So Jesus answered them, "I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (Jn. 5:19 NET)

  1. What can the Son do for himself?

  2. Why can Christ do nothing by himself but only what he sees the Father do?

  3. What is it that the Son cannot do for himself?

  • That which is not within the "but only" that which the Father sees doing or That which is not within "but only" that which sees the Father do....
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 3:08
  • 2
    They are two distinct statements. 1. The Son can do nothing of himself. .2. The Son can only do whatever the Father does. The statements are mutually exclusive. One is not 'within' the other.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 3:11
  • 1
    Are you asking for Unitarians only to answer this question?
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 12:38
  • No... Did I use the tag improperly? I will delete.
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 12:41
  • 1
    Look at Tags on the left-hand-side of the screen. Click any tag to see a list of questions with that tag, or go to the tag list to browse for topics that interest you.
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 12:47

4 Answers 4


John 5:18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he ...said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
5:19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do: for whatever he does, these also the Son does likewise.
5:20 For the Father loveth the Son, and shows him all things that He himself does: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.

John begins this book with the grand announcement that the WORD, referring to Jesus Christ, was from the beginning, He was God, and was with God. And the Word was made flesh (incarnation) taking on the life of a human being. So John, the writer of this book, is telling us, Christ IS God, equal with the Father.

The Jewish leaders didn't believe this. They maintained that Christ was a mere man, and His claiming to be equal with God, was a crime worthy of death.

Jesus came to this world as a human, to live as a human, and depend fully upon God the Father, and carry out absolutely nothing but the Father's will.

Jesus and the Father in their relationship shared a oneness of complete harmony, for in John 10:30 he says, "I and my Father are One". To maintain that oneness it is impossible for Jesus to start acting on His own, in the sense that He would do anything "of himself" following His own agenda separate and apart from the Father.

He, as the Son of God, was surrendered to the Father's will, and dependent upon His power.

Phil.2:6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
2:7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

So utterly was Christ emptied of self that He made no plans for Himself. He accepted God's plans for Him, and day by day the Father unfolded His plans.

It wasn't always easy. In the garden He prayed in agony, His humanity shrinking from the ordeal ahead;

Luke 22:42 "Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."

Here again He surrendered Himself fully to the will of the Father. >Hebrews 5:8 "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;"

Jesus understands that it is not always easy to submit ourselves to the will of God.

Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.


John 5:19 (NIV) 19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself;

Jesus makes a clear and ambiguous statement – that he relies on God for everything and all guidance and power comes from God.

Acts 2:22 Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

John 14:28 - My God is greater than I.

John 10:29 - My God is greater than all.

Matthew 12:28 - I cast out devils by the Spirit of God.

I can of mine own self do nothing … (John 5:30)

…I with the Finger of God cast out devils…(Luke 11:20)

…All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (Matthew 28:18)

John 13:3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;

John 5:30 - I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgement is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the God which hath sent me.

Matt 24:36 - But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Hebrew 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears,to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Jesus fears death (Mark 14:36). 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

John 11:41 (Lazarus) 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Matthew 9:8 states: ‘When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.’

John 6:28-29 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

General & others

Luke 21:40 - The knowledge of Jesus increases with his age [God has all knowledge, doesn’t learn]

1 Kings 17:21-22 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.

Exodus 4:3-4 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. 4 But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand

2 Kings 4:30-36 (Elisha raising the dead) - 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD.

Joshua 10:12-14 (controlled the sun & moon) - 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.

Jesus had limitations

Mark 8:22–26 - Jesus Christ tried to heal a blind man but failed on the first try, thus prompting a second attempt.

