John 5:23 fails the Trinitarian

Does John 5:23 command the Johannine community to worship Jesus as they worship the Father?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

Many Trinitarians quickly shout “Jesus is God” when they encounter John 5:23 which says, “that all may honour the son as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.”

Firstly, the word honour does not mean worship. The original word in the verse in Greek is ‘timosi’ which comes from the root ‘timao’. If the word means worship, then Acts 28:10 means that Christians were being worshipped by the grateful islanders of Malta as the word ‘honoured’ (etimesan) that occurs in the verse comes from the same root as ‘timosi’ in John 5:23. So what does ‘timao’ really mean? Let us consult Thayer’s Lexicon to get a better picture of the meaning of the word.

“2. to honor [so uniformly A. V.), to have in honor, to revere, venerate; Sept. for בִּבֵּד : God, Mt. xv. 8; Mk. vii. 6; Jn. v.23; viii. 49; Christ, Jn. v. 23; parents, Mt. xv. 4 sq.; xix. 19; Mk. vii. 10; x. 19; Lk. xviii. 20; Eph. vi. 2; other men, 1 Tim. v. 3; 1 Pet. ii. 17; with πολλαῖς τιμαῖς added, to honor with many honors, Acts xxviii. 10; of God, rewarding Christians with honor and glory in his kingdom, Jn. xii. 26.” [1]

So, according to Thayer’s Lexicon, the word in question is applicable to God, to Jesus, to parents and ordinary men. But what does it mean then to “honour” (revere or venerate as alternatively suggested by Thayer’s Lexicon) Jesus as believers honour the Father? Well, as typical as Trinitarians are in chopping up verses to create a patchwork theology, they do so perfectly here. They cut up the verse and let people only hear the first sentence and ignore the second which belongs in the same verse. The second sentence that says, “Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.” explains the first sentence, that is, just as believers would obey the Father, as Jesus is His instrument, His mouthpiece, His spokesperson, His emissary, His ambassador, His agent (and I don’t think I can make this point clearer with anymore synonyms) and His messenger, they must obey Jesus too. By obeying Jesus as one’s master, one reveres him and in doing so one reveres, that is, obeys the One that sent Him. Additionally, the second verse shows the clear relationship between Jesus and the Father. While Jesus is the inferior who is dispatched (sent), the Father is the superior who sent him. A prophet is never equal to the God that sends him. To suggest otherwise is to completely make senseless the very meaning of the word prophet or ‘navi’ in Hebrew.

Unitarian scholar Prof. (Dr) Sir Anthony Buzzard comments succinctly on John 5:23, “Implying obedience, of course, cp. Heb. 5:9 and John 3:36, etc.” [2]

Concurring with Buzzard, Trinitarian scholars Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock write in their excellent New Testament commentary:

“In all the Gospels, to deal with Jesus is to deal with God, which corresponds to the Jewish principle that a man’s messenger is the same as the man himself. Gd’s act in Jesus is God’s own act. This Christian conviction common to the New Testament is here expressed in the distinctively Johannine idiom.” [3]

The dictum “a man’s messenger is the same as the man himself” is in reference to the Jewish concept of ‘Shaliach’ (agent). The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion explains the idea nicely:

“Agent (Heb. Shaliah): The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, “a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself” (Ned. 72b; Kidd. 41b). Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal, who therefore bears full responsibility for it with consequent complete absent of liability on the part of the agent.” [4]

To make it clearer, the embassy of the United States is treated as the United States and an attack on the embassy of the United States is an attack on the United States of America. Or another example, the ambassador of the United States is regarded as the United States or the President of the United States himself and dishonouring him would be seen as dishonouring the president that sent him.

Since it is very possible to interpret and understand John 5:23 in a very Unitarian way, the verse goes into the realm of the vague for Trinitarians and fundamental theological doctrine cannot be built on ambiguous verses. Therefore, in consideration of the foregoing discussion and the hermeneutical principle that we have just mentioned, the verse may not be used as a proof text to forward belief in the divinity of Jesus.

 

Addendum:

Biblical scholar Lucius Paige, whose biblical scholarship was recognised by Harvard which gave him an honourary degree of Master of Arts and Tufts College which gave him an honourary degree of Doctor of Divinity, wonderfully explains John 5:23 using the framework of ‘Shaliach’ in his commentary:

“23. That all men should honor the Son, &c. As God had constituted the Son his representative, his vicegerent, so to speak, had clothed him with authority, and endowed him with the divine energy, so that he became the visible manifestation of the Father’s glory and person, he was surely entitled to all honor and respect. As disrespect to an earthly ambassador implies disrespect to the prince or government he represents, so he that honoreth not the Son, who was commissioned as the mediator between God and men, to communicate his will and execute his purposes, honoreth not the Father which hath sent him. The same principle is recognized in Matt. x. 40, where, it may be observed, our Lord applies to his disciples and himself the same relation of this kind, as to himself and the Father. “He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.”” [5]

Paige makes a pertinent comparison between John 5:23 and Matthew 10:40 and so, if the former makes Jesus equal to God, then the latter makes the disciples equal to Jesus, therefore, making them God too since Jesus is supposed to be God in that equation.

 

Notes:

[1] Thayer, J. H. (2012) Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. p. 624

[2] Buzzard, A. F. (2014). The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation. Restoration Fellowship. p. 253

[3] Boring, M. E. & Craddock, F. B. (2010). The People’s New Testament Commentary. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John KNox Press. p. 306

[4] Cited in Graeser, M. H., Lynn, J. A. & Schoenheit, J. W. (2010). One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith. Martinsville, Indiana: Spirit & Truth Fellowship International. p. 548

[5] Paige, L. R. (1844). A Commentary on the New Testament, Volume II. Boston: Universalist Publishing House.p. 266

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “John 5:23 fails the Trinitarian”

  1. Anthony Buzzard says:

    Thanks for your good point. It is an elementary fact of language that “worship” does not automatically imply that the recipient is GOD! It might imply this in our English, which is not the language of Scripture. David was worshiped and Abigail was worshiped! And others.

    Who Jesus is settled once and for all by the fact that Jesus fully affirmed the non-Trinitarian creed of Israel in Mk 12:29. Psalm 110:1 carefully notes that the Messiah is ADONI not ADONAI, ie non-Deity, my lord. The Greek to kurio mou, to my lord, confirms this fact in the LXX and the NT Scripture. When YHVH, the One God, appears in a verse with “to my lord (to kurio mou, to my lord) the Deity and non-Deity distinction is always presented as easy fact. Ps 110:1 is stunningly mistranslated as Lord when it should be lord. I speak as a Christian believer in Scripture.

Leave a Reply