I and the Father Are One

John 10:30 was a critical verse for the early church. As believers wrestled with the documents of the New Testament in terms of their teaching about our Lord’s identity, and in relation to the Old Testament, various views began to be propagated. Some taught that our Lord was not eternal God by nature, but rather a mere creature (though the first and greatest of creatures). In other words, there was a time when he was not. Others taught that God is one in nature and one in person, revealing himself in three distinct modes at different times. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not distinct, eternal divine persons, each having the same essence, nature, or substance.

These and other teachings were vigorously debated. As a result of these debates, at least two things have come to us in our own day: first, technical language to help us identity what and who the persons of the Godhead are, and second, creeds and confessions which seek to affirm Scripture’s teaching unequivocally. We even sing hymns which reflect the fruit of the early church debates. For example:

To the great One in Three
Eternal praises be,
Hence evermore.
His sovereign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore.

The “One” is “Three” and there is one “sovereign majesty.” The creeds helped subsequent generations of Christians understand what and who God is and gave them a common language with which to express themselves.

Some people in our day do not like written creeds and confessions. Their reason is because they view Scripture, and Scripture alone, as our only authority for faith and practice. Creeds and confessions are viewed by these people, however, as man-made documents which undermine the authority of Scripture. People who think in this fashion often say things like this: “Give me Bible doctrines in Bible words.” Let us suppose I were to ask such a person if he or she believed in the doctrine of the full deity, divinity, or Godness of our Lord—that our Lord Jesus, according to his divine nature, is of the same, singular essence, glory, will, and power as the Father. Let us suppose they answer “yes.” Let us further suppose I asked that same person this question: “Where does the Bible teach that?” They answer: “John 10:30, because there we read, ‘I and the Father are one.’” Is the matter settled by quoting a verse? I would say no, and here is why.

Simply quoting a verse does not communicate its meaning in the same way to everyone who might hear the quoted verse. This was the very problem faced by the early church. Those who ended up being considered outside of orthodoxy, or right teaching according to Scripture, often used the same Bible words from the same texts as the orthodox. The real issue is the meaning of the words, which requires using words not in the text to explain the text. Let me show you an example. If I said, “I believe in the full divinity of our Lord due to the words of John 10:30,” someone could say the opposite—“I don’t believe in the full divinity of our Lord due to the words of John 10:30.” We look at the same words but derive different meanings. So how would we settle our debate? The words must be explained in terms of their meaning, and this requires using different words from the ones in the text. Merely citing the words back and forth would never settle the debate. This is why the early church theologians published creeds for all to see. They wanted the world to know exactly what they thought Scripture meant by what it said.

Consider the Nicene Creed (325) on the issue of our Lord’s identity.

"[We believe in] one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father."

Note the italicized words: “of the same essence as the Father.” Those words are not found in Scripture. But are the concepts embodied in those words scriptural? Does Scripture teach that our Lord is “of the same essence as the Father”?

Or consider The Creed of Chalcedon (451).

"We, then, following the holy fathers, all with one consent teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; coessential with the Father according to the Godhead..."

Note the italicized words: “coessential with the Father according to the Godhead.” Again, these words are not found in Scripture, but is the sense of the words scriptural? Is it the case that the Bible teaches the Son is “coessential with the Father according to the Godhead”? And if it does, where and in what words?

Moving ahead to the seventeenth century, my church’s confession of faith, the Second London Confession of 1677/89 (2LCF), says this:

"In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided (2LCF 2.3a)"

This language is very similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was borrowed from it and slightly modified as to its form. Note these words in 2LCF 2.3a: “of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence.” In chapter 8, while discussing Christ the Mediator, the 2LCF says:

"The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him who made the world, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made..." (2LCF 8.2a)

Note the italicized words above: “of one substance.”

Were the documents cited above right to state that the Father and the Son, though distinct divine persons, are of the same essence or substance, equal in glory and power? Is it scriptural to assert that our Lord, according to his divinity, is “of the same [singular] essence as the Father,” “coessential with the Father according to the Godhead,” “of one substance, power, and eternity,” “having the whole divine essence,” “of one substance,” and, therefore “of one...power, and eternity”? I think they were.

But how does one go about proving that such statements are scriptural? The answer, of course, is to go to Scripture itself. In going to Scripture to account for the statements above, however, are we to expect Scripture to use the same terms as those statements? The answer is no. This is due to the fact that the statements are seeking to explain the teaching of Scripture. When this is done, such explanations often use terms not used by Scripture. Christians do this all the time. While explaining what we think a text means we do not merely use the words of the text in the order in which they appear. We explain the words in terms of their meaning, given what words are used and the context in which they appear.

* * *

Let us get back to a question I raised above. Were the documents cited above right to state that the Father and the Son, though distinct divine persons, are of the same essence or substance, equal in glory and power? I have answered that they were. The next question is this: Why did they conclude such about our Lord in relation to the Father? Does Scripture teach the coessential divinity between the Father and the Son, and where and how does it do so, if so? I will use John 10:30 as a sample text which I think teaches this very doctrine, showing that it teaches it and why.

We should first examine the verse itself, then consider the context to help us understand what is meant by what it says. After that we will consider two Old Testament texts which must be accounted for when determining the meaning of John 10:30.

