Did Jesus claim to be God? – A discussion of John 10.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Jews questioning Jesus
Jews questioning Jesus

In John 10:33, the Jews said to Jesus:

You, being a man,
make Yourself out to be God.

The purpose of this article is to determine, based on the debate between Jesus and the Jews in John 10:23-38, what Jesus really claimed to be. In particular, did He claim to be God?

OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT OF JOHN 10

While Jesus was walking in the temple, the Jews gathered around Him and said to Him: “If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered: “I told you, and you do not believe” (John 10:23-25). In other words, Jesus has already told them that He is the Christ.

Then Jesus continued and made some extraordinary claims:

    • He said that He gives eternal life to His followers, that
    • No one will snatch them out of My hand;” and that
    • I and the Father are one” (John 10:28-30).

It was in response to these statements that the Jews picked up stones and accused Him:

You, being a man,
make Yourself out to be God.

(John 10:33)

Jesus then corrected them. He referred to Psalm 82 which describes people, “to whom the word of God came,” as “gods.” Jesus argued that, if such people, who were mere human beings, could be called “gods,” then how much more can He, who was “sent into the world,” be called “the Son of God?” (John 10:34-36)

Jesus closed His argument by appealing to His works. He said “believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37-38).

SUMMARY

DID THE JEWS SAY
THAT JESUS CLAIMS TO BE GOD?

As quoted above, in response Jesus’ claims in John 10:28-30, the Jews said to Jesus:

You, being a man,
make Yourself out to be God.

(John 10:33)

Is this translation correct?

MEANING OF THEOS

In the Greek culture, the word “god” (theos) referred to beings such as Zeus or Achilles, namely immortal beings with supernatural powers that live in the heavens. The word theos is used in this sense in the NT (e.g. Acts 14:11).

The Bible uses the same word for “the only true God” (John 17:3), but, in such instances, it is translated with a capital G “God.”

THEOS IN JOHN 10:33 MEANS A SUPERNATURAL BEING.

Since theos in John 10:33 is translated as “God,” the translators assumed that the Jews said that Jesus claimed to be the Almighty. However, for the following reasons, it is proposed that theos in that verse has the more general Greek meaning of a supernatural being:

Firstly, Jesus responded to the accusation by comparing Himself to people who have been supernaturally inspired by God, and who are, for that reason, described as “gods” in Psalm 82. If the Jews accused Jesus of claiming to be the Almighty, a defense that compares Jesus to such people does not make sense.

Secondly, Jesus described Himself as similar to a Greek god, namely that He existed before His birth in heaven (e.g., John 6:38, 41, 62) and that He has immortality (John 10:28). When the Jews respond by referring to Jesus as “a man,” in contrast with theos (John 10:33), it implies that they reject these claims and that theos, in this instance, has the more general meaning of a supernatural being.

Thirdly, while John 10:33 is translated as if Jesus made Him out to be God, before Pilate, the Jews said, “He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7) and “a king” (John 19:12). This shows that the Jews did not understand Jesus to make Himself out to be God.

CONCLUSION

If the Jews accused Jesus of merely claiming to be a supernatural being, then John 10:33 should be translated as “You, being a man, make Yourself out to a god.” (Ancient Greek did not have indefinite articles.)

DID JESUS CLAIM TO BE GOD?

However, the purpose of this article is not to determine what the Jews have said, but to determine what Jesus really claimed to be.

Jesus’ three extraordinary claims are often used as proof that He is God; equal with the Almighty. These claims really do present a very high view of Christ but, as shown below, none of them mean that the Son is the same as or equal with the Father:

I GIVE ETERNAL LIFE (John 10:28).

Jesus is able to give eternal life to His people because the Father “gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:25-26; cf. 17:2).

NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND (John 10:28).

He is able to protect His people because “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29) and because “I and the Father are one.” Jesus testified that He does nothing on His own (John 5:30; 8:27). Therefore, when He protects His “sheep,” it is through the power of His Father.

I AND THE FATHER ARE ONE (John 10:30).

Jesus prayed as follows for His followers:

That they may be one
even as We are
” (John 17:11).

