In John 10:33, did Jesus claim to be God or the Son of God?

Purpose

The previous article asked: Is Jesus called God in John’ gospel?

John 10 records one of the angry disputes between Jesus and the Jews.  In response to His question, the Jews said,

For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33).

The purpose of the current article is to ask a related question, namely, did Jesus claim to be God?  The purpose of this article is still to answer this question from John’s gospel specifically, for the ultimate purpose is to understand the meaning of John 1:1c, where Jesus is identified as theos.

Jesus did not claim to be God.

Jesus did not claim to be God; He claimed to be the Son of God, as indicated by the following:

1. In response to the Jews’ accusation—quoted above—Jesus explicitly stated “I said, ‘I am the Son of God” (John 10:36).

2. John 5 records another heated interaction after Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.  Jesus explained, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”  This made the Jews even more angry.  They said that Jesus “was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:16-18).  In other words, assuming that the Jews correctly understood what He said, Jesus did not claim to God; He called “God His own Father,” which is equivalent to claim, “I am the Son of God.

3. When the Jews accused Jesus before Pilate, they did not say that He claimed to be God.  They said, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7).

4. In the conclusion of his gospel John explains the purpose of his gospel as follows: “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

For similar statements in the other gospels, see Luke 22:69-70.

If Jesus claimed to be God, this fact would have been very important and would have been repeated frequently and clearly.  But Jesus never claimed to be “God.”  He claimed to be the Son of God.

The Jews did not say that He claim to be God.

It is further proposed that it is not correct to translate John 10:33 as “You … make Yourself out to be God.”  This is shown by Jesus’ response to the accusation in 10:33:

34Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’? 35 “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

Jesus’ defense is based on Psalm 82.  He interpreted that Psalm as saying that people, “to whom the word of God came,” are called “gods.”  To refer to people that are called “gods” would not have been a logical defense against an accusation that He made Himself out to be “God.

The Greek of John 10:33 simply reads theon, which is the same as theos, but with a different word ending.  Word endings do not change the meaning of words, but simply explain whether the word is the subject or object of the sentence.  Theon and theos can be translated as “God” or “god,” depending on further identification in the context.  It is proposed that the context required theon to be translated as “god” in this verse.

The Jews responded aggressively.

The Pharisees responded strongly to Jesus claim to be the Son of God:

The Jews answered him (Pilate), “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” (John 19:7)

They said that Jesus “was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (5:16-18).

Were the Jews exaggerating when they interpreted Jesus, calling “God His own Father,” as claiming to be equal to God?

The Son of God

Today we are quite used to Christians being called sons of God.  The people who will be resurrected from the dead (Luke 20:34-36; Romans 8:19), peacemakers (Mt. 5:9) and believers (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14, 16; Gal. 3:26; 4:6; 1 John 3:1-2; Phil. 2:15) are all called “sons of God:”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

All who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).

The anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26).

We therefore might find the strong reaction of the Jews strange.  However, Jesus did not claim to be a son of God; He claimed to be the Son of God.  As John wrote; “the only begotten Son of God” (3:18).  The NIV translates this as “the one and only Son of God.”

The devil tempted Jesus, saying to Him, “If You are the Son of God” (Mt. 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9).

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11; Luke 4:42)!

The Son of God is the Messiah.

The question is then, who did the Jews understand the Son of God to be?  The following verses identify the Son of God as the “Christ:”

Lazarus’ sister “said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world’” (John 11:27).

John concluded his gospel as follows: “these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

The high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt. 26:63; cf. Mark 1:1).

“Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew title Messiah, as also indicated by the following:

He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ)” (John 1:41 ).

The Son of God is the King of Israel.

Nathaniel answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Tested unto death
Son of God

The chief priests also … were mocking Him and saying, He is the King of Israel let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue him now, if He delights in him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God” (Mt. 26:42-43).

The “magi from the east” asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  Herod then asked the chief priests and scribes “where the Messiah was to be born” (Mt. 2:1-5).  This confirms that the Messiah was understood to be the King of Israel.

This explains the strong reaction of the Jews; Jesus was claiming to be the King of Israel.  But at the same time He acted contrary to their expectations. As the two disciples walking to Emmaus said, they “were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.”  They expected the Messiah to free Israel from the Roman dominion.  Contrary to their expectation, He worked to free Israel from its sin.  The Jews therefore concluded that He is not the Messiah, but an impostor, and told Pilate, “He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God

Conclusion

The constant message and purpose of John’s gospel is to announce Jesus as the Messiah; the Son of God.  Jesus did not claim to be God.

NEXT: Jesus and the Father are one.

John 1:1, John 1:18 in John 20:28 call Jesus God, but only the Father is God.

