Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 5
Introduction to John Chapter 5
Key Points to Look For
- Comparison with narrative in the Synoptic Gospels describing the healing of a paralytic.
- The idea that God works on the Sabbath.
- The relationship between equality and subordination in Jesus' words.
- James McGrath's argument (in an article in NTS and in his book John's Apologetic Christology) that in 5:18 the participle should be understood in the following manner: "He was making God his Father, and yet making himself equal to God", so that there is a tension between a claim to sonship and behaving as an equal, rather than the latter being the implication of former.
- Is "making himself equal to God" a correct or incorrect assessment of Jesus from the perspective of this author?
A controversy between Jesus and the Jews In the fifth chapter the Jews are confronting Jesus about breaking the law of Moses. Jesus instantly healed a man who had been unable to walk for thirty-eight years. He told the man to pick up his bed and walk. Because there was a law in the Hebrew religion about working on the Sabbath, the man carrying his bed was accused of breaking the law. This is a very important point in Jesus' ministry because it marks the first time Jesus directly incites "The Jews." Jesus claimed that he was doing exactly what God told and even showed him to do, but because of religious blindness the Jews confronting him did not recognize, approve or understand that God was being revealed through the miracle of Jesus. Jesus was not putting himself above the laws of the Jews by commanding a man to perform a task on the Sabbath, he was showing them that they had the wrong law. To further this controversy of the times, the healed man seems to have more less concern for the law than for the man (Jesus) who gave him permission to disobey the law. In v. 13, the narrator tells the reader that Jesus had “slipped into the crowd,” which shows once again that He keeps His ministry low profile, and for the people. Jesus later tells the healed man to “Stop sinning,” he did not teach that humans inherited a sin nature or that they could not stop sinning. By saying, “Something worse may happen to you,” Jesus is forewarning the man of a punishment for sins. Later he says whoever sins is a slave of sin and slaves cannot abide in the Father's house.
At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus performs a miracle. He heals an invalid who is trying to make his way to healing waters and is receiving no help from those around him. Jesus tells him to pick up his mat and walk away, and the man is immediately cured. However, a little ways down the road, the man is stopped and chided for carrying his mat on the Sabbath day. However, he tells those who stop him that he was told by the one who healed him to carry the mat. Breaking Sabbath was a serious offense in the ancient world, and this event helped to spark anger against Jesus from the people at the top.
It is more likely that the sin of which Jesus is talking is a symbolic and thus the punishment that would follow the sin would not be specific to the man or represent actual sickness. "The misfortune is punishment for was a common view, which has not died out in modernity," (Smith 133). The sickness that may result from human sin could be paralleled to evil and "sickness" among people.
This passage is the first occurrence in the Gospel of John where someone was healed by their faith in Jesus. When the man was healed just by Jesus asking him if he wanted to be healed, it is the same occurrence as in the Synoptic Gospels when people are healed by their faith Jesus. The important part of this passage is the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. Jesus healed a man but was "wrong" according to the Jewish leaders because the healing took place on the Sabbath. This story is an illustration of someone being blind to faith. The leaders are so concerned with meaningless laws that they do not see that good is being done through faith. Isn't this what John wrot that the Law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus.
The Jews seemed quite upset with Jesus claiming to be God's son. The work he did in this chapter, however, is highly appropriate for a father/son relationship. In verse 17, Jesus says, "My Father is still working, and I also am working." This is consistent with the fact that sons typically learned the family business and became apprentices for their fathers. Fathers also were known to send their eldest sons to do business for them when they were unable to do so. In a sense, then, Jesus is acting as an apprentice to God, his Father. Jesus explains this further in verse 19, when he starts using the phrase "as the Father, so also the Son...". The only time Jesus says the Son does something without the Father is in verse 22 when he talks about judgment.
Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, in which all accounts of Jesus' healing miracles take place outside of Jerusalem, John's account of Jesus' healing takes place inside Jerusalem. Also, "Bethesda" is a very real and exact location in Jerusalem. It was probably used as a healing spa for cripples and paralytics. The man, obviously sick and or paralyzed, came to this place for healing (or at the very least, an ease from pain).
