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The Apologists  Bible Commentary



John 5

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26 "For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;


Commentary Jesus explains that the reason He is able to call forth the dead into eternal life is because (GAR, "for") He is self-existent, just as the Father is.  The phrase "life in Himself" is unlikely a reference to the Incarnation, for John refers to the pre-incarnate Logos as having life "in Him" (1:4).  If it referred only to the Incarnation, it would not seem to provide a reasonable explanation of how the Son is able to give life to those physically and spiritually dead.  Since the Father is said to have "life in Himself," and the Bible teaches that YHWH is self-existent, depending on no one or nothing for life, it seems reasonable that self-existence is Jesus intended meaning here.  

One who is self-existent can only be God, and only God can give life "to whom He wills."  The "just as...even so" construction - once again - equates the Son to the Father.  Jesus is not denying His equality with the Father here, as some would argue (see Other Views Considered, below), but rather explaining exactly how the Son is equal to the Father.  The Son did not make Himself equal to God, as the Jews assumed, but rather the Son has "life in Himself" because of the Father.  Thus, the intimate, loving, and submissive relationship of the Son to the Father is highlighted.  The Son does not derive existence from the Father in the same way that we do - for we do not have "life in ourselves."  Rather, the Son is essentially equal with the Father in terms of the life that is in them - and uniquely so - yet the Son also receives this status from the Father.  It is unaccountable in the context of answering the Jews' accusation that Jesus would say "just so...even as," unless He wished to establish equality in regards to "life in Himself" with His Father.

Earlier in this passage, Jesus says that He does whatever the Father does; He now declares that He possesses life in the same way the Father possesses it.

The impartation of life-in-himself to the Son must be an act belonging to eternity, of a piece with the eternal Father/Son relationship, which is itself of a piece with the relationship between the Word and God, a relationship that existed "in the beginning (1:1).  That is why the Son himself can be proclaimed as 'the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us (1 Jn 1:2)....  In the immediate context, it is this eternal impartation of life-in-himself to the Son that ground his authority and power to call the dead to life by his powerful word (Carson, p. 257).

The expression "to have life in oneself" is not intended as a general description of the divine "being" but as a reference to the fact that, just as the Father as Creator and Consummator possesses life, he as given that life possession to the Son, not merely as the executor of incidental assignments but in the absolute sense of sharing in the Father's power (Ridderbos, p. 198).

We do not have inherent life within us. Our life is derived from others. In the physical sense, our life is given to us by our parents. However, even that transaction is shrouded in deep mystery. Again Jesus claimed deity by saying he was not dependent on another for life just as the Father derived his life from no one. Jesus possesses inherent life, the power to create and the power to renew life that has been extinguished (EBC).

Grammatical Analysis

zwhn en`eautw




life in himself



  • Have something in oneself (BAGD).


  • (just) as ... so (BAGD)

ED‘KEN is the aorist indicative form of DIDMI in the active voice.  The aorist indicative expresses non-continuous action and does not specify when the action occurs.


In himself (en heautŰi). The Living God possesses life wholly in himself and so he has bestowed this power of life to the Son as already stated in the Prologue of the Logos (1:3). For "gave" (edŰken, timeless aorist active indicative) see also 3:35; 17:2, 24. The particles "as" (hŰsper) and "so" (houtŰs) mark here the fact, not the degree (Westcott) (RWP).

Other Views Considered

Jehovah's Witnesses


objectionSince the Son says the Father "gave" Him life, the Son must derive His existence from the Father.  Therefore, He cannot be Almighty God, but must be a creature.


response It is important to note the precise wording of this verse.  It does not say that the Father gave the Son life, but rather that He gave the Son "to have life in Himself."  The phrase "life in himself" (ZWHN EN hEAUTWi) is similar "life in yourselves" in 6:53 (ZWHN EN hEAUTOIS):


...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life (John 6:53-54).


In both verses, Jesus is describing His ability to grant eternal life to those who believe in Him, and it is clear in John 6:53 that Jesus cannot mean life derived from one's Father, for the Jews certainly had that.  In John 6:53, lacking "life in oneself" is contrasted with eternal life, which the Son grants to all believers.  Therefore, "life in oneself" means "eternal life" or "spiritual life."


Witnesses may agree on this point, but argue that the Son's eternal or spiritual life is nonetheless given by the Father.  But, unlike John 6:53, this verse defines the kind of eternal life the Son has by saying it is "just as" the eternal life the Father has.  What kind of eternal, spiritual life does the Father have?  Uncreated, self-existent life.


