In the New Living Translation and others John 5:26 is translated in a way that seems antithetical to the Augustinian concept of "the eternal generation of the Son". That is, if the NLT reading is correct then rather than providing a basis for Trinity dogma it completely disproves it. Is the NLT reading sound and contextually faithful?:

NLT John 5: 19So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

24“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

25“And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. 26The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. 27And he has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man.d 28Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment. 30I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will.

Here are some other translations that take the same approach:

Contemporary English Version The Father has the power to give life, and he has given that same power to the Son.

Good News Translation Just as the Father is himself the source of life, in the same way he has made his Son to be the source of life.

GOD'S WORD® Translation The Father is the source of life, and he has enabled the Son to be the source of life too.

In the context of John 5 is having "life in himself" some cosmic existential attribute of divinity imparted to the Messiah before time began or is John simply saying that God made his Christ life giving in a more straightforward way? What contextual clues suggest the proper understanding?

  • Did you mean 5:29-30?
    – Ruminator
    Dec 6, 2020 at 16:53
  • Some passages seem to be worded to be intentionally vague.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 12, 2020 at 23:43

6 Answers 6


Jesus was given Power by God (Matt. 28:18) to give his faithful followers Immortality in heaven or eternal life on earth (Psalm 37:29).

Texts from NWT

John 4:14 ".but the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.”

Ephesians 5:26 "...in order that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word,"

John 11:25, 26 "Jesus said to her: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; 26 and everyone who is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all.. . ."

So Jesus will use his God given power to put an end to death & sin:-

1 Corinthians 15:25, 26 " . .For he [Jesus] must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. 26 And the last enemy, death, is to be brought to nothing."

1 Corinthians 15:45 " . . .The last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit."

Jesus prayed :-

John 17:3 "This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.


Aseity - To Live in and of Oneself, Independant of Another

To have life in oneself means to have aseity (a Latin-derived term literally meaning 'from-himself-ness'), a well-known attribute of God (i.e. who alone can be said to be alive, having not been given life as if He didn't have it before (thus not being God) but having it in and of Himself as the uncaused eternal Being, and life itself: cf. Jn 14:6; Acts 3:15).

There is no other sense in which to understand the Father having 'life in himself.' No one dare say He recieved life at any time, or from another. The verb 'has' as in 'has life in himself' is in the present tense.

Therefore, we must understand that the Son ωσπερ ('in that way which') "the Father is having life in Himself" (v. 26) as having been given this 'life in and of Himself' ontologically speaking (i.e. in the act of the eternal generation, or 'begetting') rather than a gift He 'gave' the Son (i.e. as distinct from the things given the Son in His human nature, as man, which are given). Similarly, the authority (or should be say eternal birthright) to be the perfectly just Judge of all (v. 22-23) not by granting Him this but by giving birth to the Word, who as 'God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,' thus has been 'given' these things.

This passage nowhere talks about 'life in Himself' as meaning a life-giving power, but the having life in oneself.

P.S. The NLT is a paraphrase of the Bible and should be the basis of no exegesis whatsoever | Also, the Son is dependant on the Father for being the Son but He is not contingent because He is eternal, so He has 'being God' and 'life in Himself' just as (ωσπερ) the Father does.

  • 1
    It seems to me that the father giving Jesus "life in himself" in the way you say it is a logical contradiction. Sort of like, "Joey received "un-received freckles". If Joey received them then they are not "un-received." And the whole context is about the power to impart life. Your explanation waxes long in philosophy but has no particular support from scripture. In fact "light from light" is how the Christian is described: Eph 5:8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light:" and 2Co 6:14, Eph 5:13-14
    – Ruminator
    Mar 30, 2018 at 23:37
  • The origin of consubtantiality (homoousion and "very God from very God") also called "emanation" is decidedly Gnostic: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homoousion#Pre-Nicene_usage
    – Ruminator
    Mar 30, 2018 at 23:43
  • This kinds of things cannot be debated in the comment sections unfortunately; I would be happy to take it to chat any time. Mar 31, 2018 at 10:47
  • I think we're at a good stopping point for now, but thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Mar 31, 2018 at 13:43

I would argue that this is the theological bias of the NLT translation entering into the process of translation. While you point out the other three translations that have a similar idea they are fact muted there as compared with the NLT translation. In both cases (what is said of the Father and what is said of the Son) is the exact same phrase in the original Greek -- ἐν ἑαυτῷ. This phrase is literally "in himself." The point of the passage is that what is true of the Father is also true of the Son. Since the power to give life is an attribute of the Father it is also true of the Son.