Therefore, just as Jesus’ followers are not one person, so the Father and the Son are not one Person. To “be one” means to “be perfected in unity” (John 17:23).

THE FATHER IS IN ME, AND I IN THE FATHER (John 10:38).

To be “in” somebody else is also explained by Jesus’ prayer to His Father as to “be perfected in unity” (John 17:22-23).

INDICATIONS OF SUBORDINATION IN JOHN 10

The text of John 10 provides the following further indications that the Son is subordinate to the Father:

    • His Father gave His “sheep” to Him (John 10:29).
    • Jesus said, “My Father … is greater than all” (John 10:29). In the context, what Jesus was saying is that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
    • The Father sent the Son into the world (John 10:36).
    • Jesus did the works of the Father (John 10:37; cf. 5:36; 6:38).

JESUS CLAIMED TO BE THE KING OF ISRAEL.

Furthermore, in response to the Jews’ accusation, Jesus explicitly stated that He does not claim to be “God.” He said: “I said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (John 10:36).

Christians are often called sons of God (e.g., Luke 20:34-36; Rom 8:19, Mt. 5:9). However, Jesus did not claim to be A son of God; He claimed to be THE Son of God:

    • The only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
    • The NIV translates this as “the one and only Son of God.”

THE Son of God is the “Christ” (e.g., John 11:27; 20:31; Mt. 26:63; Mark 1:1) and the king of Israel (e.g., John 1:49; Mt. 26:42-43; Mt. 2:1-5).

This explains the strong reaction of the Jews; Jesus was claiming to their king but He did not accept their traditions. They hoping for a messiah that will free Israel from Roman oppression. But He labored to free Israel from its sin.

CONCLUSION

Jesus never claimed to be “God.”  He claimed to be the unique Son of God; the Messiah and the King of Israel.

Jesus is not equal to the Father, but we must emphasize the extremely very high view of Christ as described in these verses. He grants eternal life to sinners, has always existed, created all things, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3). But God, also called the Father, is the sole Source of all things. He alone is Almighty.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

DID THE JEWS REALLY SAY
THAT JESUS CLAIMS TO BE GOD?

Did the Jews really say to Jesus:

You … make Yourself out to be God(John 10:33)?

MEANING OF THEOS

In the Greek culture, the word “god” (theos) referred to beings such as Zeus or Achilles, namely immortal beings with supernatural powers that live in the heavens. The word theos is also used in this sense in the NT. For example:

When Paul healed a lame man, the crowds cried, “The gods (theoi) have become like men and have come down to us” (Acts 14:11).

And, referring to Herod, the people cried out: “The voice of a god and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22)

The Bible uses the same word theos for “the only true God” (John 17:3). In the original Greek text, there is no distinction between lower- and upper-case letters. but, when theos refers to the Almighty, it is translated with a capital G “God.” While “god” is a common noun, describing a class of beings, we use “God” as a name (a proper noun) for one specific Being. Therefore, whether to translate the Greek word theos as “God” or “god” depends on to whom it refers in each particular setting.

In John 10:33, the word is theon, which is the same as theos, but with a different word ending. The word ending does not change the meaning but determines whether the word is the subject or object of the sentence. 

Since John 10:33 is translated as, “you, being a man, make Yourself out to be God,” it means that the translators assumed that the Jews said that Jesus claimed to be the Almighty; the uncaused Cause of all things. Three possible interpretations will now be discussed:

(1) SUPERNATURAL BEING

There are two indications that theos in John 10:33 is used with its common significance as a supernatural being:

JESUS COMPARED HIMSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE.

Firstly, after the Jews’ statement in verse 33, Jesus corrected them by referring to people, “to whom the word of God came” and who are described as “gods” in Psalm 82 (John 10:34-36). By receiving God’s supernatural word, these people have, in a sense, become supernatural beings.

If the Jews accused Jesus of claiming to be the Almighty, why would Jesus correct them by comparing Himself to other ‘supernatural’ people? His defense seems to indicate that the Jews accused Jesus of claiming to be a supernatural being; He did not claim to be “the only true God” (John 17:3).

THE JEWS CONTRASTED MAN WITH GOD.

