John 10:30-38 – Did Jesus Really Claim To Be God?

Introduction

It is often asserted by Christian pastors, teachers, apologists and scholars that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, made an overt claim to deity. It is not unusual at all to hear someone declare with confidence, “Jesus claimed to be God.” But just what exactly is being purported by this assertion? Are these Christian professionals positing that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be a divine being of some sort, or perhaps even Yahweh himself, the God of Israel? While there may be differences among these as to what each means by the assertion, it is clear that for many the contention is that Jesus made a claim to being the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Now in the history of Christian theology this has worked itself out in two completely separate and distinct paths – modalism and trinitarianism. Modalism says that God is a single person who has revealed himself in three manifestations or modes of being, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinitarianism says that God is a single being who consists of three distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three persons exist simultaneously and are distinct from each other, yet together they comprise the one being of God. Of course, this language of ‘three persons in one being’ is simply a philosophical construct without any real meaning, for is there really any discernible difference between a being and a person? In other words, only in trinitarian Christian theology is such a distinction made between being and person, but not in the real world.

What I will present in this article is a refutation of the assertion that the man Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God, regardless of whether the assertion is made by a modalist or a trinitarian Christian. My contention is that Jesus never made any such claim. Admittedly, there are things that Jesus is recorded as saying which may give the impression that he was claiming to be something more than a mere man, which “the unlearned and unstable [have] distort[ed]” to such a degree that the man Jesus of Nazareth has been made out to be a person who actually thought of himself as God.

The Record of the Supposed Claim

So where exactly in the gospels is this supposed overt claim to deity, by Jesus, recorded? Well we can eliminate the three synoptic gospels for it is not maintained by anyone that any such overt claim to deity is found on the lips of Jesus in these works. While many may claim that some of Jesus’ sayings and deeds certainly imply that he thought of himself as divine, it is certain that there are no explicit statements of Jesus to this effect in the synoptics. This leaves us with the Gospel of John, and indeed this is the gospel from which, almost exclusively, passages are brought forth in support of the idea that Jesus is God. But we are looking for more than that, since the assertion is that Jesus claimed outright to be God in the flesh. There are at least two candidates for an outright claim to deity on the lips of Jesus in John’s gospel – 8:58 and 10:30. It is my contention that both of these passages have been grossly misunderstood by both modalists and trinitarians. For a thorough explanation of John 8:58 see this article here. Since I have already offered an alternative interpretation of that passage in that article, this article will focus on John 10:30

Historical and Cultural Background

Before I delve into an exegesis of this passage it is necessary to first establish just what it is that a first century Jew would have understood by the phrase ‘son of God‘, for this is indeed the overt claim of Jesus in this passage as well as in others {see v. 36}. When Jesus’ audience heard him refer to himself as the son of God, what did they think he meant by that title? Did they think it was a claim to deity? Did they think he was claiming to be the God of Israel? Is there any clue in the historical and cultural background of the Jewish people and in their scriptures that would enlighten us as to what Jesus could have meant and to what his hearers would have understood by this claim? Now in order to profit fully from this investigation it is necessary that you lay aside all your preconceptions of what ‘son of God‘ means. This is needed because the concept of ‘son of God’ developed, after the time of the apostles, over a period of time, to settle finally on a metaphysical definition which became the default tradition of Christianity ever since. This metaphysical definition says that the ‘son of God’ is a second person in the being of God who is eternally generated from the substance of another person in the being of God, namely the Father. Now when someone converts to Christianity they are instructed in this default definition and most will never question it or do any investigation into the historical and cultural background to confirm the validity of the tradition. So if this is the first time you have ever allowed yourself to really examine this issue I would encourage you to please allow the facts to speak for themselves, apart from the tradition.

When we look into the Hebrew Scriptures, typically called the Old Testament, we discover that there is one specific figure who was designated as God’s son which coincides perfectly with what the NT says about Jesus – the Davidic king. Let’s look first at God’s covenant with David. After David ascended to the throne of Israel shortly after Saul’s death, God sent the prophet Nathan to him with this promise:

“Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh himself will establish a house (i.e. dynasty) for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him for a father, and he will be to me for a son. When he does wrong I will punish him with the rod of men. But my love will never be taken from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house (i.e. dynasty) and kingdom will endure before me; your throne will be established forever.”