Jesus' Message to the Jews After it is stated that the Jews are looking to kill Jesus because he was, one, working on the Sabbath, and two, making himself equal to God, he gives them this very long message that starts at verse 19 and ends at the end of the chapter. Basically what Jesus tells the Jews that confront and see him there is that he does things like the Father in a like manner and the Father works through him so that others may believe. He further says that "the hour is coming where the dead will hear the son of God and those who have given heed will live" (John 5:25) (a reference to the Judgment Day when he raises the dead). What this means then is that those who have believed will be able to go on in the second coming of Jesus, and live once more. Judgment is soon coming, but is not up to Jesus to judge because he only judges through the will of the one who sent him. He then further goes on to explain that there is another here on earth that bears witness to him (John the Baptist) and they have taken kindly to him and were willing for awhile to "rejoice greatly in his light"(John 5:35). Now it is Jesus who has come to bear witness to God. Furthermore, these are the ways in which the Jews can be saved, by believing in those that come to bear witness to God, through John, and then Jesus. They only have to believe in Jesus and what he says and they can be saved.
A Note on Sonship in John Chapter 5 In claiming His Sonship (Verse 18), Jesus was completely misunderstood. Later he tells the Jews that their father is the devil and they say no God is our father. So they all claimed sonship. They wanted to kill him for claiming to be the Messiah and because they had really embraced the devil as their father while claiming God as their father.
Verse 5:18 There is some controversy over how this verse should translate. The New Revised Standard Version states this verse as, "For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God." However, one particular scholar, James McGrath, believes the end of this line should read something along the lines of "...he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was calling God his own Father, and also claiming himself equal to God."
The charge that he was making himself equal to God is moot since the Jews who wanted to kill him made the same claim that God was their father. The fact is he said "The father is greater than I."
McGrath believes this is the case because in Biblical times, it wasn't assumed that a son calling a man his father made the son equal to his father. In fact, the relationship between a father and son in these times was definitely not of equals, but involved the son's obedience, and a hierarchal relationship, making the father "above" the son. Therefore, McGrath's translation makes more sense historically, considering Jesus calling God his Father because he truly believed he was wouldn't necessarily automatically mean, during the times these events occurred, that Jesus believes he is equal to his Father, God. Either way, verse 5:18 in John, that shows the Jews' dismay with Jesus' claims, is an ideal segue into Jesus' long monologue regarding what he proclaims his relationship to be with God.
Jesus "equal" to God? The major question throughout the end of chapter five asks was Jesus really "equal" to God? This question should be asked because a first glance at verses 19-32 provides a seemingly contradictory picture of a Jesus that is both very submissive to the Father but also taking on some of his tasks. First, one must look to the definition of equal. This word should be researched for us to gain a better understanding of whether or not Jesus was really equal to God. There are several verses that suggest they were not. For instance just a few verses can be examined. Verse 19, Verse 22 "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son..." Verse 27 "He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man." Verse 30 "I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." (NAS). The words I speak are not mine but the fathers. Of my own self I can do nothing. The miracles are done through me by the father.
There are also verses that appear to suggest equality. For instance, verse 21 "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes." verse 26 "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself." (NAS). If the father gave him the power he could not be equal to the Father or he would have the power in himself. God cannot give something to God. One must look deep into contextual meanings of this last chapter to really gain an understanding of whether Jesus and God were "equal". The main part of this context is the Gospel itself. It is a mistake to read John 5 through the lens of the prologue. If you believe that the first few verses, the author portrays Jesus as "the Word," saying, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1), you will misread everything to make Jesus God. But if you look carefully at the prologue it says the word was with God. It does not say Jesus was with the father. You cannot add words to scripture. If the word is the Angel of Wisdom, God's architect who inhabited Jesus, then Jesus is the agent of God and given God's power but not equal to God. The son of God but not God the son. The phrase God the son never appears in Scripture. In fact it says God is not a man nor a son of man. However, if you read the final statement that the "Word (Jesus) was God" you must force everything to fit your preconceived idea and explain away things like Jesus being tempted to sin. God cannot be tempted. Jesus not knowing the day of his return. Jesus dying. God cannot die. You end up saying Jesus is both fully God and fully human, which of course sounds contradictory and is the orthodox view on the matter. The author of John doesn't give us such contradictions. If you say the man Jesus did have personal and human opinions and wills that were separate from his divinity, and occasionally he had to suppress his own will to allow God's will to be done.You create a schizophrenic hybrid man who at times is divine and at times human and feels abandoned by his divine side on the cross. It's like saying I am poor because in my right pocket I have no money but in my left pocket I have a million dollars.
