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John 20:16-17 (NASB):

16 Jesus *said to her, “Mary!” She turned and *said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus *said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”

If we assume as a premise that Jesus is God, how can we make sense of Jesus' declaration that the Father is "his God"? Is the premise still compatible with the passage, or should we consider revising the premise in light of the passage?


(*) Note: when I say "Jesus is God", I expect the sentence to be understood in the same way one would understand the sentence "the Father is God".

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    @user48152 Watch your tone. Remain respectful to those with theology you disagree with, and don't make blanket accusations that others don't "follow the intent of scripture but add to and modify it". – curiousdannii Feb 28 at 23:02
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    @All: We don't normally like questions on this site to restrict answers to specific groups. (That's the purpose of the Christianity site.) I haven't voted to close this one yet, but if several of you want to I might join you. – curiousdannii Feb 28 at 23:05
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    @curiousdannii - I thought the question structure was on-topic, since I took inspiration from previous structurally similar on-topic questions: this and this. – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 28 at 23:43
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Yes it's something the site hasn't been very strict on. – curiousdannii Feb 28 at 23:45
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    If Jesus is God, how can we make sense of Him calling the Father “my God” in John 20:17? By asserting that the Trinity is a mystery which we cannot fully understand. – RonJohn Mar 2 at 19:24
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This is a question on which it is difficult to be objective; I will attempt to offer an objective take (my own two cents in the conclusion only). I’ll probably fall somewhat short of any single person’s ideal answer. We all have preconceptions on this topic and they are pretty core to our beliefs.

Let’s interpret this passage through the lens of the 4 most commonly held Biblical interpretations of Deity.

A. The Nicene view, which holds that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one substance

Exegesis on this foundation has been provided in other answers. The Son shows deference repeatedly to the Father; He appears to be doing so again here. However, on this view “My God” is a normal and appropriate way for one of these Persons to refer to another.

On this view the Son often speaks of the Father in the 3rd person, so it isn't all that surprising here. Some who hold to this view would further suggest that the Son should call the Father "My God" because the Son is obedient to the Father's will.

B. The view that God is a title, not a personal name, applicable to both the Father & the Son, who are separate Beings

On this view, the Son--despite His Deity--always shows deference to the Father, because the Father is the presiding authority of the universe. The Father is Jesus’ father in the physical sense. The Father is all who have lived on this earth's father in the spiritual sense. Thus it is entirely appropriate to refer to Him as “my God” and “your God”.

Here Jesus speaks of ascending to His Father, implying that His Father is someone else, somewhere else.

C. The view that God (capital “G”) is always a reference to the Father, and Jesus is not Almighty God, but is His authorized representative, sometimes referred to as a god (lower-case “g”)

On this view, there is nothing unusual about Jesus referring to someone else (the Father) as God, as He is the only being to whom that title applies. He would be both Jesus’ God and Mary’s God, to whom both of them are accountable.

Here Jesus speaks of ascending to His Father, implying that His Father is someone else, somewhere else.

D. The view that God always refers to the Father, that Jesus is the mediator, a man who was sinless

This view may not comply with the premise in the OP, but has little difficulty accounting for the passage in question. I do not know how proponents of this view account for some of the other passages that have been raised in the answers & comments.

Here Jesus speaks of ascending to His Father, implying that His Father is someone else, somewhere else.

Playing defense

This is not a passage regularly used in arguing for a Nicene view, as it is easier to explain on B, C, or D than it is on A. That said, any view of the Godhead is expected to account for a whole range of passages, and all of them find themselves on defense with respect to some passages. Perhaps this question was asked specifically because it is a passage for which the Nicene view, the most widely held today, is on defense.

Conclusion

This was hard to write. Like most of you, I believe that 3 of these views (and their various permutations) are wrong on a very important matter. That’s a discussion for SE-Christianity. I hope to have illustrated how rational human beings with different preconceptions can interpret this passage.