The simplest meaning of the phrase is completely appropriate here.  The Father has life in Himself - that is, His existence is derived from no one or nothing.  One of the attributes of true Deity is self-existence, as the Watchtower itself teaches: "[Jehovah] is uncreated, without beginning" (Aid, p. 889).  If the Son has the attributes of true Deity, regardless of how He came by them, He must be true Deity.


More importantly, we must consider the context of this passage.  Jesus is explaining how it is that He has the power to give life to those who are dead - it is because he has life in Himself, just as the Father does.  If Jesus merely wanted to say that He had been given power to grant life by the Father, He could have said so without associating that power with the way in which the Father has "life in Himself."


objection:  Almighty God does not depend upon another for life, even "life in Himself," whatever that term may mean.  The Father gave "life in Himself" to the Son - one cannot avoid the implication that the Son, therefore, derives His existence from one who is Superior to himself.


response:  It must first be noted that Trinitarians acknowledge that the Father is "superior" to the Son in terms of rank and authority, though not in terms of nature.  Further, many Trinitarians see the Father as the "source" of the Son's Deity.  This concept can be traced to the writings of the early fathers of the church, who spoke of the Son as a ray of light; the Father as the source of the light.  Both are light - the same substance, the same God - yet distinct from one another, the Son depending on the Father as His "source" (see, for example, Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho, 63).  C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity uses the analogy of a book resting atop another.  The book on top derives its position from the book beneath it, and if the book beneath it were suddenly removed, the book on top would fall.  The Father grants the Son His position, and the Son depends on the Father - indeed, as we have seen earlier, He does only what He sees the Father doing, and the Father shows Him everything that He does (verses 19-20).  Here, Jesus declares that "life in Himself" comes from the Father, and by receiving it, Jesus has "life in Himself," just as the Father does.


Witnesses argue that the Son received "life in Himself" from the Father at some point in the past.  They believe that the "giving" in this verse occurred at some point in time, with the results continuing into the present.  There is a tense in Greek that would reflect his idea quite nicely:  the present perfect.  But John didn't choose to use that tense.  Instead, he used the aorist indicative, which is significant in that it purposely avoids attaching a time reference to the verb.  It is therefore not possible to prove that the Son received "life in Himself" at some point in time from this verse.  Indeed, since he could have done so but chose not to, we must ask what John's purpose was in choosing to express himself as he did.


John tells us that the Logos existed in an intimate relationship with the Father "in the beginning" (1:1) and that "in Him was life" (1:4).  So, the pre-Incarnate Logos already had "life in Him" in "the beginning."  If John intended "the beginning" to mean the absolute beginning of God's creation, he would be teaching that not only was the Logos already existing before all creation, He also had already been given "life in Himself."  This would harmonize well with the "giving" in this verse as being part of the intimate relationship of Father and Son, which has existed from all eternity (see Carson, above).  Just as it is not possible to point to a time when the Son did not exist (since He existed before time began), it is also not possible to point to a time when the Son did not have "life in Himself."


Witnesses contest the meaning of "the beginning" in John 1:1 as the absolute beginning of creation, though this argument is difficult to sustain in light of the immediate context (v. 1:3), the parallel to Genesis 1, and Paul's teaching in Colossians 1:15.  Scripture nowhere defines a multi-stage "beginning," as required by Watchtower theology.  Furthermore, the Watchtower itself defines the "beginning" in John 1:1 as "the beginning of Jehovah's creative works" (Insight, 2, p. 52).


Of course, Witnesses are quite correct to point out that Almighty God does not receive "life in Himself" from another.  If the Son receives life in Himself from another being, then there are two Gods with "life in themselves," who are self-existent.  Trinitarians, however, believe Scripture teaches us that Father and Son are One God.    The Son receives self-existence from His Father with whom He is one.  The essential unity of Father and Son - the fact that they are one God - is not mitigated by the Son acknowledging that without the Father, the Son could not exist.  Nor could the Father be the Father without the Son.  Had Jesus said he had "life in Himself" just as the Father, and said no more, He would have acknowledged - at least in part - what the Jews were accusing Him of:  Namely, of claiming to be a second God beside the Father.  Saying, instead, that He has received the Divine attribute of self-existence from the Father ensures that we will never see Him as a rival to the Father, yet we will also understand that He is essentially equal with the Father - having "life in Himself" just as does the Father.

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