Friday, May 20, 2016

"My Father" (John 5:18)

Regarding Jn. 5:18, Christ was not making himself equal to God by claiming the Divine One as his Father. Contrariwise, the context shows that Jesus' remarks were egregiously misinterpreted by those listening to him. Such confusion often happens in the Fourth Gospel. The Expositor's GT is correct about the reasoning of the Jews in John 5:

"The Jews found in hO PATHR MOU [Jn 5:17] and the implication in KAGW ERGAZOMAI a claim to some peculiar and exclusive (IDION) sonship on the part of Jesus; that He claimed to be Son of God not in the sense in which other men are, but in a sense which involved equality with God" (1:738).

While the Jews were justified inferring that Christ viewed himself as a/the unique Son of God, they were mistaken to assume that he was thereby claiming ontological equality with his Father:

"Since the discourse that follows [John 5:18] denies the 'Jewish' understanding of the equality of the Father and the Son, is the 'Jewish' charge that Jesus had broken the sabbath to be taken seriously? I suggest that in John's view the 'Jews' are wrong both in their understanding of the equality of the Father and the Son and of Jesus as a sabbath breaker."

See Herold Weiss, "The Sabbath in the Fourth Gospel," Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 110, No. 2. (Summer, 1991): 311-321.

Compare James F. McGrath, "A Rebellious Son? Hugo Odeberg and the Interpretation of John 5:18," New Testament Studies 44 (1998): 470-473.


Alethinon61 said...

Hi Edgar,

As I recall, Adela Yarbro-Collins put it even more emphatically by stating that "clearly" the idea that Jesus was "making himself equal with God" was a *misunderstanding* on the part of "the Jews" at John 5. I can't quote book and page at the moment because I have that book in a box somewhere (Israel's God and Rebecca's Children), but if you can get your hands on a copy it's not hard to find the reference as professor Collins only contributed one chapter in the form of a response to Larry Hurtado's thesis. Her entire chapter is well worth reading.

I wonder, though, what if we understand (a) "equal with God" functionally rather than ontologically, and (b) that the perception that Jesus broke the Sabbath informs the Jews' response _in conjunction with_ his claim that God is his Father? In other words, by working on the Sabbath they felt that Jesus was doing what only God had a right to do, and by claiming that God is his Father Jesus was implying that his actions were in obedience as the one especially commissioned by God? The Jews may have interpreted Jesus' words as a claim to be fully authorized to do what only God normally has a right to do, which would constitute a sort of functional equality. That would be consistent with many of those references I quote in my blog post on sonship, here:

I've explained it in the past like this:

Let's say that it's 1950, and Hitler has been found alive in the U.S. He's been apprehended and brought to trial for his crimes. In one of life's great ironies, the prosecuting attorney happens to be a Jew. While this attorney is delivering his opening statement, piling charge upon charge, reminding the court of the unspeakable atrocities committed by this megalomaniacal monster, he turns to Hitler and in a stentorian cry of righteous indignation, he declares: "You ought to die, because, although a mere man, you made yourself [a] God"!

Did the attorney believe that Hitler was ontologically "God" or "a god"? No. Did the attorney believe that Hitler believed that he was ontologically "God" or "a god"? No. The attorney was charging Hitler criminally assuming the role of "God" or "a god" by doing what only God has the right to do. Likewise, Christ's accusers made a pretense of concluding that Jesus did what only God had the right to do or claim, and Jesus' response (=my Father) meant that his actions were in obedience to and performed with the authorization of God himself.

What do you think?


Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kaz,

Thanks for the tip on Yarbro-Collin's work: I have not read either one of those works yet. On the other point, I believe your suggestion is certainly viable. Did the Jews believe that Jesus was making himself functionally equal to God? It's possible or maybe even probable. I've been reviewing this expression, "equal with God" again, and I have only uncovered a few ancient references that use this expression. But, in each, case, the claim seems to count as blasphemy against God. Some related examples in scripture might be where the King of Tyre and the King of Babylon either declare themselves to be "God" or they want to assume God's place. See Ezek. 28 and Isa. 14.

On your illustration of Hitler, I believe that English also uses the term ambiguously. People often talk of athletes being "gods" or refer to the gods of music. Scripturally, we also need to consider angels being sons of God and there's Adam in Luke 3:38, who called the son of God.

As a closing note, what about the man of lawlessness, who declares himself to be "God/a god" as he dwells in the temple of God?

Edgar Foster said...

Compare John's use of "Son" in 3:16; 10:34-36.

Alethinon61 said...

Hi Edgar,

Thanks for your follow-up comments. FYI, you can read Adela Yarbro-Collin's entire chapter in Isreal's God and Rebecca's Children, here:

I need to make a small correction vis a vis my reference to her argument. Here's what she actually said:

" about Jesus 'breaking the Sabbath' [at John 5] is clearly spoken from the point of view of the opponents of Jesus, not necessarily from the vantage point of Jesus as a character in the narrative or of the audience of the Gospel." (Israel's God and Rebecca's Children), p. 64

So she didn't explicitly state that the claim that Jesus was "making himself equal with God" was only the view of Jesus' opponents, but I took it to suggest this because if the claim that Jesus broke the Sabbath was the view of Jesus' opponents and not necessarily Jesus' own view, then the "making himself equal with God" part would naturally fall into the same category, as the two issues are inextricably connected in the narrative.

Just keeping things honest and accurate;-)


Edgar Foster said...


Thanks for the refernece, and your concern for honesty and accuracy is appreciated. The inference that you drew makes sense to me. I also see the two accusations as interrelated charges.