John 5:18 Revisited
By David Barron
When researching for and finally writing God and Christ I must confess having struggled with John 5:18. It was not that the passage provides an overly compelling Trinitarian argument, but just the opposite, I felt two different unitarian positions (Discussed in the book. Going forward it is assumed the reader has read the material) had good supporting evidence, both of which were supported even among some Trinitarian commentators and scholars.
Confronted with both unitarian arguments I felt them both so compelling that John must have been in fact making use of a double entendre, arguing both for the Jewish misunderstanding and Jesus’ position as God’s agent. Shortly before releasing the book Edgar Foster questioned me on this, asking (perhaps rhetorically) where John had elsewhere made such use of language in support of this argumentation. While I could not find any other occurrence, at the time I felt both arguments more compelling than this objection.
Since then further research and reflection has brought a reconsideration of that position, bringing me to conclude it was in error. John quite plainly presents his own understanding of the events, not saying they “were seeking all the more to killing him, because they were thinking…” Instead, he presents why they sought to kill him from what really occurred. Jesus was both breaking the Sabbath and making himself equal to God.
I won’t delve into the details of his breaking the Sabbath and how it was not a sin, for this are already discussed in the book. So also with how making himself God’s Son made him equal to God. Nevertheless, I must address one own point therein, namely, that in 5:19 Jesus provided an answer to those seeking to kill him. Quite simply, Jesus “answered” the Jews not because he wasn’t breaking the Sabbath or making himself equal to God. If this was their understanding they were entirely correct, but they erred in failing to understand he was rightly sanctioned for both and in subjection to God through it all. Jesus' answer corrected their faulty premise.
The forthcoming Second Edition will provide further discussion on this passage, though as it is still some time away I felt it necessary to offer this correction now.