John 5:18 (ESV):

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

The concept of equality with God is stated in the verse but not defined. Equality in what sense? Is there any way to infer what the author meant by equality with God from the context? Was the concept of equality with God known to the Jewish leaders who wanted to kill Jesus?

I believe that elucidating the meaning of the expression is a key first step in order to answer other closely related questions, such as:

  • 2
    Whatever the Jews meant exactly, the key here is that Jesus explains exactly what the situation is in his extended response. He is a representative, messenger, and has delegated authority from the Father, i.e., God. So if they think that what he's doing and saying warrants death because it's blasphemy, they're wrong. Commented May 14, 2021 at 17:20
  • @OneGodtheFather - they can only be wrong if you can show that their definition of 'equality with God' is contradicted by the attributes you just listed, and in order to show that you would need to post an answer to this question :-)
    – user38524
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 17:26
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator It's also not clear to me the rabble really knew what they meant. They were upset and confused. 1. You're breaking the Sabbath, so clearly not the Son of God (who wouldn't violate God's law). 2. And you're claiming to be the Son of God, which is blasphemy if you're not! 3. So you're not only breaking the law about the Sabbath, you're blaspheming! The Jews knew someone was going to be the Son of God, they just didn't think it was Jesus. Commented May 14, 2021 at 18:54
  • See Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 21:50
  • First and foremost, the Jews didn't even believe that the God they worshipped would, could, or would have wanted to "have" such a thing as an "only begotten son", whatever they thought that might of meant. The whole idea of it was, to them, insanity. So that was their starting point. They weren't thinking of "son" as in a human son, who is related to and in many ways similar to his father, but not "equal". No human being is "equal" to his or her father, except as also being a human being, so it's pointless to even say it. "Son of God" was crazy to the Jews, so off the rails they went.
    – moron
    Commented Feb 24 at 9:04

10 Answers 10


Jesus never claimed to be equal with the Father. John 5:18 is merely describing one of the reasons that the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus, that he was calling God his own Father (true), making himself equal with God (false). If we interpret “equal” to be “the same as”, Jesus never claimed equal status with God. He always deferred to God the Father as his superior in obedient submission. In fact, in the very next verse he corrects the misinterpretation of the Jews.

19Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.

Later he said in John 14:28:

"You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I."

Lest you think that is temporal subordination, Philippians 2:6 clarifies this.

who, being in the form of God, thought [it] not something to be seized to be equal to God,

(Literal Standard Version (One of the few which translates this pretty accurately)

“Seized” is a better translation of ἁρπαγμὸν because it conveys more clearly the root meaning of taking something by force rather than just grasping something you may already have. The “robbery” of the KJV conveys the correct meaning of the word (taking something that doesn’t belong to you) but bungles the translation by adding “it”.

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

As God’s Son, he was in the form of God, but that certainly wouldn’t make him an equal to be in the form of the Original God. In other words, he did not consider robbery as a means of becoming equal to God. This is consistent with the concept of kenosis. Instead of ambitiously scheming to fill himself of more attributes of deity (as did Lucifer), he elected to go in the opposite direction, emptying and humbling himself to take on the lowly form of man/servant.

Hebrews 1:3 confirms this.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

He is not an equal but a representation of God’s nature, and is currently seated in a subordinate position to his Father.

The Pharisees obviously did not understand what Jesus was saying, partly because their minds were clouded with hate and jealousy, and partly because as Jesus said, quoting Isaiah, “Seeing they do not see....” They did not think Jesus was claiming to be God the Father. He never said, “I am God” or “I am equal to God.” They merely accused him of claiming that so they could have an excuse to kill him for blasphemy. It is also possible that the Pharisees considered that the special relationship that Jesus claimed to have with God as his Father, was a way of setting himself up as equal to God. In either case, they considered his claims a worthy justification for the death penalty.

  • Very nicely put/done. You also have my vote. Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 13:31
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    One and all can also look at David's (one of them at least) much earlier response to the Philippians question, which can be seen here:- hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/55612/… Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 18:00
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    John 5:18 is John's description and his own word, not Pharisee's misunderstanding. Jesus was claiming to be the divine-Messiah, making himself equal to God.
    – Michael16
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 12:35
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    I have seen the "robbery" defined as misappropriation. Jesus did not think equality with God was a misappropriation but... abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/a/a-r-p-a-z-om.html Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 0:51
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    Thanks for that interesting resource @MikeBorden! It gives me an idea for another possible translation. "He did not consider violating personal autonomy by becoming equal to God." The serpent tempted Eve to become like God and Jesus took the opposite attitude in coming down to rescue man from the effect of that sin. If you had written an answer on that, I could have voted you up! Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 2:59

Equal – equivalent – the same – not much needs to be explained. However, should this ‘equal’ pertain to Jesus being equal with God or God?

The argument that John 5:18 – implies that Jesus is equal to God is bit of a fallacy.

Jesus did not say this the Jews did, because he was becoming popular and they wanted to stop him and charge him with blasphemy to get rid of him.

If we are to accept claims made by the Jews / others in the bible then we need to be consistent and have to accept derogatory remarks, a few examples;

Matthew 11:19 - The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

Mark 3:21 - And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

Mark 3:22 - And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

John 8:48 - The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

This is obviously absurd.

Jesus never uses father in the literal sense. How does Jesus / bible use the word Father;

Matthew 5:45 - so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. …..

