John 8:54-55 has Jesus saying

"“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word."

For unitarians, this makes sense - Jesus is a man, the Father is God, and so what is important about Jesus is that the Father (= God) glorifies Jesus, not that Jesus might glorify himself.

For Trinitarians, why would Jesus, who is God, glorifying himself be 'nothing'?

  • 3
    the usual problem with this is that: 1 unitarians persist in using the term God synonymously with the Father whilst ignoring Jesus as God (doubting Thomas clears this up when he said "my Lord and My God whilst bowing at the resurrected Jesus feet in the upper room), 2. Jesus the incarnate was a man exactly as you say. God humbled himself and became flesh (if you recall the old testament prophecy). His name will be called wonderful, Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. My question to you... is the Father also a prince or is that Jesus? You see the problem yes?
    – Adam
    Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 20:28
  • @Adam Sounds like you have the start of a good answer - go for it! Commented Apr 30, 2021 at 21:21
  • A bit tedious to do from a mobile phone...I usually read stack whilst I am in bed at night, hence my tendency to comment rather than answer.
    – Adam
    Commented May 2, 2021 at 21:07
  • 2
    @Adam That quote from Isa. 9:6 is wrong to claim that the promised Son, the Messiah, will be called "Almighty God". It say "Mighty God" [el giboor] which the Father is also called in 10:21. Father and Son share the title of Mighty God, but there's a good theological reason for never seeing Jesus, the Son called Almighty God, which trinitarians can explain, but this Q is not asking about that. I'm just flagging up a misquote in your comment.
    – Anne
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 15:48
  • @Anne Would you prefer the Latin Vulgate version? parvulus enim natus est nobis filius datus est nobis et factus est principatus super umerum eius et vocabitur nomen eius Admirabilis consiliarius Deus fortis Pater futuri saeculi Princeps pacis For a CHILD IS BORN to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace." The reality is, Isaiah chapters 42, 43, 44, and 45 clearly say, there is only One God and no other! Mighty/Almighty is irrelevant
    – Adam
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 8:03

3 Answers 3


There is a lack of appreciation for the fine and complex texture depicted of the existential and operational relationships among the three of the Divine Trinity in the activities of the incarnated Son.

Especially in John, there is an almost maddening interplay between the operations of the Son of God and those of the Father and the Spirit.

We are not observing the life of simply a man nor of God become a man in the simple sense of who God is; instead, we are seeing the entire Triune God in operation in the actions of the human life of the incarnated Son of God.

As Jesus is about to die and resurrect for our redemption and justification, the Son asks the Father to glorify Him withthat eternal glory once set aside, and in doing so, to glorify Himself along with the Son.

In so saying, the Son enunciates a principle within the Trinity, that is, that the Son is glorified in the glorification of the Father and the Father is glorified in the glorification of the Son. So in this case, God and man are joined together as one entity, living and working together as one. So, if the Son in His humanity glorify himself, it is nothing and meaningless because all He express is just Himself.

The prime function of the Son’s incarnation was to glorify the Father on earth, and the Son fulfilled this mission by finishing the work the Father had given Him to do (John 17:4). This mutual glorification can hardly be viewed as two separate actions of the Father and the Son, but as one action in which the Father and the Son both act; however, the agency of each has a distinct object —the other— and the agency of each requires the operation of the other. So blended are the actions and operations of the Father and the Son in this mutual glorification that in one breath the Son can speak of Himself being glorified and in the next of the Father being glorified (John 12:23, 28).

Torrance puts this clearly:

It was, of course, not the Godhead or the Being of God as such who became incarnate, but the Son of God, not the Father or the Spirit, who came among us, certainly from the Being of the Father and as completely homoousios with him, yet because in him the fullness of the Godhead dwells, the whole undivided Trinity must be recognised as participating in the incarnate Life and Work of Christ. - Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons (London: T&T Clark, 1996), p. 108

Since God’s Being and Activity completely interpenetrate each other, we must think of his Being and his Activity not separately but as one Being-in-Activity and one Activity-in- Being. In other words, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit always act together in every divine operation whether in creation or redemption, yet in such a way that the distinctive activities of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, are always maintained, in accordance with the propriety and otherness of their Persons as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This may be called the ‘perichoretic coactivity of the Holy Trinity’…

The primary distinction was made there, of course, for it was the Son or Word of God who became incarnate, was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and rose again from the grave, and not the Father or the Holy Spirit, although the whole life and activity of Jesus from his birth to his death and resurrection did not take place apart from the presence and coactivity of the Father and the Spirit.

