My Lord and My God: John’s Use of Psalm 35

At the end of the Gospel of John, we read the following:

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

The problem with this passage is the following: Thomas seems to call Jesus both Lord and God, but we know that Jesus and God are different. This is the only direct attribution of the name “God” to Jesus in John, and in all of the NT (with the exception of Hebrews). So the question is: Did John really mean for his readers to understand that Jesus is God, or that he can rightly be called God?

 

The Citation Approach

Normally this statement of Thomas’s would be evaluated in terms of a bald declaration, but it seems to me that the words of Thomas are really a citation of Psalm 35:23.

Awake, O Lord, and attend to my judgment, [even] to my cause, my God and my Lord.

ἐξεγέρθητι, Κύριε, καὶ πρόσχες τῇ κρίσει μου, ὁ Θεός μου καὶ ὁ Κύριός μου, εἰς τὴν δίκην μου.

Thomas’s words are a verbatim repetition, with the exception that the order of God and Lord is reversed. This is not a problem, though, since reversing the order of words or clauses was not uncommon in Jewish writers at that time (see Paul and the Language of Scripture by Christopher D. Stanley; for example, compare 1 Corinthians 2:9 [Eye has not seen, nor ear heard] and Isaiah 64:4 [we have not heard, neither have our eyes seen]. Ciampa and Rosner write that “such alterations were an accepted part of citation technique in antiquity.” The First Letter to the Corinthians, 127.). So it could be that this is exactly what is going on in John 20:28, but is there reason to think this, other than the unusual statement of Thomas? I think that there is.

Psalm 35 and John

We should ask ourselves whether John even knew Psalm 35 before we jump to the possibility of him citing it in the words of Thomas. It appears that he did, since in John 15:

21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.

22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

For our purposes we will note the following:

  1. Jesus identifies himself with the Father (God) in the sense that hating him means hating the Father.
  2. He cites “their law” about being hated without cause.
  3. He speaks of the Comforter (the Holy Spirit).
  4. He speaks of testifying and bearing witness.

As for the citation from “their law,” it could be from two different sources: Psalm 35:19 or Psalm 69:4. Here is a comparison of the Greek:

 Ἐμίσησάν με δωρεάν (John)

οἱ μισοῦντες με δωρεὰν (Ps 35)

οἱ μισοῦντές με δωρεάν (Ps 69)

We can see that the two Psalms use an identical phrase, and so we cannot from this discern which one Jesus was citing. So it seems that Jesus could have been referring to either one.

However, when we look at this passage in John 15 in relation to John 20, things become clearer.

Point 1 is seen in John 20:38 (“My Lord and My God,” spoken to Jesus alone).

Point 2 is seen (possibly) as another citation from “their law.” (“My Lord and My God”).

Point 3 is seen in the context of 20:38 in that Thomas was not their when Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the 10 Apostles, the very event predicted in John 15.

Point 4 is seen in the testimony of Thomas. He had set himself up as a judge of Jesus, demanding that evidence be shown to him before he declared a verdict. When the evidence was presented by Jesus himself, he passed his judgement with the testimony of “My Lord and My God.” This was done not by him putting his fingers into Jesus’s hands (the text does not say whether he did so) but rather by him receiving the Holy Spirit just as the 10 Apostles had. Although this is only implied rather than recounted, it makes sense since it would be strange that Thomas would not receive the Holy Spirit like the other 10. If he did receive it, it would appear that he received it in this encounter, like the 10 had a week earlier. The result of him receiving it would be his testimony that Jesus is Lord and God, recalling John 15:26 “he shall testify of me.”

Given the 4 strong connections between John 15 and John 20, we can conclude that the citation in John 15 is of Psalm 35, just as Psalm 35 is cited in John 20.

This is further shown by the context of Psalm 35 itself and its relation to the narrative events of John 15 and 20. While both Ps 35 and 69 speak of being persecuted by enemies (the context of John 15) there are particular traits in Ps 35 that apply to the chapters in John.

 11 Fierce witnesses rise up; They ask me things that I do not know.

21 They also opened their mouth wide against me, And said, “Aha, aha!

Our eyes have seen it.

23 Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication, To my cause, my God and my Lord.

27 Let them shout for joy and be glad, Who favor my righteous cause;

And let them say continually, “Let the Lord be magnified, 

Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.” 

28 And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness And of Your praise all the day long.

All of these elements find an interpretation in the story of Thomas: he was a follower of Jesus, but had believed what he had seen (v.21), namely that Jesus had died. He favored the cause of Jesus, and as a consequence “magnified” him by calling him “My Lord and My God” (v.23). Thomas saw the vindication of Jesus, the Lord’s servant (v.27) and responded accordingly as we see in the Psalm.

Conclusion

John ends his Gospel with the declaration of Thomas that Jesus is “My Lord and My God.” This confession of belief caps the book, and is therefor very important. The only material after this confession is the statement that those who believe without seeing (the readers of John) are blessed, that Jesus did many other miracles not recorded in John, and that the Gospel was written so that you would believe (like Thomas, but without the benefit of actually seeing). Thomas’s statement becomes the model that John’s readers are to adopt, a confession based on faith without seeing. John wants his readers to confess Jesus as “My Lord and My God,” a confession coming from Psalm 35 that is applied to God himself.

That is not to say that John flatly equates Jesus with his own Father, but rather that Jesus and his Father are “one”(Dt. 6:4, John 10:30) and to see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9). This is why, when Thomas is given the Spirit, he looks at Jesus and confesses him to be “My Lord and My God,” the same Lord and God who vindicated Jesus, God’s servant. The statement is not a piece discursive theology, but a citation of prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’s resurrection, and a recognition of the unity of God and his Son. John “has his cake and eats it too” in the sense that he affirms a unity of Jesus and God while retaining a distinction between God and Jesus.

 

 

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