2 Sam. 7:11-16

This covenant with David is confirmed in a number of other places in Scripture: 2 Chron. 13:4-8; Ps. 18:50; 89:3-4, 19-37; 132:10-12, 17-18; Is. 55:3; Jer. 33:17, 21, 25-26.

Now note, in the passage cited above, how God portrays the relationship between himself and the Davidic king: “I will be to him for a father and he will be to me for a son.” Thus the relationship between God and his chosen king from the line of David is analogous to that of a father and his son. This relationship began with David himself, for we read in Ps. 89:26-27, regarding David: “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father . . .’ I will also appoint him my firstborn . . .” Hence what began with David extended to any of his line who ascended to the throne. Observe what David said of Solomon:

“Of all my sons – and Yahweh has given me many – he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Israel. He said to me, ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever . . .'”

1 Chron. 28:13 (see also 22:10)

This father/son relationship between Yahweh and his king was characteristic of ancient Near East practice. The relationship between a great king and one of his vassal kings was often expressed by this same language. Yahweh was in fact Israel’s true King, but when the people demanded a human king like the other nations, He gave them Saul to be His vassal king, as it were, ruling on Yahweh’s behalf {see 1 Sam. 8:4-9, 19-22; 12:1-2, 12-13}. After Saul was later rejected, Yahweh raised up David to the throne and promised him and his descendants the kingdom forever.

Also, kings in the ancient Near East were often thought of as ruling on behalf of some particular god and were designated as the ‘son’ of that god. Therefore, the Hebrew mind would have been accustomed to this kind of language and would have understood it’s significance. It must be stated categorically that there is absolutely no hint in this father/son relationship between God and his king, of an ontological and/or metaphysical dimension. No Jew would have understood this special relationship in that sense.

Next we will look at Psalm 2, regarded by many scholars as a coronation psalm, which would have been sung at the coronation of a new Davidic king. If David is the author of the psalm then Solomon would have been the first to use it at his coronation. We will only look at the relevant portions of the psalm:

v.2 – “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against Yahweh and his anointed one.”

Here we see that Yahweh closely associates himself with a specific individual called “his anointed one.” This designation comes from the Hebrew word mashiach, which is transliterated into English as messiah. This word is translated in the LXX by the Greek word christos, which is transliterated into English as christ. Both words, messiah and christ, mean ‘an anointed one‘ and refer specifically to the king whom God has chosen to rule over his people {see 1 Sam. 12:1-5; 16:1, 6, 10-13; 24:6, 10; 2 Sam. 23:1; 2 Chron. 6:42; Ps. 18:15; 84:9; 89:51; Lam. 4:20}. This is confirmed in v. 6 of the psalm, where Yahweh is presented as speaking:

v. 6 – “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

The king is referred to by Yahweh as “my king” because he rules on Yahweh’s behalf and over Yahweh’s people. Zion is the name of the hill upon which Jerusalem was built and is used practically as a synonym for Jerusalem.

In v. 7 the newly installed king speaks, recounting Yahweh’s promise to David:

v. 7 – “I will recount the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, ‘You are to me my son; this day I have become your father. Ask of me and I will give the nations for your inheritance.'”

On that day, the nascent king became, as it were, God’s son, in accordance with God’s promise to David in 2 Sam. 7:11:14.

What we learn from this historical, cultural and biblical data is this:

Son of God = Messiah (Christ) = King of Israel

NT Testimony

We will now examine the gospel accounts for evidence that this understanding of ‘son of God‘ remained the dominant view even down to Jesus’ day. We will also look at how the gospels portray Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of David.

The Synoptics

The evidence from the synoptic gospels is rather strong. Matthew starts his gospel with this statement:

“A book of the lineage of Jesus Christ son of David.”

Matt. 1:1

To a Jewish reader this would denote that this Jesus is the chosen one from the line of David who would ascend to the throne. In chapter 2, after the birth of Jesus, Matthew records a story of how Magi from the east had come to Jerusalem, under the guidance of a star, to find “him who has been born king of the Jews. When these magi went to king Herod for information on where they could find this king, Herod called together the priests and teachers of the law and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Hence, Herod understood the coming Messiah to be the king.