Purpose

Gospel of JohnThe purpose of this article, and the ones following after it, is to determine whether Jesus is God according to John’s gospel, or whether only the Father is God.  The ultimate purpose is particularly to determine what John meant when he wrote that “the Word was theos (god)” in John 1:1c.  As discussed in the article theos, the word Greek theos has various different meanings.  John 1:1c may, for instance, be translated as:

“The Word was God” (definite) or
“The Word was a god” (indefinite) or
“The Word was like God” (qualitative).

Which of these is the intended meaning should also be the picture of Jesus we find by reading the entire gospel.  To prepare these articles, the gospel was read carefully and all relevant statements were selected and categorized.

Summary

Is Jesus called God in John’s gospel?

The title theos (usually translated “God” or “god”) appears more than 100 times in John’s gospel:

In most instances it is not clear whether it refers to the Father or to the Son, for instance: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (1:6).

In ten instances it is clear that theos refers to the Father exclusively, for instance, “the Word (Jesus) was with God” (1:1b).  God has never been seen (1:18), while Jesus was seen.  The Father is even called “the one and only God” (5:44; 17:3) and Jesus referred to Him as “My God and your God” (20:17).

Three verses are sometimes used to argue that Jesus is called “God:”

John 1:1c

John 1:1c does not use theos in a definite sense, and therefore may not be translated “the Word was God.”  It is used in a qualitative sense, and therefore may be translated, “the Word was like God.”  Or, using the phraseology from Philippians 2, the Word “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6).  But, as also argued in the article Jesus in Philippians 2, if Jesus “existed in the form of God” and if He had “equality with God,” then He is still distinct from God.

John 1:18

John 1:18 calls Jesus “the only begotten theos,” but only in some of the ancient manuscripts.  In the manuscript tradition with the widest geographical distribution, He is called “the only begotten huios” (son).  Therefore, the KJV translates this phrase as “the only begotten Son.”  John originally wrote either theos (god) or huios (son), but somebody corrupted the text either on purpose or by accident, and textual critics are not sure what John actually originally wrote.

John 20:28

John 20:28 records Thomas, when he saw the resurrected Jesus for the first time, as saying “my Lord and my God.”  This happened just after Jesus completed his work on earth and just before the apostle took the work forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as “God,” for the following reasons:

1. Jesus never taught the disciples that He is God.  Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.

2. When Thomas said these words, the apostles did not believe that Jesus is God.  For example, the two disciples walking to Emmaus spoke of Him as “a prophet” and said “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

3. Afterwards, as recorded in the book of Acts, the disciples did not teach that Jesus is God.

Therefore, if Thomas did apply the title theos to Jesus, it could have been in the sense of God’s representative.  The Bible does use theos sometimes in that sense.  But Thomas actually said ho theos.  This title is used for the Father only, and implies that when Thomas said “my God,” he actually referred to the Father.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear that Jesus is not called God in John’s gospel.  Only the Father is God.  However, the view that Jesus is God does not rely on the argument that He is called God.  It is based on other facts, such as that He is worshiped equal to God.  These matters are discussed in the articles that will follow after this one.

John’s Gospel

Critical scholars believe that John’s gospel was written by a number of writers over a period of time.  But the gospel expresses a coherent and consistent view of God and Jesus.  It does not seem to be written by more than one person.

John’s gospel was written much later than the other (synoptic) gospels.  It was written in the eighties or nineties, and has a much higher Christology (view of Christ) than the other gospels.  Some interpreters understand John’s gospel as saying that Jesus existed before His conception in Mary’s womb, and even that Jesus is God Himself.  The other gospels do not have such a high view of Jesus.  In the other gospels Jesus seems to be just a man; an anointed and sanctified man, but still only a man.  Competing views are therefore expressed, namely:

1.  John contradicts the first three gospels. OR

2.  John does not contradict the other gospels, for Jesus is God the Son also in Matthew, Mark and Luke; as divine as the Father is. OR

3. John does not contradict the other gospels, for John’s gospel is generally misunderstood, and even in John’s gospel Jesus is merely a man; God’s Messiah; and not God.

Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from the NASB of John’s gospel.

Jesus is distinct from God.

Rather than referring to Jesus as God, John’s gospel reserves the title “God” for the Father.  The following phrases make a distinction between Jesus and God:

The Word (Jesus) was with God” (1:1b).

No one has seen God at any time” (1:18).  (Jesus was seen.)

God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (3:16-17)

You do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (5:44).

This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (6:29).

You are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God” (8:40).

I proceeded forth and have come from God“ (8:42).

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (14:1-2).

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (17:3).