Matthew 5:48 - You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

1 Timothy 1:2 - To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 20:17 ….. ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

"Israel is my son, even my firstborn" Exodus 4:22.

"for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn." Jeremiah 31:9

"He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son": 2 Samuel 7:13-14.

"the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God." Luke 3:38.

2 Corinthians 6:18 - and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

John 8:42 - Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.

John 8:44 - You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

There are countless verses in the Bible to this effect.

Obviously neither the Devil or God is the physical father – otherwise every believer in Jesus is the physical son/daughter of God.

No more than Joseph is the physical "father to Pharaoh” in Genesis 45:8, and Job is called the "father" of the poor in Job 29:16 so on...

  • 1
    @steveowen thanks for the +1 - father is used figuratively for God in the bible - just as some in the USA may say George Washington is our father / father of our country. God is the father of the righteous / those who follow him. Commented Sep 29, 2021 at 13:17
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    @ another theory. "If we are to accept claims made by the Jews / others in the bible then we need to be consistent and have to accept derogatory remarks". Very good observation. Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 8:22
  • 1
    I don't often agree with your analyses but I can for this one. Upvoted + 1. Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 13:36

Note equal here is singular ἴσον, denoting a single way claiming God as Father made him equal with God. In John 8:17 Jesus spoke of God as if God were his intimate birth father, not his great...great grandfather or origin.

If the Jews believed that Jesus had here claimed full equality with God in the sense of His full divine nature as Paul did, they would have been plural as in Phil. 2:6.

See also What is the significance of ἴσα in Phil. 2:6?


Jesus was not asserting equality with the only true God he worships in John 5:18, considering his response in John 5:19 Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. Does John 5:19 substantiate Jesus claiming to be equal with God? No.

Whose words will we believe? Jesus, who said that his God, the Father, is the only true God, John 17:3, that the Father is greater than him John 14:28 or do we believe his accusers whose father is the devil John 8:44? Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. Jesus' response in John 5:19 shows that his accusers were wrong and sets them straight.

John 5:18 is a false accusation and is not what John believes as John 5:19 shows that the Son can do nothing on his own accord. All iniative is with the Father. Jesus is dependent on the Father. In John 5:26-27 ASV For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself and he gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is a son of man. Note that Jesus did not say he has "life in himself". The Father "granted" to the Son to have the same. According to Jesus nothing is essential to the Father. Unlike Jesus, the Father is not dependent on anyone to "grant" him the possesion of life within Himself.

  • Does John 5:19 substantiate Jesus claiming to be equal with God ? No. - Paul seems to have employed the same terminology in his letter to the Philippians; as such, stating that John 5:18 is a false accusation and is not what John believes seems problematic.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 19:08
  • @Lucian. Post that as a question if it seems problematic to you, then you will get answers. Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 21:57
  • Given its low score, it would seem that it is in your answer's current best interest to include an explanation for how the alleged Jewish misunderstanding appears to echo so closely a Pauline passage describing Christian beliefs, as opposed to erroneous non-Christian rumors, or even malicious anti-Christian propaganda.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 22:26
  • 3
    @Lucian. You are the one maligning by alleging that my answer is anti Christian. I am not in the site for the score. Even Jesus was given a low score when the people around him chose him to be crucified. The people advancing the trinity doctrine murdered people not agreeing to it in the past and it is documented. Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 22:39
  • I was speaking about the Jews, and their alleged misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Christ's words.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 26, 2021 at 22:41

The pertinent word here is ἴσος (hence the English isometric, isobar, isopleth, isometric, isomer, etc) which BDAG defines as:

pertaining to being equivalent in number, size, quality, equal

The word occurs eight times in the NT (Matt 20:12, Mark 14:45, 59, Luke 6:34, John 5:18, Acts 11:17, Phil 2:6, Rev 21;16) and NEVER means "identical", but always equates some aspect of two things as being equivalent in some way.

Therefore, the real question when dealing with ἴσος is, What is the aspect that is being equated? Note that two (John 5:18, Phil 2:6) of the eight times this word appears it is dealing with Jesus being equal (in some sense) to God. Let us examine what aspect in each case is being discussed.

John 5:18 - Because of this, 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.

The surrounding text of John 5:18 explicitly tells us in what ways Jesus was equal to God:

  • V17 - The Father is working and Jesus is working too [It appears this "working" includes healing the sick (V1-9), giving sight to the blind (John 9), raising the dead, John 11, etc.]
  • V19 - The Son does the same things (works) as the Father
  • V21 - The father raises the dead and gives life; the Son raises the dead and gives life
  • V23 - The Son and the Father receive the same honor

Phil 2:6 - Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

In this case the way/aspect in which Jesus was equal with God can be deduced from what Jesus did to "empty Himself" (V7), namely:

  • V7b - took the form of a servant - ie, Jesus was originally ruler of all heaven and earth as God was (Col 1:15-18)
  • V7c - made in human likeness - ie, Jesus was not originally human but was divine (V5)
  • V8a - humbled Himself - He was originally king of heaven and earth as God was
  • V8b - became obedient to death - ie, he was originally immortal as God is (1 Tim 6:17)

Then we follow the reverse process after the incarnation

  • V9a - Jesus was exalted to the highest place - back to where he was before (John 17:5)
  • V9b - greater name that all other as per above
  • V10 - all should worship Jesus (Heb 1:6)

It would be difficult to imagine a more (almost mathematically) precise way of saying that Jesus is God and "equal" to the Father but still distinct from the Father.

