Did Jesus claim to be God, as the Jews said in John 10:33?

Purpose

Jews questioning Jesus
Jews questioning Jesus

In John 10:33, according to the NASB, 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 were saying to Him …
If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them,
‘I told you, and you do not believe’
(John 10:24-25).

In other words, Jesus already told them that He is the Christ. Then Jesus continued and made some pretty astounding claims:

My sheep hear My voice … and they follow Me;
and I give eternal life to them,
and they will never perish;

and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all;
and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
I and the Father are one.”
(John 10:27-30)

In response to these claims, “the Jews picked up stones … to stone Him” (John 10:31) and said to Him:

We … stone You … for blasphemy;
and because You, being a man,
make Yourself out to be God
(John 10:33).

Referring to Psalm 82, Jesus answered:

Has it not been written in your Law,
‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’?

If he called them gods,
to whom the word of God came …

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’?
(John 10:34-36)

In other words, Jesus argued that, if the people mentioned in Psalm 82, who were mere human beings, could be called “gods,” then how much more could He, “whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world,” be called “the Son of God?” (John 10:34-36)

Summary

What did the Jews say?

Firstly, did the Jews, in John 10:33, really say that Jesus claims to be God?

The word that is translated as “God” (theos) basically means a supernatural being. In that case, it is translated as “god.” When the same word is used for the God of the Bible, it is translated as “God.”

For the following reasons, the Jews did not say that Jesus claims to be is “God:”

(1) The Jews said that Jesus claims to be theos (John 10:33) after Jesus made some astounding claims. However, that was not a claim to be God because Jesus acknowledged that He is subordinate to the Father (John 10:25, 29).

(2) In defense, after the accusation of the Jews in verse 33, Jesus compared Himself to people, namely to people “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35). This defense would not make any sense if the Jews said that Jesus claimed to be the Almighty God.

(3) Later, when the Jews brought their accusations against Jesus before Pilate, they did not say that He claimed to be God. They said that “He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7).

For these reasons, the Jews understood Jesus not to be claiming to be God, but merely to be an immortal supernatural being; similar to one of the Greek gods or perhaps an angel. John 10:33, therefore, should be translated as: “You, being a man, make Yourself out to a god.” 

Did Jesus claim to be God?

The purpose of this article is not only to determine what the Jews said, but also to determine who Jesus claimed to be. He did not claim to be God. Rather, in response to the Jews’ accusation, Jesus explicitly corrected them by saying: “I said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (John 10:36). In that response, He also gave further indications that He is subordinate to the Father, for example, that the Father had sent the Son into the world (John 10:36-37).

Jesus’ three extraordinary claims in John 10:28-30 are often used as proof that He is God; equal with the Almighty. But they do not:

He is able to give eternal life to His followers because the Father gave Him that ability (John 5:25-26; John 17:2).

No one will snatch His people out of His hand because the Father protects His people through the Son (John 10:28-29).

I and the Father are one” does not mean that they are literally one, but that they are perfected in unity (John 17:11; 22-23).

Jesus claimed to be King of Israel.

Jesus, therefore, claimed to be the unique Son of God. Christians are often called sons of God but Jesus is “the one and only Son of God” (John 3:18; NIV). “The Son of God” is another title for “the Christ” (John 11:27; 20:31; Matt 26:63; Mark 1:1). But that is also a claim to be the king of Israel (John 1:49; 19:12; Matt 26:42-43). This explains the strong reaction of the Jews; Jesus claimed to be their king.

Conclusion

If Jesus claimed to be God, that 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 Christ and the King of Israel.

– 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; NASB)?

The meaning of theos

To answer that question, we need to understand the word theos, which can be translated as “God” or as “god.” 

In the Greek culture, the word theos was used to refer to beings such as Zeus or Achilles, namely immortal beings with super powers that live in the heavens. 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 God of the Bible. In the original Greek text, there is no distinction between lower- and upper-case letters as we have in the words “god” and “God.” However, when the translators understand that theos in a particular instance refers to the Almighty, they translate it with a capital G “God.” While “god” is a common noun, describing a class of beings, we effectively use “God” as a name (a proper noun) for one specific Being.

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

As quoted above, in response to 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)

Since the NASB capitalize the “G,” it means that the translators assumed that the Jews said that Jesus claimed to be the Almighty.

The Jews did not say that Jesus claims to be God.

For the following reasons, it is proposed that the Jews used the word theos in John 10:33 with the general Greek meaning of a supernatural being:

(1) Jesus described the Father as superior to Himself.

Firstly, the Jews accused Jesus of claiming to be theos after Jesus made some astounding claims, but these astounding claims did not include a claim to be God, for He indicated that He is subordinate to the Father. For example, as part of those claims, Jesus said:

That the works that He does, He does in His Father’s name (John 10:25). This means that His Father is superior to Him.