John 17:3

Most of these quote Jesus’ words, making a distinction between Himself and God.  Two of these quotes refer to “the only true God” (17:3; cf. 5:44).  God is invisible (1:18), sent His Son (3:16-17; 6:29; 8:42; 17:3) and taught Jesus the truth (8:40).  His disciples, listening to these words, would not get the idea that Jesus is God.  To the contrary, in 8:40 Jesus refers to himself as “a man.”  Therefore, why would Thomas refer to Jesus as “my God” in John 20:28?  Where did he get the idea that Jesus is God?

The Father is God.

Jesus refers most often to “God” as the “Father.” It is important to understand that in John’s gospel, and in the entire New Testament, the title “God” is a synonym for “the Father,” for instance:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places” (14:1-2).

Jesus said to Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (20:17).

If only the Father is God, then it obviously follows that the Son is not called God.  But there are some Trinitarians that view the Father and Son to be a single self, and in Modalism the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are simply three modes of the same single divine Being.  Contrary to these views, the following shows that Jesus is distinct from the Father:

Thinking about His approaching death, Jesus said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (12:27).
(In Gethsemane He similarly prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39).  This shows that the Father and Jesus two separate wills.)

If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (14:28; cf. 10:29).

The Father and the Son are therefore distinct Beings.  And, in the way that the New Testament uses the title “God,” only the Father is God

The Father is God for Jesus.

The following verse even identifies the Father as Jesus’ God:

Jesus said to Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (20:17).

John, who also wrote the Revelation, quotes Jesus saying, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God” (Rev. 3:12; cf. 3:13).

Conclusion

The title theos (usually translated God or god) appears more than 100 times in John:

In most instances it is not clear whether it refers to the Father or to the Son, for instance: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (1:6).

Above ten instances are mentioned where theos refers to the Father only.

On the other hand, there are three instances (1:1, 18 and 20:28) where theos perhaps refers to Jesus.  Separate articles have been placed on this website for each of these verses.  Below these articles are summarized:

John 1:1c

John 1:1This is usually translated “the Word was God.”  A series of articles on this website addresses the translation of John 1:1c.  One article evaluates the translation “The Word was God” and another the translation “The Word was a god.”  In these articles it is shown that neither of these translations are appropriate because the word theos is used in a qualitative sense in that phrase, as grammarians agree.  It should rather be translated as “the Word was like God.”

Both John 1:1 and Philippians 2 describe Jesus before He became a human being.  The article Jesus in Philippians 2 proposed that “the Word was theos” can be understood as equivalent to the statements in Philippians 2 that Jesus “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” and “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:6, 10).  But, as also argued in that article, if Jesus “existed in the form of God” and if He had “equality with God,” then He is still distinct from God.

John 1:18

This verse is discussed in the article: John 1:18. In the NASB, this verse reads,

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

The word “God” appears twice in this verse.  The first “God” refers to the Father, who is described as invisible.  Since God is invisible, the conclusion can be that Jesus is distinct from God.

The second “God” in 1:18 refers to Jesus, but appears only in some translations.  Twelve of the 27 translation of this verse, as listed by BibleHub, describe Jesus as God in this verse.  The other (mostly older) translations, use a different source text, which actually has the widest geographical distribution, and which describes Jesus as “the only begotten Son.”  John originally wrote either theos (god) or huios (son), but somebody corrupted the text either on purpose or by accident.  It is the task of the textual critic to determine which was the original wording.  As discussed in the article Is Jesus God in John 1:18? neither the external or internal evidence is conclusive.  Because of this uncertainty, this verse should not be used as evidence that Jesus is called God.

John 20:28

This verse is discussed in the article on John 20:28.  Thomas would not believe the reports that Jesus was raised from death, but when He saw Jesus in person, a few days later, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (20:28)!  Jesus did not reprove Thomas.

For some this provides the best evidence that Jesus is God.  It is said that Jesus is here without doubt called “God.”  However, strong circumstantial evidence exists that Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as God:

1. Jesus did not teach the disciples that He is God.  Jesus never used the term θεός (theos = god) for Himself, but described Himself as the Christ and as the Son of God.  As discussed above, Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.  John summarized the main thesis of his book as follows:

These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

2. The events in the immediate context of John 20:28 show that the disciples did not believe that Jesus is God.  The two disciples walking to Emmaus demonstrate the thoughts of Jesus’ followers at that time.  Speaking to the resurrected Christ, whom they mistook as just a traveler, they described Jesus as “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God…and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

3. The events in the book of Acts began a few weeks after Jesus appeared to Thomas.  If the apostles really believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their message in Acts, but such a statement is never even once found in Acts.