Secondly, Jesus described Himself as similar to a Greek god, namely that He existed before His birth in heaven (e.g., John 6:38, 41, 62; 7:29; 8:58) and that He has immortality (John 10:28).

When the Jews respond by referring to Jesus as “a man” in contrast with theos (John 10:33), it implies that they rejected these claims and that theos, in this instance, has the more general meaning of a supernatural being.

CONCLUSION

If the Jews accused Jesus of merely claiming to be a supernatural being, then John 10:33 should be translated as “You, being a man, make Yourself out to a god.” (Ancient Greek did not have indefinite articles.)

(2) EQUAL WITH GOD

An alternative interpretation is that the Jews accused Jesus of claiming to be a supernatural being that is equal to the Almighty.

In John 5:16-18, the Pharisees said that Jesus “was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” They did not claim that He made Himself fully “equal with God” because they also said that Jesus “was calling God His own Father.” Being the Son, the implication is that the “Father” is superior to Him. Humans are all equal in the sense that they are all human, but there are vast differences between them in terms of things such as intelligence and power. In the same way, I think, the Jews may have said that Christ elevated Himself to the level of God without claiming full equality with God.

If the Jews, in John 10:33, based on Jesus’ astounding claims, had this ‘equality’ in mind, then theos in that verse must still be translated “god,” for even a being that “equal with God” in this sense, is distinct from the Almighty Being that we call by the proper name “God.”

(3) SAME BEING AS GOD

On the other hand, if the Jews thought that Jesus was claiming to be fully equal with God and, therefore, as in the Trinity doctrine, the same Being as God, then verse 33 could be translated with “God.” However, there is no way that the Jews could have thought that Jesus claimed to be the same Being as the Father. Jesus has always been admitting His dependence on the Father. For example:

    • The Father … has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35).
    • The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19).
    • The Father … has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22)
    • The Father sent the Son into the world (John 10:36).
    • The Father … gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).

So, I fail to see a justification for the translation “God.”

CONCLUSION

While John 10:33 is translated as if Jesus made Him out to be God, before Pilate, the Jews said, “He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7) and “a king” (John 19:12). This shows that the Jews did not understand Jesus to make Himself out to be God.

For the reasons stated above, namely:
(1) The fact that the Jews contrasted “man” with theos and
(2) Jesus’ defense that compared Himself
with humans that have been supernaturally inspired,
I propose that theos, in John 10:33, refers to a supernatural being; not specifically to “the only true God” (John 17:3). Therefore the translation is incorrect and should read “god.”

DID JESUS CLAIM TO BE GOD IN JOHN 10?

However, the purpose of this article is not to speculate about what the Jews said, but to determine what Jesus really claimed to be.

Jesus’ three extraordinary claims in John 10:28-30 are often used as proof that Jesus is God; equal with the Almighty. These three statements really do present a very high view of Christ but none of them mean that the Son is the same as or equal with the Father:

I GIVE ETERNAL LIFE TO THEM (John 10:28).

His ability to give eternal life to people does not make Him equal to the Father because, as indicated by the following, He received this ability from the Father:

Jesus said:
An hour is coming and now is,
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who hear will live
(receive eternal life).
For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so
He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself.

(John 5:25-26)

In His prayer to the Father, Jesus said:
You gave Him (the Son) authority over all flesh,
that to all whom You have given Him,
He may give eternal life
(John 17:2).

NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND (John 10:28).

Jesus is able to protect His people but He does not have this ability independent from the Father. Rather, as He stated in the next verses, He has that ability because “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” and, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:29-30).

Remember, Jesus said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative” (John 5:30). “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (John 8:27). He protects His “sheep” through the power of His Father.

I AND THE FATHER ARE ONE (John 10:30).

Many use this statement as proof that the Father and the Son are one Being, but this statement is clearly explained differently in Jesus’ prayer. He prayed as follows for His followers:

That they may be one
even as We are
” (John 17:11).

That they may be one,
just as We are one;
I in them and You in Me,
that they may be perfected in unity” (John 17:22-23).

Therefore, just as Jesus’ followers are not one person, so the Father and the Son are not one Person. To “be one” means to “be perfected in unity” (John 17:23). 

