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The Apologists  Bible Commentary

 

 

John 10

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30 "I and the Father are one."

 

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This verse is often used by Trinitarians as proof of the essential unity and equality of Jesus with His Father.  Some Trinitarian commentators and many non-Trinitarians argue that Jesus is simply speaking about a unity of purpose, of His union with God's design and plan for His people.  Still others cite this verse as teaching that the Father and Jesus are actually the same divine Person.

The word translated "one" is in the neuter gender, not the masculine, and specifies "unity" in a general, not personal, sense.  The precise nature of this unity must be derived from context.

Jesus has just spoken not about His union with the Father's purpose, but with His Father's power (vv. 28 - 29).  Jesus has said that no one can snatch those the Father has given Him from His hands.  He has said that He gives eternal life to His sheep - a claim to Divine prerogative in itself.  He then repeats what He has said about no one being able to steal His sheep, but this time, it is the Father's hands who hold them - the Father who is "greater than all."  Thus, Jesus equates Himself to His Father in both giving eternal life to the sheep and in the power to "hold" them fast.  It is in this context of Divine salvation and preservation that Jesus says, "I and the Father are one."

Thus, Jesus is not asserting that He is the same person as the Father (which  would have demanded the masculine "one"); nor is He claiming unity in purpose or plan.  In this context, He can only be asserting His unity with His Father as the author of eternal life and equal in power to Him who is "greater than all."  This view is supported by several additional facts:

1.  The Jews understood Him to be claiming to be God. (vv. 31 - 33).

2.  Jesus does not deny their accusation (vv. 34 - 36).

3.  Jesus repeats His original assertion in slightly different language (vv. 37 - 39).

This claim in an overt declaration of Jesus' Deity.

I and my Father are one. Not in person, for the Father must be a distinct person from the Son, and the Son a distinct person from the Father; and which is further manifest, from the use of the verb plural, "I and my Father", esmen, "we are one"; that is, in nature and essence, and perfections, particularly in power; since Christ is speaking of the impossibility of plucking any of the sheep, out of his own and his Father's hands; giving this as a reason for it, their unity of nature, and equality of power; so that it must be as impracticable to pluck them out of his hands, as out of his Father's, because he is equal with God the Father, and the one God with him (Gill).

It seems clear that the unity spoken of cannot fall short of unity of essence.  The thought springs from the equality of power (my hand, the Father's hand); but infinite power is an essential attribute of God; and it is impossible to suppose that two beings distinct in essence could be equal in power (Westcott).

The oneness of will and task, in this context, is so transparently a divine will, a divine task (viz. the saving and preserving of men and women for the kingdom) that although the categories are formally functional some deeper union is presupposed (Carson, John).

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egw kai `o pathr `en esmen.

EGO KAI hO PATHR hEN ESMEN

I and the Father one are.

 

hEN (1520)

  • To be united most closely (in will, spirit), Jn x. 30 (Thayer).

  • In contrast to the parts, of which the whole is made up ... J 10:30 (BAGD).

  • One (hen). Neuter, not masculine (heis). Not one person (cf. in Gal 3:28), but one essence or nature. By the plural sumus (separate persons) Sabellius is refuted, by unum Arius. So Bengel rightly argues, though Jesus is not referring, of course, to either Sabellius or Arius. The Pharisees had accused Jesus of making himself equal with God as his own special Father (John 5:18). Jesus then admitted and proved this claim (5:19-30). Now he states it tersely in this great saying repeated later (17:11, 21). Note hen used in 1 Cor 3:3 of the oneness in work of the planter and the waterer and in 17:11, 23 of the hoped for unity of Christís disciples. This crisp statement is the climax of Christís claims concerning the relation between the Father and himself (the Son). They stir the Pharisees to uncontrollable anger (RWP).

ESMEN (2070)

  • First person plural (present indicative active), "we are"

  • The present indicative asserts something which is occurring while the speaker is making the statement.

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Jehovah's Witnesses

objection:  The Watchtower argues that this verse cannot mean that Jesus is one in nature with the Father on the following basis:

Jesus himself showed what he meant by being "one" with the Father.  At John 17:21, 22, he prayed to God that his disciples "may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us, ... that they may be one just as we are one."  Was Jesus praying that all his disciples would become a single entity?  No, obviously Jesus was praying that they would be united in thought and purpose, as he and God were" (SYBT, p. 24).

response:  The Greek word "one" (heis) in reference to two persons or things may be used to specify many types of unions.  It can signify "unity of purpose," as the Watchtower suggests in 1 Corinthians 3:6ff (SYBT, p. 24), where Paul says that he and Apollos (as "planter" and "waterer") are "one" in the purpose of saving and sanctifying God's people.  In John 17:21ff, however, "one" means more than simple "unity of purpose." Jesus prays that the disciples may enjoy a fellowship of intimacy in Christian love so complete ("perfected in unity") that the world would know that they belong to Christ and His Father.  This is more than "one" in the sense of sharing common goals and plans.  It is a union so profound that it "perfects" or brings to full maturity and completion the believer's love and fellowship with his brothers and sisters through their shared unity in Christ - just as Jesus Himself enjoys a perfect intimacy with His Father.  Further, in verse 23, Jesus grounds this unity in His power to indwell His followers ("I in them") while His Father indwells Him ('You in me") and He His Father ("I in you").1  The power to indwell His disciples, regardless of where they are, is a claim to Divine omnipresence, which further militates against the Watchtower's position.  In Matthew 19:5, Jesus uses "one" to signify the spiritual union of man and woman in marriage - in God's sight, the two have become "one."2

The significance of "one" in each of these verses is not determined by how it is used in other verse - it is derived from the immediate context.  Thus, the fact that "one" may mean "one in fellowship" in John 17:21ff or "one in purpose" in 1 Corinthians 3:6ff has no bearing on how it should be understood in this verse.3

The context of John 10:30 fully supports the traditional understanding that Jesus is claiming equality with His Father in terms of Divine Prerogatives and Power.  As noted in the Commentary, above, Jesus has just said that He gives eternal life to His sheep.  He has equated His power to keep His sheep safely in His hands with His Father's power to do the same.  The Jews knew that the Father was greater than all, but they rebelled at Jesus saying that He and His Father shared this power to preserve the saints and - in this very sense - proclaiming that He was "one" with His Father.  