Luke records the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that she would conceive and give birth to a son, of whom Gabriel says:

“He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Luke 1:31-33

This passage shows unmistakably that Jesus was considered to be the chosen one from the line of David who would ascend to the throne of Israel to rule as king, and that in this regard he is designated as God’s son.

The synoptics present various people as addressing Jesus as the ‘son of David‘ {Matt. 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; Mk. 10:47-48; Lk. 18:38-39}. Matthew records how the people of Galilee were amazed at Jesus and wondered “Could this be the son of David” {12:23}. All three synoptics record the famous question of Jesus to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” They all record Peter’s answer confessing Jesus to be “the Messiah”, but Matthew’s account is fuller and more significant: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Note the equation of messiah and son of God, and also note that Peter, at least, has not gotten the impression that Jesus is his God.

All three of the synoptics record Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a week prior to his death. Only Matthew’s account connects this to a fulfillment of Zech. 9:9 which reads, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey . . . “ In this scene a large crowd of Jesus’ followers accompanied him as he entered Jerusalem. The synoptics record what the crowd was shouting, and though there are variations between them, they all amount to the same thing. They were extolling Jesus as the ‘son of David‘ and as ‘he who comes in the name of Yahweh,’ both signifying the Messiah. Luke, who is probably giving an interpretive rendering, has the crowd shouting, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of Yahweh!” {see Matt. 21:8-11; Mk. 11:8-10; Lk. 19:37-38}.

We move next to the trials and crucifixion of Jesus. At his trial before the Sanhedrin, Mark tells us how the leaders were looking for evidence against Jesus so they could put him to death, but they could find none {14:55}. But how can this be if it is true that Jesus was openly declaring himself to be God and this was a crime worthy of death. Matthew tells us of false witnesses who came forward but says nothing of the accusation that he had claimed to be God {26:59-63}. The high priest then demands that Jesus tell them plainly if he is the Messiah {Matt. 26:63; Mk. 14:61; Lk. 22:67}. Note that he does not ask Jesus if he thinks himself to be God, but if he believes himself to be the Messiah. Please also take note of the high priest’s words here (they vary slightly between the synoptics): “Are you the messiah, the son of God?” It is evident that in his mind ‘messiah‘ and ‘son of God‘ were equivalent titles, both signifying ‘the king of Israel.’ But how can we be sure that this is what the Jewish leadership understood Jesus to be claiming? Because when they bring him to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, the first thing Pilate asks Jesus is, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Where did Pilate get the idea that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews? Luke gives us the answer:

“Then the whole assembly arose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation . . . he claims to be messiah, a king.’ “

Lk. 23:1-2

After Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified he had a placard attached to the cross above Jesus’ head which read: This is Jesus, the king of the Jews. It is instructive to see what some were saying about Jesus as he hung on the cross. They were mocking him for claiming to be the messiah, the son of God and the king of Israel {see Matt. 27:39-43; Mk. 15:31-32; Lk. 23:35-39}. Again we see that these three designations are interchangeable and again we see that no one is recorded as mocking Jesus for claiming to be God. Why not, if this is what he is supposed to have claimed?

So the testimony of the synoptic gospels is clear: Jesus claimed to be the son of God, and this was understood by the Jews to be a claim to be the messiah, the son of David who would reign on David’s throne as king over Israel. The synoptics are silent as to any overt claim by Jesus to be God himself.

John’s gospel

But what of John’s gospel, from which the assertion of Jesus’ claim to deity is mostly deduced? Is there any evidence from this gospel that son of God = Messiah = the king of Israel? Let’s go through it and see. In chapter 1: 35 -51 we see that some of Jesus’ first disciples have come to the conclusion that he is the Messiah {v.41, 45}. When Nathaniel is told about this he comes to see for himself and upon encountering Jesus declares, “Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the king of Israel” {v.49}. In this pericope all three designations are applied to Jesus and are equated.