Since the phrase is the same in both cases it would not be reasonable to translate one in one way and the other in a different way unless there was strong contextual evidence to do so. In this case the contextual evidence is strong in favor of the dual attribute view as it highlights for example that the Son has the power to judge.

Here is what Carson said:

5:26. The logical For (gar) is important: this verse explains how it is that the Son can exercise divine judgment and generate resurrection life by his powerful word. It is because, like God, he has life-in-himself. God is self-existent; he is always ‘the living God’. Mere human beings are derived creatures; our life comes from God, and he can remove it as easily as he gave it. But to the Son, and to the Son alone, God has imparted life-in-himself. This cannot mean that the Son gained this prerogative only after the incarnation. The Prologue has already asserted of the pre-incarnate Word, ‘In him was life’ (1:4).

The impartation of life-in-himself to the Son must be an act belonging to eternity, of a piece with the eternal Father/Son relationship, which is itself of a piece with the relationship between the Word and God, a relationship that existed ‘in the beginning’ (1:1). That is why the Son himself can be proclaimed as ‘the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us’ (1 Jn. 1:2). Many systematicians have tied this teaching to what they call ‘the eternal generation of the Son’. This is unobjectionable, though ‘the eternal generation of the Son’ should probably not be connected with the term monogenēs (sometimes translated ‘only begotten’: cf. notes on 1:18). In the immediate context, it is this eternal impartation of life-in-himself to the Son that grounds his authority and power to call the dead to life by his powerful word.

D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 256–257.

  • I agree that the CEV, GNT and GN versions are more formally equivalent and are preferable. I don't see why you say that God having given him "life in himself" precludes it from having occurred with a beginning. In fact, it seems it demands a beginning. And what about when Jesus died? Wasn't his life "removed" (to use your term) and given a new beginning? When he was raised, wasn't he raised to everlasting life in the same way as are all the saints, not in eternity past? Doesn't Jesus say "I can do nothing on my own" (verse 30, and all throughout the passage)?
    – Ruminator
    Mar 28, 2018 at 18:28
  • 2
    The answer is the Son has always been God and therefore He has always had life in himself to use the phrase of John 5:26. If this is describing an attribute of God then it must be treated like the other attributes of God--eternally existing as such. Another example includes the eternal submission of the Son to the Father.
    – Ken Banks
    Mar 28, 2018 at 18:28
  • You are reading all of that into the text, not out of it.
    – Ruminator
    Mar 30, 2018 at 0:41
  • 1
    I‘ts kind of bizarre that tradition has enforced a certain dogma that remains no matter what biblical evidence opposes it.
    – Steve
    Jun 7, 2020 at 1:33
  • Thank you Ken for providing us the Bible evidences of Jn 1:4 and 1 Jn 1:2. The Bible is clear and enjoyable. There never was a point the Father was not the Father and the Son not the Son, Isa 9:6; Heb 7:3; Jn 17:5. Although the Son's humanity was unmistakably marked out as Son of God in His resurrection from death, Rm 1:3-4; Jn 17:5. A question for you, though, Ken, is what is your source for "eternal submission of the Son to the Father"? Or, by "eternal" do you include pre-incarnation? Thanks.
    – Walter S
    Dec 25, 2020 at 6:15

If, as in Heb. 1:3 (KJV), Christ is "the brightness of his [the Father's] glory and the express image of his person," or as it's stated in the ESV, "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature," whatever is the Father's to give is given through the Son. In this case, the KJV's "brightness" doesn't quite communicate that the Son is the conduit. The ISV uses "reflection," but that seems more passive than is probably warranted. What is the Father's is the Son's also, but whereas the Father could exist before expressing Himself through the Son, the Son (the expression of the Father) cannot exist/act without the Father (as is expressed in John 5:19). This is not to say that the Son was ever non-existent; He existed as the expression of God before there was anyone to express Him to. Therefore, in John 5:26, the life the Father gives through the Son is the Son's to give, as well, but as I understand it, it couldn't come from the Son unless it came from the Father. Therefore, it seems that the NLT communicates this principle effectively. I hope I haven't made a bigger mess of it for you.