4. Paul was given the task of interpreting the dramatic Christ-events and to teach the church through his letters.  He did not teach that Jesus is God, but wrote the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).   According to some translations of Romans 9:5, Paul referred to Jesus as God, but the article on Romans 9:5 shows that it is all a matter of punctuation, and all punctuation in the Bible is interpretation.

The article on John 20:28 analyses possible interpretations of Thomas’ exclamation.  Since the word theos has many different meanings, Thomas might have described Jesus as God-like or as mandated by God to speak for Him.  These are valid alternative meanings of the word theos.  See the article THEOS.  Another option is that Thomas did not address Jesus, but that He addressed the Father as “my God.”  Since Thomas did not merely say theos, but ho theos, this is quite possible.

But which of these is what Thomas actually meant is not important.  What is important is that the immediate and wider context prevents us from understanding John 20:28 as saying that Jesus is God.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear that Jesus is not called God in John’s gospel.  Only the Father is God.  However, the view that Jesus is God does not rely on the argument that He is called God.  It is based on other facts, such as:

He is worshiped equal to God.
The Jews thought that Jesus “was … making Himself equal with God” (5:18).
Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), “I and the Father are one” (10:30) and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).

These matters are discussed in the articles that will follow after this one.

NEXT:  Did Jesus claim to be God?

Thomas said, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Did he address Jesus as “God”?

After Jesus rose from death, He appeared to the disciples, but Thomas was not with them.  When they told Thomas that Jesus is alive, he refused to believe them.  But a few days later Jesus again appeared to them.  This time Thomas was with them.  When He saw Jesus, and when Jesus showed him His wounds, the doubting Thomas exclaimed with great joy: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Jesus did not rebuke Thomas.

This event occurred between Jesus’ death and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus therefore already completed His work on earth, as reflected in the gospels, and His disciples would soon start to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts.  We may therefore evaluate Thomas’ words by asking:

1.  Did Jesus teach that He is God?
2.  Did the disciples at that time believe that Jesus is God?
3.  Did the disciples afterwards preach that Jesus is God?
4.  What did Thomas mean with the words ho theos?

Proof of the Deity of our Lord Jesus ChristJohn 20:28

Many people understand the phrase “my Lord and my God” as clear proof of the Deity of Christ.  The Pulpit Commentary describes these words as the climax of the Gospel.  For Spurgeon this is a most plain confession of Jesus’ Deity.  This view is supported by the following:

The words “my Lord” can only refer to Christ (compare with John 20:13).  The natural meaning of the word words “My Lord and my God” is therefore that his Lord was also his God.

David used similar words to describe Jehovah: “My God and my Lord” (Psalm 35:23).  Thomas, as an Israelite, knew this and would never have applied these words to any person whom he did not believe to be God.

If Jesus were not God, the Lord Jesus would have corrected Thomas.  But the Lord said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed” (John 20:29 KJV).

There is really no significant question as to how the original text reads.

But Thomas did not refer to Jesus as God.

John 20 28If the remainder of the New Testament confirmed that Jesus is God, we would grant Spurgeon his point, but strong circumstantial evidence exists that Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as God:

1. The disciples were never taught that Jesus is God.

2. The events in the immediate context of John 20:28 show that the disciples did not believe that Jesus is God.

3. The events in the book of Acts began a few weeks after Jesus appeared to Thomas.  If the apostles really believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their message in Acts, but such a statement is never found in Acts.

4. Paul was given the task of interpreting the dramatic Christ-events and to teach the church through his letters.  He did not teach that Jesus is God.

5. Only about seven verses in the entire New Testament are interpreted by some as saying that Jesus is God, but each and every one of them are disputed; either the original text or the interpretation.  Brian J. Wright—a Trinitarian—after a detailed study, concluded that John 20:28 is the only verse in the New Testa­ment that, with full certainty, refers to Jesus as God.

6. Prominent Trinitarians admit that the New Testament does not teach that Jesus is God.

These points are discussed below in more detail.

1. The disciples were never taught that Jesus is God.

After Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus responded, “because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed.”  What did Thomas not believe before he saw Jesus alive?  Did he not believe that Jesus is God?

Thomas, like all Jews, was a strict monotheist: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4) was the foundation of Judaism.  It would require some effort to convince him that Jesus is God.

Jesus never taught His disciples that He is God. 

Who do you say I AmJesus never used the term θεός (theos = god) for Himself (Wright p.230), but rather described Himself as the Messiah and as the Son of God.  Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.   For example:

A little time before He appeared to Thomas, Jesus, in prayer, referred to the Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3).  In using the word “only,” Jesus excluded Himself as “true God.”