As the synoptics depicted the people of Galilee as wondering whether Jesus could be the messiah, so also John’s gospel depicts the people of Jerusalem as wondering the same thing {see 7:25-27, 31, 40-43} and also people in Samaria {4:29}. Next we come to another disciple’s confession of who Jesus is, similar to that of Peter’s in the synoptics. Martha confessed confidently to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, who was to come into the world.” We observe the same thing here as we did with Peter’s confession – the equation of Messiah with son of God and the fact that Martha did not seem to think that Jesus was the God of Israel.

John also documents Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and records the crowd as shouting the same things as in the synoptics, with one addition: “Blessed is the king of Israel.” John then follows Matthew’s lead in referring to this event as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zech. 9:9 {12:12-15}. It must be remembered that this crowd was favorable to Jesus, being made up of the much larger group of disciples besides the Twelve. What they were shouting reveals what they believed about who Jesus was, and they were not shouting praises to him as their God but as their king. John does not record Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin but he does record his trial before Pilate, which is where we turn next.

Again, we find that Pilate’s first question to Jesus is “Are you the king of the Jews?” {18:33}. Again, this shows that this is what the Jewish leaders were accusing him of. This is made more explicit in chapter 19. In vv. 1-3 the soldiers are mocking Jesus, as if he were the king of the Jews. When Pilate wants to release Jesus the Jewish leaders insist that he must die because “he claimed to be the son of God” {v. 7}. Pilate was still determined to free Jesus until the Jewish leaders shouted, “Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” {v. 12}. Again, this shows the equation of son of God with being king.

Now let’s go back to chapter 18. In v. 37 Pilate puts the question pointedly to Jesus, “You are a king, then!” To this Jesus answered:

“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

John 18:37

Jesus is saying that it is his destiny to be king and he testified to the truth of this destiny. This brings me to a little noticed or mentioned passage in 1 Timothy 6 where Paul exhorts Timothy to:

“Lay hold of the everlasting life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Messiah Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession . . .”

1 Tim. 6:12-13

Timothy is urged to recall the time when he made the ‘good confession’ before many witnesses. Presumably this was a common practice in the first century, which took place probably at one’s baptism. It seems that the person wanting to join the assembly of believers needed to openly confess something. Paul does not here explicitly state what the ‘good confession’ consisted of, but he does give us a clue. He tells us that Jesus himself made this good confession while testifying before Pilate. As we have already seen, the only thing Jesus ever said before Pilate was to acknowledge that he is the king of Israel and that he was born for that very purpose. Now we know that early believers were made to confess Jesus as the Messiah {1 John 2:22; 5:1} and as son of God {1 Jn. 4:15}, but according to Paul the ‘good confession’ which all must make who want to lay hold of the everlasting life offered to them, is that Jesus is the king of Israel i.e. the rightful heir to the throne of David. But is this a different confession than that which says Jesus is the Messiah or the son of God? Absolutely not! It is the same thing. To acknowledge Jesus as the son of God is to acknowledge him as the Anointed one, the king of Israel.

Finally, let’s look at John’s own statement as to why he wrote his gospel: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.” If it was John’s purpose, throughout the body of his gospel, to get his readers to think of Jesus as the God of Israel himself, come in the flesh, then this statement at the end of his gospel is rather anticlimactic. Once again, we see the equation of Messiah and son of God, which points to the fact that Jesus is the one from the line of David chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever.

So we have seen, in this brief survey of the gospels, that the concept of son of God which we discovered in the Hebrew Bible (i.e. Yahweh’s anointed one, the king) has carried forward into the thinking of the authors of these works with regard to Jesus of Nazareth. These authors present us with three indisputable facts: 1.) The followers of Jesus, both those of his more intimate disciples and those of the larger group of followers, understood Jesus to be the ‘son of God‘ in the sense of the Messiah, the chosen son of David, the rightful heir to the throne of Israel 2.) The antagonists of Jesus also understood his claim to be the ‘son of God‘ in this same way 3.) Jesus himself understood his identity in this same way.

The application of the title son of God to Jesus in the gospels has no connotation of the later Greek philosophical, metaphysical conception of an eternally begotten son who shares the divine substance of the Father. With this firmly established in our thinking let us now turn to John 10:30-38.

