Unpacking Jesus’ words in John 5

First, TT over at Faith Promoting Rumer asks a simple question, “Is Jesus a God in the NT?”

Secondly, though the LDS Sunday School Curriculum plan in the I-15 corridor has long ago left me in the dust on my current studies in John’s Gospel, I do desire to re-explore some of the questions that Jim F. presented back in March.  I deisire to work through his questions, one by one, on Jesus’ staggering discourse in John 5.

But first, let me ask you some questions before I attempt to answer some questions.  We spent one Sunday morning on John 5:17-18 and last Sunday morning on John 5:19-20.  How do you think Jesus’ answer in verse 17 establishes his deity?  Or do you think the Jews simply misunderstood his assertion?  And in verse 19, when Jesus says, “The Son can do nothing of himself,”  can any other man on the face of this green, terrestial globe make this claim?

As I told TT, my heart is completely wrapped up on this issue, hanging on every word of Jesus Christ as written down here in John 5.


  1. I think that the response of the “Jews” is meant to set up Jesus’ response, wherein he is arguing that he is not in fact equal to God, but dependent upon him.
    For Mormons, this verse is a critical verse in understanding the relationship between God and humanity, because it set forth for Joseph Smith in the KFD the idea that God must have once been a human if the Son can only do what the Father has already done, ergo the Father has been an embodied human. While the text might not necessarily imply that interpretation, it is nonetheless interesting.

  2. Verse 17 is Jesus’ response to the Sabbath breaking, a concurrent working of the Father and the Son (the Word) since the beginning (John 1:1). I think the Jewish rabbis of old understood from the Hebrew scriptures that if God stopped working, the lights would go out in the stars, things would disintegrate. They believed in Yahweh’s continual, ongoing, unresting work of preservation, etc. In one of the hymns we sing, “Unresting, unhasting . . . nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might.” (and btw, thinking of Jim F.’s question over this verse on his blog, I do not see this verse contradicting or threatening the initial pattern of specific creation set forth in Genesis.)

    So what Jesus says in verse 17 puts him on the same par with God. To the Jews — how could any other physical man wearing sandals say what Jesus was declaring in defense in verse 17? This is blasphemy to monotheism. For the rabbis, certainly no son is equal to his father, and in anger they were reacting to Jesus claiming to be the Son and in joint work with the Father. I think they were interpreting correctly his statement that the Son was making himself equal (isos) with God.

    Now this begs the question. Is Jesus a different God? Another deity alongside the Father? Well, verse 18 as narrative is placed there by the author of John’s Gospel to perfectly set up Jesus’ response in verses 19 and following.

    TT, I read elsewhere . . . I think it was Blake Ostler who also confirmed John 5:19 as a key verse for LDS interpretation. Yet I have not connected properly because I don’t have the outside data or as Blake would say the lens to properly see what you are suggesting. Some would say that what I am about to share is through the lens of church creeds or Augustine or whatever or whoever. But sincerely, I can share that my biggest lens on John 5:19 is what I have gathered this past twelve months by God’s help from John 1:1 through John 5:18. The increasing strength of my conviction over who Jesus is comes not by creedal statements or sectarian headquarters. It has been these opening chapters of John’s Gospel laid out in front of me. There have been powerful indicators of contrast between the logos in the beginning and John the Baptist, Christ’s pre-existence and our earthly existence, God as Spirit and the Son taking flesh. John 5:19 is declaring Jesus as a different species than us. I can follow my own will apart from the Father, unfortunately. Both my own heart experience and scripture testify to this. But Jesus cannot. Distinctiveness between the Father and the Son, and yet it is impossible, unthinkable for there to be a contradiction in the relationship. This sounds like a oneness of presence that I have never encountered on this green, terrestial globe. I am standing on a high ridge overlooking grand mystery.

    Let me ask you this. Do you believe that these words by Jesus in John 5:19 imply that he is inferior to the Father because of both experience and progression in LDS expression?

  3. Let me ask you this. Do you believe that these words by Jesus in John 5:19 imply that he is inferior to the Father because of both experience and progression in LDS expression?

    Todd, I think that is a fair interpretation of an LDS reading of this text. John 14:28 says that the Father is greater than the Son.

  4. TT, naturally one might think of inferiority. But then I remembered what I learned in John 1:18. The aorist middle, exegesato. Such an intimate relationship where the Son is the exegesis–he provides the narrative of the Father.

    And I remember another verse, John 3:34, “for God giveth not the Spirit by measure”. Concerning the Spirit, Christ has him without metron. That to me, shatters all inferiority.

    But as you mention John 14:28, I think John 5 introduces a concept, something altogether different from LDS interpretation, that interprets John 14.

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