Monday, July 27, 2015

God, gods and Jesus in John 10:30-39

 (last updated 2018-02-25)

Update: This blogpost should be read in conjunction with (the more important?) blogpost HERE

30 I and the Father are one."
31    The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.32 Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?"33 The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'?35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came---and Scripture cannot be broken---36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.- John 10:33-39 ESV
This passage has always been a point of contention between Trinitarians and Unitarians. Unitarians claiming the passage clearly has Jesus denying he is fully God. While Trinitarians disagreeing among themselves as to whether the Old Testament passage Jesus quotes and alludes to (Ps. 82) refers to human judges (e.g. James White) or to divine beings or lesser "gods" in Yahweh/Jehovah's Divine Council (e.g. Michael S. Heiser).

Regarding Psalm 82, I don't see why it can't be the case that verse 1 refers to lesser "gods" (i.e. highest species in the angelic hierarchy) in Jehovah's Council, while the rest of the psalm refers to human judges. In other words, both Trinitarian groups are right (e.g. both James White and Michael Heiser). The fact that there is a divine council has (IMO) been proven by Michael Heiser in his materials. His books, articles, videos and various websites (e.g., or The Naked Bible podcast #109). At the same time, it seems verses 3 and 4 refer to judgments dealing with very mundane/earthly subjects.

3    Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
        maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4    Rescue the weak and the needy;
        deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
It's difficult to believe that these are the proper duties of the highest of the angelic host. As far as I can tell, everywhere else in the Bible such duties were that of human judges. Though, that's not to deny that angels can assist the needy. That's clearly taught elsewhere in the Bible.

Also, it seems to me that Jesus interprets some or all of Psalm 82 as referring to human judges by His phrase, "to whom the word of God came." Where in the Old Testament did "the word of God" come to the angelic host or (specifically) to the divine council? Does "word of God" refer to a revelation or to the Logos who approaches the divine council? Jesus' next words seems to settle the issue. Jesus says, "and Scripture cannot be broken." So, it appears that Jesus is referring to Scriptural Revelation as opposed to Oral Revelation, or to Himself the personal Logos of John 1:1. However, it doesn't make sense for a written Revelation to be given to angels. That's not to say there are no "books" (or their spiritual equivalents) in the angelic realm. There probably are (cf. Ex. 32:32-33; Ps. 40:7; 56:8; 69:28; 139:16; Rev. 20:12; 3:5; 5:1-9; 10:2ff.; 13:8; 17:8; 21:7). But Jesus seems to be referring to the very Scripture (Psalm 82) He just alluded to and of which He said, "Is it not WRITTEN in YOUR Law." So, it makes most sense that Jesus is referring to the Scriptures given to the Jews.

Therefore, while I do believe in a divine council and that Ps. 82:1 refers to it, I think the rest (or most of) of the chapter deals with corrupt human judges. In light of Michael Heiser's understanding of the divine council, it seems to me Psalm 82 is saying that as the divine council ought to judge or rule justly over the people groups of the world generally (irrespective of whether they did/do so or not), so Israel's human judges ought to have done so over their individual peoples particularly. It takes an understanding of Heiser's views to get the full import of my interpretation. Though, I don't agree with Heiser on every particular (as is the case with Ps. 82, since I partially disagree with his interpretation).

Having said all that, how are we to interpret John 10:33-39? Unitarians interpret Jesus' statements as a denial to a claim of full divinity. That Jesus was essentially saying the following. "My claim to being the Son of God is really no different than how the "gods" of Ps. 82 are called gods. Whether you take it as referring to human judges or (a fortiori) spiritual beings below Almighty God. Unitarians like Greg Stafford interprets it in the latter sense. That Jesus was merely say he's one of the lesser gods under the authority of Almighty God. Such types of Unitarians believe that Jesus is the first, greatest and only direct creation of Almighty God; through whom Almighty God created everything else.

However, is this the only or even the best possible interpretation? I think not. The following quote sums up my interpretation of the passage which I came to independently.

Reading through Daniel Waterland's book A Vindication of Christ's Divinity [page 54] I came across the following passage that confirmed my interpretation.

