Tuesday, October 20, 2009
John 5:18 "...making himself equal to God"
John 5:18 ("Equal": Ison)
Dr. Walter Martin writes in his Kingdom of the Cults (36th printing - 1985):
"John 5:18 - He said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
"Concluding our chapter on this vital topic [the deity of Christ] is this verse that is self-explanatory.  The Greek term `equal' (ison) cannot be debated; nor  is it contextually or grammatically allowable that John is here recording what the Jews said about Jesus, as Jehovah's Witnesses lamely argue. The sentence structure clearly shows that John said it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and not the Jews! Anyone so inclined can diagram the sentence and see this for himself.  No serious scholar or commentator has ever questioned it.  In the Jewish mind, for Jesus to claim to be God's Son was a claim to equality with God, a fact Jehovah's Witnesses might profitably consider!
"We see, then, that our Lord was equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in his divine nature, though inferior (as a man) by choice in His human nature as the last Adam (John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47).  This text alone is of enormous value and argues powerfully for our Lord's Deity." - pp. 96-97.
(Martin also said earlier, "the term `equal' here [Phil. 2:6] is another form of ison ...  which again denotes absolute sameness of nature, thus confirming Christ's Deity." - p. 68.) [Bracketed numbers above have been added by me. # 1 and #6 are the same point]
But here is how John 5:18 appears in its entirety:
"For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal [ison] with God." - NIV.
You see, Jesus had just healed a man on the Sabbath (John 5:8, 9). Now the Jews had, by the accumulation of their man-made traditions, added hundreds of restrictions to their God-given Sabbath Law. Jesus frequently pointed out how terrible many of their traditions were in God's eyes and how they actually violated his word. At Matt. 15:6-9, for example, he said:
"you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: `These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" - NIV.
The Law of Moses was still in effect for all Jews (including Jesus, of course) until it was done away by Christ's death. Jesus, being the only perfect man, had to perfectly follow God's Law, including the Sabbath law, all his earthly life as a man.
So, the only real question concerning the Sabbath laws would have to be: what was really in accord with God's Sabbath requirements, and what were really the improper traditions of men concerning the Sabbath?
Jesus cleared up the problem of healing on the Sabbath: "it is lawful [in accord with God's intended requirements for the Sabbath] to do good on the Sabbath.'" Then he healed a man on the Sabbath. - Matt. 12:10-13.
It is clear, then, that healing on the Sabbath was actually lawful in God's eyes but unlawful in the eyes of the Jewish authorities only!
Obviously the Apostle John knew that Jesus had healed lawfully on the Sabbath. He knew that Jesus would never break the Sabbath as lawfully established by God. Only Jesus' Jewish opponents believed Jesus was breaking the Sabbath!
Therefore, John could not possibly be saying, as Martin insists, that Jesus was "breaking the sabbath" (John 5:18). Obviously, instead, this is what Jesus' Jewish opponents were saying (or thinking).
Therefore, in answer to [#2] above, it must be the Jews who are saying at John 5:18 "not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal [ison] with God." - NIV.
Furthermore, it is obvious that John would never distort God's word by saying that if anyone calls God his Father, he is necessarily claiming to be equal with God! - John 8:41; Matt. 23:9; John 20:17; Is. 64:8; Jer. 3:4, 19; Luke 3:38; Ro. 8:14, 15; Gen. 6:2; Job 38:7. - It must have been the words of those who by their traditions "nullify the word of God."
If it truly were John who, when writing this account long after Jesus' death, inserted such a false accusation of his own (as Martin is really saying), then, in answer to [#3] above, the following respected trinitarian scholars and translators would not have Jesus answering that `future' (John's Gospel was written over 50 years after Jesus' death) inserted comment of John's by speaking immediately to those Jews:
"So Jesus answered them, `I tell you, the Son cannot do anything of his own
accord ..." - John 5:19, An American Translation, Goodspeed.
"So Jesus made this answer to them: ...." - Moffatt.
"So Jesus answered them: ..." - C.B. Williams.
"`I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered them, ..." - William F. Beck.
"So Jesus answered them, ..." - Good News Bible.
"So Jesus answered them by saying, ..." - The Amplified Bible.
"To this charge Jesus replied, ...." - The New English Bible (and the REB).
"To this accusation Jesus replied: ..." - The Jerusalem Bible.
How well do the above respected trinitarian renderings support Martin's statement:
"... nor is it contextually or grammatically allowable that John is here recording what the Jews said about Jesus, as Jehovah's Witnesses lamely argue."? These respected trinitarian translators have said Jesus replied to this accusation. He couldn't have replied to a comment that John was to make in the distant future; he must have responded to the comment made at the time by the Jews!
Remember, Martin declared "No serious scholar or commentator has ever questioned it" (that John, not the Jews, said the words in question). But the following major trinitarian references contradict Martin and confirm the clear and necessary understanding that this was actually the Jews' statement or thought (not John's).
