Episode 39: “I and the Father are one”
Laurence and Dan focus in on just one phrase: Jesus’ statement that “I and the father are one” in John 10v30. They explore the context and the debate that Jesus was having with the people of his day. From this it becomes clear that the phrase shouldn’t be a theological battleground but is part of an intensely profound and practical theme for the lives of believers in Jesus which weaves through all parts of the New Testament.
After acknowledging that there is often a lot placed on this verse, Laurence and Dan commit to trying to avoid a theological battle! John 10:30 is regularly used as a proof text for the trinity, claiming that it shows Jesus is God. But it is also a key proof text for those believing in modalism (that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just three different modes of one being called God – sometimes known today as a oneness theology). Laurence and Dan decide the best way to approach this text, without getting immediately drawn into these discussions, is to try and understand the passage in its own context.
Jesus and the Father perform the same work
The immediate context is an exchange between Jesus and the Jews about whether Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) or not. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question – at least not in the way everyone expected. He goes on to explain that those who questioned him aren’t part of his flock. On the other hand, those who are part of his following will never be snatched out of his hand. Then, crucially, he continues:
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.John 10:29
The point is that Jesus is performing the same work as the Father, leading in to him claiming that “I and the Father are one”. The unity is based on having the same purpose and mission.
“I and the Father are one” – what are the implications?
Laurence and Dan continue by thinking about what implications there might be from such a claim. The Jews he was talking to drew their own conclusions by presuming Jesus was blasphemously declaring himself God. However, Jesus appears to deny this by his reply in which he quotes Psalm 82. This little exchange, especially the use of Psalm 82, isn’t without it’s interpretative difficulties. However, regardless of what we make of the Psalm, the sense of his reply is that the Jewish scriptures have a passage within it calling their leadership ‘gods’, which means that Jesus’s own claim of being the “Son of God” should not be considered blasphemy. He is both pointing out that their scriptures work against their interpretation of what Jesus said, and pointing out that they understood him incorrectly anyway.
With that interpretation ruled out, Laurence and Dan start looking into other parts of John’s gospel that use similar language and concepts. Jesus was able to say that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). On many other occasions John’s gospel records Jesus performing the same role and work as the Father. John 5:17-19 is a case in point where Jesus says explicitly that the Son does “only what he sees the Father doing.” This underscores the point that the unity between Jesus and the Father is one of performing the same work and sharing the same mind and purpose and mission.
At this point in the discussion, Laurence and Dan point out that the claim of being one with the Father does not appear to denote being the same person, (and thus rules out modalism), since they operate independently, even if they have the same mission. But to really understand what this unity means they look deeper into the gospel of John to find that Jesus describes others, not just himself and the Father, in exactly the same way.
“That they may be one”
When Jesus prayed on the eve of his death, he prayed that his disciples and any who would believe in him would share in the same unity. He desired many to “be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” (John 17:21). Realising that the unity of purpose and mind that Jesus shared with God is our aim to have as well is the key step towards making this a profound and practical discussion. Dan points out the implication of all this; that believers ought to be able to say, along with Jesus, “I and the Father are one”. Since Jesus wants his followers to have the same unity as he did with his Father, they ought to aim to be one in mind and mission with God and his Son. Therefore they ought to be able to say “whoever has seen me has seen Christ”, and “whoever has seen me has seen the Father”.
This gets beyond the theological debates about whether Jesus is God, or whether he shares in the identify of God or the divine essence. It really isn’t what this verse is talking about at all. When Jesus said that “I and the Father are one” he was providing a model of single mindedness with the Father for his believers to follow.
John and the rest of the New Testament
Laurence and Dan begin to wrap up the conversation by looking at the ending of John’s gospel and finding the same message both in John’s first letter and a some example passages in the letters of Paul. They realise that Jesus in John’s gospel is teaching the very same message as the other gospels and New Testament authors. John is so often assumed to be saying something different, more advanced or more spiritual. But when Paul describes how believers should be aiming “to be conformed to the image of his Son”, (Romans 8:19), the message is clearly the same. Followers of Jesus should aim to be like Jesus, who was like God. They should be of one mind with the Father and the Son. That’s the relationship that is being spoken of in both John’s writings and the rest of the New Testament.
Dan also notes how nearly every commentary draws the same conclusions about John 10:30 as they have, despite being distinctly trinitarian and arguing for the deity of Christ in other places. For example:
The setting of v 30 in relation to vv 28–29 shows that a functional unity of the Son and the Father in their care for the sheep is in mindBeasley-Murray, G. R. (1999). John (Vol. 36, p. 174). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
His sheep are safe in his hand (v. 28) and his Father’s hand (v. 29). The implication of such a juxtaposition comes with Jesus’ climactic claim, I and the Father are one (v. 30). What is this oneness? In the context Jesus is speaking of God’s love, care and power and his own claim to share in these. Such a claim to oneness with God is not a claim to deity, since the same unity with God is true of Christians, who share in God’s very life and are participants in his will, love, activity and power. Thus Jesus is one with the Father in the same way believers are.Whitacre, R. A. (1999). John (Vol. 4, pp. 270–271). Westmont, IL: IVP Academic.
The point is that the trinity cannot be defended from this particular passage. That debate requires a discussion about other parts of scripture. John 10:30 is not a verse that teaches complicated theology, instead, there is a profoundly practical and important message for any who claim to follow Jesus.
For more practical discussion, we explored some useful concepts in Episode 15: Connecting with God which you may find helpful.