by Matt Slick
"I and the Father are one." 31The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" 33The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God," (John 10:30-33)
What was it that Jesus had said or done that caused the Jews to say that He was claiming to be God? Was it "I and the Father are one"? If so, why would that cause the Jews to want to kill Jesus? Perhaps it was something else. Maybe it was something Jesus said elsewhere that made them so angry.
There are only two places in John where the Jews wanted to kill Jesus with stones. Both of these occur after Jesus spoke and made a claim about Himself. The first was in John 8:58-59, and the second was in John 10:30-33. Here is the context of both verses:
- John 8:56-59, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." 57The Jews therefore said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" 58Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." 59Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple."
- John 10:27-36, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. 29"My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30"I and the Father are one." 31The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" 33The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." 34Jesus answered them, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? 35"If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?"
There is absolutely no reference to stones or stoning between John 8:59 and John 10:31; but in those two verses, the Jews responded to Jesus' words by wanting to kill Him. What was it that Jesus said in both cases that brought such a violent reaction? Here they are again . . .
- John 8:58-59, "Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." 59Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him;
- John 10:30-31, "I and the Father are one." 31The Jews took up stones again to stone Him.
The first time the Jews wanted to kill Jesus was when He said, "Before Abraham was, I am." The second time wasn't until John 10:31 when they again wanted to kill Him after Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." Let's look at these statements of Jesus.
John 8:58 and John 10:30
The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that John 8:58 should be translated as " . . . before Abraham was, I have been," not "I am." But what is it about saying, "I have been" that would motivate the Jews to want to kill Jesus? Was Jesus simply stating that He pre-existed? If so, they would have thought Him greatly deceived and not worthy of being killed. Do we see any prior account of anyone in the Bible being killed for claiming to pre-exist? No. It isn't blasphemy to state that you have pre-existed. It is, however, blasphemy to claim to be God;1 after all, that is what the Jews accused Jesus of claiming for Himself in John 10:31 when they again picked up stones to kill Him. What was it that Jesus said that motivated them in John 10:31 and in John 8:59 to want to kill Jesus?
From what I have seen, the greater number of Bibles translate John 8:58 as, "Before Abraham was, I am." The words "I am" are "ego eimi" in the Greek; and the construction is in the present tense. "I have been" is in the perfect tense in English, but it is the Greek of John 8:58 that is in the present tense and not the perfect tense (I have been). Remember, the Jews weren't mad at Jesus for speaking English (I have been) but for speaking Greek (I am). Therefore, what is it about the statement "Before Abraham was, I am" that would cause such anger and warrant Him being stoned to death?
Some say that in John 8, Jesus had said and done so many things that by the time Jesus said, "I am" in verse 58, the Jews simply snapped and tried to kill Him. But, that doesn't hold with the Jews' statement in John 10:33 where they tell Jesus the reason; it was for claiming to be God. So, again, what is it about Jesus saying, "Before Abraham was, I am" (or, "I have been") that was so volatile and worthy of death according to the Jews?
The most natural explanation I see is that Jesus was referring back to when Moses was at the burning bush and asked God what His name was. God said, "I am that I am. Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I am has sent me to you." (Exodus 3:14). If we were to consider this as an explanation, then it makes sense why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus since his statement "Before Abraham was, I am" would logically cause the Pharisees to think Jesus was claiming to be God--which is exactly what they stated later as the reason for them wanting to kill Him.
There are, however, those who say that Jesus could not have been referring to Exodus 3:14, or that there is no reason to refer Christ's statement to Exodus 3:14. But, if that is so, then what other explanation is there for the Jews' desire to kill Jesus? What else would generate such a violate reaction from the Jews? Is there any other explanation that is suitable? Remember, the Jews gave their own reason for their anger. They said to Jesus, " . . . You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." (John 10:33).
Therefore, we need to ask the Jehovah's Witness in what verse is it that Jesus was claiming to be God? Or, in what verse was it that could be construed and misinterpreted by the Jews to think that Jesus was claiming to be God?
Finally, notice that the Jews absolutely denied that Jesus was God in flesh. Interestingly, so do the Jehovah's Witnesses. So, the Pharisees and the Jehovah's Witnesses are in agreement about who Jesus is not.
John 10:30 is an interesting statement by Jesus. He said, "I and the Father are one." What did Jesus mean? Was He saying that the He and the Father were one in purpose? If so, wouldn't the Jews claim the same thing as they sought to honor and serve God? Or perhaps, Jesus was saying they were of the same mind. If so, why didn't Jesus say so? Could it be that Jesus was saying that He and the Father were the same person? But this wouldn't make sense since Jesus said, "the Father and I"--designating that they are not the same person. Finally, could it be that Jesus was claiming to be of the same essence of the Father; that is, He was claiming to be divine? If so, then this would make sense since the Pharisees certainly claimed that Jesus was claiming to be God.
"even because you, although being a man, make yourself a god," (NWT)
The Jehovah's Witness Bible called the New World Translation translates John 10:33 not as "You being a man make yourself out to be God," but as, "even because you, although being a man, make yourself a god." Notice the NWT says "a god," not "God." This is typical of the Watchtower Organization which seeks to obliterate any mention of Jesus' deity by altering the biblical text.
As you can see, out of 22 Bible versions, not one has "a god" translated as the Watchtower Organization does. Why? Because the Watchtower is biased against the deity of Christ and will take liberties to alter the English translation so as to suit its own theological needs.
Objection: You are deriving your theology from the Pharisees
On the contrary, I am doing no such thing. First of all, I do not agree with the Jews that Jesus is not God. It is the Jehovah's Witnesses who agree with the Jews on this. Remember, the theology of the Jews is that Jesus is not God. Since I believe Jesus is God, I am not deriving my theology from them. Second, whether or not the Jews are correctly or incorrectly understanding Jesus isn't the issue. The issue is what was it that Jesus said that caused them to say He was claiming to be God that so upset the Jews? If a Jehovah's Witness cannot answer the question, then he doesn't understand what is going on. It is simple. If he understood, then he could give an answer. If he can't answer, then how can he understand the rest of the Bible since the Bible is about Jesus (John 5:39); and this issue is dealing with Jesus' teachings about Himself? Third, the objection is a genetic fallacy; that is, it is saying that because the Pharisees said it, it can't be true. This is like saying that because an atheist says something about Jesus, it can't be true. Well, yes it can be true. Even atheists can understand what Jesus says and still not believe Him.
Questions for the JW's:
- What was it that Jesus had said or done that caused the Pharisees to say that He was claiming to be God in John 10:33?
- What was it about what Jesus said in John 8:58 that caused the Pharisees to want to kill Him?
- From the New World Translation perspective, what is it about saying, "I have been" (John 8:58) that would motivate the Jews to want to kill Jesus?
- Do we see any prior account of anyone in the Bible being killed for claiming to pre-exist if Jesus was merely claiming pre-existence?
- Could you please explain what it was the Pharisees misunderstood and what they were misunderstanding to cause them to say what they did about Jesus' claim?
- If a JW cannot answer the questions above, then
- Doesn't that mean he doesn't understand the text since he cannot answer the question?
- If he doesn't understand this text about Jesus, then how can he understand the rest of the Bible since the Bible is about Jesus (John 5:39); and this passage is about Jesus' own teaching?
- 1. With Jesus, however, it wouldn't be blasphemy because it was true.