My own views are presented in a cumulative argument here and here.

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In the bible, the word God (elohim in Hebrew or theos in Greek) is ascribed to more than one person. Some examples:

  • The Father - John 17:3, John 20:17
  • Jesus - John 20:28
  • Moses - Exodus 4.16, Exodus 7.1 (ʾĕlōhîm, see this answer)
  • Judges - Exodus 21.5, Exodus 22.8 (Judges translated from elohim)
  • Davidic King - Psalm 45:7
  • Satan - 2 Corinthians 4:4

In John, Jesus and the Father are presented as two different persons, each called God. So, in John 20:17, Jesus is not referring to himself, but to the Father.

Jesus' meaning of calling the Father God

We need to ask what properties the referent object of the word 'God' has in each situation, based on the context. One should not simply assume that everyone means the same thing by calling someone 'God'. By calling the Father his God, Jesus' audience would have understood him as referring to the traditional Jewish God concept, that is YHWH the supreme being, so it's reasonable to think that's how Jesus intended to use the term.

Proposed solutions for harmonizing the text with the 'Jesus is God in the same way the Father is God' assumption

If we assume that Jesus 'is God' in the same way the Father 'is God', then to avoid a logical contradiction we must understand 'is God' as something other than a strict identity claim. The reason for this is the Transitive Law, which states if A and B are identical, and B and C are identical, then A and C are identical. So, if Jesus is identical to God, and the Father is identical to God, then Jesus is identical to the Father. This conclusion should be avoided as it is excluded by the biblical text since Jesus and the Father are two subjects/persons, for example John 20:17.

So, if one abandons strict identity, then neither Jesus or the Father are God in an identity sense. So in what way are they God? Various solutions have been proposed, some of which are documented in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philisophy entry for Trinity. A popular solution is to interpret God as a set of properties, essence or nature, and to interpret 'is God' as shorthand for saying 'has divine properties/essence/nature'. So one can say Jesus is divine, and the Father is divine, but neither are logically identical to God. This conclusion should be understood as a harmonization imposed on the text as required by the stated assumption in the OP, rather then the explicit intent of the author of John. The author does not give a philosophical analysis of the relationship between Jesus, the Father and God, and it's likely that first century readers would have understood the Father to simply be YHWH.

Given the assumption that Jesus is God in the same way the Father is God, is Jesus YHWH?

Yes, it logically follows that Jesus is YHWH.

  1. 'The Father is God' in the sense that the Father is YHWH. (From John)
  2. 'The Father is God' in the same sense that 'Jesus is God' (From OP assumption)
  3. Therefore Jesus is YHWH.

To accept 3 without violating the Transitive Law, one could understand 'is YHWH' to mean having a divine set of properties or nature, rather than being identical to a referent object called 'YHWH'. Note that I am not claiming this is necessarily the biblical concept of what it means to be YHWH, but it is a philosophical solution intended for satisfying the OP assumption.

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    so Moses and his mates - they are all God? – user48152 Feb 28 at 22:38
  • Moses is God to Pharaoh. God has a wide semantic range in the bible. – matt2048 Feb 28 at 22:47
  • thx, I don't think you have answered clearly - this answer need more work to be unambiguous. – user48152 Feb 28 at 23:03
  • Those are certainly some interesting edge cases, but it's also true that in most verses "God" refers to, well, God. So here in John 20:17 are you saying that Jesus is metaphorically calling his father "God" in the same way that Moses was called "God"? Or is it a different sense of the word? More explanation would help. – curiousdannii Feb 28 at 23:15
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    This is provocative and interesting to read, +1. However, it would be interesting to see this developed more fully and clearly. Of your examples, I randomly chose Exodus 4:16 to start with. The WEB there has "as God," and although my Hebrew is nonexistent, the Hebrew word there is lelohim, not elohim. – Ben Crowell Mar 1 at 1:09
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The "My God" refers to Jesus' relation to God in His humanity. It was in His manhood as well as His deity that He restored the loss which came through Adam's sin. "Your God" at John 5:17 implies they had need of a mediator that God might become their Father.