John 10:30 says, “I and the Father are one.” Note four observations. First, these words were spoken by our Lord. He is teaching us something about himself in relation to the Father. Here we have the words of Jesus on Jesus and the Father. This is the theology of the Redeemer. This is important to recognize. The Redeemer’s theology is untainted with sin, unlike ours.

Second, note that he says, “I and the Father.” We could say he is referring to two persons—himself and the Father. Let us reduce this to one word—two.

Third, note well the plural verb: “are” (In Greek it is a plural verb of being or existence.). We could now further say that this text teaches “Two are.”

Finally, note the final word in our English translation—“one.” One what? Some say one purpose; others say one essence or nature. Essence or nature refers to that which constitutes a thing as what it is, its quiddity or whatness. For example, I am what, in terms of my essence or nature or quddity or whatness? Human; a body-soul being given existence by God. Now let us go back to John 10:30.

We may reduce this verse to these words: “Two are one.” The Son and the Father are one. Two persons are one. Again, one what? Given the plural verb “to be” it seems probable that the oneness predicated of the Son and the Father is a oneness of being, nature, essence, quddity, or whatness. Does the context assist us?

Consider the context. Our Lord speaks of his hand and the Father’s hand.

and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.  29 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 10:28–29)

How could our Lord’s physical hand hold all his sheep? It could not, obviously. I think it best to take “hand” as indicating power in execution. In the Old Testament, the hand of God is a metaphor for divine power in execution. The LORD saved Israel from Egypt by his mighty hand; that is, by his power. Our Lord here (v. 28) claims divine power in preserving his sheep. Then in verse 29 he indicates something about the Father. The hand of the Father protects and preserves the sheep. The hand of the Son and the hand of the Father indicates divine power. It is a metaphor indicating the execution of divine power, divine power toward and for the sheep. This is good news.

Now let us consider the words of Melanchthon W. Jacobus, a nineteenth-century Presbyterian minister. These are some of his comments on John 10:30:

"He has just said that the sheep were equally in His own hand and in His Father’s. And what He says of Himself, He says of His Father—that no power on earth or in hell should be able to snatch them away. He therefore ascribes the same work to both—the same power, and not merely the same will. To explain this, and enforce it also, He asserts the great truth that He and His Father are one—the essential unity of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. He claimed the same Omnipotence as the Father. And as Good Shepherd, He claimed a commission which none but God could bear or execute. The phrase is, literally, “I and my Father are one thing”—a unit. They were not one person—but one essence—“what the Father is, that the Son is—what the work of the Father is, that the work of the Son is.” —Brown. As none can effectually prevail against the Father, so none can prevail against the Son. These two are one—one in nature—one in attributes—one in glory....The connexion [sic] shows that it was a oneness of divine work, and of infinite power, such as implies oneness of essence, that He would have to be understood by the terms. And so He was understood at the time, by those who heard Him, as appears from the next verse."[1]

What does the next verse say? “The Jews took up stones again to stone Him” (John 10:31). The Jews knew what our Lord meant by what he said.

Third, let us briefly consider two Old Testament texts. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” One what? One Person, one nature, essence, or whatness? One what? One nature or essence. In Genesis 1:26, we read, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” (Gen 1:26). This is very interesting, indeed. “Our” is plural but “image” and “likeness” are singular. We could reduce this to: “More than one is one.” Hear John Gill on this: “These words are spoken by God the Father to the Son and Holy Ghost, who were each of them concerned in the creation of all things, and particularly of man; ...a consultation is held among the divine Persons about the formation of man...”[2] If reducing Genesis 1:26 to “More than one is one” is legitimate, it is very similar to John 10:30.

These Old Testament texts (and others), along with John 10:30 (and others), gave birth to the early creeds of the Christian church. They wrestled deeply with the entirety of Scripture to determine just who Jesus claimed to be and is.

Conclusion

Let us go back to John 10:30 and I will give you a theological interpretation of the verse. “I,” the second Person of the Godhead, “and the Father,” the first Person of the Godhead, “are one; that is, one in nature, essence, quiddity, whatness.” When divine power is executed it is so by divine persons. The power is one because God is One—there is One divine nature—but the executers are both the Father and the Son,[3] co-divine agents of creation, conservation, recreation, and consummation. So, the reason why “no one shall snatch them out of My hand” and  no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” can both be true is because “I and the Father are one.”

I think the early creeds and the post-Reformation era confession cited above were right, and I think John 10:30 is one text that proves they were. To God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—be the glory forever and ever. Amen!


Richard C. Barcellos is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA, and Associate Professor of Exegetical Theology at IRBS Theological Seminary. He is the author of Getting the Garden Right: Adam’s Work and God’s Rest in Light of Christ and Trinity and Creation: A Scriptural and Confessional Account.


Related Links

Mortification of Spin: The Mystery of the Incarnation

"Is the Son Eternally Begotten?" by Ben Franks

"A Mystery Beheld" by Joseph Pipa

"Christ, Fully-Human" by Adam Parker

The Essential Trinity, ed. by Brandon Crowe and Carl Trueman

A Study Guide to John Owen's Communion With God by Ryan McGraw


Notes

[1] Melancthon W. Jacobus, Notes Critical and Explanatory on the Gospel of John (1856; reprint, Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), 189–90.

[2] John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 9 vols. (1809; reprint, Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 1989), 1:10.

[3] The same can be proven of the Holy Spirit but that is beyond the scope of this article.