  • Ibid., pp. 197-198

Some other quotes that helps to describe this reality:

Perichoresis means that not only do the three members of the Trinity interpenetrate one another, but all three are involved in all the works of God. While certain works are primarily or more centrally the doing of one of these rather than the others, all participate to some degree in what is done. Thus, while redemption is obviously the work of the incarnate Son, the Father and the Spirit are also involved. - Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons: A Contemporary Interpretation of the Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), p. 235

When Scripture ascribes certain works specifically to the Father, others specifically to the Son, and still others specifically to the Holy Spirit, we are compelled to presuppose a genuine distinction within the Godhead back of that ascription. On the other hand, the work ascribed to any of the persons is the work of one absolute person. - Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1961), p. 228

When believers complain that they cannot distinguish between the separate activities in their lives of the Father, the Risen Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the matter is sometimes phrased in a way that obscures God’s unity, a fundamental doctrine of both the Old and New Testament. Every action of any of the persons of the Trinity is an action of God, although in many actions the persons of the Godhead may be active in different ways. All authentic spiritual experience is an experience of the one God. - Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, VI:2 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), p. 400

  • Is this piece of quotation from Cornelius Van Til, "the work ascribed to any of the persons is the work of one absolute person" [bolding added], and in particular the notion of "one absolute person" compatible with the doctrine of the Trinity? Isn't this already calling for a doctrine of the Quaternity? Commented May 6, 2021 at 9:05
  • I think since the post-Lockean era, we have to be cautious of its definition or it will lead to tritheism. Yet, I believe these authors are cautious and aware of its inadequacies. Karl Barth, Thomas Weinandy, Chafer, Plantinga all refers to God as a person in a singular sense.The word “person” has changed its meaning since the 3rd century when it began to be used w/ threefoldness of God since Tertullian. God is “one person,” refers to the fact that God is one divine, eternal Being. He is the Person. This does not annihilate the eternal distinctions among the F, S, and Sp in the Godhead.
    – pehkay
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 10:16
  • Mentioning the "post-Lockean era", you implicitly refer to John Locke and, in particular, to Locke and the Trinity. The notion of "person" was referred to God, for the first time, AFAIK, by Tertullian (una substantia tres personae, which was already found problematic here at Christianity SE). [continues] Commented May 7, 2021 at 11:42
  • [continued] It was the Roman philosopher Severinus Boethius (477 – 524 AD) who gave a philosophical definition of "person": "an individual substance of a rational nature" (Naturæ rationalis individua substantia, De persona et duabus naturis, c. ii:). But his contemporary, and also philosopher Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 AD), who was e convinced advocate of the Trinity, and wrote extensively about it, clearly, when he speaks about God, does not mean person in the sense that Boethius defined it. Commented May 7, 2021 at 13:47
  • Yup, was referring to John Locke. All I am saying there is clearly a sense biblically in which the three persons of the Trinity share a singular personal identity: Jehovah, the the One, who we appropriately refer to as “he” or “Him.” To affirm this is not to confuse the eternal and economic distinctions that exist between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is rather to safeguard the equally important biblical truth that they comprise one eternal Being, a truth that describing them as three separate persons compromises.
    – pehkay
    Commented May 8, 2021 at 4:22

The conversation begins way back at verse 13 where the Pharisees accuse Jesus of testifying about himself, which thing is inadmissible under the law:

So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.


You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. - John 8:15-16 

This theme carries throughout the passage...Jesus refusing to respond in the way that the people he is among expect him to respond. They perceive him as merely a man and Jesus keeps insisting that they misunderstand that he and the Father are one.