This is explained at Philippians 2:5-11. Vs5, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, vs6, who, although (or in spite of the fact) He existed in the form of God (or as God), did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped."

Vs7, "but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being found in the likeness of men." See that little word "but" that vs7 begins with? That means that what follows is going to be the "antithesis" of what preceded it.

In short, Jesus Christ who always was in the form of God took on another form which was that of a human being. Vs8, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross."

And as a man, He naturally would submit Himself completely to His Father. Notice that Jesus gave all the credit of what He did to His Father. Also notice that His Father gave "credibility" to the mission of His Son. Matthew 17:5, "When he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud saying. "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; LISTEN TO HIM."

So the way the Son's relationship is with His Father is the way we are suppose to be in relationship to both the Father and the Son.

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Jesus is fully man, and this means that He fully has created nature of man. Now, the one who creates this nature is the Creator, God. Thus, Jesus as being a man in the sense of possessing the entirety of human nature, has God as the Creator of this nature.

However, how does God the Father create? Necessarily God the Father creates through His Logos, the Latter thus being co-uncreated with the Father and co-Creator with the Father (cf. John 1:1-3). If so, then creation of Jesus' human nature cannot be exempt from this divine rule, to the effect that we can say that Jesus created His own human nature together with the Father.

Thus, it would be indeed awkward if the Logos or the Holy Spirit would call the Father "My God", because, it would be absolutely the same as the Father would say about His Logos "My God", or about His Holy Spirit "My God", for the God-ly dignity of all Three is the same. Actually, as Revelation Lad indicated above, we have an instance of Father calling the Son "God", yet, again, this is a different semantic of address, for when human addresses God, it is in the context of worship offered by a creature to the Creator. Yet, on the level of the Father and the Logos this semantics does not apply, but other semantics applies to be sure. However, Jesus, as fully man, can call Father "My God" in the sense of creature's worship of the Creator.

In fact, cannot Jesus tell His disciples, "Myself, as God, resurrects Lazarus with My divine authority and sovereignty, without any prayer, but the same Myself sheds tears for My dead friend Lazarus as man, showing that human emotions are rising in Me as in a man".

Moreover, when Jesus tells them "To My God and your God", does not He imply necessarily that the Father cannot be worshipped without Him, Jesus co-worshipped? For do not men worship Father for the reason of Him being the Creator of heaven and earth, i.e. of the entirety of the created order? Yes. Then the Son, Jesus is also necessarily co-worshipped with the Father, for the reason that the Father couldn't create without His Logos, who after His incarnation is also called Jesus Christ.

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  • Yet, on the level of the Father and the Logos this semantics does not apply, but other semantics applies to be sure - what is this other semantics? – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 28 at 21:10
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Semantics of equality and identity of divine Nature and difference of divine Persons; an analogy: a wife and her husband can say about each other "my spouse", meaning that in 'spouse-ship' they are absolutely identical and equal, yet it also implies that there is a difference of persons of the mentioned spouses. Thus Father can say about the Son - "My God, as My Son who is born of Me in divine Eternity and has the entirety of divine Nature from Me, just as I have this entirety of Nature, thus We are both God, and I am His God as His Father, and He is My God as My Son." – Levan Gigineishvili Feb 28 at 21:17
  • Im liking this answer...jesus (God), humbled himself thus taking on the form and limitations of humanity in order to die for our sins. This is about as profound as profound gets...is there any equal? God the omnipotent didn't die for us, God the man did! How does the passage in Isaiah go...unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and he shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Everlasting Father, Almighty God, Prince of peace. – Adam Mar 1 at 10:18
  • @Adam Thanks for your reading, a well-formulated comment and up-voting! – Levan Gigineishvili Mar 1 at 19:48
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I believe it's important to understand why people assume as a premise that Jesus is God, and whether this had always been the held belief.

