John 5:23 – The Sweetest Trinitarian Honey!
Visiting the darling Trinitarian argument from a neutral perspective.
One of the best argument which a Trinitarian would brandish in support of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) deity is the appeal to John 5:23. The flagrantly high “Christology” in the youngest of all gospels – the gospel of John – has in it Jesus (peace be upon him) asserting that he is to be honored “just as” the Father.
Under most circumstances, Trinitarians would love to use it to worship a mere man; however, this could be done after comfortably neglecting or rejecting the (i) immediate and (ii) overall context of the Bible and (iii) the contemporary prevailing beliefs of “orthodox” Christians.
Once the verse is seen in its proper perspective either, Jesus (peace be upon him) could not be deified unless otherwise resorted to slanted exegesis; or, multiple mere mortals would also have to be deified, accordingly!
With that said, let us test the viability of one of the best Trinitarian argument!
Honor the Son in the “same way” as Father
The following is the text used as a proof to deify Jesus (peace be upon him):
Nor does the Father himself judge anyone. He has given his Son the full right to judge, so that all will honor the Son in the same way as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5: 22-23, Good News Bible)
The following transliteration of the video clipping would prove how desperately Trinitarian apologists have been mishandling the above verse towards their polytheistic agenda:
“Why did the Father appointed his Son to be the Judge of all? All creation, all flesh. Here is the answer. Here is the reason from the lips of Jesus Christ our Lord; from the very chapter that Zakir Naik misquoted – that all my honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Let me just stop here for a moment. Notice what the Lord Jesus Christ did not say. He did not say, “the reason why the Father appointed me judge is so that everyone honors me as a prophet”. That’s not what he said. He didn’t say, “that the reason why I have been appointed judge of all is so that you can honor me as you honor the righteous or your parents or a messenger. No, he says, the reason why I judge everyone is so that everyone honors me in the same way they honor the Father. ” (Shamoun Time 07:24 – 08:14)
Before we dissect the argument for closer examination, we will make certain very important observations from the above adduced verse. These observations would sufficiently allude that the otherwise obvious “Christology” (for Trinitarians) of the verse, is not, in reality that obvious!
Observe that Jesus (peace be upon him) is to be honored the “same way” as God for the following two reasons:
1. Father (God) has made or appointed Son (Jesus, peace be upon him) to judge on His behalf on this Earth. In other words, Jesus (peace be upon him) would be representing God’s sovereignty in this world, he has been given that privilege. In other words, the attribute of judging does not come intrinsically from him. Consequently, elsewhere in the Bible such a deferred privilege is portrayed as a non-divine act of Jesus (peace be upon him):
“If people hear my message and do not obey it, I will not judge them. I came, not to judge the world, but to save it. Those who reject me and do not accept my message have one who will judge them. The words I have spoken will be their judge on the last day! This is true, because I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has commanded me what I must say and speak. And I know that his command brings eternal life. What I say, then, is what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12: 47-50)
Moreover, New Testament also declares that mere Christian believers would also judge on the judgment day! This further proves that judging others was not a task to deify a candidate.
2. Also observe that Jesus (peace be upon him) has been “sent” by Father; he was commissioned into this world. This particular act of “sending” somebody has the imports of non divine prophet-hood on the one who is send. Moreover, in biblical context such a commissioned person is yet again portrayed as somebody lesser than God. Consider the following few verses regarding Jesus (peace be upon him) as substantiation for this notion:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! (Matthew 23:37)
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4: 34)
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30)
Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. (John 7:16)
And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29)
(King James Version)
This gives us a good picture that neither (i) judging on behalf of God as His representative nor (ii) being the one sent by God can be treated as divine phenomenon and yet we find our subject phrase – to honor Son just as Father – smack dab at the middle of mutually opposing clauses – the two non-divine functionalities or attributes.
Therefore it still has to be enquired why the controversial subject phrase was placed in between two necessarily non-divine context. The answer to this query was “shadowed” in the Old Testament!
The way the Old Testament portrays its Prophets
Trinitarians would accept that Jesus (peace be upon him) was not merely a New Testament “God” but he was also a messianic prophet; a Davidic prophet; a royal prophet (c.f. Matthew 1:1, 17, 9:27, 13:55-57, 21: 5-9, 10-11, 45-46. Luke 1:30-32, 13:32-33, 24:18-19, John 6:14, Acts 2:22, 30)
So whatever was attributed and applicable to the Old Testament prophets, especially those who were Davidic and royal, could be applied at par for Jesus (peace be upon him) as well! With that said let us observe very closely how the Old Testament portrayed its prophets and what was attributed to them.