  • 4
    The background to John 5:18 is essential. If we ignore the beginning of the verse (“the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him”), we can miss the meaning of this verse. The Jews (probably the religious leaders) needed a reason to put him to death. The cover to kill Jesus was that He broke their sacred sabbath. But did Jesus break the Sabbath? By the time of Jesus, the Jews added oral laws. These laws added many sabbath laws. Because Jesus did not recognize these laws, the Jews accused Jesus of breaking the sabbath. So the first charge by the Jews to murder Jesus was invalid. Commented May 14, 2021 at 11:42
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    The second charge was true and false: “but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” While Jesus did call God His own Father, He never made Himself equal with God. In the same chapter, He said His very own life came from the Father (v. 26). In John 10:29, He said that His Father “was greater than all.” In John 14:28, He said, “…I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Jesus did not break the Sabbath (in the context) and did not make Himself equal with God. Commented May 14, 2021 at 11:44
  • +1 @Dottard, a definitive answer to an extremely difficult question.
    – user35953
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 16:19
  • 3
    Referencing John 5:19 and omitting that Jesus in that very verse says he can do nothing of himself is ... what's the word ... huṣpāh? He does not say the opposite (the Father can do nothing of Himself). There is a very clear asymmetry here. Similarly, v. 20 the Father shows the Son. And on and on. Commented May 14, 2021 at 17:13
  • 1
    @HoldToTheRod - Jesus' pre-existence and His voluntary humiliation, "kenosis" is described in Phil 2:5-8 about which there has been much written. Jesus temporarily gave up the power and prestige of heaven during His incarnation.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 21:24

What does it mean to be "equal with God" in John 5:18?

John 5:18 (ESV):

''This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God'' (John 5:18 ESV).

Equality with God (in doing good works)

The context tells us what ''equality with God'' means. In John 5:18, the Jews wanted to stone Jesus because they believed Jesus broke the sabbath just because he healed the sick man. Verse 16 said ''the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things (i.e. healing the sick) on the Sabbath''. But this wasn't the only reason why the Jews wanted to stone Jesus. The other reason actually made the Jews to seek ''all the more to kill him'' and that's ''calling God his own father'' meaning ''making himself equal with God''.

When Jesus calls God his ''own Father'': The corollary of God being Jesus’ ''own father'' is that Jesus is God’s ‘own son’’. One of the earliest N.T. text indeed spoke of Jesus as God’s ‘’own son’’ (Grk. idiou huiou Romans 8:32 ). In the context, Jesus was claiming to be "the son" (Grk. ho huios) (v. 19) of his "own father" (Grk. patera idion) and "the son of man" (Grk. huios anthropou) (v. 27).

In just one verse earlier (v. 17), Jesus did call God ''my father'' (Grk. ho pater mou) and said that his father was ''working until now'' (Grk. heos arti egazetai) and he (Jesus) himself was also working: ''and I am working '' (Grk. kargo ergazomai). Jesus was claiming to be equal with God in doing good works (in context, the works were specifically referring to the healing of the sick man on sabbath).

In Luke 6:34, the Greek word isos refer to ''the same thing'' (i.e. referring to the same ''amount'' in context). in John 5:18, the Greek word isos refer to ''the same thing'' (i.e. the same works) which the Father and the Son do.

Jesus was not doing it alone. Jesus was ''[doing] the same thing [i.e. breaking the Sabbath, by healing the sick man] with God''. The Jews couldn't accept the words of Jesus because according to Jesus, he was not alone doing the works but that God himself was working (i.e. by healing the sick man, which was for the Jews, it meant breaking the sabbath) (v.17) and that he (Jesus) cannot do the works (i.e. healing the sick man/ break the sabbath) unless he sees the Father himself does it (v.19). The Jews saw it as Jesus speaking evil of God (i.e. blasphemy) that is why they sought all the more to kill Jesus.

Based on verse 19, Jesus claimed that he was able to do ‘’nothing’’ (Greek: ouden) about the Sabbath. He wasn’t changing the Sabbath, adding his own ideas to it. Jesus was merely obeying the sabbath ‘’in the same way’’ (Greek: homoia) or in the original way it was given by God.

''So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.'' (John 5:19 ESV)

Jesus believed that the Father himself would have broken the sabbath [of the current Jewish understanding]. Jesus was explaining that what he had done (i.e. healing the sick on a sabbath day) was something God himself would do if God were in such a scenario. This is why Jesus claimed that he could not have broken it (i.e. i myself can do nothing). Breaking the sabbath wasn’t something Jesus could have done without a basis. Jesus explained that he could not have done it if he didn’t see God himself doing it. God is doing good on sabbath days. This is what God showed Jesus and this is what Jesus will do. And this is what Jesus had done on the sabbath day.

Jesus did break the sabbath, the sabbath which the Jews themselves knew, not the sabbath which God himself knew. God knows exactly what the sabbath truly means. The sabbath wasn’t what the Jews think that it really was. Jesus was doing good on a sabbath day. That’s not breaking the sabbath but fulfilling it. For Jesus, the sabbath is not only a rest day but also a day to do good deeds.

John 5:1-19 (ESV):

5 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic[a] called Bethesda,[b] which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews[d] said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father[e] does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.

Jesus talked more about his equality with God in other areas in the subsequent verses (5:19-30).