From hence you [Waterland's theological opponent] endeavor to prove, that Christ is God in the subordinate Sense only; that is, as I have said, not properly or truly God. But I can see no manner of ground for this Inference from the Words before us. Our Blessed Lord had insinuated that He was really and truly God; but had not asserted it in plain and express Terms: Upon this bare innuendo, the Jews charge Him with direct Blasphemy: He to evade their Malice and to keep to the Truth, neither affirms, nor denies that He meant it in the Sense which they apprehended. However, his Discourse being in general Terms, and not explicite enough to found a charge of Blasphemy upon, He appeals to their Law, in order to show, that it is not always Blasphemy, to make one's Self God, or to apply the Title of God, even to mortal Men, and Men inferior to Himself, considered only as Man. This was answer sufficient to Them; who could not from his own Expressions clearly convict Him of meaning more, than that He was God in the improper Sense of the Word, as it had been used, Psal. 82.6. Nevertheless, He leaves the point of his Divinity undecided; or rather, still goes on to insinuate, in Words which they could not directly lay hold on, the very Thing which they charged Him with. This enraged them so much the more: and therefore they again sought to take Him, v. 39. But He escaped out of their Hand. This Interpretation may suffice to take of the force of your Argument. Yet, the Words may admit of other, and perhaps better Interpretations, consistent with the Principles which I here maintain.
Jesus was prevaricating. I think Jesus was hinting at His being YHVH along with the Father, but He didn't given a direct statement to that effect. What He said was true enough, even though it wasn't the full truth. While they did attempt to arrest Him (v. 39), they would have been more aggressive and probably successful [sans Divine intervention] if Jesus had been more explicit about His claims. He said what He said to prevent Himself from being persecuted to death (by stoning) too early in the timetable of God's Redemptive Plan. A reason why John 10:33-39 shouldn't be interpreted in a Unitarian way is because this is the third time in the Gospel of John where it records the details of WHY the Jews wanted to kill Jesus. It makes sense and fits together with each other and the rest of the Gospel of John that in all three instances it was because the Jews interpreted Jesus' statements as a claim to full deity.

The three passages are John 5:17-18; John 8:56-59; and here in John 10:33-39.

1. Some assert that John 5:17-18 cannot be interpreted to mean that Jesus really is equal to God. Since by parity of argument, it would also mean that Jesus was a Sabbath breaker even though the New Testament clearly teaches Jesus never sinned. I've addressed this objection and showed why the objection actually strengthens the case for the full deity of Jesus Christ. 

See the following blogposts for proof.

Jesus' "Breaking" the Sabbath as Evidence of His Equality with the Father


Jesus the True and Proper SON of God

2. Regarding John 8:56-59, most Unitarians and Trinitarians/Modalists know the significance of John 8:58. Trinitarians (and others like Modalists/Sabellians who affirm the full deity of Jesus) interpret Jesus statement, "Before Abraham was I am," as a claim to full deity. That Jesus was alluding to Ex. 3:14.

See James White's article for a classic exposition.

Purpose and Meaning of "Ego Eimi"in the Gospel of JohnIn Reference to the Deity of Christ by James White

3. Regarding John 10:30-39, the key verse is verse 30.

Jesus' statement, "I and the Father are one" was interpreted by the Jews to mean Jesus was making himself God.

The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."- John 10:33
 This was the same reason in John 5:18.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.- John 5:18

Regarding John 8:58, it hardly make sense for the Jews to want to stone Jesus (presumably killing him for blasphemy) if Jesus was merely saying "I am [the one, viz. the messiah]" (as many Unitarians interpret "I am"). I'm not going to address the proper translation of John 8:58 since I'm not a Greek scholar. As far as I know, Greg Stafford is the best Unitarian defender of a translation other than the traditional, "before Abraham was, I am." [See all three editions of his book Jehovah's Witnesses Defended] Nevertheless, If Jesus was merely saying he preexisted Abraham, why would the Jews want to throw stones at Jesus for that? How was that blasphemy since he was not claiming to be God? From the context it makes sense to me that Jesus was identifying Himself with the I AM of Exodus 3:14 and therefore claiming full deity (i.e. Jehovah/Yahweh).

 Is it a coincidence that the author of John records these three detailed reasons why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus on account of His claiming to be God? If Jesus weren't claiming to be fully God in these passages why doesn't the author specifically state Jesus isn't God in these passages? Or that the Jews were wrong in their interpretation of Jesus' statements? Or that they were misunderstanding Him? On the contrary, not only does the author not do so, but elsewhere refers to Jesus as "God" in John 1:1 and even "the God" (ho theos) in John 10:28. From these and other evidences, it seems to me that the preponderance of the evidence is that the author's intention was to teach Jesus' full deity/divinity and equality with the Father in the Gospel of John. Also, if it's true that the book of Revelation was written by the same person (as most conservative scholars do), then that conclusion that John's author intended to teach the full deity of Christ is even more solidified on account of various passages in Revelation that also imply Christ is fully God.

For more on this see my blogpost:

Revelation 22:12-13 and the Deity of Christ

For evidence for the full deity/divinity of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John see the following blogposts:

The Holy Spirit Contradicts the Accidence of Personality

The Full Deity of the Holy Spirit

The Witness of the Holy Spirit

 Praying to and Worshipping the Holy Spirit

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