A few days before He appeared to Thomas, He said to Mary Magdalene “go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’” (20:1, 17).

Why would John report that the Father is “the only true God” and then a little later write that Thomas said that Jesus is God?

Just three verses after Thomas’ exclamation, John summarized his gospel as follows:

These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

In other words, Jesus identified Himself as Christ; not as God.

Son of God

Some people, when they read the words, “Son of God,” understand this to mean “God the Son,” but the latter title is never found in the Bible.  An analysis of all the “Son of God” passages in the Bible indicate that this is a synonym for the title “Christ,” a Greek word that means “the anointed one,” or “the chosen one.”  The following verses contain the title “Son of God,” but also a second title, which indicates what “Son of God” means:

Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (1:49)

She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (11:27).

These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).

The high priest said to Him, “Tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt. 26:63).

The disciples did not yet understand who Jesus is.

None of the Synoptic Gospels explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus.  John 1:1 does use the word θεός to describe Jesus, but this gospel was written much later than the others.  The sublime things which John wrote was revealed to John and Paul through the Holy Spirit decades after the events of John 20:28.  When Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” the Holy Spirit was not yet poured out.  The disciples did not yet understand who Jesus really is.  Thomas had no idea of the profound concepts that God would later reveal to John.  It is unthinkable that Thomas, when He saw the risen Jesus, thought of Him as the same as or equal to the Only True God (John 17:3).

Conclusion

Since Jesus did not teach that He is God, where would Thomas have learned that Jesus is God?  Rather, when Jesus was killed, the disciples doubted “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  When He was raised to life again, they believed; not that He is God, for they were never taught that He is God, but that He is the Christ.

2. The disciples did not believe that Jesus is God. 

The events of that time show that the disciples did not believe that Jesus is God.  If they believed that Jesus was God, they would not have “all fled” just a few days earlier. when Jesus was arrested.

The confession of the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus demonstrated the thoughts of Jesus’ followers at that time.  Speaking to the resurrected Christ, whom they mistook as just a traveler, they described Jesus as “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God…and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

And, as we have seen, just three verses later John summarizes his message as “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

3. Jesus is not proclaimed as God in the book of Acts.

John 20:28 and the book of Acts are chronologically separated by only the few weeks between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension.

If the apostles believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their constant and main message in Acts, but in the book of Acts the apostles never proclaimed Jesus as God.  No sermon in the book of Acts attributes the title θεός to Jesus.  Rather, they consistently proclaimed that God raised Jesus from the dead.  At Pentecost, Peter told the multitudes that:

God raised him up” (Acts 2:24),
God raised up this Jesus” (v.32),
You killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (3:15), and
God raised up his servant” (v.26).

Thus Acts continues to make a distinction between God and Jesus, for if God raised Jesus up, then the Father only is called God.  If it is true that John 20:28 teaches the deity of Jesus, why didn’t the apostles preach it even once in the book of Acts?

4. Paul did not teach that Jesus is God.

Paul was given the task of interpreting the dramatic events of the first century and to teach the church through his letters.  And Paul did not teach that Jesus is God.

If Jesus was God, Paul’s letters would have taught this explicitly.  An explicit statement would be something like, “Yes, Thomas, I am your Lord and your God”.  While the New Testament never explicitly says that Jesus is God, the Old Testament explicitly and repeatedly announced Yahweh as God, for instance: “I am Yahweh your God” (Ex. 6:7; 16:12; 20:2).  Yahweh is identified as God about 400 times in the Old Testament (phrases such as “Yahweh God – Yahweh, God of heaven – Yahweh your God – Yahweh, God of Israel – Yahweh our God – Yahweh, God of compassion”), but not once do we find an equivalent explicit statement in the New Testament, saying that Jesus is God.

To the contrary, like the gospels, Paul continued to make a distinction between God and Jesus.  For example, similar to what Peter said in Acts, Paul wrote that God raised Jesus from death:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Other examples of where Paul makes a sharp distinction between God and Christ are 1 Tim. 5:21 (“in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus”) and most strikingly 1 Cor. 11:3 (“the head of Christ is God”).  For many other examples, see The New Testament makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

According to some translation of Romans 9:5 Paul referred to Jesus as God, but the article on Romans 9:5 shows that it is all a matter of punctuation, and all punctuation in the Bible is interpretation.

5. Only John 20:28 refers to Jesus as God. 

There are about seven verses that are sometimes interpreted as saying that Jesus is God, but in each in every case either the original text or the interpretation is in dispute.  Brian Wright, himself a Trinitarian, after careful and detailed study, concluded that John 20:28 is the only verse in the New Testa­ment that, with full certainty, refers to Jesus as God.  (And then the current article also disputes that this verse proves that Jesus is God.)