Not only did Jesus doing the same thing with God (i.e. healing the sick on sabbath) in 5:1-7, 5:19 but he also will be doing the same thing (i.e. greater works, raising the dead and judging all men ) with God in 5:19-30.

Equality with God (in raising the dead)

Jesus will resurrect the dead just as (i.e. equally as/ precisely the same way as) God will do it (5:21). ''

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.'' (John 5:21 ESV)

Equality with God (in receiving honor from everyone)

''All'' (Grk. pantes) will honor the Son ''just as'' (Grk. kathos, meaning, ''equally as/ precisely the same way as'') they honor the Father (v. 23). Verse 23 uses the phrase "for this reason" (Grk. hina), showing the reason why everyone will honor the Son and that's because the Son has been given ''all judgment'' (i.e. all of what the Father himself opined in righteousness) according to verse 22. The Father himself ''judges no one'' (v. 22a). Jesus is also the "the Son of Man" (Grk. huios anthropou) (v. 27b) in addition to being "the Son" (Grk. ho huios) (v. 19) of his "own father" (Grk. patera idion) (v. 18). The reason why the Father gave to the Son the authority to ''execute judgment'' (5:27a) is because Jesus is the Son of Man (v. 27b). In judging all men, Jesus does the judging by means of reporting what God the Father himself had told him (''As I hear, I judge'', v. 30). This is similar to what a prophet does. A prophet reports what God has told him.

''For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.'' (John 5:22-23, 5:27, 5:30 ESV)

In ancient Jewish literature, ''the son of man'' (Aramaic: bar enosh) refers to one who is a human being.

A “son of man” is, of course, an idiomatic way of designating a human being in ancient Semitic languages (Hebrew & Aramaic), and “sons of man” the plural equivalent. (source)

In Daniel 7:13-14, a divine figure (a celestial being, not a human being) was described as ''One Like a Son of Man''. Some ancient Jews deemed this divine figure as the translated patriarch, Enoch. They had this speculation that the Enoch had been transformed into an angel, was named ''The Lesser YHWH'', sat on the throne of God in heaven, and became the one who will execute all judgment in behalf of God (source).

Another ancient Jewish tradition was preserved in the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible (in the Old Greek (OG), not the Septuagint (LXX) that the divine Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14 was God's very own theophany ('' the one like the Son of Man, coming ''as the Ancient of Days''). (source)

Another Jewish traditon was contemporary to the apostles and that's Philo's the concept of the Logos (source). Philo followed an ancient tradition of God having two divine powers: (1) the creative power, and the (2) ruling power. For the former, Philo refers to as ''God'' (Grk. theos) and for the latter, Philo referred to as ''Lord'' (Grk. Kyrios) which was both exemplified by the Logos of God. This Logos was the ''second God'' and as such its associated with the other Jewish tradition of the ''second Power'' ( = ''the second Yahweh'') which was referring to the divine Son of Man. Under the concept of the Logos, Yahweh is seen as totally transcended and does not do things directly but does everything through the Logos. This concept was also found in John. The prologue of John introduced Jesus as the Logos through whom God does everything. In John 5, God the Father judges ''no one'' ( recall that under the Logos concept, Yahweh is seen as totally transcended and does not do things directly) but gave it all to the Son, the Son himself will execute the judgment (here the Son was seen as the Logos through whom the Father had given the activity of judging).

In the Hebrew bible and other ancient Jewish texts, the term ''son of God'' was used both to angels and humans. The Qumran Jews who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (circa 300 B.C.E. - 1st century C.E.) believed that that Yahweh is the father of all gods. This posits that all gods were the ''sons of God'', God being the ''Most High'' (Deuteronomy 32:8 , Psalm 82:6 DSS). These gods were the angels as seen in the Septuagint (Deuteronomy 32:8 LXX). The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint were both very ancient, older than the Masoretic text but the latter agreed with the former in Psalm 82:1, 82:6 in having the ''gods'' as the ''sons of the Most High'. This shows that the original Israelites believed in lesser gods with Yahweh being the high god. The concept of the high god and lesser gods were ubiquitous in the Ancient Near East (ANE) where Israel also existed (source).

The other Jewish meaning of ''son of God'' refers to a human being. To call a man God's son is to believe that he's ''righteous'' (source). In John 8:42, the Jews said they had one father who was God and that they were not illegitimate children. The same concept was applicable to John 5:18 because based on the context, Jesus was claiming to be the ''son of man'' (Greek: bar enosh) in the sense of ''human being'' who was 'God's son'' (i.e. righteous) imitating what his own father (i.e. God) was doing i.e. good works (v. 19). However, Jesus used the articular huios (Grk. ho huios) which meant that Jesus was not merely speaking of himself as one of the sons of God (one of the righteous people) but specifically as ''the Righteous One'' (cf. 1 John 2:1). This showed that Jesus was claiming to be the Anointed One (''The Messiah'') in John 5:18. The other meaning of ''son of God'' (its meaning in association with being a divine being) is also applicable in John 5:18 because ''the son of man'' being linked to ''the Logos was God'' in John's prologue (1:1-3). Recall that in ancient Jewish understanding, being the Son of Man was also referring to a divine being: 'The Second YHWH'', which was in turn related to the Jewish Logos concept, the Logos being ''the Second God'' and being ''God'' in Philo. Scholars call the unifying concepts of the Son of Man being the Lesser Yahweh/Second Yahweh and the Logos being the Second God as ''Second Power'' (source).