"The Jews taxed [Jesus] with making himself equal with God [at John 5:18]." - p. 499, Vol. 2, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Zondervan Publishing, 1976, 1986.
"Our Lord's opponents say that He has `called God his own Father [John 5:18].'" - The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, p. 968, Vol. 2, Eerdman's Publishing, 1956, 1984.
"[John 5] verse 18. Making himself equal with God. This the Jews understood from the preceding verse." - Adam Clarke's Commentary, 1826.
After quoting Jesus' words of John 5:19, 20, Noted trinitarian scholar and translator Dr. William Barclay writes in his popular and respected Daily Study Bible Series:
"This is the beginning of Jesus's answer to the Jews' charge that he was making himself equal to God." - p. 188, Vol. 1, The Gospel of John, Rev. ed., The Daily Study Bible Series, The Westminster Press, 1975.
Not only is The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, quoted above, one of the most respected and best-known trinitarian Bible encyclopedias (as also is The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology), but it was so known at the time Martin wrote his diatribe above. ("No serious scholar or commentator has ever questioned it")!
And notice this translation of John 5:18 by the very trinitarian Holy Bible: Easy-to-Read Version, World Bible Translation Center, 1992:
"The Jews said, `First Jesus was breaking the law about the Sabbath day. Then he said that God is his Father! He is making himself equal with God!'."
Now let's look at the Greek term "equal" (ison) which Martin proclaims [#1] "cannot be debated" and [#6]"denotes absolute sameness of nature."
The trinitarian reference work The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, pp. 496, 497, states:
"Although it is impossible to make a clear and universally applicable differentiation between the two word-groups, as they are often interchangeable, in general the isos group [ison] indicates more strongly an external, objectively measurable and established likeness and correspondence, while the words connected with homoios express more substantial, essential likeness .... Although the term does not appear in the NT, a note on homoousios [clearly more closely related to homoios above, not ison] has been appended to the article on homoios in view of the crucial importance of the term in the debates on the person of Christ in the early Church [325 A.D.]. It was opposed by the Arians but included in the Creed of Nicaea (325) asserting that Christ was `of the same substance [`essence,' `nature'] as the Father,' and as such passed into the Nicene Creed" - see the HIST study.
So, right off the bat, we can see that, in general, if we wanted a term to show Jesus' real equality (in his very "essence" or "nature") with God, we wouldn't use the term ison. -- [Of course this is all in accordance with the incredible trinitarian principal that no inspired Bible writer can actually come out and say: "three persons make up the only true God, and those three are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit"] -- And, although homoousios ["of the same substance"] was never used in Scripture to show Christ's relationship to God, it was nevertheless so applied, after much violent, heated debate, by an apostate Church in 325 A.D. (over the objection of the vast majority of Bishops who preferred the term homoiousios ["of similar substance"]). - see HIST study.
Obviously it was felt necessary by these 4th century Church trinitarian policy-makers to use this non-Biblical term instead of ison in order to declare Jesus' essential equality with the Father. The fact that Scripture never uses it for this purpose is, therefore, very significant!
But let's continue the examination of ison (or isos). The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol. 2, p. 968 (1984 reprint), discussing isos, reveals:
"In Mt 20:12, `made them equal' means `put them upon the same footing,' i.e. regarded their brief service as though it were the very same as our long hours of toil. In Lk 20:36 the context restricts the equality to a particular relation."
In other words, ison at Matt. 20:12 makes the workers measurably "equal" in only one external aspect: the amount of money they were to receive. They were really very unequal otherwise. Also in Luke 20:36, as the trinitarian reference book quoted above tells us, those resurrected humans and God's angels are not necessarily considered equal in essence in this scripture but in only one particular relation: they will not die again. (See Living Bible.)
So, Jesus' apparent arrogation (in his enemies' eyes, at any rate) to himself of the authority to "change" God's Sabbath law (which, of course, he was not really doing) made him appear to them to be claiming to be "equal" to God (in that particular aspect: "changing" God's Law - only).
It seems reasonably certain from the above that the Jews didn't really believe Jesus was actually claiming to be God but attempting to usurp God's authority in this one respect! But, since these were Jesus' enemies who were making this false charge at John 5:18, it really matters very little what they claimed!
What does matter, however, is what Jesus claimed. How did Jesus answer this false charge by his enemies?
"To this charge Jesus replied, `In truth, in very truth I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he does only what he sees the Father doing....'" - John 5:19, NEB.
So Jesus did not claim that he was Almighty God or even equal to Him. He clearly told the Jews that he was not God, but that, even as God's spokesman, he could not act upon his own initiative. Can we really picture the Almighty God of the universe saying that he could do nothing on his own initiative?
We find, then, that the Jews made a charge, and Jesus refuted it. He never claimed to be God. He never claimed to be equal to God!
