In Part One of this post series I began a rebuttal of an argument positing that John 10:33-39 is actually supporting Trinitarian theology. Looking closely at the form of the argument and the scripture from which it is quoting. In this post I’ll look more at the bigger picture in John.
The Defender of The Trinity makes an argument as to why we should go with a Trinitarian interpretation as opposed to a Trinitarian interpretation:
A reason why John 10:33-39 shouldn’t be interpreted in a Unitarian way is because this is the third time in the Gospel of John where it records the details of WHY the Jews wanted to kill Jesus. It makes sense and fits with together which each other and the rest of the Gospel of John that in all three instances it was because the Jews interpreted Jesus’ statements as a claim to full deity.
The three passages are John 5:17-18; John 8:56-59; and here in John 10:33-39.
This is a complete circular argument, since those 2 passages mentioned alongside John 10:33-39 can easily, and more plausibly, be interpreted in a Unitarian way, and in fact fall flat on their face when interpreted in a Trinitarian way. That’s something maybe I’ll post about some other time. But in order to make an argument based on the context, you better make sure the context actually agrees with your argument. In this case we are being asked to read so much into John 10:33-39 that simply isn’t there and in fact contradicts what it says, on the basis of 2 other scriptures which don’t really support the argument when looked at closely.
But something else we need to keep in mind is what the nature of the Jewish Enemies of Jesus is in John. They are portrayed as theological idiots who don’t understand who Jesus is or what he says. Take John 2:20 where the Jewish Enemies don’t get the illustration of the temple, or John 6:41,42 where they don’t understand his claim to come from heaven or verse 52, where they take literally the eating of flesh, or John 7:35,36 where they completely misunderstanding Jesus’ predictions. Or take the whole of John 8, it’s full of Jesus’ enemies misinterpreting what he’s saying, taking Jesus literally, misapplying his statements and so on. So why should we accept how the Enemies of Jesus interpreted what Jesus said as opposed to what Jesus actually said and how he explained it?
What was really the reason the Jewish Enemies opposed Jesus? Was it because they really thought that he was a Blasphemer? Were they simply good honest Jews just trying to uphold the law? Not at all. Let’s take John 5:17.18 as an example, they claimed he was breaking the Sabbath, well, what does rabbinic interpretation (which comes from the Pharisees) say about that? Let’s look in the Mishnah – Moed – Yoma 8:6
Rabbi Matya the son of Harash further said: If one has a pain in his throat [according
to the version of the Bartenurah, he has a pain by his teeth, i.e., his gums are
infected, since the infection may spread to his palate and throat] they may
[produce and] pour the medicine into his mouth on shabbat [even if they
desecrate Shabbat through its preparation. This is true even if during this Shabbat
there is no danger to his life. For example, if it was determined that he requires
eight days of treatment, and if he starts after Shabbat on Sunday, he will only
desecrate one Shabbat. We insist that he begin medication immediately, and thus
desecrate this Shabbat as well] since there is a possibility of [a future] danger to
life, and whenever there is a possibility of danger to life it supersedes [the laws
So no, Healing was not banned on the Sabbath even according to the Pharisaic Oral Law recorded in the Mishnah, Jesus was right according to the Oral Law. So what was the reason they were after him? John 7:31, 32 gives us a clear picture:
31 Yet many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him.
I think it’s basically that, Jesus was getting popular, he was claiming to be the Messiah, and that threatened the Pharisees. Here’s the point, the Jewish Enemies of Jesus as portrayed in John are not honest actors, they are not theologically astute, and they are angry, bitter, and ignorant. There is no reason to trust that their claims or understandings about Jesus are valid.
With that in mind let’s take the actual background of the argument, what led up to this back and forth we read in John 10:24-30:
24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
Now from that we get a high claim, Jesus answers the question about whether or not he is the Messiah, by claiming that his works show that he is the messiah and that those who listen to him gain everlasting life, because the Father (Yahweh) gives them to him, and he and the Father are One. This affirmation that Jesus is the messiah, and that he has a special relationship with the Father (Yahweh), seems to be taken by the Enemies of Jesus to be a step to far, that he is making himself God, or a God. But do they understand Jesus right or are they mistaken? As always they are mistaken. When Jesus says “The Father and I are one” (ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν) is he talking ontological oneness? It’s clear from Jesus’ usage of the word “one” (ἕν) that he is not talking about ontological oneness, all you need to do is read John 17:
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one(ἕν). As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one(ἕν), as we are one(ἕν), 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one(τετελειωμένοι εἰς ἕν), so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Notice, that they may be one as we are one, Jesus in them, and the Father in Jesus, and the apostles in both the Father and Jesus, in us. Unless The Defender of The Trinity want’s to abandon the Trinity and rather go for a potential Fifteenity (at least) within God, he’s going to have to agree that Jesus is obviously not talking about ontological oneness here. It’s clear that if the Enemies of Jesus are taking his words ontologically literally, then, like almost everywhere else in the Gospel of john, they are taking his words wrong.
There are many other ways we can show that the passage in question rules out the trinity. For example the claim that Jesus was evading the question makes no sense when Trinitarians argue that Jesus literally called himself the divine name, Yahweh, 2 chapters earlier (he didn’t by the way, not by a long shot), yet now he was suddenly being coy? It’s ridiculous.
The fact is that the Trinitarian reading of John 10:33-39 requires one to butcher the text, import all sorts of ideas not found in the text at all, misread the context, assume the enemies who are constantly getting everything wrong are actually correct and Jesus is lying, and completely ignore the clear argument that Jesus is making. If you have to butcher the scriptures that much in order to hold to a Trinitarian Theology, then it’s probably better just to dump that theology.