John 5:18, " . . . making Himself equal with God."

by Matt Slick

"For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God," (John 5:18, NASB).

greek equal to GodWhen using this verse against the Jehovah's Witnesses (and any other group that denies Jesus' deity), the response they have is as follows.  They ask if Jesus actually sinned and broke the Sabbath.  Of course He did not.  Then they try to point out that John the Apostle was commenting about what the Jews thought and not what Jesus was actually doing and claiming.  Therefore, they say, when it says that Jesus was " . . . calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God," they respond that that is what the Jews were thinking and not what John was saying.  The Jehovah's Witnesses are quite wrong.

The context of this verse is John chapter five where Jesus had healed a lame man on the Sabbath and told him to take up his pallet and walk.  The Jews inquired about this man and why he was carrying the pallet.  He said that Jesus healed him and told him to walk.  It then says in John 5:16-18,

"And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17But He answered them, 'My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.  18For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

Yes, Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Obviously that was right for Him to do, but the Jews thought He was breaking the Sabbath. Therefore, when John says that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath, he was clearly saying that Jesus was breaking the Jews erring conception of the Sabbath and not the real Sabbath.  Then, in addition, John says that Jesus was calling God His own father and making Himself equal to God. John is making two comments--one about the Jews erring claim and the other about Jesus claiming to be divine.  But the non-Christian cults will not accept this answer.  So, let's analyze the issue some more:

If it was only the Jews who thought that Jesus was making Himself equal to God, then can the Jehovah's Witness point out in the context of what Jesus said and did that would cause the Jews to think this?  If he cannot find the place in scripture, then the only thing left to conclude is that the comment is John's and not that of the Jews.

But, someone might ask the Christian where and what it was that Jesus said that meant He was claiming to be equal with God.  The answer is simple:  calling God His own Father is claiming to be equal to God as John the Apostle says.  Nevertheless, let's look at the chapters prior to John 5:18 for any clues to Jesus' claims regarding His relationship to the Father.

  • John 2:16, " . . . stop making my Father's house a house of merchandise."
  • John 3:16, Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of God.
  • John 4:34, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work."

What can we conclude from this information?  Quite simply, Jesus is the Son of God, and He calls God His own Father.  So, the problem is in understanding what the phrase Son of God means.  Apparently, in the biblical culture it means to be equal with God--as John the Apostle stated.  But, again, the Jehovah's Witnesses will say that the term Son of God means that Jesus is not God.  Okay, if that is so, then does the term Son of Man mean that Jesus is not a man?  Of course not.  If the term Son of Man means that Jesus is a man, then what does the term Son of God mean?

Why didn't John correct the error?

Also, if Jesus was not God, why didn't John the apostle clarify the situation?  After all, it is a perfect opportunity to do so.  Remember, John clarified other points.  Here is an example:

  • "This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, 'If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?' (John 21:23, NASB).
  • "The Jews answered and said to Him, 'Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?  49Jesus answered, 'I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me." (John 8:48-49).

John was definitely in the position to correct such a great error as Jesus being God in flesh, but He doesn't do it.  This is not something you would let slide if you were writing a gospel about who Jesus really is.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.