Reading the Bible is similar to reading other books in that books are made up of individual words that are connected to other words that are connected to other sentences and paragraphs in a particular setting (e.g. historical) and genre (e.g. historical narrative, biography, poetry). If we want to know what authors meant when they wrote their book, we need to read the words in context (“the parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning” – Oxford Languages). 

Here’s an example from something Jesus said in the Gospels. Look at the words Jesus used and how His audience understood what He said:

But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’ Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. John 5:17-18

Jesus used the words “My Father” and the Jews who understood the context of how He used those words sought to kill Him. Why? Because Jesus said that God was His Father, “making Himself equal with God.” That is a strong indication that the Jewish religious leaders who Jesus spoke to understood that Jesus was making a claim to being God. Evangelicals may be confused, but the Jewish leaders of the 1st century were not confused. They got the message loud and clear.

Why would the Jews think that Jesus’ use of the term “My Father” was the same thing as claiming to be God? Because ancient Semites used the title “son of” in the sense of sameness of nature and equality of being (Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Harvest House, p 74). It’s interesting to note that demons called Jesus “Son of God;” so did the religious leaders of Israel and others when Jesus was hanging on the Cross:

And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build itin three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ Matthew 27:39-43

Jesus was well known for His claim to be the Son of God. The Jews understood that He was claiming equality with God. They believed that Jesus had blasphemed the name of God by claiming to be Him.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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