Separate articles have been posted discussing John 1:1, John 1:18 and Romans 9:5.  For a general summary article on these seven texts, see Is Jesus called God?

Trinitarians admit.

Some Trinitarians consequently admit that the New Testament does not teach that Jesus is God.

Richard Swinburne, a prominent Christian philosopher at Oxford, wrote a book titled, Was Jesus God? (Oxford University Press).  In it he searches the Bible and church doctrine for evidence that Jesus is God.  Swinburne concludes with cautious uncertainty that “it is very probable that Jesus was God,” but he offers no explicit proof from the Bible.  He finds more evidence for Jesus’ deity in the teachings of the Church Fathers.  He admits that some NT passages “deny this doctrine” of “the divinity of Jesus.”  He says, “It is undisputed that Jesus did not teach this doctrine” of the Trinity.  This is quite a concession from a brilliant Trinitarian.  Swinburne does believe that Jesus is God; not because that is what the Bible teaches, but on the basis of reason only.

The trinit­arian Brian J. Wright, after in depth study, admitted:

No author of a Synoptic Gospel explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus. Jesus never uses the term θεός for himself. No sermon in the book of Acts attributes the title θεός to Jesus.

Alternative interpretations

The immediate and wider context therefore prevents us from interpreting theos in John 20:28 as describing Jesus as God.  It forces us to consider alternative interpretations.  Three options are proposed below.  Two are alternative meanings of the word theos, namely:

1.  Mandated by God to represent Him, and
2.  God-like

The third alternative proposes that theos, in this verse, does not refer to Jesus, but to the Father.

Theos

To understand these alternative meanings requires a short explanation of the Greek word Θεός, which is transliterated theos, often translated “God.”  Strong  defines theos to include the following four meanings:

1.  A deity – (a god)
2.  Especially (with ho) the supreme Divinity – (the God)
3.  A magistrate;
4.  Godly

Today we use “God” as a personal name for the supreme Divinity, similar to the names John and Paul.  The Greek of the New Testament has no word exactly equivalent to “God,” for it did not differentiate between lower case and capital letters.  The Greek word theos is therefore actually equivalent to our word “god,” with a small g.   As stated by Strong, depending on the context, theos can be translated “God” or “god” or “Godly.”  Even a person appointed by God as magistrate may be called theos.  In the New Testament theos was, for instance, applied to:

The gods of the nations (1 Cor. 8:5);
The Roman governor (Acts 12:22);
The Devil (2 Cor. 4:4); and
People who received divine authority from God (John 10:35);

See The Meanings of the Word theos for a more detailed discussion.

Option 1: Mandated by God to represent Him

To translate theos as “God” requires additional information in the context to identify the supreme Deity.  The circumstances surrounding John 20:28, as described above, do not justify theos to be translated as “God.”

One of the alternative meanings of theos is a person who is mandated by God to speak and act for Him (Strong’s magistrate).  For instance, Jesus referred to people, “to whom the word of God came,” as “gods” (John 10:35).  This is a quote from Psalm 82:6 and probably refers to the judges of the Old Testament.  Since the Father did send Jesus and gave Him His message (John 8:16, 26), Thomas could have described Jesus as theos in this sense, namely that He has been mandated by God to represent Him.

Option 2: Godlike

Another possible meaning of theos, mentioned by Strong, is “Godlike.”  This is a qualitative use of the word, as opposed to a definite (the god) or indefinite (a god) use.

God was the Word
God was the Word

John, in the prologue, after years of meditation, in the first verses of his gospel declared that “ the Word (Jesus) was theos” and the Creator of all things.  It is possible that John 1:1 uses theos in the same sense as in John 20:28.  In a series of articles on the translation of John 1:1, it was concluded that John 1:1c should not be translated “The Word was God” for the word theos is used in a qualitative sense in that verse.  In other words, it should be translated as “the Word was Godlike,” or, using words from Philippians 2, “the Word was in the form of God and had equality with God.”

It is therefore possible that Thomas used theos to describe Jesus as God-like.

Option 3: “My God” refers to the Father.

Since the Greek word theos is used for all gods, the writers of the New Testament generally identified the supreme Deity by adding the definite article “ho” before theos.  (See Strong’s definition above.)  The phrase ho theos is translated “God.”  (Translators drop the definite article and capitalize the G.)  “God,” in the New Testament, except for a handful of disputed instances, always identifies the Father.  (See The NT distinguishes between God and Jesus.)

The God of meIn the Greek of John 20:28, Thomas did not merely say theos; he said ho theos mou, literally “the god of me.”  This has some problematic implication, and can be understood in at least three different ways:

(A) Only Jesus is God.

