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John 5:18 is

"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."

There are 2 claims here that the Jews seem to be making. The first is that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath, because of what He did earlier in John 5.

The second has to do with 'calling God His own Father' and therefore 'making Himself equal with God'. This question is about this second claim.

What, exactly, would a more formal argument from the Jews' perspective look like here, if there is a coherent argument to be found (it's possible the Jews simply weren't making sense or thinking things through)? Is the implicit argument

  1. Jesus is calling God His own Father. [granted by all]
  2. To call God one's own Father is to make oneself equal with God.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is making Himself equal with God. [follows 1 and 2]
  4. Only God is equal to God. [unstated premise]
  5. Jesus is not God. [unstated premise]
  6. Therefore, Jesus is blaspheming. [unstated conclusion]

Yet, point 2. or 4. might be thought to be strange ones for a couple of reasons.

First, in light of it seemingly being common belief that the long-awaited Messiah would also be the Son of God.

(See Nathanael at John 1:49 ("“Rabbi,” Nathanael answered, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”"), Peter at Matthew 16:16 ("Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”"), and Caiaphas at Matthew 26:63 ("Then the high priest said to Him, “I charge You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.”"), among other places, or Psalm 2, which applies Christ, King of Israel, and Son of God to one individual, and which especially the Jewish elites Jesus is engaging with here at Matthew 5 would be familiar with)

Second, one might think it would never have crossed the ancient Jews' minds that Jesus, a man, could be God Almighty.

So perhaps the argument is instead something like

  1. Jesus is calling God His own Father. [granted by all]
  2. To call God one's own Father is to make oneself equal with God in a certain sense.
  3. Therefore, Jesus is making Himself equal with God in this sense. [follows 1 and 2]
  4. Only the Messiah is equal to God in this sense. [unstated premise]
  5. Jesus is not the Messiah. [unstated premise]
  6. Therefore, Jesus is blaspheming. [unstated conclusion]

Are these plausible options? Are there other plausible options for the argument being made here at John 5:18?

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    +1 - So often it is just assumed that there is only one clear way to understand the Jew's objection here.
    – Austin
    Jun 2, 2022 at 0:32
  • 3
  • I have given a perfect answer to that question, the reason was that Messiah/Son/Memra of God was divine and Jesus did not fulfill their expectation but appeared a mere man. So his claims were blasphemous for them. They wanted to disprove him by killing him, that nobody else take the claims lightly.
    – Michael16
    Jun 2, 2022 at 8:08
  • @Michael16 I think your answer over there is on the right track. He just wasn't what they were expecting in a Messiah. See John 7, where the debate is over whether He's the Messiah. If they all thought He just claimed to be God or a god, it would be a different debate, right? But no trace of that. Jun 2, 2022 at 16:34
  • You are mistaken, Messiah is God/ Son of God/ memra. These are only Messiah's titles. He is repeatedly shown as divine agent, Isa 6:9, Daniel7, they are all supposed to worship him. After the end of Israel, there maybe many commentaries/talmud disappeared and redacted which showed more evidence of his nature which fits best with the Christian narrative. They have even buried the surviving traditional text just to counter us in hatred. The underlying rule is that countering us of greater importance than admitting truth, so lying is allowed. biblestudying.net/rabbinic4.html
    – Michael16
    Jun 2, 2022 at 16:40

3 Answers 3

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I agree with both lines of logic as presented by the OP. But let me put this in greater context.

  • God is frequently spoken of as the “Father” of the Israelites throughout the OT, Deut 32:6, Ps 89:26, Isa 63:8-10, 16, 64:8, Mal 1:6.
  • the NT writers frequently refer to God as “the Father”, Gal 1:1, Eph 1:3, 5:20, 6:23, Phil 2:11, 1 Thess 1:1, 1 Cor 15:25, 2 Cor 1:3, 11:31, James 1:27, 1 Peter 1:2, 3, 2 Peter 1:17, 2 John 3, etc;

It is precisely for this reason that Jesus begins the model prayer with "Our Father", Matt 6:9; see also Gal 1:4, 1 Thess 3:11, 2 Thess 2:16, Titus 1:4, Col 1:3, Phil 1:2, 4:20, etc.