Jesus is unaware of the time of fruition of the Fig tree (Mark 11:12). experiences hunger (Mark 11:12).

experiences thirst (John 19:28). Jesus needs to sleep (Matthew 8:24). Jesus is fatigued in a journey (John 4:6). Jesus sighs in anxiety (John 11:33). Jesus weeps (John 11:35). Jesus grieves (Matthew 26:37). Jesus exerts his strength (John 2:13). Jesus fears the Jews (John 18:12,13). Jesus is humiliated (Matthew 26:67)


Jesus shows all human limitations and all power / authority has been given to him by God. Of his own Jesus would not be able to do anything. This was the understanding of those at the time and those that come before, only after Jesus was taken to heaven did, we see changes in the scriptures.

Other performed many Miracles, some amazing miracles by the grace of God.

Isaiah 11:1-2

  1. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
  2. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD

Matthew 7:22-23 - 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

God clearly states - Genesis 17:10 - 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you:

[nothing to change what came before – Matt 5:18 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.]

“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9).

We follow God and his servants that he sends.

Other relevant information:

Are Jesus & God Equal: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/69382/33268

Gospel of John: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/63568/33268

  1. What can the son do for himself?

Jesus (the son of God) could do whatever he liked - but he always chose not to. He always chose to do God's will - not his own. Clearly Jesus can do anything a human can do - walk, talk, get angry or sad, etc. But whatever he did do, was in accord with God's plan and purpose. His words were the Father's words - not his own, which on many occasions might have not been what the Father wanted said. He walked where and when the Father directed, when he perhaps wanted to go somewhere else - like before the crucifixion.

  1. Why can Christ do nothing by himself but only what he sees the Father do?

Because he chooses to follow the lead God gave him through the spirit. Always allowing the Father's will to trump his own. He did nothing according to his own desires and will. As the son of God he said he was, he is obliged to do what is expected of him - nothing more or less. Obedience isn't making up what you think is right or good - Jesus learned obedience through his suffering.

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. John 6:38

  1. What is it that the son cannot do for himself?

What Jesus cannot do is decide what is the right thing to do or say because Jesus is not God, but the faithful representative and servant of God.

how God anointed him with the holy spirit and with power Acts 10:38

You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him. John 3:2

And He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, John 8:29

Then Jesus was led up by the spirit into the wilderness

  • Jesus, of himself, could do no more than any other human being. Everything he seemed to do that was supernatural was God doing those things through him. But of course nobody could comprehend that. They all, including his disciples, thought he was a superman of some kind. If you think that Jesus was "God in the flesh", with all divine powers, then you make a liar of Jesus when he said of his own self he could do nothing. Of course, many think Jesus was just pretending not to be God which makes him disingenuous to the max. So, was Jesus just playing a game?
    – moron
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 19:08

John 10:30 provides the answer to all the questions;

John 10:30 - "I (Jesus) and the Father are one"

Peter addressed to the crowd at Pentecost, Acts 2:22 read

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

Whatever Jesus did, it has the Father behind.

Q1. What can the Son do for himself?

The Son can do nothing on his own initiative (John 5:19). Initiative is from the Father.

Q2. Why can Christ do nothing by himself but only what he sees the Father do?

Jesus was saying "he can do nothing on his own initiative", not "do nothing by himself". The initiative comes from the Father, that Jesus said it as "only what he sees the Father doing",

Q3. What is it that the Son cannot do for himself?

John 6:38 - For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him (the Father) who sent me. (NIV)

  • Is this meant to be humorous? 'Whatever the Father does, it is done through Jesus' - did God create the heavens and the earth through Jesus? Did he create Adam and Eve through Jesus?
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 8:48
  • @Finster - John 1-3 "1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. " Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 14:18
  • Ok, so you are willing to change the words to suit your interpretation. 'In the beginning was the Word'. It does not say Jesus - he was born 2000 years ago when the word became flesh. Jesus was not 'in the beginning'. Let's stick to the biblical facts provided.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 22:13
  • @Finster - Jesus is the name when word became flesh. Do you not agree Jesus is God? When the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, who is the Word John said is God? Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 2:51
  • @Finster - But I further elaborate my answer Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 4:05

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