How Are God and Christ “One”?
“I AND the Father are one.” (John 10:30) Those words, uttered by Jesus Christ, enraged his fellow countrymen. They considered his statement to be blasphemous and were ready to stone him. (John 10:31-33) Why was this so? Had Jesus Christ claimed that he was God himself, his Father’s equal?
The context in which Jesus’ words appear in the Biblical narrative reveal what he meant. A group of Jews had encircled him, demanding that he tell them outspokenly whether he was indeed the Christ. Answering them, Jesus stated: “I have told you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness; but you do not believe, because you are no sheep of mine. The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me. The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father. The Father and I are one.”—John 10:25-30, Jerusalem Bible.
ONENESS NOT EQUALITY
Clearly Jesus Christ was not claiming to be his Father’s equal. He himself stated that he acted, not in his own name, but in the ‘name of his Father.’ He recognized his Father’s superior position and authority, acknowledging that the “sheep” had been given to him by his Father. He pointedly said that ‘the Father is greater than anyone.’ At the same time the Father and the Son are “one” in purpose respecting the salvation of the “sheep.” That is, both are equally concerned about the “sheep,” not allowing anyone to snatch them out of their hand.
That Jesus referred—not to an equality of godship—but to a oneness of purpose and action is confirmed by his prayer recorded at John chapter 17. Jesus said: “I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have observed your word. They have now come to know that all the things you gave me are from you . . . I make request, not concerning the world, but concerning those you have given me; because they are yours, and all my things are yours and yours are mine . . . Also, I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world and I am coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them on account of your own name which you have given me, in order that they may be one just as we are.”—John 17:6-11.
Note that the thoughts voiced by Jesus in this prayer are similar to his words recorded at John chapter 10. In Joh chapter 17, Jesus again acknowledged that his disciples, his “sheep,” were given to him by the Father. So the kind of oneness referred to in both of these chapters is the same. From Jesus’ prayer we can see that Jesus and his Father are “one” in the same sense that his true followers can be “one.” (John 17:11) Obviously the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ could never become part of a triune God. However, they could be one in purpose and activity. Further proving that Jesus never claimed equality with his Father is the fact that, in his prayer, he addressed his Father as the “only true God” and spoke of himself as his Father’s “representative.”—John 17:3, 8.
But someone might object, arguing, ‘When Jesus said “I and the Father are one,” the Jews took it to mean that he was God, and Jesus did not deny this.’ But is that really the case? Why not examine the account?
The Catholic Jerusalem Bible reads: “Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God’. Jesus answered: ‘Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods? So the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected. Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming”, because he says, “I am the Son of God”. If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father’”—John 10:32-38.
Why, then, did faithless Jews come to the conclusion that Jesus was making himself “God”? Evidently because Jesus attributed to himself powers that the Jews believed belonged exclusively to the Father. For example, Jesus said that he would give “eternal life” to the “sheep.” That was something no human could do. However, what the unbelieving Jews overlooked was that Jesus acknowledged having received everything from his Father, and the fine works he was doing proved that he was his Father’s representative. They were wrong in concluding that he was blasphemously making himself God.
That the unbelieving Jews reasoned wrongly is also evident from other incidents. When questioned before the Sanhedrin, Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy, not because of claiming to be ‘God the Son,’ but because of claiming to be the ‘Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (Matt. 26:63-68; Luke 22:66-71) Also, on an earlier occasion, certain Jews got the idea that Jesus was making himself equal to God and wanted to kill him as a blasphemer. Of this, John 5:18 tells us: “The Jews began seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.” Note that Jesus did not say that he was God himself but that he called ‘God his Father.’ Jesus’ unbelieving fellow countrymen, however, objected to his claiming this relationship to his Father, this special Sonship. And just as they were wrong in labeling Jesus as a Sabbath breaker, they were also wrong in their assertion about Jesus’ making himself equal to God because of ‘calling God his own Father.’
NOT ETERNAL LIKE HIS FATHER
The oneness or unity that Jesus enjoyed with his Father is, of course, far greater and grander than that enjoyed in any human father-and-son relationship. Even before the creation of the physical universe the Father and the Son were “one.”
With reference to his prehuman existence, Jesus said to unbelieving Jews: “Before Abraham ever was, I Am.” (John 8:58, Jerusalem Bible) Did Jesus thereby identify himself as being Jehovah? Did not God tell Moses, “‘I Am who I Am. This’ he added ‘is what you must say to the sons of Israel: “I Am has sent me to you”’”? (Ex. 3:14, Je) Many translations use the expression “I Am” both at John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14. But do both texts express the same thought?
No. We know that they do not because at Exodus 3:14 the Greek Septuagint Version (the translation that was often quoted by the apostles in the first century C.E.) reads, e·goʹ ei·miʹ ho Ohnʹ, “I am the Being.” This is quite different from the simple use of the words e·goʹ ei·miʹ (I am) at John 8:58. The verb ei·miʹ, at John 8:58, is evidently in the historical present, as Jesus was speaking about himself in relation to Abraham’s past. Numerous translators indicate this in their renderings. For example, An American Translation reads: “I existed before Abraham was born!”
Jesus’ pointing to his prehuman existence should have come as no surprise to the Jews. Centuries earlier, Micah’s prophecy said of the Messiah: “You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, the one too little to get to be among the thousands of Judah, from you there will come out to me the one who is to become ruler in Israel, whose origin* is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.” (Mic. 5:2) Thus while Jesus existed long before Abraham, he is not without beginning. Unlike his Father, who is “from time indefinite to time indefinite,” the Son is spoken of as having “origin.”—Ps. 90:2.
The very fact that Jesus is called the “Son of God” reveals that he was produced by the Father and is, therefore, his firstborn and only-begotten Son. Jesus himself said: “I live because of the Father.” (John 6:57) After having come into existence, the Son was used in creating everything. (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:2) As firstborn Son, this one enjoyed a special intimacy with the Father. He is spoken of in Scripture as being “in the bosom position with the Father.”—John 1:18.
So perfectly did Jesus reflect the image—the personality and ways—of his Father that he could say to Philip: “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) That is why one can come to know God only through the Son. As Jesus put it: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and who the Son is no one knows but the Father; and who the Father is, no one knows but the Son, and he to whom the Son is willing to reveal him.”—Luke 10:22.
What a grand oneness exists between Jehovah God and his firstborn Son! They are always “one” in purpose and activity. But, as the Scriptures clearly show, they are not equal. The Son always acknowledges his Father’s superior position, subjecting himself to his Father as his God and delighting in doing his Father’s will. “He that sent me,” said Jesus, “is with me; he did not abandon me to myself, because I always do the things pleasing to him.” (John 8:29; 1 Cor. 11:3) Thus Jesus truly is, not ‘God the Son’ or the “second person” of a triune God, but the “Son of God.”—John 20:31.
This rendering is in harmony with the lexicons of Brown-Driver-Briggs, Koehler-Baumgartner and Gesenius.