John’s Gospel Denies Jesus Is God More than the Synoptics Do

John’s Gospel Denies Jesus Is God More than the Synoptics Do April 22, 2024

New Testament scholars–both conservative and liberal–claim there is a big difference in theology, particularly Christology, between the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—and John’s gospel. They assert the synoptics portray a “low Christology,” meaning Jesus is no more than a man, whereas they insist the Gospel of John presents a “high Christology,” meaning Jesus is both man and God, thus “a Godman.”

I believed this for 22 years since that is what my church taught me. And churches teach this because church fathers decided it in the 4th and 5th centuries. Then I studied this subject in-depth and concluded it is wrong. Moreover, I came to believe the Gospel of John denies that Jesus is God far more than the synoptics do. Thus, there is no such thing in the entire New Testament as a “high Christology,” meaning that Jesus is God, and I believe this is more true of the Gospel of John than anywhere else therein.

I wrote a very biblically in-depth book about this entitled The Restitution: Biblical Proof Jesus Is NOT God. It is 570 pages and quotes over 400 scholars. I will now try to prove what I’m saying about the Gospel of John in short compass as a condensation of the 100-page chapter in my book that is entitled “Christology of John.”

The Gospel of John begins with a prologue in John 1.1-18 that is an introduction. But v. 1 is a mini prologue that serves as an outline of this gospel. It reads, as traditionally translated, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then we must compare this with v. 14 which reads, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” referring to the man Jesus of Nazareth.

I say “traditionally translated” because I believe the traditional translation of John 1.1c, “and the Word was God,” is incorrect. It should be obvious that there is a problem with this translation since the Word being “with God” and “was God” makes two Gods, yet this gospel says there is one God. Some Bible versions in England get John 1.1c right: “and what God was, the Word was” (NEB, REB, cf. TEV/GNB). By comparing this with v. 14, it does not mean Jesus is God, whereas the traditional translation does.

Why this difference in versions? The answer is complex because it is due to Greek grammar. If you want to dive into that complexity, get my book. Part of that discussion treats why the Greek text in John 1.1 has an article with the first theos, the Greek word for “god/God,” yet the second theos does not, which makes it anarthrous. For now, we will examine something a little easier to understand.

Since John 1.1 serves as an outline for this gospel, its three clauses link to texts that further explain the meaning of those clauses. The first clause, “In the beginning was the Word,” links to statements about Jesus speaking the words God gave him, such as Jesus saying, “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5.24; cf. 14.24; Revelation 19.13). The second clause, “and the Word was with God,” links to Jesus saying, “the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone” (8.29), and “I am not alone because the Father is with me” (16.32). The third clause, “what God was, the Word was,” links especially to Jesus saying, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” because “the Father is in me” (14.9-11; cf. 10.38). So, Jesus is not God just as he is not the Father; rather, Jesus is like God since God, who is the Father, dwells in Jesus.

Only John records an incident in which Jesus’ interlocutors accused him of “making himself equal to God” (John 5.18). Later in this gospel, Jesus nullifies this charge by saying, “The Father is greater than I” (14.28). Here, he refutes it and gives reasons (vv. 19-45). Since their accusation was prompted by Jesus healing a paralytic man (vv. 1-16), Jesus said to them, “The Son can do nothing on his own, … I can do nothing on my own” (vv. 19, 30). He meant that the power to heal had been given to him by God his Father, so that it was not intrinsic to himself as it would have to be if he was God. Then, Jesus added that God gave him other powers, such as “authority to execute judgment” and raise the dead on the day of resurrection (vv. 26-29). Peter later affirmed in his first sermon (delivered on the Day of Pentecost to thousands of Jews) what Jesus said here by explaining, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him” (Acts 2.22 NRSV).

Only John also records a later and similar incident in which Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30). Jesus’ enemies then threatened to kill him, accusing him of “blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God” (v. 33). Jesus then refuted this charge by quoting a scripture and explaining, “I said, ‘I am God’s Son'” (v. 36), which is not the same as saying, “I am God.” He further explained that he and the Father are “one” in unity since “the Father is in me, and I am in the Father” (v. 38). Earlier, Jesus implicitly denied that he was God by identifying the Father as “the one who alone is God” (5.44). Likewise, only John also relates later that at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to the Father, calling him “the only true God” (17.3).

The religious authorities at Jerusalem must have accepted these denials by Jesus, that he claimed to be God, due to what happened when Jesus was arrested and examined by the Sanhedrin. They never accused him of claiming he was God, but only asked if he claimed to be “the Messiah, the Son of God,” to which he assented (Matthew 26.63-64).

Only John also provides details about Mary Magdalene first seeing and speaking to the risen Jesus outside his tomb on Easter morning. He told her, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20.17). So, the Johannine Jesus not only never claimed to be God and repeatedly denied he was God, he here informed he had a God, whom he called “my/the Father.”

And only John reports that one week later that the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples again who were gathered in a room, as had occurred Easter evening. This time he said to doubting Thomas, “‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God'” (John 20.28).

Most, distinguished, New Testament scholars who have claimed that the Gospel of John says Jesus is God have understood this confession of Thomas, as most Christians have, that it means Thomas called Jesus “God.” And these scholars usually say that this confession of Thomas is the strongest evidence in the Bible that identifies Jesus as God. But that would conflict with John’s quote in John 20.17, of Jesus calling the Father “my God,” since that makes both Jesus and the Father “God,” which is two Gods.

No, Thomas did not identify Jesus as “God” by saying, “My Lord and my God.” Rather, he identified God indwelling Jesus just as Jesus had taught him days earlier by saying, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” because “the Father is in me” (John 14.9-10). So, Thomas recognized the Father in Jesus had raised Jesus from the dead. Scholars often cite Thomas’ confession as support for the traditional translation of John 1.1c–“and the Word was God.” On the contrary, it is just the opposite. That is, Thomas identified God in Jesus, which affirms Jesus’ teaching, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” which furthermore affirms the correct translation of John 1.1c–“and what God was the Word was,” meaning Jesus was like God in character.

Finally, most Johannine scholars regard John 20 as the conclusion of the Gospel of John when it was first published and that John 21 was later added as an addendum, to which I agree. Thus, they regard John 20.30-31 as this gospel’s original ending. It says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” This clearly is the author’s stated purpose for writing this gospel. As such, it clashes with the high Christology viewpoint–that Jesus is identified as God in this gospel. For, it would be far greater to proclaim Jesus is God than that he is the Messiah/Christ. This title is synonymous with identifying Jesus as “the Son of God,” especially in the four New Testament gospels when these two epithets are juxtapositioned like this.

In conclusion, John’s gospel has several narratives and sayings of Jesus that indicate a denial by him that he is God, whereas the synoptic gospels have no narratives in which Jesus is accused of making himself God or equal to God. The only synoptic incident that is a little bit similar is when Jesus healed a paralytic brought to him on a stretcher, and he told the fellow, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2.5). Mark further records that some scribes thought, “It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). But Jesus revealed concerning himself, “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). That is, God granted him this authority.

These scribes simply did not understand that God could, and perhaps would, do such a thing with a man. But Jesus was no ordinary man. Right before Jesus began his public ministry, when he was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus arose from the water and voice from the heavens above said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3.17), thus pleased enough to grant him such powers.

[See Kermit’s easy-reading, 100-page The Gospel Corrupted: When Jesus Was Made God, which serves as a primer for his larger The Restitution book.]

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