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The Apologists  Bible Commentary

 

 

John 5

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18 For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

 

Grammatical Analysis...

Other views considered...

For further reading...

 

Commentary This passage contains John's explanation of what the title "The Son of God" meant in 1st Century Judaism.  Notice that John is not quoting the Jews - he is explaining what "calling God his own Father" meant in that context.

"The Jews" do not see the underlying unity between the two issues:  they speak in terms of "not only, but also."  But they do understand where the radical break between them and Jesus is located.  In their own words:  he not only makes (the law of) the sabbath non-binding, thus "breaking" it, but also, by calling God his Father, makes "himself equal with God" - for them the most direct kind of blasphemy.  Jesus' reply, which begins in v. 19, is a response to both charges (Ridderbos, p. 191).

To be equal with God suggested, they thought, two gods and therefore polytheism. To make oneself "equal with God" was a claim of arrogant independence. In the Talmud four persons were branded as haughty because they made themselves equal to God: pagan rulers Hiram, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, and the Jewish King Joash (BKC).

Grammatical Analysis

alla kai patera idion elegen ton qeon ison eauton poiwn tw qew

 

ALLA KAI PATERA IDION ELEGEN TON THEON, ISON EAUTON POIN Ti THEi

 

but also Father [his] own said {the}God, equal [to] himself making to {the}God

 

The phrase ISON ...Ti THEi is appositional to PATERA IDION ktl., and is thus a definition or clarification.  John is defining PATERA IDION ("His own Father"), saying it meant "making Himself equal with God."

 

ISON

  • Pertaining to that which is equal, either in number, size, quality, or characteristics - 'equal, equivalent, same' (Louw & Nida).  Similarly, BAGD.  

  • To claim for oneself the nature, rank, authority, which belong to God, Jn 5:18 (Thayer).

 

This text illustrates a couple of semantic issues.  The complement comes first and is anarthrous; the object comes second and is articular.  The same rule applies for distinguishing subject from predicate nom[inative] apply here.  If one simply followed word order, the meaning would be "he was calling his own father God"!  Further, the complement is thrown forward for emphasis and to render it definite....  The wording here is a concise theological statement (Wallace, pp. 185 - 186).

Other Views Considered

Jehovah's Witnesses

Objection:  Jehovah's Witnesses argue that the equation of "His own Father" and "equal with God" is based on the misconceptions of the hypocritical religious leaders. The religious leaders had many misconceptions about Jesus, surely they cannot be trusted on this crucial point.

 

Response:  Why is John clarifying "His own Father" in the first place?  John knows that his readers may not understand why the Jews sought to kill Jesus.  If he thinks his readers may be confused about this point, it doesn't seem credible that he would not also state that the Jews were mistaken - John makes it clear elsewhere when the Jews were mistaken (cf., John 2:21).  Why not here?

 

Further, Witnesses posit that John's audience would readily understand John 1:1c as declaring that Jesus was "a god."  If so, the idea of angels being "sons of God" must have been widely understood to mean that angels are "gods."  Further, if these first century "biblical monotheists" were comfortable with the idea of functional godhood as taught by the OT scriptures, and if Jesus actually appeals to this concept in John 10 (as Witnesses suggest), then the idea that men could be "gods" was also widely acknowledged and accepted.  So, if Jesus referred to God as His Father, wouldn't the Jews have more readily understood Him to mean that He was an angel or a functional god?  Perhaps the Jews were so out of touch with the OT, that they had come to some sort of hyper-monotheistic understanding of God that precluded angelic or functional godhood - but then, surely John would have known this, and would not have assumed that passages like John 1:1c and John 20:28 would be "clearly" understood to reference Christ as a secondary "god."

 

In other words, there is a logical inconsistency between arguing on the one hand that the Jews would misconstrue Jesus' words in this verse to mean equality with God, but - on the other hand - arguing the Jews would understand other verses which call Jesus THEOS ("God") to mean a secondary god or angelic being.

Further Reading Blogs

   John 5 and Christ "as Agent"

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