He was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (NIV)
Original Part 1
1. The peoples in the time and culture of the Bible knew that children often carried the authority of the family. For example, the son of a king had authority. When Christ said that God was his Father, the Pharisees correctly interpreted that to mean that he had God’s authority on earth, something that Jesus was in fact saying (cp. John 5:17ff).
Refutation Part 1
This is incorrect in at least three ways. Firstly, the word “son” can mean more than just possessing the authority of the father. In biblical times people knew that to be the “son” of someone or something could mean that you share the same nature of something. For example, when Jesus said “The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light,” he was saying that whoever believes in him will become by nature welcoming of the light (the truth), and opposed to the darkness (falsehood) (John 12:35–36). When Paul referred to the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6), he was referring to non-believers who were by nature disobedient.
Furthermore, the Bible tells us that the name “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement”, referring to someone who is encouraging by nature (Acts 4:36). It would make sense if the Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be God by nature, by making God his own Father, because this would be a definite claim to equality with God. In another passage of the Bible, we are in fact told that Jesus is the Son of God in the sense that “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:2–3). This confirms that Jesus is by nature God, yet also distinct from the Father, being the Son. It is also worthy to note that Jesus claimed God as his own Father in an exclusive way, a relationship that no one else could not share.
Secondly, although Jesus does have divine authority from God (Matthew 28:18), the Pharisees did not interpret what Jesus said to mean that he had God’s authority on earth, because the passage doesn’t say that. What they understood was that Jesus was “making himself equal with God”. How? By “calling God his own Father”. When interpreting the Bible, it is important to let the Bible just say what it says, and not add to it.
Thirdly, Jesus wasn’t actually talking about authority in John 5:17. Instead, in response to the Jews’ attacks that he was breaking the Sabbath by healing a lame man, he said: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” He defended himself by saying that his Father has never ceased working to this day, and that he did this work in unison with the Father. Here, we see that Jesus claimed his works as being the Father’s works. This makes sense, because no one would condemn the Father if he did a work on the Sabbath day, and so if the Father did this work in unison with the Son, then Jesus couldn’t be blamed either. Therefore, while the Pharisees might have wondered about Jesus’ authority, their thoughts at this point would have been primarily focused on his unity with the Father.
Original Part 2
2. This verse is actually unsupportive of the Trinity. It accurately records that Jesus was saying that God was his father, not that he was himself God, or that he was “God the Son.” It is clear that Jesus’ authority came from the fact that he was the Son of God, not God Himself.
Refutation Part 2
The assertion here that this verse is unsupportive of the Trinity cannot be further from the truth. Firstly, this passage gives Jesus a divine attribute that only God can have, which is equality with God. The Bible teaches that God has no equals (Isaiah 46:5, 8–9), and at the same time, it says that the Son and the Father are equal, which is a clear declaration of the Son’s deity.
Secondly, it’s not a contradiction to say that Jesus is both God and the Son of God at the same time. As we have noted above, in biblical times people knew that to be the “son” of someone or something could mean that you share the same nature as them. In Jesus’ case, he is the “Son” of God in the sense that he shares God’s divine nature. Therefore, the claim that Jesus’ authority came from the fact that he was the Son of God, not God himself, comes from a misunderstanding as to what is meant when the Bible calls Jesus the Son of God. Jesus and the Father are not the same person, but they are the same being (essence).
Original Part 3
3. The concept of people being “equal” is found in several places in the Bible. For example, when Joseph was ruling Egypt under Pharaoh, Judah said to him, “You are equal to Pharaoh himself” (Gen. 44:18). Paul wrote about men who wanted to be considered “equal with us” (2 Cor. 11:12). No Christian we are aware of believes that Joseph and Pharaoh or Paul and his opponents are “of one substance,” and make up “one being” simply because they are called “equal.” We believe that John 5:18 should be handled like the other verses that mention equality. Jesus was using God’s power and authority on earth, and was thus “equal” to God in the same way Joseph, who was using Pharaoh’s authority and power, was equal to Pharaoh.
Refutation Part 3
The important thing to remember is that if a biblical concept depends on the immediate context of the passage it’s in, then that’s where we look to first to find its meaning. This means that we need to examine the immediate context of whenever the word “equal” is used to find out what the Bible means by it. Unfortunately, the author did not do this, and instead pointed to a passage in Genesis for their justification of interpreting a passage in John about Jesus’ equality with God as simply being one of using God’s authority and power.
However, when we examine the immediate context of John 5:18, we see that Jesus actually gives us the answer to what was meant by him being “equal” with his Father. Jesus is equal with God according to his divine nature, and this is evident because Jesus is honoured in the same way the Father is honoured, and whoever fails to do so dishonours God (John 5:22–23). In fact, the Father gave Jesus the position as the final judge for the sole purpose of him being honoured just as he is honoured. This means that in every way we honour the Father, such as by worshipping him, giving him thanks and praise, adoring him, and praying to him, we must also render worship, thanksgiving, praise, adoration, prayers, and all other types of honour in the highest degree, to Jesus—otherwise we are dishonouring the Father. No one who is just a servant or representative is honoured in the exact same way that the king himself is honoured (see Revelation 22:8–9, for example). This is a clear declaration of Jesus’ deity, seeing as the Bible teaches that only God may be worshipped and served (Matthew 4:10).
In addition, the context of the passage also teaches that Jesus and the Father do everything, not just some, or even most things, but everything in perfect synchronisation, and that it is impossible for him to do anything apart from the Father (John 5:19–20, 30). Jesus is so perfectly united with the Father that he can even claim his own works as his Father’s works, because he and the Father work in perfect unison (John 5:17; compare with John 14:10), and later on, that whoever believes him believes the Father (John 12:44), and that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (John 12:45; John 14:9). This doesn’t describe a shared authority, but rather an inseparable union of essence, which would explain why the Son is rightly honoured even as the Father is, as well as why he cannot do anything apart from the Father, but only does everything that the Father does.
It should also be noted, that the word for “equal” in John 5:18, which is “isos” in the Greek, is not ambiguous at all. According to Dr. James Strong’s Concordance, it’s clearly defined as “equal, equivalent, identical”.¹ In the King James Version of the Bible, it is translated as “equal” (4x), “agree together” (2x), “as much” (1x), and “like” (1x).² In all instances, “isos” always refers to an equal quantity (Matthew 20:12; Luke 6:34; Revelation 21:16), an equal quality (John 5:18; Acts 11:17; Philippians 2:6), or an agreeing testimony (Mark 14:56; Mark 14:59). Jesus’ equal quality with the Father in John 5:17–18, is his divine nature and essence, based on his exclusive Sonship, and perfect union with the Father in everything.
To claim an inseparable union, perfect synchronisation in works, and honour that should only be rendered to God himself, it is clear that Jesus is equal with God according to his divine nature and essence, because if this were not true, then the aforementioned claims would have been blasphemous and impossible. Jesus is honoured the same as the Father because he is the Son of the Father, which means that he is equal with God according to his divine nature and essence, and works in perfect unison with him (John 5:17–18).
Rebuttal to the Following Biblical Unitarian Article
John 5:18b – A Verse Used to Support the Trinity, BiblicalUnitarian.com, accessed on 12 February 2018, <http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/verses/john-5-18b>
1. Bible Hub, accessed on 14 February 2018, <http://biblehub.com/greek/2470.htm>
2. Blue Letter Bible, accessed on 14 February 2018, <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2470&t=KJV>
Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.