Was the belief that Jesus is God maintained in the oldest Christian dissertations? (The Divine Trinity, by Joseph Pohle, Rt. Rev. Msgr., p. 150)

“[…] the Didache, or ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,’ the oldest literary monument of Christian antiquity outside of the New Testament canon, […] contains no formal profession of faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and the Atonement.”

What does the Didache not contain? "[a] formal profession of faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ." Hence, such a belief was not yet held in the First Century.

When the Second Century came, who was the first to deify Jesus? (Systematic Theology, by Augustus H. Strong, D.D., L.L.D., p. 305)

“The earliest time known at which Jesus was deified was, after the New Testament writers, in the letters of Ignatius, at the beginning of the second century.”

Who was the first to deify Jesus? "Ignatius". However, this did not catch on immediately.

At the turn of the third century, what happened, which is why the idea eventually caught on? (The Faith of Millions, by John A. O'Brien, Ph.D., p. 99)

“Thus, Celsus, a scoffing pagan philosopher of the third century, contended that […] worship of Christ was essentially polytheistic. […] Origen, the greatest of the early Christian writers, defended the Christians […] by showing that the Savior was worthy of such adoration because He was God.”

What did a pagan philosopher by the name of Celsus accuse the Christians of? "worship of Christ was essentially polytheistic". How did a Christian writer by the name of Origin counter this? "by showing that the Savior was worthy of such adoration because He was God."

In truth, why do we worship and bow at Jesus' name, according to the Scriptures? (Phil. 2:9-11)

"Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

What do we bow down to? Paul said, "the name of Jesus". Who gave Jesus this name? Paul explained, "God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name". Hence, we worship Jesus not because He is God, but because this is the will of God.

Who is the God who is glorified when we follow this will? Paul said, "the Father".

Thus, by the turn of the Fourth Century, had everyone accepted the premise the Jesus is God? (The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, by Harry A. Wolfson, Vol. 1, p. 306)

“[…] as late as the fourth century there were those within Christianity who […] still argued against the divinity of the preexistent Christ

What was still being argued against? "the divinity of the preexistent Christ".

Who was among the most vocal? (Ancient and Medieval History, by Ralph Magoffin, V.D., p. 394)

A priest in Alexandria named Arius […] said that if God and the Son were both divine, then there were two gods, which meant that Christianity was not a monotheistic religion,”

Who argued against the divinity of Christ? "A priest in Alexandria named Arius".

Who responded to the growing dispute? (Christianity Through the Centuries, by Earle E. Cairns, p. 143-144)

“In 318 or 319, Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, discussed with his presbyters ‘The Unity of the Trinity.’ One of the presbyters, Arius, […] backed by Eusebius of Nicomedia (to be disinguished from Eusebius of Caesarea) and a minority of those present, insisted that Christ […] was not coequal, coeternal or cosubstantial with the Father. […] Constantine then called a council of the bishops of the Church to work out a solution to the dispute. This council met at Nicaea in the early summer of 325.”

Who responded to the growing dispute? "Constantine". This was the emperor at the time.

What did he call for? "a council of the bishops of the Church to work out a solution to the dispute."

What was Constantine's goal? (When Jesus Became God, by Richard E. Rubenstein, p. 46)

“Constantine was far too canny […] His true goal, beyond favoring his co-religionists, was to unite the empire’s diverse, quarreling peoples in one huge spiritual fellowship. […] Constantine’s advisors called his attention to a situation that appeared to jeaporize all these dreams. Its locale, not surprisingly, was that seedbed of religious controversy, Alexandria […] Clearly something should be done to investigate the case and formulate a sensible policy to resolve the conflict.”

What was Constantine's goal? "to unite the empire's diverse, quarreling peoples in one huge spiritual fellowship." Hence, his motivations were not to ascertain the truth, but purely political.