[Note: The metaphor of adoption is extended by the New Testament’s repeated idea of Christ being our brother (Heb 2:11-13, Ps 22:22, Isa 8:17, 18, Matt 12:48, 49, John 20:17, Rom 8:29) following adoption.]

The great problem that the Jews had in John 5, against which Jesus defends Himself, appears to have several facets:

  1. God (as they understood Him) is Almighty, Grand, Majestic and distant (despite the above). It was precisely this idea that the Gospel of John was written to dispel because in its opening prologue, we read:
  • V18 - No one has ever seen God, but the one and only God, the One being in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known. Compare v1 where the Word is God.
  1. Jesus calls God the Father, "my Father" (V17), ie, His personal Father making Jesus equal with God. [I pause to note, and am supersized to observe that the Jews did not object to this on the basis of strict monotheism!! See appendix below.] This was acknowledged and unchallenged.

Jesus then goes on to say in what aspects He was equal with the Father:

  • V17 - Both the Father and Jesus must "work" continuously
  • V17, 18 - Jesus claims the Father as his own personal Father
  • V19 - The Father and Jesus work together in complete unity (not unison)
  • V21, 26 - The Father and Jesus both have life in Themselves and can raise people from the dead at will
  • V22 - The Father has committed all judgement to the the Son
  • V23 - All must honor the Son as they honor the Father
  • V24, 25 - Jesus' "word" is the key to eternal life

Jesus then summons legal evidence that His testimony about Himself (as outline above) is valid under Jewish law because:

  • V31-38 - He has a second, very weighty witness in His Father.
  • V39, 40 - Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of the Scriptures as Messiah
  • V41-47 - Jesus comes in the Name of the Father and they do not believe Jesus; this, despite the fact that they believe people who come in their own name.

When it is all boiled down, the Jews objected to Jesus, not because what he was saying was wrong, it was obviously correct, but because Jesus' claims undermined they self-satisfied claims about their own authority and Jesus' obviously correct claims were greater.

APPENDIX - YHWH sends YHWH

Let me state unequivocally, that YHWH God of the OT is One as per Deut 6:4

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One.

However, in the Old Testament, God is referred to in many places as more than one person such as:

  • Zech 2:6-12 – the LORD (= YHWH) claims three times that He has been sent by the LORD.
  • In Jer 51:19-23 we have the LORD being sent by the LORD.
  • Isa 48:11-16 – again, the LORD has been sent by the LORD.
  • Isa 63:7-16 – the LORD (described as a Father) sends His divine servant (the angel of His presence) and His Holy Spirit who is grieved (compare Ps 78:40).
  • Ex 23:20 – the angel of the LORD’s presence has the power to forgive sin (but will not). This and the previous reference clearly make the angel of the presence the pre-incarnate Jesus.
  • Hos 1:7 – the LORD saves by the LORD their God.
  • Prov 30:1-4 – the Son of God is as unfathomable as God Himself.
  • Psalm 110 – “The LORD says to my Lord” – Jesus asked about this Psalm on how someone could be both Son and Lord of David – see Matt 22:44, Mark 12:36, Luke 20:42, Acts 2:34.
  • Ps 45 (quoted by Heb 1) talks about the “Son” being God in addition to God the Father.
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Their argument would look like this:

  1. Jesus is working on the sabbath, which only God can work on, being God.

  2. Jesus claims that he is allowed to work on the sabbath because God works on the sabbath, and he works therefore as well, since He is His Son.

  3. Therefore, the sense in which Jesus means He is the Son of God goes beyond the generic 'child of God' sense because it obviously doesn't excuse anyone from breaking the sabbath.

  4. Specifically, the only other sense that makes Jesus' words an argument, is that He is equal with God because He is Son, and vice versa.

The reason that 4 logically follows is that they derive that He is claiming to be equal because He claims to be Son as the reason that whatever God does should apply to Him also. This is how they know He means something unique when He, versus your average Jew, when He says He is "the Son of God." Indeed, this is why the terms "The" Son and "The Father" are used. They clearly refer to a divine Father and Son, and not merely The Divine Father and a creature son. It's "The" Son, and "The" Father. Just as "The" Spirit.