  • I am looking something more driven by the immediate context in John.
    – Ruminator
    Mar 28, 2018 at 18:38
  • @gracelett: By the phrase "expressing Himself" as the same as person of the Father and the person of the Son, I assume you would hold to the idea that God is three persons with one essence. There is always the danger of falling into modalism when we talk about expressing Himself or as manifesting Himself in opposition to the idea of God in three persons and one essence.
    – Ken Banks
    Mar 28, 2018 at 20:17
  • Ruminator, I was using the Hebrews passage to define the role of the Son and then applied that to the John passage, because they seem to be dealing with the same concept. John 5:19 seems to illuminate John 5:26, so I thought I was working within the context of John. Maybe I don't fully understand your question.
    – Gracelett
    Mar 29, 2018 at 3:10
  • Ken, I believe the Spirit makes us alive so we can respond to the Son, who expresses the Father to us. Without the Spirit, we could not respond to God. Without the Son, we could not know what to respond to. Without the Father, there would be nothing to express or respond to. I hope this is an adequate explanation of my understanding of the Trinity.
    – Gracelett
    Mar 29, 2018 at 3:27

A chapter later Jesus makes the following statement:

CSB John 6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves.

The underlying Greek is the same except for the plural.

So the idea that this formation is exceptional is unwarranted.

However, I don't think that the usage in John 6:53 is identical to the one by the Jews seeking bread to eat. In his case, from God, Jesus has the ability to impart life while the ones eating worthily simply "have life".

And logically... if God gave Jesus the privilege of "life in himself" then there was a time when he did not possess it.

  • 1
    Strangely (not really), the truth takes a lot less words than the other.
    – Steve
    Dec 6, 2020 at 8:39

It should be noted that according to Scripture Jesus had life in Himself before his incarnation. John 1:4, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." Also at 1 John 1:1-2, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life, vs2, and the life was manifested and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us."

So, keep in mind that the Son chose to be in subjection to His Father. The Bible is clear at Philippians 2:6-8 we are told explicityly that the Son was the very form of God. The Greek here, "morphe" referst to the form that reveals or expresses the absolute nature of a thing.

He humbled Himself by taking upon Himself the form ("morphe again) of a servant; the likeness of a man. He was not forced. He chose to do so. That is why the Apostle Paul was using this as an example of humility.

Putting this in perspective we have Jesus Christ who already had life in Himself chose to humble Himself by becoming a man. After His resurrection, after He accomplished His mission as a man this power was given back to Him.

Now, for a pious Jew to ascribe all power in heaven and earth to anyone is for him to acknowledge the absolute dieity of that person. That alone is a game ender. Btw, the Greek word used for life at John 1:4 is "zoe" and it means the "life principle." The other Greek word for life is "bios" which means "biological" life.

  • See what you did there? You wrote, "Jesus had life in Himself before his incarnation. John 1:4, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." John is talking about the logos, not Jesus. Also, you need to grasp what 'morphe' means see Mark 16:12 where it is used again and has nothing to do with 'same nature'. You are forcing a meaning onto the text that is unwarranted. If your Jesus is God, then God too must have the 'form' of God and also be the 'image' of God. Somehow you call him God, but take away his Godliness for a time - this makes him not God then!
    – Steve
    Dec 6, 2020 at 8:38
  • @user48152 Yea, I wrote that because that's what the text says. "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." Now, you said "John is talking about the logos." Define "logos" for all of us here? Vs 2, says, "He/That one was in the beginning with God." Vs3, "All things came into being by/through Him." Why is the word "him/auto" used in the verse if the logos is not a person if at vs1 the "logos" was with God and is God? And here you go again, changing the subject to what "morphe" means. So, if Jesus is not God then why is He identified as the creator at John 1:3 or at Colossians 1:16?
    – Mr. Bond
    Dec 6, 2020 at 19:28
  • Oh dear, I rest my case. Clearly your bible says, in the beginning was Jesus. You’re entitled to read it any way you want. Shame, God is pleased to honour those with tenacity, but only He can turn you around and help you to understand what is written.
    – Steve
    Dec 6, 2020 at 20:33
  • @user48152 Again, define the word Logos at verse 1? If you have a mind to define it as "Word/Gods word or words then here is how John 1:1 would read, "In the beginning was the Word of God, and the Word of God was with God, and the Word of God was God." Does that really make sense to you? Why would not God's word or words be with Him in the first place? Or, if John 1:1 is referring to the thoughts and plans of God, why wouldn't they be with Him as well? Btw, John 1:1 is teaching Jesus was in the beginning before the beginning at Genesis 1:1. Oh yea, you don't have a case, just empty words.
    – Mr. Bond
    Dec 6, 2020 at 20:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.