What "truth" did Constantine personally believe in? (The Jesus Establishment, by Johannes Lehmann, p. 173-174)

“The victor at Nicaea was not the Church, but an Emperor who believed in the sun god as one of several deities,”

What did Constantine personally believe in? "several deities". Constantine was polytheistic.

As such, what did Constantine insist that all present at the council should endorse? (The Jesus Establishment, by Johannes Lehmann, p. 173)

“This is what happened at Nicaea. Some six weeks after the Council opened, on June 19, 325, Emperor Constantine insisted that all bishops who had been present should endorse a new creed that confirmed Christ as God and condemned Arius. Anyone who did not sign this document was to be excommunicated and exiled.”

What did Constantine insist upon by pain of excommunication? "a new creed that confirmed Christ as God."

What was any Christian who argued against this accused of? (The Emerging Church, Ronald J. Wilkins, p. 110)

“Once this ‘Nicene Creed’ had been publicly signed by all the bishops and promulgated by Constantine, it became the official creed for all Christians. To deny the divinity of Christ in any way was to put oneself outside of the Christian community and was a crime against the state.”

From this point on, what were Christians who argued against the divinity of Christ accused of? "a crime against the state."

When was this? (Discourses on the Apostles' Creed, by Rev. Clement H. Crock, p. 206)

“Thus, for example, it was not until 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea, that the Church defined for us that it was an article of faith that Jesus is truly God.”

When did the belief that Jesus is truly God become an article of faith that went unchallenged? "not until 325 A.D." This is the reason why people assume as a premise that Jesus is God.

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There are some very good and enlightening answers here, to which I am grateful for the insight. Let's not completely over-complicate our thinking on this, however. Jesus was not exclusively teaching scientists and philosophers. Conversely, most of his audience was of average intelligence with little to no formal education. Why then would meaning be so deeply complex? Would God not know how to express things to his own creations in a way that would be understood by them? Perhaps the better question to ask in the first place is, "why would Jesus say this to people?" He came with a purpose, meaning nothing he said or did was by accident. If he said it, the purpose was to affect the listeners in some way. Since Jesus was always teaching and living by example, you can assume the effect He wanted to have on the listeners was to influence their own behavior. Therefor, it really isn't a matter of how Jesus relates to God in this context. The answer is that Jesus is teaching his audience (and us) how to relate to God, how to speak to others about God, and the bigger picture of who God is as a whole. It would be easy for God to speak with such complexity and exactness that it would go right over our human minds. He brings himself to our level in order to facilitate the speed, capacity, and depth of our understanding.

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  • Welcome! I don't think you have answered the Q. Pls take the 'tour' at bottom left. Some support (from the scriptures or other) for your response is in order. – user48152 Mar 1 at 0:46
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    @user48152 I think I did. The question was, "how can we make sense of Jesus' declaration that the Father is 'his God'?" I answered how we make sense of what He said. The supporting scriptures are the New Testament gospels. There are far too many references to Jesus teaching and living by example to cite them all. I assumed readers have read or will read the gospels if they intend to understand the question or any of the answers here. – Scott Bishop Mar 1 at 2:27
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As a result of the Resurrection, the message of salvation based solely on faith in Jesus gave birth to the Church. The exclusivity of salvation by belief in Jesus, without any knowledge or acceptance of God as found in the Old Testament logically implies the divinity of Jesus. It also raises questions about the nature of that divinity relative to the Old Testament.