In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” - John 8:17-19

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” - John 8:23-24

They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. - John 8:41b-43

By the time we get to verse 50 the Jews are accusing him of being a Samaritan (excluded from full inclusion in God's people) and being possessed:

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. - John 8:48-50

Again responding in an unexpected way, Jesus acknowledges that they are dishonoring him but he doesn't care. He is not seeking "his own glory" in the sense that he does not need to be esteemed in the eyes of other men. The only glory (substantiation) he accepts is that which comes from the Father. This is why Jesus consistently entreats people to believe him because of the words he speaks and, if they will not hear his words, at least believe because of the works that he does. His words are the Father's words and his works are the Father's works because he is in the Father and the Father is in him.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. - John 14:7-11

Phillip: Show us the Father

Jesus: You still don't know me? I am in the Father and the Father is in me.

There is a similar thought in John 7:15-18:

The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

So now we come to the verse in question:

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. - John 8:53-59

Q: Are you greater than Abraham?

A: I'm not out to glorify myself, my glory comes from God and you don't know him or me. Abraham knew me.

Q: You've seen Abraham, huh?

A: I am before Abraham

What they wanted from Jesus was a yes or no answer. They wanted Jesus to either defend (glorify) or disavow himself in the face of critical human scrutiny as any man would. That is not who he is or why he came. One may put God in the dock but He is not subject to human judgement.

And as he was in Jerusalem, in the passover, in the feast, many believed in his name, beholding his signs that he was doing; and Jesus himself was not trusting himself to them, because of his knowing all men , and because he had no need that any should testify concerning man, for he himself was knowing what was in man. - John 2:23-25

  • After providing a verbatim quotation of John 8:53-59 [AMPC?], you give your loose one. In particular, "I am before Abraham". You should consider the Greek text (prin abraam genesthai egô eimi) and that Jesus may have resorted to an ellipsis, actually a double ellipsis. Commented May 6, 2021 at 9:24
  • @MigueldeServet you don't like "I am before Abraham" but are okay with "“And verily I say, that the time for the accomplishment of what he foresaw is not yet arrived: for before Abram shall be Abraham, i. e. become the father of many nations, according to the import of his name, I am the Christ your Messiah.” (from the double ellipsis link you provided)? Commented May 6, 2021 at 11:34
  • I say that "I am before Abraham" is a shoddy, biased translation of the Greek text (prin abraam genesthai egô eimi). Commented May 6, 2021 at 11:55
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    @MigueldeServet See here, hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/13459/…, for more shoddy, biased translation. Commented May 7, 2021 at 11:46
  • @MarkBorden Thank you for the link. All the Answers that read the (eternal) pre-existence of Jesus in that prin abraam genesthai egô eimi, or even his YHWH status just in that egô eimi are biased or deluded. Commented May 7, 2021 at 14:06

According to those who hated Jesus, THEY accused Jesus of glorifying himself, but Jesus’ response shows that he did not. That is why he answered, “IF I glorify myself…” Had he said “I glorify myself because…” then he would have been doing what many sinful men do – boasting, and trying to point to what he did or said. Jesus did not fall into that trap because he was not sinful – he was without sin and had come from the Father expressly to glorify the Father during his earthly sojourn.

For trinitarians, it is impossible for the Son to do or say anything that does not glorify the Father because the two are of the one Being of the one God. But because the Son had left heaven to become a man, nobody looking at him would have thought that. He was fully man, and everybody saw a man. That is why his detractors demanded a sign of him, as proof that he had some authority to speak in the name of the Father. Had they realised he had been with the Father in eternity in the Godhead before doing what John 1:14 stated (“The Word became flesh, and we beheld his glory, that of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”) they would never have challenged him as they did in John chapter 8 from verse 12 onwards. Only those who had faith in Jesus being the promised Messiah, the Son of God, got a glimpse of that glory (as at his transfiguration and resurrection). His glory was veiled, otherwise. So, he looked like a man, he spoke like a man, and he was unquestionably a man. That is why the Pharisees challenged him (v.13), “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” (NIV) Or, “…Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.” (AV)

Bear in mind that Jesus had just claimed to be the light of the world and all who followed him would never walk in darkness but have the light of life. This outraged the Pharisees, so they demanded proof that Jesus had the authority to make such claims, convinced that he did not. That is when Jesus told them that he had come from the Father, who had sent him. His judgments were correct because he did not stand alone – the Father stood with him. This fulfilled the scriptural law that at the mouth of two or more witnesses, matters would be established. The Father, and the Son, were those two witnesses. No wonder Jesus added, “You judge by human standards” (vs. 15).