John 10:30-38 – Exegesis

Before we look at this passage verse by verse, let’s look briefly at the larger context of the whole chapter. The chapter begins with a parable about false shepherds as opposed to the true shepherd of a flock {vv.1-6}. What must be understood is that this shepherd motif is used in the Hebrew Bible with reference to the king {see 2Sam. 5:2; 7:7; Ps. 78:71-72; Micah 5:2-4}. The king was God’s appointed shepherd over His flock i.e. His kingdom. The ‘gate’ in v. 2 represents the Davidic covenant, in which only descendants of David have the right to shepherd God’s people. Those who become shepherds by some other means are not legitimate rulers and do not truly care for the sheep. In the absence of a Davidic king, the Sanhedrin, led by the high priest, took advantage to lord it over the people. The ‘gatekeeper’ stands for the prophet, who confirms to the people God’s choice from among Davids descendants. This was John the baptizer’s role. Jesus then figuratively portrays himself as the gate to the ‘sheep pen’, which signifies the coming messianic kingdom {vv. 7-10}, making allegiance to him a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom age. He then identifies himself as the good shepherd {vv. 11-18} meaning the true and rightful ruler of Israel. Later in vv. 25-30, Jesus again picks up the theme of being the shepherd. It is almost certain that Jesus’ statement in v. 16 “and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” is a reference to Ezek. 34:23-24:

“I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I Yahweh will be their God, and my servant David will be ruler among them.”

Ezek. 34:23-24

Also relevant to Jesus’ statement is the reiteration of this prophecy later in Ezekiel:

“I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms . . . They will be my people, and I will be their God. My servant David will be king over them and they will all have one shepherd. . .”

Ezek. 37:22-24

Jesus is identifying himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy, as the ‘David‘ who will be the one king over all of God’s people. This is the context from which we come upon our present passage of discussion.

v. 30“I and my Father are one.”

Here is the statement most often put forth by proponents of the deity of Jesus as proof of an overt claim to deity by Jesus. To them this is a clear cut case, Jesus is claiming, in these words, to be of one essence (or substance or nature) with the Father, and hence to be God himself. Now the only thing that this interpretation of the text has in it’s favor is that it seems, based on v. 33, that this is what the people hearing him thought he was saying. But as we will see this is merely a superficial reading of the text. What is against this interpretation is all of the historical, cultural and biblical data I just presented. Also against this interpretation is the fact that the verse does not say explicitly what it is claimed to be saying. To take the word ‘one‘ to be a reference to essence or substance or nature is quite an imaginative move. This interpretation comes from church fathers of the 4th century, a time when Greek metaphysics held sway over the thinking of many church leaders, a time when talk of essences and substances was all the rage. Trinitarians today simply assume it means that the Father and the son are ‘one being‘ but this is certainly in no way explicit in the text.

The word for ‘one’ is a neuter adjective in the Greek so trinitarians are correct that it cannot mean that the Father and the son are ‘one person‘ as modalists believe. That would have required the masculine form of the word. But again, to insist that it must refer to one in substance or essence is pure speculation. The context alone must determine in what sense the Father and son are one, and the context is quite clear. Just prior to this statement Jesus spoke of his concern for the sheep and how no one can snatch them from his hand. The reason no one can snatch them from his hand is because the Father gave them into his care and the Father is greater than all and no one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The point is that the son accomplishes his task not by his own power but by the Father’s power. This is the language of agency. An appointed agent (i.e. the Davidic king) acts and speaks and accomplishes his task by the authority and resources of the one who commissioned him. In this sense they are ‘one‘. The agent does not act of his own accord or in his own interest but only in that of the one who commissioned him. In this sense the agent is one with him who sent him – one in purpose, in will, and in word. Here the son, the Father’s agent, has the same purpose and will in keeping the sheep. This hearkens back to the prophets who rebuked kings and leaders for not shepherding God’s flock in the same way He himself would, in righteousness and justice and mercy. That the neuter form of this adjective can denote a unity of purpose and will is seen in it’s use in 1 Cor. 3:8 where Paul says that “he who plants and he who waters are one.” He said this in regard to himself and Apollos regarding their respective ministries to the Corinthians. No one assumes by this statement that Paul intended us to understand him to mean that he and Apollos are one in essence or nature. No, he clearly intended it to mean that they are one in the purpose of working for the growth of the believers.

vv. 31-33 – Now the proponents of the view that Jesus’ statement was in fact a claim to deity, believe they have the validation of that view in the fact that the Jews attempt to stone Jesus and when questioned why, by Jesus, they say it is because he claimed to be God. A literal rendering of the Greek of v. 33 reads:

“The Jews answered him, ‘We do not stone you regarding a good work but regarding blasphemy, and because you, being a man, are making yourself God.'”