In other words, the Father is not God.

To show that this may be the implication, consider the words of CK Barrett, a well-known trinit­arian scholar.  He comments as follows on John 1:1, which lacks the article before theos: “The absence of the article indicates that the Word is God, but is not the only being of whom this is true; if ὁ θεὸς [ho theos] had been written, it would have been implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity.” (The Gospel According to St. John)

In other words, if ho theos is applied to Jesus, it means that only Christ is God and the Father is not God.  This is obviously not true.

(B) Jesus is the Father. 

There are people who believe this, namely that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one Person, appearing in three different modes.  This is called Modalism or Sabellianism.  This view is rejected by most, for there are many indications in the Bible that the Father and Son are different Person.  For instance, Jesus prays to the Father, and at His baptism God speaks from heaven.

(C) John referred to the Father when he wrote ho theos.

The previous two possible explanations link theos to Jesus, but are not acceptable.  The only remaining possibility is that Thomas, in the extreme joy of the moment, exclaimed “my God” as a praise directed at God, the Father, for raising Jesus.  In other words, that he blurted out something like “Oh my Lord (Jesus) and oh my God (the Father).  Since ho theos always refers to the Father, it should also have that meaning in John 20:28.

Paul wrote:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Could Thomas’ confession be explained by this verse?  Both words “Lord” and “God” appear in this verse, but “God” is identified as the Father.

Synopsis

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to His disciples.  When Thomas saw Him, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Jesus did not rebuke Thomas.  Many people understand this as clear proof of the Deity of Christ.

The events of John 20:28 occurred in time between Jesus’ death and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus therefore already completed His work on earth, as captured in the gospels, and soon His disciples will start to preach through the power of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts.  We can evaluate Thomas’ statement by asking four questions:

Did Jesus teach that He is God?  Jesus did not teach that He is God, but always maintained a clear distinction between Himself and God.  None of the Synoptic Gospels explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Him.  John summarized Christ’s message as “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

Did the disciples at that time believe that Jesus is God?  If they did, they would not have run away a few days earlier when Jesus was arrested.  The two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, lamenting Jesus’ death, said that Jesus “was a prophet.”

Did the disciples afterwards teach that Jesus is God?  If the apostles believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their message in the book of Acts, but such a statement is not once even found in Acts.  To the contrary, they consistently taught that God raised Jesus from death, thus making a distinction between God and Jesus.

What did Thomas mean by the words ho theos?  In the New Testament ho theos (the god) always refers to the Father.

Conclusion

The contextual evidence does not allow for the interpretation of John 20:28 as saying that Jesus is God.  Above three alternative interpretations are offered.  Which of them is correct, is not important.  One day soon we will be able to ask Thomas exactly what he meant.  What is more important is that John 20:28 cannot be taken as proof that Jesus is God.

The fact that the New Testament does not refer to Jesus as God is not the full story.  Other articles show that God created all things through His Son, that Jesus is equal to God, that Jesus is “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17) and that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).  It simply was the practice of the New Testament to refer to the Father alone as God.  We should not put too much emphasis on the title “God,” but rather ask who Jesus really is.  Perhaps the reader should next read Does Philippians 2 say that Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God?

When John wrote John 1:18, did he refer to Jesus as theos (god) or huios (son)?

Synopsis

Many versions of John 1:18 refer to Jesus as “God,” but the original text is in dispute.  Many of the ancient manuscripts, containing this verse, refer to Jesus as huios (son) and not as theos (god).  Most modern scholars believe that theos is more likely to be the original, but according to the external and internal evidence, both are possible.  In any case, the word “God” is an interpretation based on the translator’s understanding of who Jesus is, for there is no word in the ancient Greek with that exact meaning.  The word often translated “God” is theos, which is roughly equivalent to our word “god.”

The Father is called God.

John 1:18 in the NASB reads as follows:

No one has seen God at any timeThe only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

Jesus similarly said:

Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46).

Another verse that describes God as invisible is Colossians 1:15; “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, “whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16).  Since God is invisible, while Jesus was seen, the implication is that the New Testament does not call Jesus God.

The One who is called “God” at the beginning of John 1:18 is called “the Father” at the end of it.  This identifies the unseen God as the Father.  John 20:17 is another example of this principle:

I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.

This confirms that, in the New Testament, it is the Father who is called God; not Jesus.

Jesus is called God.