According to the context (John 5:1-17, 5:19), Jesus was ''equal with God [in doing good works on Sabbath] in John 5:18. This is the reason why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus. It's because Jesus is placing himself on the same capabilities as God, i.e. to do what God can do, as the unique Son of God (John 3:16) and as the incarnate Divine Word (John 1:1, 1:14).

Jesus talked more about his equality with God in other areas in the subsequent verses (5:19-30). Not only did Jesus doing the same thing with God (i.e. healing the sick on sabbath) in 5:1-7, 5:19 but he also will be doing the same thing (i.e. greater works, raising the dead and judging all men ) with God in 5:19-30.

In verse 20, Jesus Christ said that God the Father shows the Son everything he is doing which logically entails that the Son does everything in the same way (Grk. homoios) God the Father does everything, based on verse 19.

In verse 20, Jesus also said that God the Father will show greater works than these (i.e. the healing of the sick man sabbath). In the context, the greater works refers to the (i) raising the dead, (5:21, 5:25, 5:26, 5:28) and (ii) judging all men (5:22, 5:23, 5:27, 5:30). And both are equally mentioned in 5:29.

In John 5, Jesus was equal with God in all these areas because of his unique sonship:

(1) Jesus is the human Messiah (''The Son'') who imitates the good things God the Father does (v. 19).

(2) Jesus was the divine Messiah (''The Son of Man'') whose function as judge (vv. 22, 27, 30) reflect also his identity as the totally divine Logos (John 1:1-3, 1:17-18). This showed us that in the latter part of the first century C.E., Jesus was already deemed as eternally divine.

The Gospel of John seemed to adopt the other variant of Jewish tradition about the Son of Man (identifying him as the Ancient of Days i.e. God himself, not as Enoch) since a totally divine Logos in John 1:1-3 required a consistent identification of a totally divine Son of Man in 5:17-30.

Truly, Jesus is the ''only son of his kind'' (Grk. monogenes huios John 3:16, 18) as no other son is like Jesus in being both the Son of God and divine Son of Man simultaneously.

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    I concur with that Conclusion. Upvoted +1. Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 21:47
  • These continuous edits of yours are driving me crazy. I think you may now have gone beyond all that I can agree with. I am therefore reversing my upvote. Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 16:14
  • @OldeEnglish I finished editing now. I just included John 5:19-30 because they also speak of Jesus being equal with God. I see you agreed only on the first part. :)
    – R. Brown
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 16:37
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    I think this is a good answer +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 8:58
  • @Dottard, thank you :)
    – R. Brown
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 19:57

What does it mean to be "equal with God" in John 5:18?

This scripture has seen lots of alternate theories about Jesus' status relative to God and/or the Father. The terms Father and God can be used interchangeably without complication as Jesus expressed.

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling 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, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

We will cover some fundamental issues first then get to the significant twist in this matter.

  • "became obedient to death - ie, he was originally immortal as God." says Dottard.

A common theme is that Jesus IS God, but somehow (it's a mystery apparently) stopped being God so he could do lot's of human things like be tempted and die.

To the verse in question.

because of this, then, were the Jews seeking the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the sabbath, but he also called God his own Father, making himself equal to God. John 5:18 Youngs

  • Jesus wasn't the one claiming equality - he never said any such thing.
  • He always places the Father above himself. Should we take ONE verse and make it override and contradict all other scripture on this matter?
  • John expresses that the Jews were confused, they were angry. Claiming Jesus broke the Sabbath (wrong). They also, wrongly determined, that by Jesus truthfully saying he was God's son, this meant, somehow, that Jesus was equal with God! Clearly, someone thought this then - but how should we understand this 'equalness'?

Following on from John's observation about the Jews and their misguided assumptions - the very next verse confirms Jesus' not equal with God status, and continues this theme through the chapter in some important areas.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the son is able to do nothing of himself... (note the, "Truly, truly")

  • not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the son v22
  • the Father who sent him v23
  • as the Father has life in Himself, so He gave to the son also to have life in himself v26
  • I can do nothing on my own v30
  • I do not seek my own will but the will of Him who sent me v30
  • the works which the Father has given me to accomplish v36
  • I have come in my Father’s name v43

Of all these examples, the Father giving life to the son is alone enough to forcefully show Jesus is not EQUAL with God in everything at all!

What does equal mean?

Let us not assume what equal means. We can see other uses don't automatically show that the two referents are rendered the same! IOW, by saying he is equal with God - this doesn't make him the same as God. Equality is a relative term and not necessarily to be applied to every aspect as noted in 3 examples below.

Then Judah approached him (Joseph) and said, “Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. Gen 44:18

But I will keep on doing what I am doing, in order to undercut those who want an opportunity to be regarded as our equals in the things of which they boast. 2Cor 11:12

‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ Matt 20:12

Equal should not automatically mean two things are exactly the same outside of mathematics. It may predominately mean they share similar experiences, features or power, influence...

Jesus was certainly equal with God in some ways. He was without sin and holy. He shared the nature of God as loving, wise, benevolent because he is God's son born outside of the corruption of sin nature all men have from Adam - and that is where the equality ends.

In this small sampling, Jesus is UNequal with God.

