John’s Gospel denies that Jesus is more God than the synoptics do

New Testament scholars – both conservative and liberal – argue that there is a major difference in theology, especially Christology, between the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and the Gospel of John. They claim that the Synoptics portray a ‘low Christology’, meaning that Jesus is merely human, while they maintain that the Gospel of John presents a ‘high Christology’, meaning that Jesus is both man and God, and thus ‘a God-man’.

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

I wrote a very biblically in-depth book about this called The Restitution: Biblical Evidence That Jesus Is NOT God. It runs to 570 pages and cites more than 400 scholars. I will now attempt to briefly prove what I say about the Gospel of John, as a summary of the 100-page chapter in my book entitled ‘Christology of John’.

The Gospel of John begins with a prologue in John 1:1-18, which is an introduction. But verse 1 is a mini-prologue that serves as an outline of this gospel. It says, 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 verse 14, which says, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt 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 clear that there is a problem with this translation, as the Word “with God” and “was God” makes two Gods, while this gospel says there is one God. Some Bible versions in England get John 1.1c right: “and that which was God was the Word” (NEB, REB, cf. TEV/GNB). Comparing this to verse 14 does not mean that Jesus is God, while the traditional translation does. Why this difference in versions? The answer is complex because it is due to Greek grammar.

Because John 1.1 serves as an outline for this Gospel, the three clauses refer to texts that further explain the meaning of those clauses. The first phrase, “In the beginning was the Word,” refers to statements about Jesus speaking the words God gave him, such as Jesus saying, “Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.” (John 5.24 ; see 14.24). The second phrase, “and the Word was with God,” relates to Jesus’ statement: “He who sent me is with me; he has not left me” (8.29), and “I am not alone because the Father is with me” (16.32). The third phrase, ‘what God was was the Word’, is especially related to Jesus’ statement: ‘He who 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; Jesus is more likely to be so like it God because God, who is the Father, lives 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 counteracts this accusation by saying, “The Father is greater than I” (14.28). Here he refuted this accusation and gave reasons (vv. 19-45). Since their accusation was prompted by Jesus healing a paralyzed man (vv. 1-16), Jesus said to them, “The Son can do nothing of himself, … I can do nothing of myself” (vv. 19, 30). He meant that the power to heal was given to him by God his Father, so it was not as complicated for him as it should be if he were God. Then Jesus added that God had given him other powers, such as “the authority to execute judgment” and to raise the dead on the day of resurrection (vv. 26-29). Peter later confirmed 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 works of power and wonders and signs which God done. 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). Then Jesus’ enemies threatened to kill him, accusing him of “blasphemy, because, although you are only human, you make yourself God” (v. 33). Jesus then refuted this accusation by quoting a Bible verse and explaining: “I said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (verse 36), which is not the same as saying, “I am God.” He further explained that he and the Father are “one” in unity, as “the Father is in me, and I 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). In the same way, John alone later also tells us that Jesus prayed to the Father at the Last Supper and called him “the only true God” (17.3).

The religious authorities in Jerusalem must have accepted these denials of Jesus claiming to be God because of what happened when Jesus was arrested and interrogated by the Sanhedrin. They never accused him of claiming to be God, but only asked if he claimed to be “the Messiah, the Son of God,” to which he agreed (Matthew 26:63-64).

Only John also provides details about the fact that Mary Magdalene first saw and spoke to the risen Jesus outside his tomb on Easter morning. He said to 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 not only did the Johannine Jesus never claim to be God and repeatedly denied that he was God, he also let it be known that he had a God, whom he called ‘my/the Father’.

And only John reports that a week later the risen Jesus appeared again to his disciples gathered in a room, as had happened on Easter Eve. This time he said to the doubting Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands.” Reach out your hand and put it on my side. Don’t doubt, just believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God’” (John 20:28).

Most leading New Testament scholars who have argued that the Gospel of John says Jesus is God have understood this confession of Thomas, as have most Christians, to mean that Thomas called Jesus “God.” And these scholars commonly say that this confession of Thomas is the strongest evidence in the Bible identifying Jesus as God. But that would conflict with John’s quote in John 20:17, where Jesus calls the Father “my God,” since that makes both Jesus and the Father “God,” which are two Gods.

No, Thomas did not identify Jesus as “God” by saying, “My Lord and my God.” Instead, he identified God living in Jesus, just as Jesus had taught him days earlier, saying, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” because “the Father is in me” (John 14:9-10) . So Thomas recognized that the Father in Jesus had raised Jesus from the dead. Scholars often cite Thomas’s confession as support for the traditional translation of John 1.1c – “and the Word was God.” On the contrary, it is quite the opposite. That is, Thomas identified God in Jesus, which confirms Jesus’ teaching: “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” which further confirms the correct translation of John 1.1c – “and what was God was the Word” , meaning Jesus as God in character.

Finally, most Johannine scholars consider John 20 to be the conclusion of the Gospel of John when it was first published and that John 21 was later added as an addendum, which I agree with. Therefore, they consider John 20:30-31 to be the original ending of this gospel. It says, “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 by believing you may have life in His name.” This is clearly the author’s purpose for writing this gospel. As such, it conflicts with the high Christological view – that Jesus is identified as God in this gospel. For it would be much greater to proclaim that 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 juxtaposed in this way.

In conclusion, the Gospel of John contains several stories and statements about Jesus that indicate that he denies that he is God, while the Synoptic Gospels contain nothing of the sort. The only incident there that is somewhat similar is when Jesus healed a paralyzed man who was brought to him on a stretcher, and he said to the man, “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?” (verse 7). But Jesus revealed of himself: “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). That is, God granted him this authority, and the scribes did not understand that God could and perhaps would do such a thing.

(See Kermit’s easy-to-read, 100-page The Gospel Corrupted: When Jesus Was Made Godwhich serves as an introduction to his larger one The refund book.)