1. Davidic royal Prophets were required to be worshipped:
“Then David said to the whole assembly, ‘Bless Yahweh your God.’ And the whole assembly blessed Yahweh, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads low and worshipped Yahweh AND the king (wayyiqadu wayyishtahawu YHWHW walammelek).” (1 Chronicles 29: 20)
“You have delivered me from the strivings of the people; You have made me the head of the nations; A people I have not known shall serve me (ya’abduni). As soon as they hear me they obey me; The foregners submit to me.” (Psalm 18: 43-44)
“Give the king your justice, O God, and your rightenouness to the royal son!…May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! …May all kings fall down before Him (wayishtahawulow); May all nations serve Him (ya’abduhu).” (Psalm 72:1,9, 11)
“They will serve(wa’abadu) Yahweh their God AND David their king whom I will raise up for them.” (Jeremiah 30:9)
Notice the construction of the Old Testament “verses”: It has instructed its believers to worship and serve Yahweh and the prophet(s) in the same breath.
The “verses” do not make any qualification that God is to be worshipped the way befits Him and the worldly kings are to be honored the way which suits the mortals. In fact it does not even differentiates the word – it uses the same word “worship” while referring to both God “and” mortal kings.
Furthermore, observe the Hebrew words used for worship (and services) and compare them with the following words as used while referring to Yahweh. They are either identical or a derivative of the root word:
“Serve (‘ibdu) the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Psalm 2:11
“Serve (‘ibdu) the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. Acknowledge that Yahweh is God. He made us, and we are His—His people, the sheep of His pasture.” Psalm 100:2-3
“All nations whom You have made Shall come and worship (wayishtahawu) before You, O Lord (adonay), And shall glorify (wikabbadu) Your name.” Psalm 86:9
“‘From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh will come and bow down (lahishtahawot) before Me,’ says Yahweh.” Isaiah
Thus, we see that the Old Testament had a peculiarly high “prophetology” for its prophets. They were to be “worshipped” alongside Yahweh (“and”) and to express this notion Hebrew Bible uses the same root word which it uses for Yahweh.
2. Mere prophets were praised “just as” Yahweh
The Old Testament requires its believers to exalt and praise Yahweh,
“Give to Yahweh, O families of the peoples, Give to Yahweh glory (kabod)and strength. Give to Yahweh the glory (kabod) due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship (hishtahawu) Yahweh in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:7-9)
“Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, And govern the nations on earth. Selah Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Then the earth shall yield her increase; God, our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, And all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.” (Psalm 67:3-7)
Yet it also requires that mere prophets be also exalted and praised:
“His glory (kabodo) is great in Your salvation; Honor and majesty You have placed upon him. For You have made him most blessed forever; You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence.” (Psalm 21:5-6)
“So the King will greatly desire your beauty; Because He is your Lord (adonayik), worship Him (wahishtahawilow)… I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations; Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever. (Psalm 45:11, 17)
Notice that it is not merely the usage of same Hebrew words (“Kobodo”) for glorifying prophets as was used for Yahweh but that the last verse even requires its followers to praise a mere king “forever and ever” – something which falls in the genre of divinie praise! We do not “kobod” (praise) mere mortal prophets “forever and ever”, yet, biblically these are allowed phrases without breaching its brand of monotheism.
3. Mere prophets sharing the same title with Yahweh
In the same adduced Psalm verse (45:11, above) notice that Davidic prophet(s) was referred as “Lord” using the Hebrew word “adonayik”. Comparatively, the same word is elsewhere used for Yahweh as well:
“Thus says your Lord (adonayik), Yahweh and your God, Who pleads the cause of His people: ‘See, I have taken out of your hand The cup of trembling, The dregs of the cup of My fury; You shall no longer drink it.’” Isaiah 51:22
Thus we have instance where Yahweh – the “God” of the Bible – has even shared his title with mere mortals. No wonder, Yahweh is also portrayed as sharing his throne as well:
Prophets on the Throne of God Himself:
“Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father; and he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. All the officials, the mighty men, and also all the sons of King David pledged allegiance to King Solomon. The Lord highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him royal majesty which had not been on any king before him in Israel.” (1 Chronicles 29:23-25)
“Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you, setting you on His throne as king for the Lord your God; because your God loved Israel establishing them forever, therefore He made you king over them, to do justice and righteousness.” (2 Chronicles 9:8)
All of the above Old Testament verses by allowing its prophets,
- To be “worshipped” alongside Yahweh,
- To be glorified just as Yahweh,
- To share same title as Yahweh,
creates good ground for correct and congenial interpretation of John 5:23. In the backdrop of foregoing Old Testament verses if Jesus (peace be upon him) asserted that son is to be honored “just as” Father then he had the Old Testament pretext in which he was asserting! He knew that the Jewish traditions allow that mere prophets be “worshipped”, “glorified” alongside Yahweh “just as” He is worshipped and glorified. Similarly, Jesus (peace be upon him) even knew that Old Testament prophets even shared Yahweh’s titles to their end and yet none of it violated any Old Testament monotheism.
