The charge against Jesus at John 10:31
During a conversation I
once had about the charge against Jesus at John 10:31, I stated that
Christ's opponents probably felt that he made himself QEOS functionally rather
than ontologically. I was asked to unpack the bases for this view, and
this post is meant to satisfy that request.
I think that the
best way to discern what was behind the religious leaders' charge at
John 10:31 is by noting (i) how the phrase "Son of God" was understood
in this context and at this point in Jewish history, and (ii) how Jesus
responded to his opponents' accusation.
Regarding #i, at this
point in Jewish history Son of God was primarily a functional title,
and when used of Jesus during his earthly life it was synonymous with
"Christ" (=Messiah). This is supported by the question that constituted
the charge against Jesus at his trial, "Are you the Christ the Son of
the Blessed One?" It seems pretty clear that the high priest wasn't
asking "Are you the Christ and also the Son of God?"; rather, he seems
to have meant "Are you the Christ a/k/a the Son of God?"
attempt of the religious leaders to build a case against Jesus at John
10 involved his claim to be the Messiah. Notice that verse 24 says,
"Therefore the Jews encircled him and began to say to him: 'How long are
you to keep our souls in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us
outspokenly.'" Jesus then confirmed his Messianic status, calling God
his Father 4 times, and it was in response to this self claim to said
functional status that his opponents charged him with committing
blasphemy by making himself QEOS.
Regarding #ii, Christ's
response confirms that their charge was based on an objection (whether
feigned or sincerely felt) to Jesus' self-proclaimed functional status,
for he answers their charge that he was making himself QEOS by reminding
them that in their own law other agents of God, certain judges of old,
are called "gods" (Ps. 82:6). Many have argued that it was Jesus' claim
to be "one" with God that angered his opponents, and that when they
charged that he was "making himself QEOS" they meant that he was
claiming ontological status as the one God of the Bible (=YHWH). This
doesn't cohere with Jesus' response in at least two ways. First, to demonstrate
why this isn't likely, I'll paraphrase the dialogue in harmony with this
Jesus: "I displayed to you many fine works from the Father. For which of those works are you stoning me?"
"We are stoning you, not for a fine work, but for blasphemy, because
you, though a man, make yourself to be none other than God (YHWH)
Jesus: "Is it not written in your Law, `I said: "You
are gods"'? If he called the judges of old `gods' then how is it that I
blaspheme by claiming to be God's Son?"
Do you see the problem?
If the basis of the Jews' charge was that Jesus was making himself God (=YHWH) ontologically, then Jesus' reply becomes a non sequitur. It
would be silly for Jesus to suggest that since agents of God can be
called "gods" then his opponents shouldn't have a problem with his claim
to be YHWH. On the other hand, if the charge was based on opposition to
the fact that Jesus made himself God or a god in a functional sense,
then Jesus' response fits.
Second, notice that Jesus does not
respond by saying "do you say to me...`You blaspheme,' because I said, I
am one with the Father?"; rather, he says, "do you say to me...`You
blaspheme,' because I said, I am God's Son?" Jesus' response clearly
shows that it wasn't ontological oneness but functional son-ness that was
at the heart of their objection.