The passage in John in which Jesus states He is returning to My Father and My God is an immediate assurance from Jesus that the disciple's previous knowledge of God is not to be abandoned simply because Jesus is now the exclusive means to eternal life. Moreover, being written after Matthew, Mark, and Luke and all of the Letters, Jesus' words in John have the same affect for the Church. Thus heresies such as Marcion's are refuted not only by Church doctrine; but firstly by Jesus' own words to His disciples. In this light the entire Fourth Gospel is seen as affirming Jesus as God (cf. John 1:1, 20:28) maintaining His Father as God. Despite being different the Son has equality with the Father which demands a corresponding equality of Father with Son:

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Hebrews 1 ESV)

He (i.e. God) calls the Son, "God" (1:8). The simplicity of the statement explicitly affirms both the divinity of the Son and the necessity of God who is not the Son.

Given the affirmation of v. 3 that the Son is the effulgence of God's glory and the visible expression of his being, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when the author affirms further that God the Father addresses his Son as θεός at his resurrection he intends to signify that, equally with the Father, Jesus possesses the divine natures...Perhaps the most remarkable feature of 1:8-9 is the sequence ὁ θεός, . . . ὁ θεός, ὁ θεός σου. The God who addresses his Son as 'God' is also God' to his Son, even his exalted Son.1

The Son says "My Father and My God." Scripture says, "He says of the Son...O God." What may be clouded in a limited OT understanding of God's nature is revealed in clarity by the Son:

Of which Son does He in Scripture speak? "My Son"
Of which God does He in Scripture speak? "My God"

Equality of Son with Father is equality of Father with Son. What one says of the other, is the same regardless of who is speaking.


  1. Murray J. Harris, THE TRANSLATION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF ‘O ΘΕΟΣ IN HEBREWS 1:8-9, Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985), pp. 148-149, 160
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    I was going to answer this but you took the words out of my mouth. Good answer. +1 – Dottard Feb 28 at 20:45
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    I think I followed most of your argument, but where does the Father refer to the Son as "My God"? Or do you believe this is implied, that if the Father refers to the Son as "God" there's little distinction between that and calling Him "My God"? – Hold To The Rod Mar 1 at 1:12
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    @RevelationLad I think the verse you cite shows that the Father is the Son's God, but does not show that the Son is the Father's God. The Father says: "therefore God (the son), your God (me), has anointed you...". The Father calls the son 'God' but not 'his (the father) God' – matt2048 Mar 1 at 1:44
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    This makes a mockery of the text... so the Father worships the son - they all worship each other as their God? – user48152 Mar 1 at 2:34
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    @user48152 There is no mention of worship in the verses I cited. Hebrews 1:6 quotes Deuteronomy 32:43 (LXX) saying, "And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God's angels worship him.” – Revelation Lad Mar 1 at 2:39
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Okay, my answer is short and simple, I do not want to be redundant here but I wish to contribute something valuable to this good question and good conversation. The thing is Adam and Eve begat our ancestors. In a similar way, dogs begat more dogs, and cats cats, and so forth. The Father, therefore, begat the son. Here's the twist if humans produce humans, and dogs, dogs. Then when God begat his only begotten son he is also divine.

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    Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please remember to take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. This answer could be improved with some references to support the assertions. – Dottard Mar 1 at 9:32
  • I don't think this answer needs to reference blatantly obvious points...ie that dogs breed dogs and cat breed cats. Following on from that logic, its perfectly reasonable to draw from a known reality in order to state God bred a divine Son...that is a sensible and rational conclusion based on overwhelming common knowledge evidence about the procreation of dogs and cats! I probably would have said, "God begat God"...but hey I get his point here...I'm not throwing red herrings out the...it was a simple answer. – Adam Mar 1 at 10:26
  • @Adam you missed the point as to where i was going with this my friend – itsMe Mar 1 at 10:29
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    Based on what you have written...what point have I missed? I don't necessarily agree with your answer...theologically its not well founded, but logically it works. – Adam Mar 1 at 10:31
  • @itsMe Can you clarify in your answer what you mean by 'begat', since a lot of work seems to be done by that word? In the one case, you are clearly referring to a biological phenomenon of reproduction. Are we to understand that God is reproducing in the same biological sense? – One God the Father Mar 8 at 19:29

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