Human standards required rabbis to claim the authority of esteemed rabbis of the past who were considered to be authentic; they would stand in the tradition of a school of rabbis. This was what those Pharisees were wanting Jesus to admit to – being a disciple of an esteemed rabbi or rabbinic school. But Jesus had come from heaven, from the very side of God the Father! Jesus added that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus’ day, that he existed before Abraham was born, and that he was, in himself, the I Am.

Jesus’ glory was greater than the glory of Abraham or Moses or king David (who prophetically called Jesus his Lord). Yet no matter what Jesus said or did, those men who hated him would never see that glory, let alone enter into it as do Christians – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) and “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory” (Heb. 1:3) etc. That conversation took place while Christ’s glory was veiled, yet all that he said and did proved him to be more glorious than any other man who had ever lived. Ah, but people who go by outward appearances, and who expect glory to be visible to the eyes, as with regalia, pomp, and all the trimmings of earthly power, will never see the glory of Jesus even as a man. Their expectations are utterly wrong.

Jesus showed that if they knew the Father, they would have known that he could do or say nothing apart from the Father, because all glory and honour is to go to God alone, and Jesus’ obedience in fulfilling the will of the Father while he was in a lowered position as a man on earth was his mission. The Son did not glorify himself. He glorified the Father, and as the scriptures say, “He that honours me, I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30), thus the Father honoured the Son by resurrecting him from the dead as proof of his claim, to be the Son of God (Romans 1:1-4).

So, quite to the contrary – Jesus did NOT glorify himself as your last question claims. He glorified the Father because they are one in purpose and Being. But his enemies wrongly accused him of trying to glorify himself. No. He did not. Everything Jesus did and said was designed to glorify the Father. And that was why the Father then glorified the Son by raising him from the dead.

  • You write, "Jesus added that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing Jesus’ day, that he existed before Abraham was born, and that he was, in himself, the I Am." For those statements relative to Abraham, and the general understanding of John 8:56-58, I give you the same advice that I have given to Mike Borden. As for "he was, in himself, the I Am", if Jesus, with that egô eimi, had truly equated himself with YHWH, then the ioudaioi would have been perfectly entitled to "pick up stones to throw at him" for what they perceived as a blasphemous claim. Commented May 6, 2021 at 9:55
  • @Miguel de Servet Correct, that would have been blasphemy deserving of death IF the claim had been false (Lev. 24:16). But if it was true, then proof of that would be evidenced later by the Father honouring his Son by resurrecting him from the dead (Romans 1:2-4) which is the whole basis of the Christian faith and the Christian church.
    – Anne
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 17:39
  • First, you obviously haven’t looked at the comment that I have appended to @MikeBorden’s Answer. Second, the Resurrection of Jesus by God, the Father Almighty, proves that God approved of His Son by raising him from the dead, and appointing (Grk. horisthentos, participle from horizō) him Son-of-God-in-power. Commented May 7, 2021 at 2:45
  • @Miguel de Servet Yes I did see your comment to Mike Borden's answer. Nothing you have added here disproves anything in my answer, but I am not spoiling for a fight and so I will not respond further to you.
    – Anne
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 19:21
  • I have recently been redirected to a page that says, more or less, that at Christianity SE we are not here to ask Questions and give Answers on the Truth-of-Christianity (We can't handle the truth) but (forgive my simplification) on Christianity-as-is. If this was the case, pure and simple, we would be all waisting our time. Cheers! Commented May 7, 2021 at 21:23

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