  • God is immortal - Jesus was not - he is now. Rom 6:9, 1Pet 3:18
  • God is life - Jesus depended on God for life - twice.
  • God cannot be tempted - Jesus could and was (but w/o sin)
  • God is all knowing - Jesus was not.
  • God is spirit - Jesus said he was not, but now has a body with spirit life.
  • God is all powerful - Jesus was not, he relied on God's provision and answered prayer for all he did.
  • God is God - Jesus was filled with the fullness of God
  • God is God - Jesus was the image of God
  • God is Creator - Jesus is declared heir to all things Heb 1:2
  • God is God - Jesus is made Lord and Christ
  • God has all authority - He gave authority to Jesus

All the times when Jesus said, 'I do as the Father does' John 8:38, commands 14:31, or 'I am not doing my will, but the Father's', or many similar statements about Jesus' deferral and obedience to God are ample evidence that Jesus and God are supremely distinct. Jesus being filled with God's holy spirit which enabled him to accomplish his awesome task of redeeming creation.


Yes Jesus shares some commonality with God, his Father. They are equal in some important matters - this enabled Jesus to live as the 'son of God' and triumphantly accomplish his mission. But these few 'equalities' by no means whatsoever make Jesus = God, or to actually be as God as many seem to think when read in a cursory manner without due consideration of some important facts and the abundant scripture to refute a 'Jesus is God' idea.

Jesus knew exactly how he was the same as his Father. But he also knew his Father was also his God!

Having some similarities gave Jesus a heavenly edge that allowed him some latitude and the authority to throw some weight around if he felt the need. He, rightly, chose to take the servant heart, the humble and obedient course, and not of the entitled son! Jesus having been given the authority by God to speak, to act, to judge in a way that had God's absolute support - they were as one, even equal in this matter.

  • This answer and many of the comments left on it have been correctly flagged as unkind, rude, or abusive. All comments have been purged, and the answer itself will be deleted if it isn't updated to be respectful and kind to others. Yes, many users in the community have a heavy trinitarian bias, just as many others have a heavy anti-trinitarian bias. But if users from any perspective fail to interact respectfully with others, appropriate action will be taken.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 12:22
  • The Greek is clear; Phlp 2:5 says "το ειναι ισα θεω", which means "to be just like God". Despite the Pauline corpus having a tendency to romanticize christological beliefs, it still stays clear of blasphemy against God. It is impossible to argue for reading "ισα" to mean "identity", like curdling cheese (see "ισα τυρω" in LXX Job 10:10).
    – David
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 12:40
  • Missed this when it was originally posted! Excellent answer. "Claiming Jesus broke the Sabbath (wrong)" This seems quite important to me - it makes it difficult to argue the narrator was claiming Jesus was equal, unless one wants to say the narrator was also claiming Jesus broke the Sabbath! Also note the 'He replied' immediately after. More likely, the narrator is just summarizing what the hostile Jews were saying. Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 6:28

Aside from John 5:18 there are other verses where Jesus was accused of blasphemy by the Jews. And, whether or not the Jews are correctly or incorrectly understanding Jesus is not the issue.

The issue is what was it that Jesus said that caused the Jews to say He was claiming to be God that so upset them? Now, steveowen made this statement. "Jesus wasn't the one claiming equality - he never said any such thing."

Yes He did at John 10:30, "I and My Father, We are one." Vs31, "The Jews took up stones AGAIN to stone Him. Jesus says at vs32, "Why are you stoning Me?" Vs33, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, MAKE YOURSELF GOD."

Notice that at John 5:18 they accused Him of making Himself equal with God, but here they deduced correctly that Jesus was making Himself out to be God.

Now, I know for a fact that some are going to say that John 10:30 is talking about Jesus and His Father being one in purpose. That would be a given based on the verses before John 10:30.

Jesus had just stated that the sheep are equally safe in His hand and in His Father's hand. The power of the Son is equal to that of the Father but much more is implied here. Jesus asserted the essential unity of the Father and the Son in the word "one" (hen).

It is a neuter number to indicate equality of essence, attributes, design, will, and work. "One" (meaning "one thing") only excluding personal identity. Jesus distinguishes the "I" from the "Father" and uses the plural verb "are" denoting "we are."

Thus these words separate the persons within the Godhead, but "one" asserts their unity of essence or nature as identical. It should be pointed out that at John 10:24 (and this is very important) they ask Him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."

John 10:25, "I told you and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. Vs26, "But you do not believe because you are not My sheep." Vs27, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me."

Verse 28, "and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand." So in context, the point is not necessarily of the Father and Jesus being one in purpose. Jesus is explaining who He is based on the Jews asking Him at John 10:24.

So, why does Jesus bring up Psalm 82:6 at John 10:34? It's certainly not to show that He is one in purpose with His Father. According to Jesus at vs36, the subject is still blasphemy and the "gods" issue from Psalm 82:6.

Jesus says at vs36, "do you say of Him, whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said I am the Son of God?"

What is His point? Jesus is taking the Jew's statement about Him blaspheming to its logical conclusion to show that they are bein inconsistent. In effect Jesus is saying, "If you say that I am blaspheming, you must also hold that God is blaspheming because He said to those by whom the word of God came, "ye are gods."

Nowhere, either here, at John 5:18, at John 8:58, at John 19:7 or at the trial of Jesus at Matthew 26:59-66 does Jesus deny He's the Son of God or even the fact of Thomas's declaration that He is God at John 20:28.