John 1:18, as quoted above from the NASB, also describes Jesus as “God.”  But not all translations agree.  Some versions do not refer to Jesus as “God,” but as the “Son,” for instance:

The only begotten Son (KJV)
The only Son (RSV)

Textual Variants

The translations differ because the source texts differ.  Of the thousands of early Greek New Testament manuscripts, there are four principal textual variants of this phrase:

1.   ho monogenês
2.  ho monogenês huios
3.  monogenês theos
4.  ho monogenês theos

The meanings of these Greek words are as follows:

Ho is the Greek definite article, equivalent to our “the.”

Huios is the Greek word for “son.

Theos basically has the same meaning as our word “god,” with a lower “g.”  When the New Testament uses this word to the refer to the only true God, then it provides additional identification.  Many times that additional identification is by preceding theos with the Greek definite article ho.  In other instances theos is used for false gods and even for exalted humans.  The context must clarify the meaning.  See the article Meanings of the word theos.

Monogenês is another complex word.  According to Wikipedia it means to be “the only one of its kind,” but can also more specifically mean “the only one of its kind within a specific relationship,” such as the only child.  In the first variant listed above monogenês is a noun.  In John 1:14 monogenês is also a noun, and is translated as “only Son” in translations such as the ESV, ISV and the RSV.  In the other variants above monogenês is used as an adjective.

Why do manuscripts differ?

After a group or person received an original gospel or letter, copies were made in order to make them accessible to a wider audience.  Unfortunately, the scribes did not always copy these documents accurately.  Most of the inconsistencies happened by mistake, but some changes were made on purpose.  Somewhat similar to translators who today inevitable translate the Bible according to their understanding of doctrine, these scribes changed the text according to what they believe to be truth.

Textual criticism

Textual criticism is the study of surviving copies in order to determine the probable wording of the original autograph.  This task is important because we do not have any of the original manuscripts, and the copies we do have differ from one another.

Textual critics use external and internal evidence to establish which text probably represents the original.  External evidence consists of examining all available manuscripts to see which variants may be the earliest, has the greatest manuscript support or could have been more easily changed into another wording.  Only if external evidence is not conclusive will textual critics turn to internal evidence, namely considerations such as context, authorial style and word usage.

External evidence for John 1:18

John 1 18 KJV
KJV

According to the majority of modern scholars the external evidence favors theos as the original text.  But many scholars disagree, for the theos reading exists primarily only in one of the text-types (the Alexandrian).  Textus Receptus – the manuscript tradition behind the KJV and many other Bibles – reads ho monogenês huios.  This reading ranks second in terms of the number of manuscripts containing it, and has a wider distribution.  The external evidence is therefore not conclusive.

Internal evidence

One-time occurrence

John, in three other places, describes Jesus as “ho monogenês huios” (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).   If monogenês theos was the original text of John 1:18, it would be a one-time occurrence in the NT, and textual critics prefer readings that are not unique.

Immediate context

The question here is whether theos or huios fits the context better.  The point of the entire verse is that Jesus is able to explain the unseen “Father.”  This context seems to fit “Son” better.  The first part of the verse reads, “No one has seen God at any time.”  This make a distinction between God and Jesus, which would be contradicted if the next phrase also refers to Jesus as God.

On the other hand, John 1:1 is very similar to John 1:18.  Both make a distinction between God and Jesus and both say something about Jesus.  Since John 1:1 refers to Jesus as theos and since this is not disputed, for John 1:18 to describe Jesus as theos would fit the slightly wider context.

Easier to change

The more difficult reading is always more likely to be the original, for a scribe would generally be inclined to “smooth out” difficult readings, rather than to create them.  Furthermore, a “difficult reading” in a manuscript is more likely to be detected, whereas a “smoothing” might go undetected and ultimately replace the original.

In John 1:18 theos is the more difficult reading, for the New Testament reserves the title “God” for the Father, except for a handful of disputed exceptions.  This supports the proposal that John originally wrote theos.  Many scholars consider this consideration decisive.

However, John 1:1, also ascribes the title theos to Jesus, and the Nicene Creed described Jesus as “True God from True God.”  So perhaps theos was not such a difficult reading.

Conclusion

The point is that neither the external nor the internal evidence are conclusive.  Some conclude that theos is more likely to be the original reading, but it is not possible to say that with certainly.  Therefore John 1:18 cannot be used as valid evidence that Jesus was called God.

In any case, the word “God,” as we use it today, does not appear in the original Greek text, for the ancient Greek language did not have capital letters.  What we find in the Greek is the word theos, which can also mean “god” or “divine.”  This word theos is only translated as “God” when additional identification indicates that the Most High is intended.  See The Meanings of the Word THEOS. The translation of theos as “God,” when referring to Jesus is therefore an interpretation based on the translator’s understanding of who Jesus is.  Since John 1:18 refers to the Father as God, this might be seen as an invalid interpretation.