Now is it really reasonable to think that they understood Jesus’ statement at v. 30 to be a claim to be Yahweh himself? If Jesus’ words “I and my Father are one” implied that he himself was Yahweh then who did they think Jesus meant by ‘my Father‘ ? We must remember that these Jews would have had no concept of the tri-personal God of later catholic creeds. Surely they would have understood by ‘my Father’ that Jesus was referring to Yahweh their God {see 8:41}. Therefore, if they really thought he was claiming to be Yahweh then they must have thought his statement was a claim to be the Father. But this is highly unlikely, as the exegesis of v. 30 given above shows, and not something a trinitarian would want to say. So perhaps they took his words to mean that he was a divine being distinct from the Father. The fact that in the Greek there is no definite article before the word ‘God’ makes possible the translation “Because you . . . are making yourself a god,” which would support this view. But this also seems unlikely for the same reason – Jesus’ statement is manifestly not saying this.

What I think is going on here is much the same as what we see earlier in John’s gospel, where John, I believe, informs his readers of the mindset of those who wanted to kill Jesus:

“For this reason the Jews sought all the more to kill him, for not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.”

John 5:18

The idea is not that they accused him of saying “I am God” but rather that he was putting himself on the same level as God functionally, i.e. he was acting like God or claiming the functions of God as his own. This certainly makes much more sense than the other options. In both instances, Jesus claims to be functioning in the same way the Father does {see 5:17 & 10:25-29}. This is what they must have meant by saying, “you are making yourself God.” But would they have wanted to stone him for this? It is not that the Jews would have had a problem with someone performing certain functions of God, as long as that person was appointed and empowered by God to do so. Surely they would have understood Moses to have performed certain functions of God {Ex. 4:16; 7:1}, as well as other figures in their history, such as Elijah and Elisha, and especially the Davidic king, who sat on God’s throne ruling over God’s kingdom {see 1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; Ps. 45:5-7; 80:17; Zech. 12:8; 13:7}. The problem was that these Jewish leaders did not consider Jesus to be of God but rather a law breaker {see 5:18; 9:16, 24, 28-29} and therefore to speak as he did would be considered blasphemous and worthy of death {see Deut. 18:20}. So then, for a ‘sinner’ to put himself forward as God’s chief spokeman and agent, acting out the divine prerogatives, would have, indeed, been regarded as blasphemy.

vv. 34-36 – In order to show these Jews that their accusation of blasphemy against him was unfounded, Jesus quoted from Psalm 82:6, “I said you are gods.” In order to follow Jesus’ logic here, it is necessary to look briefly at the psalm.

Psalm 82

There is much debate as to who is being addressed in this psalm – are the ‘gods’ referring to divine beings, members of the divine council, an interpretation popularized by Michael Heiser, or do they refer to human rulers of some kind? I take the stance that it refers to human rulers, specifically the kings of the Gentile nations. It is essential that we first understand that God has ordained the positions of rulership over the nations and sets in those positions whoever he pleases {see Ps. 47:9; Dan. 2:21; 4:17; Jn 19:11; Rom. 13:1}. In v. 1 the kings of the nations, I believe, are being analogized to the concept of the divine councils of the pagan religions. These councils consisted of lesser ‘gods’ who ruled on behalf of the Great god to whom they were subject. The psalmist is playing off of that idea with regard to the kings of the nations who ideally rule on God’s behalf. Therefore, the assembly of gods in v. 1 is figurative, not literal, which is Heiser’s mistake. These human kings are responsible to God, who gave them their power, to rule justly and mercifully {vv.3-4}. But these rulers walk about in darkness, without knowledge or understanding of the true God and his righteousness {v.3}. Therefore God judges them, bringing down one and raising up another {v. 6-7}. The psalmist then beseeches God to rule the earth himself {v. 8}, which he will do eventually, through his anointed servant {see Acts 17:31}.

