Note: This article is an edited version of a chapter in the authorís book One Lord, One Faith (Horizon Publishers, 1996).

How Are Jesus and the Father "One"?

The True Nature of Their Unity

Michael T. Griffith
1996
@All Rights Reserved

POINT:

The "oneness" of the Father and the Son consists of their being in such perfect agreement that to see and work with one is to see and work with the other. This is the true nature of their unity. The New Testament teaching that Jesus and his Father are "one" does not support the idea that they are one and the same deity of one undivided substance. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in harmony with the Savior's ancient church, teaches that Christ and the Father are two separate divine beings, two distinct persons, who communicate with each other and who are aware of course aware of each other's existence.

SELECTED BIBLE PASSAGES:

John 10:30: "I and my Father are one."

John 14:9: Jesus says, "he that hath seen me hath seen the

Father."

DISCUSSION:

The "Oneness" of the Father and the Son

The New Testament says the Father and the Son are "one." But what is the nature of their "oneness"? Does this mean they are the same God of one undivided divine essence, as traditional Christianity teaches? Does it mean that Jesus and the Father are somehow two "persons" but only one God, as traditional Christendom also asserts? No, it does not. When the Savior said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30), he was simply saying that he and the Father work and think alike, and that to deal with one is to deal with the other. They operate in perfect unity. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one in the same way he and the Father were one (John 17:5-22). Clearly, the Savior was not asking that the disciples undergo some mysterious merging of essence. Rather, he was praying for a oneness of works, will, and devotion.

Howard Clark Kee, a former instructor of religious thought at the University of Pennsylvania, and later a professor of New Testament studies at Drew University, wrote about the relationship between the Father and the Son as it is described in the Gospel of John:

John says unequivocally that the Word of God . . . was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth [John 1:1-16]. . . . He [John] is careful to point out that God and the Word are not interchangeable terms. Rather, the Word possesses the essential qualities of God. . . .

 

But wherein lies the unity of the Father and the Son? It is by no means a matter of simple identity, as though Jesus was God the Father in disguise. . . . The oneness of Jesus with God is a unity of works, of will, of devotion, of obedience by which Jesus is uniquely the instrument of God's purpose to disclose his nature and create his people. (89-91)

No objective reader of the New Testament can conclude that Jesus is simply the Father in disguise. But how, then, could Jesus say in John 14:9 that to see him was to see the Father? Very easily. The Savior is "the express image" of his Father, and he obeys the Father in all things. He is the perfect representative of the Father. Thus, Jesus could say in all honesty that he who had seen him had seen the Father, without being taken to mean that he was really the Father in disguise. And, it goes without saying that John 14:9 cannot be interpreted to mean that Jesus and the Father are the same person.

How did the ancient saints view such verses as John 10:30 and John 14:9? Did they see these verses as evidence that the Father and the Son were the same being? Absolutely not. Alexander of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 273-326), an ancient Christian theologian and the bishop of Alexandria, commented on these two verses as follows:

"I and my Father are one," which indeed the Lord says, not as proclaiming himself to be the Father, nor to demonstrate that two persons are one; but that the Son of the Father most exactly preserves the expressed likeness of the Father, in as much as he [the Father] has by nature impressed upon him [the Son] his similitude in every respect, and is the image of the Father in no way discrepant, and the expressed figure of the primitive exemplar. Whence, also, to Phillip, who then was desirous to see him [the Father], the Lord shows this abundantly. For when he [Phillip] said, "Show us the Father," he [Jesus] answered: "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father," since the Father was himself seen through the spotless and living mirror of the divine image. (Roberts and Donaldson 6:294)

Most advocates of the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, i.e., three-in-oneism, maintain that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate "persons" but not three separate deities. According to this view, the Godhead is one God expressing himself in three different "persons." Traditional trinitarianism says that Christ and the Father are one God of one undivided substance (ousia), but that somehow they are also two different "persons" at the same time. In such a Trinity, however, Jesus and the Father are not really "persons" at all; they are merely manifestations of the same mysterious divine substance. It is as if I were to say, "My wife and I are two separate persons, but we are only one human being of one undivided substance."

A "person," in any normal sense of the word, is a sentient being with a will, thoughts, and emotions; he is aware of his own existence and of the existence of others, and he can communicate with them. If Heavenly Father and Jesus are really two different persons, and if they are both members of a Godhead, then they are two separate deities.

The Ancient Law of Agency

Three-in-oneists of all sorts frequently appeal to John 10:30 and 14:9 as scriptural evidence for their position. But we have already seen that these two scriptures do not support any kind of mysterious, unexplainable merging of Jesus and his Father. Trinitarians also cite such verses as Matthew 1:23 (Jesus is Emmanuel, which means "God with us"), Colossians 2:9 (in Christ "dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily"), and John 20:28 (Thomas says to the risen Christ, "My Lord and my God"). However, when interpreted in their proper context, none of these scriptures can be taken to teach that Jesus and the Father are the same deity of one undivided substance. The correct meaning of these verses becomes apparent when they are considered within the context of the ancient law of agency. The ancient Jews and Christians were quite familiar with this law (Hurtado 17-39; Harvey 161-174). Seen in this light, these scriptures simply illustrate the fact that the Savior is the Father's divine agent and is thus fully empowered to represent him in every situation. A. E. Harvey explains:

Further precision [in explaining the relationship between Jesus and the Father] may be gained from the Jewish law of agency as it prevailed at the time. Agency was an effective way of conducting business only if the acts of the agent could be assumed to be approved by his principal, and therefore to bind the principal in respect to legal liability. To express this relationship, the maxim was coined "A man's agent is like himself"; that is to say, for the purpose of the transaction for which the agent was authorized, it was as if the principal agent himself were present, and the agent must receive the respect which would be due to the principal. . . .

 

Indeed the same principle finds expression in the notion of an envoy "representing" the sovereign. if you knelt before him, you were kneeling, not to him, but to the absent king. If you insulted him, the insult was taken personally by his sovereign. . . . The king was present in the ambassador just as, for certain purposes, the principal was present in his agent: "a man's agent is like himself". . . .

 

A study of the Fourth Gospel reveals that an understanding of Jesus as the authorized agent and representative of God is one of the controlling themes of the whole narrative. . . .

 

It amounts to the recognition that how you respond to him [Christ] . . . is equivalent to how you respond to God himself. . . . Accordingly, two resurrection appearances are recorded in which the presence of Jesus is acknowledged to amount to the presence of God himself (the disciples "prostrated themselves" in Mt. 20:17, and Thomas addressed him as "My Lord and My God," in Jn. 20:28). . . .

 

Jesus, in his teaching, his prophetic actions, and in the obedience which led to his death, was acting as God's agent and representative on earth. It was as if, when he spoke and acted, God himself was present. In Luke's phrase, "God was with him"; in Paul's, "God was in Christ." (161-163, 166, 173, emphasis added)

George Wesley Buchanan points out that this understanding can also be seen in Hebrews 3:1:

Jesus was the son, heir, and apostle of God (Hebrews 3:1). As apostle or agent, he was sent with the full authority of the one who sent him. A man's agent is like himself. . . . It is against this background that Jesus in the same context could say both, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9) and "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). (6-7)

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Michael T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College. He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School, San Angelo, Texas.In addition, he has completed an Advanced Hebrew program at Haifa University in Israel.He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.