Nevertheless, the statement that the Son holds His people in His hand confirms a very high view of Christ, similar to other statements that the Father created and still maintains all things through Him.

THE FATHER IS IN ME,
AND I IN THE FATHER (John 10:38).

This statement is another one used by Trinitarians to argue that Jesus and the Father are equal and one and the same Being.  But Jesus’ prayer explains to be “in” somebody else as to “be perfected in unity:

That they may be one,
just as We are one;
I in them and You in Me,
that they may be perfected in unity” (John 17:22-23).

INDICATIONS OF SUBORDINATION

The text of John 10 provides the following further indications that the Son is subordinate to the Father:

Firstly, His Father gave His “sheep” to Him (John 10:29).

Secondly, Jesus said, “My Father … is greater than all” (John 10:29). In these verses, Jesus explains the relationship between Him and His Father. Therefore, what Jesus was really saying is that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Thirdly, the Father sent the Son into the world (John 10:36).

Fourthly, Jesus said that He does the works of the Father (John 10:37). He also said this at other times. For example:

The works which the Father
has given Me to accomplish” (John 5:36).

Jesus prayed, “I glorified You on the earth,
having accomplished the work
which You have given Me to do
” (John 17:4).

I have come down from heaven,
not to do My own will,
but the will of Him who sent Me

(John 6:38; cf.
John 8:28; 17:4).

JESUS CLAIMED TO BE THE KING OF ISRAEL.

Tested unto death

Above, we showed that the evidence from John 10, which Trinitarians use to prove that Jesus is God; equal with the Almighty, does not stand up to scrutiny.  We also presented indications from the text that the Son is subordinate to the Father. 

SON OF GOD

In addition, in response to the Jews’ accusation—quoted above—Jesus explicitly stated that He does not claim to be “God.” He said: “I said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (John 10:36). The following examples confirm His claim to be the “Son of God:”

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).

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

THE ONE AND ONLY SON OF GOD

Today, we are quite used to Christians being 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).

Other examples of people who are “sons of God” are those that will be resurrected from the dead (Luke 20:34-36; Romans 8:19) and all believers (John 1:12; Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:1-2; Phil. 2:15).

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; “the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The NIV translates this as “the one and only Son of God.” Other examples are:

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 CHRIST.

The question is then, what does it mean to be THE Son of God? 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 with the words: “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 equivalent of the Hebrew title Messiah, as is 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).

So, we have come full circle. Jesus’s debate with the Jews began with a claim by Jesus to be the Christ (John 10:24-25) and it ended at the same point (John 10:36). But now comes the clincher:

THE SON OF GOD IS THE KING OF ISRAEL.

For example:

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).

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

After the Jews said to Pilate that Jesus “made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7), they added that He Jesus “makes himself out to be a king” (John 19:12).

While He hung on the cross the chief priests said: “He is the King of Israel let Him now come down from the cross … for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Mt. 26:42-43).

These examples confirm that the Messiah was understood to be the King of Israel. This explains the strong reaction of the Jews; Jesus was claiming to be their king. But He acted contrary to their expectations. Like the two disciples, walking to Emmaus said, they “were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They expected the Messiah to free Israel from Roman oppression. But He labored to free Israel from 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” (John 19:7).

CONCLUSION

If Jesus claimed to be God, this fact would have been very important and would have been repeated many times over in the New Testament. But Jesus never claimed to be “God.”  He claimed to be the unique Son of God; the Messiah and the King of Israel.

Jesus is not equal to the Father, but we must emphasize the extremely very high view of Christ as described in these verses. He grants eternal life to sinners, has many of the same attributes as the Father, always existed, created all things and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3). The Father gave the Son “all authority … in heaven and on earth” (Mat 28:19). But God, also called the Father, is the sole Source of all things. He alone is Almighty.

THE NATURE OF CHRIST
– ARTICLES ON THIS WEBSITE –

SUMMARIES

STUDIES OF SPECIFIC BIBLE BOOKS

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ORIGINS

JESUS IS SUBORDINATE TO THE FATHER.

JESUS IS EQUAL WITH GOD.

JESUS IS CALLED GOD.

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