Earlier in his book (p. 67) Martin made the same claim about John 5:18 and the word ison. Here, however, he referred us to the authoritative NT Greek scholar Dr. Joseph H. Thayer. Martin frequently refers to this scholar and his respected work (which Martin refers to as Thayer's Greek Lexicon). On p. 67 Martin states:
"Dr. Thayer, Jehovah's Witnesses might take notice, was a Unitarian who denied Christ's Deity even as they themselves do; yet being honest, he gave the true meaning of the Biblical terms even though they contradicted his views."
(Martin repeatedly makes similar statements about "Unitarian" Thayer's apparently trinitarian interpretations in his Lexicon - e.g., p. 90, Martin.)
Perhaps when we see the full title of Thayer's Lexicon we will begin to understand the truth of the matter. The cover page of this respected reference work states:
"A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Being Grimm's Wilke's Clavis Novi Testamenti Translated, Revised, And Enlarged by Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D."
Yes, this famous reference work is a translation of German trinitarian Prof. C. L. Wilibald Grimm's work!
Dr. Thayer's meticulous honesty compelled him to translate trinitarian Grimm's work complete with its trinitarian interpretations and all. Whenever Dr. Thayer added information of his own to this translation, he enclosed it in brackets to show that these were his own words. Obviously, none of the trinitarian material quoted by Martin is ever found enclosed in brackets in this Grimm/Thayer book. Instead, Martin repeatedly takes trinitarian Grimm's words (translated into English by Dr. Thayer) and tells us these are the thoughts of "Unitarian" Dr. Thayer!
Thayer's reputation for honesty, integrity, and scholarship is impeccable.
"As a teacher his work was marked by conscientiousness and enthusiasm; as a scholar, by industry, accuracy, and self-effacing modesty." .... "At the time of his death he was recognized as the dean of New Testament scholars in America." - pp. 408, 409, Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. IX, 1935, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Whether Thayer ever became a Unitarian as Martin claims, I do not know. I would like to think that his great learning and superior honesty eventually compelled him to the proper conclusion that God is one person only (unitarianism) and that that one person is the Father, Jehovah!
I do know that, according to his biography, Thayer was a "Congregational clergyman and New Testament scholar" - Dictionary of American Biography. And I find that Religions of America, p. 33, Leo Rosten, ed., 1955, states that Congregational Christians fully believe the Trinity.
But, whether trinitarian or unitarian, Thayer is not expressing his own views as Martin insists but is merely honestly translating trinitarian Prof. Grimm's work!
(Incidentally, Martin distorts and misquotes this particular quote from Thayer's Lexicon on p. 67 of his KOTC. First he `quotes' Thayer as saying ison means "equal in quality AS in quantity" to make it appear that the word is always used with the meaning of equal in both quantity and quality [in other words total equality in every way]! What Thayer actually wrote, however, is ison may mean "equal in quality or in quantity"! Then Martin continues his `quote' by leaving out 3 lines of further qualifications by Thayer but indicating instead that he was giving an entire unbroken quote. This is the pinnacle of dishonest scholarship! Even beginning students quickly learn [as honesty alone should tell them] that you must always warn your reader when you are skipping over part of a quote. This is always done by inserting dots [...] at the point you start your omission. Martin skipped over 3 lines of Thayer's quote [including an explanation of Mt. 20:2 : the `equal' workers] without indicating it at all!)
[#4] As for Martin's assertion that "In the Jewish mind, for Jesus to claim to be God's Son was a claim to equality with God," we need only examine the highly trinitarian New Bible Dictionary:
"`Son of God' in Heb[rew] means `god' or `god-like' rather than `son of (the) God (Yahweh)'. In Job 1:6 ... Ps. 29:1; 89:6, the `sons of God' form Yahweh's [Jehovah's] heavenly train [angels] or subordinates" - p. 1133. And, "`Son of ...' is an idiom for `having the characteristics of' or `doing the work of'." - cf. Mt 5:9, 45. - p. 1134, 2nd ed., 1982, Tyndale House Publishers.
And noted Biblical Hebrew expert, Gesenius, tells of only three scriptural Jewish understandings of "Sons of God":
"The appellation of `sons of God' is given in the Old Test. - (a) To angels .... (b) to kings ... as being the substitutes of God on earth .... (c) to men who piously worship God." - pp. 126-127, Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, Baker Book House.
Luke also gives another Jewish understanding of the term "the Son of God" in the sense of one who was actually created by God: Luke 3:38 (KJV, RSV).
So what should we honestly conclude from the fact that Jesus was repeatedly called the Son of God in the inspired word of God?
Now review the accuracy of Martin's declarations and accusations - (go back and reread his statements at the beginning of this discussion of ison - this is what Martin has been publishing, through many printings, and this is what Christendom's ministers have been foisting off on their flocks in sermons, cassette tapes, and printed handouts for over 20 years now) - and how worthless this particular "proof" of the trinity doctrine really is.
[#5] If this is really one of the best "proofs" Martin can find ("of enormous value" and "argues powerfully for our Lord's Deity"), where does that leave the rest of trinitarian "evidence"?