That His Father gave Him His “sheep” (John 10:29).

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

(2) Jesus claimed to be similar to a Greek God.

Secondly, the Jews said that Jesus is not theos (John 10:33) after Jesus described Himself as similar to a Greek god, namely that He is able to give people immortality (John 10:28) and that He has existed in heaven before His birth (e.g., John 6:38, 41, 62). 

(3) Jesus compared Himself to people.

Thirdly, in defense to the accusation of the Jews, Jesus compared Himself to people, namely to people “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35). This refers to Psalm 82 which refers to certain people as “gods” because they have been supernaturally inspired by God. If the Jews accused Jesus of claiming to be the Almighty, why would Jesus correct them by comparing Himself to such people? Rather, His defense seems to indicate that the Jews accused Jesus of claiming to be a supernatural being; not that He claimed to be God.

(4) The Jews did not accuse Jesus before Pilate of claiming to be God.

Fourthly, when the Jews brought their accusations 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).

Conclusion

These quotes show that the Jews did not understand Jesus to make Himself out to be God. 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 said, but to determine who Jesus claimed to be.

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).

In that response, He gave further indications that He is subordinate to the Father. He said that the Father had sanctified and sent the Son into the world and that He is doing the works of His Father (John 10:36-37). It is a consistent teaching of the New Testament that the Son is subordinate to the Father

Three Extraordinary Claims

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

I give eternal life.

His ability to give eternal life to people (John 10:28) does not make Him equal to the Father because, as indicated by the following quote, He has “life in Himself” because He received it from the Father and, for that reason, “the dead,” who will hear “the voice of the Son of God, … will live:

An hour is coming …
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who hear will live
.
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)

Similarly, in 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.

No one will snatch His people out of His hand (John 10:28), not because Jesus has this ability independent from the Father, but because “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” and because His Father “is greater than all” (John 10:29). Therefore, He protects His “sheep” through the power of His Father. Or, to state this more consistent with how God creates and redeems (Col 1:16, 20), the Father protects His “sheep” through the Son.

Since His Father “is greater than all,” the Father is also greater than the Son.

I and the Father are one.

Many use this statement in John 10:30 as proof that the Father and the Son are one Being, but Jesus’ prayer explains the phrase “are one” clearly. He prayed 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 literally one Person. Rather, to “be one” means to “be perfected in unity” (John 17:23). For a further discussion, see – I and the Father are one.

This statement in John 10:30, that the Father and the Son “are one,” explains His claim in the previous verses that no one will snatch His people out of His hand because no one will snatch His people out of His Father’s hand. Christ does that in the power of His Father. Nevertheless, this presents a very high view of Christ, similar statements such as that the Father created and still maintains all things through Him (Heb 1:2-3).

Jesus claimed to be King of Israel.

Jesus is the one and only Son of God.

Jesus claimed to be “the Son of God” (John 10:36; cf. John 19:7). John concluded his gospel by summarizing the main purpose of his gospel. He wrote:

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

Christians are often called sons of God. For example:

You are all sons of God
through faith in Christ Jesus

(Gal 3:26; cf. Gal 4:6; Luke 20:34-36; Rom 8:14, 16, Matt 5:9).

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; 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 one and only Son of God” (John 3:18; NIV). This understanding is supported by Satan and his angels:

The devil tempted Jesus, saying to Him, “If You are THE Son of God …” (Matt 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 one and only 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:
“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

(Matt 26:63; cf. Mark 1:1).

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” (Matt 2:1-5).
(“Messiah” is the Hebrew equivalent for the Greek title “Christ” (cf. John 1:41).)

The following quotes show that the title, “the Son of God” is synonymous to “the King of Israel:

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

After the Jews accused Jesus before Pilate that Jesus
made Himself out to be the Son of God” (John 19:7),
they added that
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’
” (Matt 26:42-43).

These examples confirm that “the Son of God” was understood to be the King of Israel. This explains the strong reaction of the Jews; Jesus claimed 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. But God, also called the Father, is the sole Source of all things. He alone is Almighty.

Available Articles – Christology

Summary Articles

Specific Bible Books

Specific Bible Passages

The origin of the Son

Christ is subordinate to God.

Christ is equal to God.

Jesus is called God.

      • Overview – Overview of the verses that refer to Jesus as theos.
      • Theos – The meaning of theos – the word translated “God.”
      • John 1:18 – The original text of this verse is in dispute.
      • John 20:28 – Did Thomas say that Jesus is God?
      • John’s gospel – Discussion of theos in this gospel.
      • Romans 9:5 – The translation depends on punctuation.
      • Hebrews 1:8 – The next verse says that God is His theos.

The translation of John 1:1

Other

If you are interested in Christology, I recommend Dale Tuggy’s podcasts, even though he understands Christ vastly different from me.

Other Articles Series

Daniel

Revelation

Other Key Articles

For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.