This view is also supported by the Jews' reaction and Jesus' subsequent statements, particularly those in vv. 37ff where He repeats His claims to do His Father's works and enjoy a profound unity with Him.

If the Watchtower is correct, the only explanation for the Jews reaction is that they misunderstood Jesus, for they could have no objection to anyone being "one in purpose" with the Father.  But given what Jesus has just said, how else could they take "I and the Father are one?"  And the only explanation for Jesus' previous and subsequent remarks, given that He knew the hearts of his listeners, is intentional deception of the highest order.  Jesus could give the Jews difficult answers to their questions, but it simply is not possible for Him to deceive them about the sense in which He was "one" with His Father.

 

objection:  The Watchtower continues:

Regarding John 10:30, John Calvin (who was a Trinitarian) said in the book Commentary on the Gospel According to John: "The ancients made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is . . . of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father" (Ibid.).

response:  When Calvin's comments are taken in context, it is clear that while he does not understand this passage to be referring to Christ's "unity in essence" (Greek: homoousias) - a technical term used by the "ancients" (that is, the Nicene church fathers) - Calvin does accept that Jesus is laying claim to God's power and therefore is proclaiming His true Deity:

  • I and my Father are one. He intended to meet the jeers of the wicked; for they might allege that the power of God did not at all belong to him...

  • And this would be a just definition of blasphemy, if Christ were nothing more than a man. They only err in this, that they do not design to contemplate his Divinity, which was conspicuous in his miracles...

  • Do you say that I blaspheme? The Arians anciently tortured this passage to prove that Christ is not God by nature, but that he possesses a kind of borrowed Divinity. But this error is easily refuted, for Christ does not now argue what he is in himself, but what we ought to acknowledge him to be, from his miracles in human flesh. For we can never comprehend his eternal Divinity, unless we embrace him as a Redeemer, so far as the Father hath exhibited him to us. Besides, we ought to remember what I have formerly suggested, that Christ does not, in this passage, explain fully and distinctly what he is, as he would have done among his disciples; but that he rather dwells on refuting the slander of his enemies.

  • And I am in my Father; that is, "I do nothing but by the command of God, so that there is a mutual connection between me and my Father." For this discourse does not relate to the unity of essence, but to the manifestation of Divine power in the person of Christ, from which it was evident that he was sent by God.

 

Notes                                                          

1.  The NWT translates the Greek preposition en ("in") with the paraphrase "in union with" in this and several other verses that speak of Christ being "in" the Father or "in" His disciples.  It is possible to interpret en in these verses as more or less meaning "in union with," so long as it is understood to mean an intimate, personal relationship or spiritual union - not merely a general association or unity of goals and purpose.  Thayer, for example, says of en in these verses: 

Of a person to whom another is wholly joined and to whose power and influence he is subject, so that the former may be likened to the place in which the latter lives and moves.  So used in the writings of Paul and of John particularly of intimate relationship with God or with Christ, and for the most part involving contextually the idea of power and blessing resulting from that union.

Other lexicons similarly stress that en in these verses means more than "in union with" in the sense of mere association:

A marker of close personal association - 'in, one with, in union with, joined closely to' (Louw & Nida)

The en of religious fellowship, often with einai (Jn 10:38; 1 Jn 2:5b, etc.) or menein (Jn 6:56; 1 Jn 2:6, etc.).  Reciprocity is frequently stressed (Jn 6:56; 1 Jn 3:24, etc.).  The Father is brought into the relationship, either with Jesus (Jn 10:38) or with us (1 Jn 4:12 - 13).  We thus have a triangle (Jn 14:20; 17:21; 1 Jn 2:24).  The formulas are neither ecstatic nor eschatological but mystical in a very broad sense with a strong personal and ethical reference (TDNT).

This fully nuanced meaning is particularly true in John 14:17 - 18, where Jesus specifically equates the Spirit being "in" the disciples with the Spirit being "with" them, and then affirms that this indwelling is the means by which Jesus can affirm His promise not to leave His disciples as orphans.  A similar thought permeates Jesus' prayer in John 17:21ff.

2.  "One" in this verse is the Greek mian, the feminine form of eis.  This form is grammatically required because "one" modifies "flesh," which is also feminine in Greek.

3.  D.A. Carson identifies the juxtaposition of texts like these as a "target rich" environment for interpretive errors:  

Consider the Arian efforts to link John 10:30...and John 17:20 - 23....  What gives interpreters the right to link certain verses together and not others?  The point is that all such linking eventually produces a grid that affects the interpretation of other texts.  There may be fallacies connected not only with the way individual verses are interpreted, but also with the way several verses are linked - and then also with the way such a link affects the interpretation of the next verse that is studied! (Carson, Fallacies, p. 139).

 

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