The only way Jesus' argument works is if He is claiming to be, in a word, part of God Himself. As Jesus Himself puts it, they are "one" God. Not two Gods. Not, as Philo the Jew in the first century wrote of the Word of God, "a second God" (although I think we should be charitable with the imprecision of language, and take it in the sense in which it was meant).

We have to first understand Jesus' argument, and John's narration of the event, in order to understand what the Jews meant. Failing to do so is by definition a misinterpretation.

And therefore the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill him, because he did these things [healing] on a sabbath. But Jesus answered them: My Father works until now, and I too am working. Therefore they sought to kill him all the more, because he not only broke the sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Jesus argues that if God, who created the sabbath, is allowed to work during the Sabbath, then so is the Son of God. The argument is simple, and the Jews pick up on the fact that by "Son of God" (John 10:36) and "my Father" Jesus does not merely mean son of God in a generic sense, but in the fullest sense—that by having God for His Father, He is begotten from God Himself, i.e., "I came forth from God" (John 16:28), and therefore the Jews take issue with the belief that Jesus is the "only-begotten of the Father" "come into the world" (ibid. 16:28) to "make His dwelling among us" (John 1:14). They find it blasphemous because they do not believe that the Son is "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). They do not believe that this Son is "God... become flesh" (John 1:1,14).

They take Jesus' identification as "the Son of God" for a claim to be equal with God because this is what Jesus' argument depends on being true. The logic of His argument is extremely simple: just as God never ceased working during all sabbaths ("works until now"), so is the Son "working." The obvious takeaway is that Jesus is claiming to be the sustainer of all creation just as much as the Father. As indeed the New Testament affirms clearly:"... his Son ... [is] the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his essence, and uphold[s] all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:2-3). "...the Son ... is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all, and in him all things consist" (Colossians 1:13-18). Cf. John 15:1-8.

John 10:27-33 My sheep hear my voice: and I know them, and they follow me. 28 And I give them life everlasting; and they shall not perish for ever, and no man shall pluck them out of my hand. 29 That which my Father hath given me, is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of my Father. 30 I and the Father are one.

The argument is again very clear, the Father and the Son are so called because they have "one" nature. Jesus is not some glorified angel, He gives eternal life, and like Jehovah, no one can snatch His elect from His hand. This language is directly from the Old Testament.

Isaiah 43:13 And from the beginning I am the same, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall turn it away?

As elsewhere, Jesus deliberately and clearly conflates the divine work and abilities and prerogatives of the Father to Himself, as can be seen here with the "no one can deliver out of my hand" and "no one can delivered out of My Father's hand." As well as appropriating the image of Israel's Shepherd to Himself, and the prerogative of giving eternal life. This type of conflation is not only obvious, but explicit:

John 5:21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and giveth life: so the Son also giveth life to whom he will.

It's no wonder then that, as in the other instance:

The Jews then took up stones to stone him. Jesus answered them: Many good works I have shewed you from my Father; for which of these works do you stone me? The Jews answered him: For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, maketh thyself God.

Indeed Jesus does declare Himself one with God, and "the" Son of "the" Father, and thus God by nature, but they are simply wrong to condemn Him—for He was God and man, as the very first words fo the Gospel declare in clear, almost childlike language.

But lastly, note that John's narrative is from the perspective of the writer (John), not the Jews. The sought to stone Jesus all the more because x, y z. Not because they claimed he did x, y or z — Jesus did in fact do every single one of these things.

