A Muslim friend wrote to me and presented the following argument

Christians read meaning into implicit statements, such as Jesus' statement to Phillip: `If you have seen me, you have seen God' (John 14:9). This procedure seems indefensible given two facts:

1. There are explicit statements of Jesus denying that he is God, and asserting that Jesus cannot do anything without God's will.

For example, the statement cited above stands in direct opposition to the statement made by Jesus to a crowd:
`You have never seen God' (John 5:37).

If I understand my friend right, he seems to present the following reasoning: Jesus says "You have never seen God", but obviously his listeners to whom he is speaking CAN SEE him, therefore this implies that Jesus says that he is NOT God."

For the meaning of this statement we have to carefully examine the whole context. So my answer will involve looking at the whole chapter five of the Gospel according to John.


We have to carefully distinguish between the the humanity and the deity of
Jesus. His "physical body" was part of his humanity. 

And the Bible is very clear that "God" is spirit and does not have a body
"by nature". This does not mean he cannot "assume a body" but he in and of
himself is not "matter" but "spirit".

Let us look at John 5:37 as you suggest, but let us quote the context which
should make it very clear what Jesus is talking about. Please read the
whole chapter 5 to get the flow of what is going on. As you will see in
a second, Jesus is talking in this very passage exactly about the topic
at hand. Did he claim to be God? Your verse is taken out of Jesus' answer
to THIS very question/accusation by the Jews. What had happened? How did 
this question come up in the first place?

Jesus had just "broken the command" of keeping the Sabbath as a day of 
rest by healing somebody who was paralytic for 38 years. And the religious 
leaders are outraged about this. And they question him how dare he do so.

15   The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him
16   So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews
     persecuted him.
17   Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day,
     and I, too, am working."

Pretty innocent statement? No? Well, he was claiming that just as well as 
God himself can "work" on the Sabbath, so can Jesus. He doesn't even deny 
the Sabbath command, but he seems to suggest that it doesn't apply to him 
because he is "active" in a similar way as God the Father is -- and the 
Jews very well understood this "implicit claim".

18   For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; 
                     not only was he breaking the Sabbath, 
                 but he was even calling God his own Father,
                     making himself equal with God.

It is very clear here, that calling God "my father" was NOT common in 
Jewish thought. It was not the usual way of addressing God or talking 
about about him to others. Though it was possible to call God "the father 
of his people" ie in the collective sense from the perspective of the 
whole nation of Israel, but claiming an "individual" relationship of 
this sort was very well understood of saying something about the very 
nature of Jesus and distinguishing himself from "ordinary man". 
The Jews understood that Jesus was claiming "equality with God". How can 
we from a different language and culture say that he did NOT do so? What 
is our qualification of "understanding Jesus" above those of his days? 
All the rest of chapter 5, including your quoted phrase is part of Jesus'
answer to THIS accusation. So let us turn to it and examine how Jesus 
himself answers to this very claim/accusation. Especially: Does he deny 
the charge and clear up this unfortunate misunderstanding or does he 
REINFORCE what he has already said?

19   Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do
     nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing,
     because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

Whatever the father does, the Son does also. Can you mistake this further
strong claim to unity and "identity"? What does it mean that "the Son can
do nothing by himself"? Note: He does not say: "the Son can do nothing".
Jesus is NOT independent from God. He has no power "apart from God". But
that does not mean he has no power or authority. He IS acting and doing, 
but he is only acting in complete harmony with the Father. NOT against 
the father, but exactly as the father wants it done (also). But after 
first establishing that Jesus is "nothing APART from the Father" he does 
not go on and only watch the father do, it is Jesus himself who DOES. And 
what he does is very annoying to the religious leaders. It is powerful and 
authoritative. It is pretty hard to argue against the miracles Jesus did.

20   For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your
     amazement he will show him even greater things than these.

The father keeps nothing hidden from the son! [NO earlier prophet ever spoke
in these terms]. 

21   For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the
     Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

Jesus has authority to give [physical and eternal] life to anyone he pleases.
Another of these "implicit" claims to be God. Who else but God can do so?

22   Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to
     the Son,
23   that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does
     not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

The Son shall be honored JUST AS the Father is honored. Giving the Son NOT
the same honor as the father is dishonoring the father who has sent the son
for this very purpose. And the judgment of Judgment Day is in JESUS hands.
HE will be the judge. Another "implicit claim" to his deity.

24   "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent
     me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from
     death to life.

How do we believe in HIM who sent Jesus? By believing Jesus in what he said 
the Father, and especially that it is the Father's will to give all this 
authority to the son. Not just "believe in God" but believe in God "as the one
who has sent me", and that has to include the teachings of Jesus, otherwise if
these teachings are false, then it could not have been God who had sent him
in the first place.

25   I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead
     will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.
26   For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to
     have life in himself.

The "quality" of life that the Father has is the same quality of life that 
the Son has. [read also 10:17-18 !]

