In what sense is Jesus and the Father one? Well, in verse 38 Jesus defines it and simply says “the Father is in I and I am in the Father”. OK, we’ve established this. But what is the significance of this? Is it that this divine connection means that Jesus is claiming to be the one true God. No!
Keep following me here… The significance of this divine connection, as it’s only presented in this passage (we don’t want to go beyond the text) is that this enables Jesus to function with God endowed abilities, such as healing (a Messianic sign). Note verse 25, “the miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me”, verse 32, “I have shown you many great miracles”, and verse 38, “believe the miracles”.
So the first thing we need to look at is not whether Jesus backs down from being the one true God, but first if the Jews were even accusing Him of being the one true God! And they weren’t. They were accusing Him for functioning as a god, while Jesus goes further and says He is doing so in a way similar to God, hence healing people according to the Father’s will (verses 36-38). I will seek to exegete the text and prove this.
Verse 33 says “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
I’m going to actually agree with the JW’s on this verse. The Jews call Him “god” with a little “g”, not “God” with a big “G”. Why is this? There is no definite article attached to “God” in this verse, thus is saying “you, a mere man, claim to be (a) god.” Since there is no definite article, the word “theos” actually defaults to an indefinite article, thus should be interpreted “a god”, not “the God”. If the definite article “the” was placed before “theos” then it would read “(the) God”.
Even though the majority of translations translate it as “God” I don’t care. I’m just looking at the Greek and there is no definite article. Also, the grammar here does not provide for a qualitative article (such as in John 1:1) so I am holding to the indefinite article “a” since the grammar allows for it and no definite article is present.
Being said, the Jews aren’t accusing Jesus of being “o Theos”, or the God, but only “theos”, a god. Therefore, it makes sense then why Jesus doesn’t give a defense and re-assure them that He’s God. He’s never accused of claiming to be God in the first place in this passage. So why would He feel He needs to say He is? That’s like arguing “the Jews call Him a painter and Jesus says ‘What’s wrong with painting?’, and it’s argued ‘You see! Jesus never claims to deliver pizzas!'” Let’s get our facts straight. The Jews are asking why Jesus is a mere man behaving like a god. They do not charge Him for claiming to be God. If people just realized this from the outset, then everyone’s panties wouldn’t be in a bundle when it comes to this passage.
The Jews accuse Jesus of being a mere man who is appointing Himself to be divine. They don’t like this and want to stone Him for it. Verse 33, “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim (poieis) to be a god.” The NIV translates “poieis” as “claim”, but this is not entirely accurate either. The majority of translations say “make”, or “make yourself out to be”. And according to Thayer’s Lexicon it is meant in this passage as to “ordain” or “appoint”.
So the Jews are really saying this: “you, a mere man, are appointing yourself (making yourself out to be) a god (more than human).” Jesus explains 1. this is nothing new and was done with judges in the OT, and 2. explains that He is rightly doing this because He acts in step with God’s character. Jesus does miracles in God’s name so His actions validate that He and the Father are one. His miracles validate that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.
Verse 34-36 “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? 35If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— 36what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”
Mere men were referred to as god-like in the OT. Why? Because they functioned as judges similarly to the one Judge. They were given this mandate from God to do so. Jesus makes the same argument. He may similarly function as a divine person and do miracles because He does what His Father does.
Verses 37-38 “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
This should clear up much ambiguity with John 10. This interpretation may bug some because Jesus allows Himself to be referred to as “a god”. But one ought not fear because context is the key. The term “a god” can simply mean “more than human”. Further, the Jews were not seeking to know if Jesus was either “a god” or “the God” in the context. That was not even the debate at all. He is accused of acting divine, so He argues from the Jew’s own Scriptures to show that this is not a foreign concept. The judges in the OT functioned how the Judge functions. How much more the Son of God function like the Father who are both one?!
But let’s not stop yet. What about John 5:18?
John 5:18 “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
Are the Jews in this passage accusing Jesus of being divine-like or god-like? No! There is a beautiful definite article here! It would read “making himself equal with the God (toe Theo)”. Therefore, the Jews are specifically charging Him for claiming to be “the God” in this passage, not “a god” or “god-like”.
And does Jesus back down here? Does He start saying things like “hey… fellas… let’s not jump to conclusions alright. I’m just saying that I’m god-like”. No!!! In fact it’s the very opposite. In verse 23 Jesus says that all must honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The Greek word for “just as” is “kathos” and according to Thayer’s Lexicon means “just as, according as, or even as: in the first member of a comparison”.
So what does Jesus claim about Himself when He is accused of being “the God”? He claims that He is God simply because He doesn’t back down from the claim, doesn’t re-clarify the claim, but rather claims that He is to be honored just as (to the very extent) God the Father is honored. And you can’t really honor someone to the same extent unless you can also worship them to the same extent. The only way Jesus can be worshiped to the same extent as the Father, is if they are both God. And there we see the beautiful paradox of the Trinity; the Father and Son are distinguished, yet the same God.