Now back to John 10. Jesus’ point in quoting this passage is that if God can refer to these kings of the nations, who do not know God, as ‘gods,’ because they rule at his pleasure and will, then how much more the very one whom the Father has set-apart for himself, the chosen one from David’s line, who will rule over His own peculiar nation. How can they accuse the rightful heir to David’s throne of blasphemy for saying “I am the son of God?” After all the Davidic king is the most high of the kings of the earth, God’s firstborn {see Ps. 89:27}.

Now someone will no doubt say that what is being referred to must be more than just a human king because Jesus says that he was “sent into the world.” This surely implies that he existed outside of this world and was sent into this world from another place, right? If one wants to take it that literal, it still doesn’t get you to Jesus being an eternally begotten son of God, existing as God with the Father in heaven prior to his incarnation. The most it can imply is that he pre-existed as something else before becoming incarnated. I mean any Jehovah’s Witness can and would agree with that. But if one insists that it be taken literal then they have another problem – the same expression is used of the apostles in 17:18, where Jesus said:

“They (i.e. the apostles) are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I likewise have sent them into the world.”

John 17:16-18

If the expression is to be taken literally in 10:36 with regard to Jesus, then it must be taken literally in 17:18 with regard to the apostles. This would require us to believe that the apostles pre-existed their birth and then were sent into this world from heaven. But, in fact, the expression is not literal but idiomatic. The expression means something like this – having been commissioned to speak on God’s behalf, to go from a quiet and obscure life to openly and publicly preaching and teaching. This meaning is confirmed also by a similar expression in 1 John 4:1, where it is said that “many false prophets have gone out into the world,” that is to say that many people who were unknown before are now known for publicly proclaiming false ideas about who Jesus is. Here the expression is changed from “sent” into the world to “have gone out” into the world, because these people were not commissioned by God to go and preach but were self appointed.

John 17: 18 must be referring to when Jesus had sent the twelve, from their obscure life as Galilean fishermen, out into the towns and villages of Galilee to preach that the “kingdom of God is near” and to heal the sick {see Matt. 10:1,5-8}. In the same way, Jesus was “sent into the world” when he left his obscure and quiet life as a carpenter in Nazareth, to be an itinerant prophet and rabbi. His role as king was not to be fulfilled at that time, though that is his ultimate destiny.

vv.37-38 – The works that Jesus was doing was the demonstrable proof that he was of God and therefore his words should be trusted as one who was a duly commissioned agent of God {2 Chron. 20:20}. The miracles validated his status as an agent and spokesman for God and therefore his claim to be the rightful heir to the throne of David, a.k.a. the son of God, should have been believed. The statement that “the Father is in me and I in the Father” should not to be taken as a metaphysical assertion of some kind of mystical union. Rather it is simply an expression meant to convey the fact that Jesus is the Father’s agent. It would be true of any agent that the one who sent him is “in him” and that the agent is “in” the one who sent him. This is a figurative way of denoting the relationship between an agent and the one he represents.

Conclusion

So we have seen that the real overt claim of Jesus was that he was the son of God. We have also seen that this title was understood by Jesus himself, his followers and his enemies to be equivalent to both Messiah and king of Israel, and that this was an understanding derived from their own history and scriptures. It is therefore incumbent upon every sincere and honest interpreter of scripture to acknowledge these facts as true and to endeavor to find alternative interpretations to those passages which seem, on the surface, to promote the idea that Jesus himself claimed to be God or those in which the scripture authors appear to be claiming deity for Jesus (e.g. John 1:1, 18; 8:24; 21:28). In fact, many have already given alternative interpretations to these passages which keep them consistent with the rest of scripture.

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Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

5 thoughts on “John 10:30-38 – Did Jesus Really Claim To Be God?”

  1. If someone was or claimed to be, “the son of water” , what if anything could he be but ‘Water’?
    “God is a Spirt”(John 4:24)KJB
    “..God is Love..” (1John 4:7,8)KJB. Literally.
    The LORD JESUS CHRIST is Holy Love incarnate.

    Jesus was and is The Son of God and the Son of man.
    What could He be but Both God and Man?

    Like

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