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  • +1 "note that John's narrative is from the perspective of the writer (John), not the Jews. The sought to stone Jesus all the more because x, y z. Not because they claimed he did x, y or z" But then you are agreeing with the hostile Jews that Jesus did indeed break the Sabbath, no? Jun 2, 2022 at 16:28
  • I believe so. After all, Jesus doesn't contest the accusation, but gives the reason for his transgression of the sabbath. This is akin to a man caught stealing, and then saying, Yes, but I'm allowed to steal. You see how Jesus' argument depends on their accusation being true, in a way. The Father is allowed to transgress His own sabbath laws. Was healing strictly necessary, or was the man in peril of his life, as the donkey stuck in a well, say? Insofar as He did what only God could do anyway - heal miraculously - it was a work of works, and thus forbidden on the sabbath imho. Jun 2, 2022 at 16:33
  • !!! But if the Father is allowed to ignore the Sabbath laws, the Father isn't breaking the Sabbath, right? Jun 2, 2022 at 16:36
  • The sabbath is a specific thing which applies to mankind, not God - as given to them by God. "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and they that were with him: 4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the loaves of proposition, which it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for them that were with him, but for the priests only?" God is allowed to break the sabbath. But He's still 'breaking the sabbath' strictly speaking. Jun 2, 2022 at 18:07
  • But David was a mere man, yes? So can mere men be 'allowed' to break the Sabbath also? Jun 2, 2022 at 18:18
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What is described in the Gospel are events which take place on a Sabbath and Jesus' response to the charge brought to Him, that He had violated the Sabbath. The Gospel itself is "neutral" as to the validity of either charge. In other words, the Gospel simply presents what took place: the Jews persecuted Jesus because He "was doing these things on the Sabbath" and the Jews understood His defense as "calling God His own Father" was "making Himself equal to God" and this caused those who were upset to seek to kill Him.

To place the statement "making Himself equal to God" in the theological context of the Gospel, we may consider the first verse:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

The correct understanding of the opening to the Gospel cannot be answered only on the narrow basis of grammar.1Rather, the reader must examine the rest of the Gospel to determine what type of "God/god" was the Word. That is to say, based only on the Word was God/a god... one might think the writer means wisdom, or some other philosophic meaning.

Chapter 5 describes events in Jerusalem which provide one of the answers: the Word was understood by the Jews to call God His own Father which they understood was making Himself equal to God.2

The Expositor's Greek Testament Commentary gives an explanation as to why the Jews may have reached this conclusion:

John 5:17. In some informal way these accusations were brought to the ears of Jesus, and His defence was: Ὁ πατήρ μου … ἐργάζομαι. “My Father until now works, and I work”; as if the work of the Father had not come to an end on the seventh day, but continued until the present hour. Nay, as if the characteristic of the Father were just this, that He works. Philo perceived the same truth; παύεται οὐδέποτε ποιῶν ὁ θεὸς ἀλλʼ ὥσπερ ἴδιον τὸ καίειν πυρὸς καὶ χίονος τὸ ψύχειν, οὕτω καὶ Θεοῦ τὸ ποιεῖν. God never stops working, for as it is the property of fire to burn and of snow to be cold so of God to work (De allegor., ii. See Schoettgen in loc.). Jesus means them to apprehend that there is no Sabbath, such as they suppose, with God, and that this healing of the impotent was God’s work. The Father does not rest from doing good on the Sabbath day, and I as the Father’s hand also do good on the Sabbath.

While the Gospel does not directly deny the charge of violating the Sabbath, the New Testament does. Violating the Sabbath would have been a sin; Jesus was without sin: He did not violate the Law either by healing or by instructing the man to carry his bed.

As to charge of violating the Sabbath, it should not be overlooked the initial reaction was not over healing, but in carrying something:

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 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.’” (ESV)

It is without question the man could have left his bed, and there was no "healing" reason for Jesus to tell the man to remove it, or for the man to obey. Since the place was crowded, people coming and going would not be unusual, but someone carrying something would stand out. In this event it was the carrying of the bed which brought attention to the fact he had also been healed on the Sabbath. These are "the things" Jesus was doing which caused the initial persecution (v. 16).


1. For example, if one examines in isolation the statement: ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος then the absence of the article with θεὸς cannot be determined with absolute certainty. It is possible the first use of the article, τὸν θεόν is kataphoric. However, what follows eliminates that possibility: οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. The point is, the meaning of θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος must be consistent with the entire Gospel.
2. It must be noted that no where in what the Gospel records in this chapter does Jesus say His Father was God: My Father is working until now, and I am working. It is the Jews who understood "My Father" to mean God.

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