Therefore, if Jesus (peace be upon him) supposedly demands “same honor” with Father then it could not possibly be taken to establish divinity for Jesus (peace be upon him) given the Old Testament framework. Yet if Trinitarians want to do it then either (i) they want to reject the overall Old Testament context in which Jesus (peace be upon him) was speaking or (ii) they have to deify multiple Old Testament prophets (or at least the royal, Davidic prophets for that reason)!
The problem does not end here with the best-argument. Consider the following section.
What did Jesus (peace be upon him) do with the “honor” he demanded?
Even if we reject all of the Old Testament pretext to claim that because Jesus (peace be upon him) demanded “same honor” with Father, therefore, he must be divine; yet it does not help the Trinitarian agenda in any way since it is very interesting to observe what Jesus (peace be upon him) later did with the “honor” – the so assumed “divine” honor – once it was vested on him. In the following passages we explore it.
Later in the same gospel, towards the end of his life, Jesus (peace be upon him) picks up the topic of his honor and glory once again. In fact John dedicates an entire chapter towards the honor and glory of Jesus (peace be upon him). We pick it up from there:
John portrays Jesus (peace be upon him) demanding the glory which he had initially – even before the world was ever made:
After Jesus finished saying this, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son, so that the Son may give glory to you. I have shown your glory on earth; I have finished the work you gave me to do. Father! Give me glory in your presence now, the same glory I had with you before the world was made. (John 17: 1, 4-5)
Trinitarian exegetes are unanimous upon it that the primordial glory of Jesus (peace be upon him) was particularly divine!
However, later in the same chapter, after praying for his followers, Jesus (peace be upon him) interestingly (or embarrassingly) gave away the same glory to his multiple disciples:
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message. I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I gave them the same glory you gave me, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one: (John 17: 20-22)
Observe it once again that Jesus (peace be upon him) gave his followers the “same glory” which God vested on him. Don’t forget, verses 4 and 5 informed us that, according to Trinitarian exegesis, Jesus (peace be upon him) was seeking his “divine” primordial glory from Father!
Acknowledging the “high” status of followers, Trinitarian commentators have following to remark:
John 17:22 The glory which thou hast given me, I have given them – The glory of the only begotten shines in all the sons of God. How great is the majesty of Christians. (John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, John 17:22)
Notice the Wesley’s exclamatory note towards the end of his comment. He exclaims about the extra high esteemed status of Christians – why? Because they enjoy thesame glory which Christ (peace be upon him) was conferred with for being the “only begotten” of the God!
It is very disturbing that within the purported realms of “monotheistic” Christianity, the supposed divine and special glory of the alleged Trinitarian god is shared with multiple mere mortals!
Another set of Trinitarian Scholars – Matthew Henry – go a step ahead of John Wesley to claim more divine qualities and positions for mere mortals which assumedly befits Christ (peace be upon him) alone:
Those that are given in common to all believers. The glory of being in covenant with the Father, and accepted of him, of being laid in his bosom, and designed for a place at his right hand, was the glory which the Father gave to the Redeemer, and he has confirmed it to the redeemed. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, John 17:20-23)
As a proof for Jesus’ (peace be upon him) divinity, Trinitarians down the ages have been appealing to the biblical verses wherein Jesus (peace be upon him) is portrayed as “laid in God’s bosom” and “at His right hand”.
The “right hand” of the God is an exclusive, divine place suitable only for Christ (peace be upon him) appeals most Trinitarians, nevertheless, we saw above thatTrinitarian scholars had no scruple into vesting these “divine” status on mere mortals implying either (i) the “glory” of Jesus (peace be upon him) was not divine or (ii) there are numerous individuals in Trinitarian Christianity enjoying such “glory”!