Yes, Jews knew the principle of equality with God in both a) negative/blasphemous sense and b) positive/non-blasphemous senses.

a) When Satan desires to be equal, or as in this passage is written with the same power, "similar" (ὅμοιος) to God putting himself above creation himself being a part of creation, that’s sin and blasphemy (Isaiah 14:13-14).

b) When the same Isaiah calls the coming Messiah “mighty God” (9:6), this means that he worships Him and since only God can be worshipped, He, then is equal to God. Or when Moses worships that special unique Angel of God in burning bush (Exodus 3:2-4), who also bears the name of God in Himself and has divine authority to forgive or not (Exodus 23:21), which none of angels can have in principle - this worshipable Angel with authority to punish or forgive, also can be such, that is to say, legitimately worshippable, only through being regarded as equal to God.

The Lord Jesus Christ identifies Himself with this unique Angel, thus claiming to be humanly incarnate Him, by authoritatively forgiving sins manifestly to all, or working miracles without prayers by own sovereign authority, or accepting worship from people etc., which Jews take as blasphemy of man stealing the privilege of God. However they are bad theologians and even worse philologists.

Paul, however, a good theologian and a good philologist understands well this identification and its validity (1 Cor. 10:4), telling, furthermore, that the Lord Jesus Christ for all eternity was equal to God being "in form" (ἐν μορφῇ) of God, just like He later was manifested "in form" of man, that is to say, as being "in form" of man means 100% man, so "in form" of God, by parallel philological necessity means 100% God, and that's why equal to God (ἴσα θεῷ) (ibid.). That's why the Lord Jesus Christ is worshipped and to Him "all knees of all earthly, heavenly and subterranean creatures bend", that is to say, the entire creation from angelic hosts to the very lowest worships Him (Phil. 2:10), for to bend knees to any lower entity than Creator God, is a sacrilege of idolatry, but to bend knees to the Lord Jesus Christ is a necessary condition of co-worshiping the Father with Him, that's why Paul says that creation worships the Lord Jesus Christ and acknowledges His Lordship in glory of the Father (Phil. 2:11), and John says that who has no Son as the Lord, has neither the Father as God (1 John 2:23), that is to say, who does not offer divine honor and worship to the Son, as He Himself commands (John 5:23), such a misguided one cannot in principle please and worship the Father either.

Just kick out from mind such a nonsense that the Father can either create the world or provide salvation by bypassing His Logos, the Latter due to this very fact of indispensability for the Father in those crucial matters, and in all matters, is co-eternal and co-uncreated with the Father; read that all, without exception, of blessings and promises of God were fulfilled to humans through and only through Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), and why do you think that nothing was fulfilled without Him? Yes, you guessed it correctly! - because it was ontologically impossible for the Father to fulfill them without Him, Christ, the Incarnate Logos of the Father, like in a nice patristic analogy, the sun cannot in principle enlighten without its rays, as it were bypassing them, for it is with rays and only with rays that the sun enlightens. If to the infinite and perfect God somebody is ontologically necessary and indispensable, then this somebody is also infinite and perfect, that being the only possibility left, and infinite and perfect is equal to infinite and perfect.


Two Gods in Heaven; Two Powers in Heaven

For a detailed discussion see the books by those titles: Two Powers in Heaven, by Segal and Two Gods in Heaven, by Peter Schafer. Though I quote from Biblestudying site, which contains ample references and excerpts and detailed evidence.

What does the equality mean? It means having the divine attributes as ascribed to the Messiah; Metatron- the chief angel of the Lord; Wisdom; the Memra or Logos; the Holy Spirit- Shekinah. The reason is their rejection of his self identification or claims of being the divine Messiah. The heavenly status, above man; it can even include angels- but in the context of Jesus, it was unequivocally the Messianic identity in question. The enemies wouldn't condemn him for claiming to be the Messiah, but it was more convenient to their purpose, to charge him for blaspheming and being a rival of God. For this reason, Jesus replied to them in John 5:19, stating that the Son cannot do anything of his own, and he works in full submission and harmony with the father; proving that he is not claiming rivalry with God. For this reason the passage of Matt 26 is very important to show how they charged him for blasphemy, on his claim to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7, which is the Messianic divine figure.

[Matt 26:64-66 ESV] Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

All of his claims like the above one were Messianic claims, and this charge of blasphemy proves that the notion of the Messiah was quite divine. The idea of the divine nature of the Messiah was common and popular, they had no problem in accepting the complex nature of the one God who appears as multipersonal; they hardly saw the divine or semi-divine perception of the Messiah in conflict with God's sovereignty or authority. The Messiah was synonymous with the titles: Son of Man, and Son of the most high, the Son of God. They believed in complex Monotheism, a doctrine that has been forgotten and changed in Judaism only to counter the Christians. Yet, they appealed to the divinity of the Messiah, to charge Jesus for blasphemy, and equality with God. For them, he did not deserve to be the Messiah, thus deserved death. He did not fit with their expectation of that divine King.

The Messiah is known to be equal to God

Below Segal comments specifically on how the idea that man was created in the image of the Word demonstrates that “‘son of man’ traditions preceded the gospels” and included “pre-Christian” traditions involving an exegesis of Daniel 7:13 as referencing “God’s human hypostasis.” And once again, the basis of the belief is attributed to passages in the Hebrew Bible.