All of that being said, how do you reconcile John 10:30 "The Father and I are one."; John 14:9 "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."; John 20:28-29 "Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'"; as well as the response that Jesus gives in Chapter 5 that makes it pretty clear that he does everything that the Father does, from raising of the dead, to handing out judgment, and even receiving the praise and glory that God receives (Smith pg. 135). In all of these passages John is putting Jesus on an even plane with God and when challenged or questioned about his relationship with God Jesus never denies their equality but rather offers explanations that are either affirmations of that claim or at worst ambiguous. One may not be able to make the case that the New Testament as a whole portrays Jesus as equal to God, but it seems pretty clear that some verses seem to.
The answer is simple Jerome who translated the scriptures into Latin in the 5th Century and the English translators who came on the scene 1800 years after Jesus were already convinced that Jesus was God and that there was a trinity before they sat down to translate their texts. They force it upon their work. If you look at the confession of Thomas in Hebrew he calls Jesus my adoni and elohim. Moses was an adoni and elohim. The Judge of Israel were adoni and elohim. It means my master and God's appointed agent. Jesus prayed that the disciple could share the same oneness with the Father that he had so I can say I and the father are one. That doesn't mean I am claiming to be God.If we had time I could take you through the New Testament and show you all the mistranslations where Jesus was deified. Instead I appeal to 1 Cor 8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father. Jesus told Mary Magdalene I go to my God and Your God, my father and your father. If he were God he would not have a God.
Comparison with the Synoptic Gospels There are a few main similarities between the healing story in John and the healing story in the Synoptics. There is controversy over Jesus' authority in both Mark 2 and John 5. Also, there is a failure to observe the Sabbath in both Mark 3 and John 5. On top of these general similarities, John 5: 8 and Mark 2: 9 and 11 are almost exactly the same. John 5: 8 states, "Jesus said to him, 'Stand up, take your mat and walk.'" Mark 2: 9 and 11 state, "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'?...I say to you, stand up, take your mat, and go to your home." While John 5 and Mark 2 are incredibly close, there are some significant differences in the stories. First of all, John 5 takes place in Jerusalem. In the Synoptics, there are no healing stories that take place there. Second of all, in John 5, Jesus has knowledge of how long the man has been ill (38 years...the same time Israel was in the wilderness). In the Synoptics, there is no proof that Jesus knows such things. On top of these two differences, it is very John-like to have Jesus approach the man instead of the other way around. This doesn't really happen in the Synoptics. In conclusion, while it seems, on the surface, that the healing story in John could be a re-writing of Mark 2, scholars believe the differences are too significant.
John reports events that took place at another feast in Jerusalem and the third sign of Jesus’ ministry. At the pool of Bethesda, there was a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. He was questioned by Jesus if he wanted to be well. The man replied that he had never been the successful one; someone else had always beaten him to the water. Jesus’ reaction was instant, "Rise, take up your mat and walk," (verse 8). This incident led to controversy with the rulers because it was done on the Sabbath. First, because the man was carrying his mat, they accused the man of working on the Sabbath and second, the Jews challenged Jesus about his actions on the Sabbath. Jesus replied, "My Father is working still, and I am working" (Verse 17). The Sabbath was to be a holy day used for worship, rest and for doing good deeds. In addition, because Jesus referred to God as his Father they accused him of blasphemy, making himself equal to God. Jesus replied, "The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing….". Far from claiming to be equal with God, Jesus showed that he learned from the Father and did his works. He claimed the father was greater than he and never claimed equality. He said of myself I can do nothing. The father is in me doing these things. The Jews wanted to kill him because darkness hates the light and tries to extinguish it.