Furthermore, honor of being the “redeemer” of the entire world has to be divine at least in the Trinitarian parlance yet Trinitarian scholars confirm it on multiple mere creatures! This once again establishes that honor of Jesus (peace be upon him) although special and prized but was not divine.
The problem with the best argument continues…
Earliest “Orthodox” Beliefs
We are now to the very last argument against Trinitarian misuse of John 5:23. In this section we would consider the writings of earliest, “orthodox”, church father Ignatius. Remember that Ignatius is as old as contemporary to gospel of John and a student of John himself!
Consider then what Ignatius had to portray about the “orthodox” belief system of theearliest Christians regarding the status of church bishops:
“Be subject to the bishop as to the commandment” (Ign. Trall. 13.2)
“We are clearly obliged to look upon the bishop as the Lord himself” (Ign. Eph. 6.1)
Since the mortal “bishops” were to be seen as “Lord” himself and their commandments were to be treated at par with the Laws of Yahweh, Ignatius of Antioch gave no religious freedom to the laity:
“You should do nothing apart from the bishop” (Ign. Magn. 7.1)
On the preceding, New Testament authority Bart Ehrman rightly asserts the following:
Each Christian community had a bishop, and this bishop’s word was LAW [Mosaic]. The bishop was to be followed as if he were God himself. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p.141)
Even if we neglect that the writings of the earliest, “orthodox” church father – Ignatius as outright polytheistic yet it can still be used to fathom the then prevailing state of affairs with regards to the status of celebrated people inside church walls. If mere church bishop(s) can be viewed as “God himself” then we do not see much appeal if “Jesus” (peace be upon him) – the supposed “head of the Church” demanded merely “same honor” with Father! It was just part and parcel and legacy of “orthodox” Christianity.
Therefore, to declare Jesus (peace be upon him) as God – Almighty just because somewhere he had allegedly demanded “same honor” with Father comes more as an act desperation in the wake of absence of conclusive proofs.
Christians could not conveniently brush aside Ignatius’ writings since (i) he is the very prototype of all “orthodox” Christians (ii) a student of John (the evangelist) himself and most importantly (iii) he – the “Saint” Ignatius – considered his words to be divinely inspired. Check this out:
For even if some people have wanted to deceive me according to the flesh, the Spirit is not deceived, since it comes from God. For it knows whence it comes and where it is going, and it exposes the things that are hidden. I cried out while among you, speaking in a great voice, the voice of God, “Pay attention to the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons!” But some suspected that I said these things because I knew in advance that there was a division among you. But the one in whom I am bound is my witness that I knew it from no human source; but the Spirit was preaching, saying: “Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your flesh as the Temple of God; love unity; flee divisions; be imitators of Jesus Christ as he is of his Father.” (Ign. Phil., 7)
Our concern was to understand if there is any viability in one of the most celebrated Trinitarian argument in support of Jesus’ (peace be upon him) deity, namely, John 5:23.
In the very first place we saw that the subject verse of honoring son just as Father was placed amidst two mutually opposing phrases which essentially portray Jesus (peace be upon him) in a non divine light.
Later we realized that let alone Jesus (peace be upon him) demanding (merely) “same honor” with Father, Old Testament prophets had centuries ago enjoyed colossal privileges than that. In it, (i)they were to be worshipped alongside Yahweh (ii) they were to be glorified “same as” God so much so that (iii) they were to even share the titles and throne of God – Himself with Bible making no distinction in the construction of the sentence or the choice of words in any of the above! Furthermore (iv) contemporary (to New Testament), “orthodox” church writings declare mere Christian believers in church offices to be looked upon as “God himself” and their fleeting sayings at par with Yahweh’s own words!
If there is a lot of Trinitarian hue and cry over Jesus (peace be upon him) demanding “same honor” with God then, on the preceding biblical proofs, there should be even greater voices raised for worshipping numerous Old Testament prophets and multiple church bishops in various parts of the world and down the ages.
With that said, we request Christians to look upon the alleged Jesus’ (peace be upon him) assertion in its proper biblical perspective and come to conclusions accordingly.
- Unless otherwise mentioned all biblical texts courtesy Sam Shamoun. Jazakallah khair, Shamoun. May Allah (SWT) guide you towards monotheism for this service!