Of course, Philo does describe the heavenly Adam in terms which are elsewhere used of the “son of man.” He also evidences similar ideas about the heavenly logos. So we must allow that some sort of “son of man” traditions preceded the gospels. It would not be surprising to find that the pre-Christian traditions were a variety of conflicting exegeses of Dan. 7:13, all describing an unnamed figure, possibly God’s human hypostasis or a principal angel who carries the name of God. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 204

More generally speaking, the quote below (which we have seen earlier) demonstrates that by the time of rabbinical Judaism concepts of such “God’s human hypostasis” or a “manlike figure” enthroned next to God were prevalent in several groups of pre-rabbinic Jews including Philo, Christians, apocalyptists, and mystics.

By the end of the second century, at least two different kinds of heretics were opposed in rabbinic polemic. The earliest polemic was designed to counter apocalyptic, mystical or Christian identification of a manlike figure enthroned as judge next to God, as described in various epiphany texts. The second to emerge involved the claim that the creator was ignorant of a higher god and that there as a complete separation of divine mercy from divine justice, even to the extent of making them properties of two different gods. The first tradition could be seen as early as Philo in Hellenistic Judaism and was continuously employed by mystics, apocalyptists and Christians. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 244

Lastly, we have already taken note that rabbinic concepts of the memra and shekhinah as well as rabbinic texts such as the Mekhilta exhibit distinct hypostases of God that are not separate beings. Likewise, not only can we list non-rabbinic groups as accepting such ideas, but we can also include early, second-century, rabbinic figures like Rabbi Akiba in this list of Jewish sectarians who subscribed to the belief in a divine, man-like, hypostasis of YHWH.

Rabbi Akiba (110-135 C.E.) affirms the possibility, stating that the other throne was for David. Akiba must be identifying the “son of man” with the Davidic messiah. Nor was R. Akiba alone in the rabbinic movement in identifying the figure in heaven as the messiah. There is some evidence that Judaism contained other traditions linking these verses in Daniel with the messiah. However plausible R. Akiba’s interpretation, it is opposed by his colleague, R. Yosi, who explicitly states that the throne is for a divine rather than a messianic figure. It is not clear that Akiba would have seen the two categories as contradictory. Yet, the outcome of that controversy was that R. Akiba agreed that the two thrones in heaven should symbolize the two aspects of God’s providence – His mercy and His justice. God is viewed as sitting on one throne when judging mercifully and on the other when judging by strict justice. It is significant that a central figure in the rabbinic movement like R. Akiba was alleged to have proposed messianic interpretations of Daniel 7:9. Ironically he subsequently reconsidered those opinions by substituting an opinion in which both figures in heaven were seen to be divine, one God in two hypostases. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 47-49

This means that Jewish belief in a man-like, hypostatic person of YHWH who served in a mediatory or messianic role spanned the gamut of early Judaism including all of the various sects of the religion including: Jewish apocalyptists, Jewish Christians, Jewish mystics, Jewish, Hellenistic philosophers (like Philo), and even early prominent Pharisaic rabbis like Akiba. Moreover, all of these sects used the same biblical passages to derive their shared Complex Monotheistic beliefs. The exegetical origin and universal presence of these beliefs in all sections of Judaism prior to the close of the second century AD demonstrates their authentically Jewish and biblical nature. [....] As we conclude this section, we should make a few additional comments on the significance and frequency of these Jewish beliefs in relation to the New Testament. Specifically, it is worth noting that the prevalence of Complex Monotheism within pre-rabbinic Judaism as well as the foundational concepts and identifications of the hypostatic persons of YHWH explains the treatment of Complex Monotheism in the New Testament itself. When we first encounter Complex Monotheism in the New Testament, it is not accompanied by an explanation. Likewise, the titles associated with the persons of God are not accompanied by explanation. On the contrary, the Jewish authors of the New Testament treat Complex Monotheism and the titles for the persons of YHWH as if they need no explanation. For these Jewish authors, the fundamental concepts and titles of Complex Monotheism are already familiar and understood by both themselves and their audiences. The familiarity and lack of introductory explanation is exactly what we would expect once we recognize the historical reality of first-century Judaism. Jews in Palestine needed no introduction or explanation of these things, because they weren’t new to them. They weren’t foreign or novel concepts they were learning about or talking about for the first time. On the contrary, they were long-standing and well-known facets of the existing Jewish, monotheistic, biblical concept of God.

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    I don't understand why you have to quote at length unrelated texts - we are here to discuss what the bible says. After the few scriptures you refer to, the rest is opinion. with practically zero biblical reference.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 12:20
  • @steveowen every word is backed with evidence. You should study that link I gave, and if still unable to find reference then ask me.
    – Michael16
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 12:22
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    We could all quote books ad nauseam - but it is not an hermeneutic approach. We'll see how others validate it.
    – Steve
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 12:27
  • @steveowen it gives an overview of the divine Messiah as understood by those of the times. The answers aren't supposed to be strictly exegetical explaining a particular passage or limited to the biblical text itself.
    – Michael16
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 12:36
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    @steveowen - there is validity to citing historic perspectives on texts, especially when those sources are close historically to the texts themselves. Hermeneutics is an academic discipline, and so it's appropriate to cite sources in answers. On a Q&A site there are often different answers to each question, each of which may be useful. Rabbi Akiba will bring one historic view, as might Ignatius or Polycarp or Clement. They will follow different hermeneutic principles to modern readers, but the additional perspectives can be helpful for understanding how texts were received by early readers.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Oct 7, 2021 at 12:27

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