27   And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Now "Son of Man" seems to be a pretty important title, not just signifying
that he is "human". Please read in my articles on the crucifixion, where
I gave a detailed explanation about this title of "son of man" and its 
meaning. Its origin in Daniel's vision and its use by Jesus.

And the "resurrection" will be by the "voice" or "word" of JESUS. HE will 
call and the dead will rise. [verse 25 and 28-28]

28   "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in
     their graves will hear his voice
29   and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who
     have done evil will rise to be condemned.
30   By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is
     just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

But all of this is NOT for his own egocentric pleasure, it is in full harmony
with the Father [I and the father are one].

31   "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.

Self-testimony (i.e. just me claiming something) is not enough. That is one 
important principle in God's word all the way through. 
[And that is one problem I have with Muhammad by the way: 
WHERE is his testimony [from God], i.e. the authentication of his prophethood?]

32   There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his
     testimony about me is valid.
33   "You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.
34   Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be
35   John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to
     enjoy his light.

Here he talks about the "earlier prophet" John the baptist [= Yahya] and that
he was testifying about Jesus [and at other places he talks about many other
earlier prophets and how they testify to Jesus.] [and even Muhammad recognized
the importance of being "talked about and approved by the earlier prophets] 
But John's testimony is good and important, though "relatively insignificant" 
in relationship to the other testimony he is talking about in the following.

36   "I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that
     the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that
     the Father has sent me.

The acts of Jesus which would be impossible to do for any mere human are
testifying to the claims of his teaching. The fact that God has given him
the power and authority of miraculous deeds is God's testimony of the fact
that Jesus is indeed sent by the Father. But not only "what" he does, also
"how" he does them. Completely unselfish. It is not about "dark powers"
that might be exploited to further our agenda [demonic power is real by 
the way] but it is all in harmony with the ways of God as known in the 

37   And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You
     have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
38   nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.
39   You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them
     you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about
40   yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Finally, we have reached the verse you quoted. What does Jesus say here? 
First let me indicate that you misquoted the verse as:

| `You have never seen God' (John 5:37).

But Jesus doesn't even say so. He says YOU have never heard or seen the 
FATHER. I think that it makes little difference in the end, but he in fact 
speaks about the FATHER and not about the Son. Therefore, he does not deny 
that they have seen the Son, he does not deny that they have seen God in 
the form of his Son. I stressed the 'YOU' because in fact, Jesus does at 
another place claim his "knowing of the Father" in a way that is impossible 
for the human beings. He has "seen him" and now "proclaims him" to those 
who cannot see him because they are of a different nature [physical as 
opposed to spiritual] while Jesus is "among them" but not "from them" but 
instead is "from above" as he stresses in John 3:11-13 [read the whole 
conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus], also 1:10.

But back to our cententious verse. WHY does Jesus say that THEY have never
heard nor seen God the father? BECAUSE [verse 38] "you do not believe the
one he sent". We can legitimately say, IF you would believe me [the one he
sent] THEN indeed you would have heard the voice of God and seen his shape.
Sure, not the "shape" of the father in heaven, as he is spiritual and not
material. But the fathers "true image" in his son on earth. And how does
the father testify to his son as Jesus claims in verse 37? Not only in the 
miracles, these are not in view in the verses 37-40. Jesus points them to
the scriptures. The written word of God, does speak all over about the 
"incarnate" word of God. The scripture [written 1500 - 400 years before
Jesus] is the supreme testimony to him. ONLY God can know the future to 
such amazing detail. This is the MAIN testimony to the truth of Jesus 
teaching and claims about himself, that the main part of what Jesus came 
to do was prophecied beforehand by the word of God. YES, Jesus affirms the 
Jewish knowledge that the scriptures are given so that we may have LIFE, but 
he charges the Jews that they have misunderstood the scriptures and it is 
not the "letters" in there which give life if we only study them with great 
diligence, but it is the one they talk about [God and his Messiah] who is 
giving life. And this one is HE, JESUS. And if only they would come to Jesus 
and believe, THEN they would have life, just as the scriptures say.

I am not going to comment on the rest, but just for completeness sake here
the end of Jesus explanation to the Jews:

41   "I do not accept praise from men,
42   but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your
43   I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if
     someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.
44   How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no
     effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
45   "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is
     Moses, on whom your hopes are set.
46   If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
47   But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to
     believe what I say?"

Okay. I hope you can see that this interpretation is faithful to the text.
[That is the reason that I asked to read it yourself first, before I was 
sending you my explanation of it]. I don't ask you to believe that it is 
true what Jesus said. That is a second step. But at least you hopefully 
can see that we are not making up these claims about Jesus out of "thin air" 
but our faith in his deity [because of the divine attributes he claims] is 
completely based on his own teachings. And there are MANY more. Not just 
in this chapter, not just in John, but in all the Gospels. Yes, Paul does 
clarify some more things further. But Paul doesn't claim anything contrary 
to the teaching of Jesus himself.

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