By Spencer D Gear
What does this verse mean? Is Jesus saying that Jesus and the Father are the one God or is he teaching something else?
This verse has caused some theological heartaches and considerable controversy among the laity and biblical scholars. It happens among those of both orthodox and unorthodox persuasions. Let’s note some examples of divergence.
Some divergent interpretations
In the third century, it was stated,
The syllogistic argument the Noetians used to establish the monarchian thesis went something like this:
- Major premise: There is one God, the Father.
- Minor premise: Christ is God.
- Conclusion: Christ is the Father (in DelCogliano 2012).
WikiBooks, in its commentary on the Gospel of John, wrote:
How do you reconcile John 10:30 “The Father and I are one.”; John 14:9 “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”; John 20:28-29 “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.'”; as well as the response that Jesus gives in Chapter 5 that makes it pretty clear that he does everything that the Father does, from raising of the dead, to handing out judgment, and even receiving the praise and glory that God receives (Smith pg. 135). In all of these passages John is putting Jesus on an even plane with God and when challenged or questioned about his relationship with God Jesus never denies their equality but rather offers explanations that are either affirmations of that claim or at worst ambiguous. One may not be able to make the case that the New Testament as a whole portrays Jesus as equal to God, but it seems pretty clear that some verses seem to (WikiBooks 2009).
Seventh Day Adventist founder, Ellen G White, wrote: ‘(John 10:30.) Why Only One Mediator—Jesus alone could give security to God; for He was equal to God. He alone could be a mediator between God and man; for He possessed divinity and humanity (The Review and Herald, April 3, 1894). [cited HERE]
Another view in the ‘unorthodox theology’ section of a Christian forum was:
If we can be one as Jesus and God the Father are one then it is clear in what manner “one” is meant. Jesus means that he and the Father are one in purpose and/or unity. He does not mean they are one in substance.
It is just like if today a group of people were to say, “We are one.” It is clear how this is meant to be taken. It is nothing different with Jn 10:30.
Jerome Neyrey, a Jesuit priest, wrote:
To underscore the boldness of Jesus’ claims, the text emphasizes that “God is greater than all” (10:29b), thus raising God above all other creatures, be they of no power or great power. Yet Jesus claims that he is “equal to” God who is “greater than all,” when he draws the conclusion in 10:30, “I and the Father are hen.”
Literally hen means “one.” But the context suggests that this adjective be translated as “equal to” or “on a par with.” Jesus claims far more than mere moral unity with God, which was the aim of every Israelite; such moral unity would never mean that mortals had become “god;” as Jesus’ remark is understood in 10:31-33. The very argument in John, then, understands hen to mean more than moral unity, that is, “equality with God.” By way of confirmation, 1 Cor 3:7 indicates that hen can mean “equality”…. In virtue of the comparison noted above, Jesus claims equality with God, who is “greater than all,” because there is “no snatching out of their hands.” To what does this refer?
In the context of 10:28, Jesus claims both the power to give eternal life so that his sheep do not perish and the power to guard them from being snatched. “Being snatched,” then, has to do with life and death, such that Death  has no ultimate power over Jesus’ sheep. Conversely, this implies that Jesus has such power from God so that he is the one who gives eternal life and rescues the dead from the snares of Death (see John 5:25, 28-29; 6:39, 44, 54; 8:51; 11:25). Since God alone holds the keys of life and death, Jesus claims an extraordinary power which belongs exclusively to God…. There is substance, then, to the claim that Jesus and the Father are “equal” (10:30) (Neyrey n d).
On this website, by someone who is supportive of the JW Watchtower organisation, this person wrote:
Trinitarians want to believe that Jesus was implying that he and his Father together make up one God. But there isn’t even the slightest suggestion that he intended the word “God” to be understood as being included in this statement. Instead, context and NT Greek grammar show just the opposite. (Famed trinitarian John Calvin rejected this scripture as trinitarian evidence for just that reason in his book Commentary on the Gospel According to John.)
If we insist on taking the statement literally, it would be much more likely (although still clearly impossible when the rest of John’s writings are examined) that he was saying, “I and my Father are the same person.”
There are numerous scriptures clearly showing that the Son is not the same person as the Father (although a very few figurative statements – such as “He who has seen me has seen the Father” – when taken literally could be wrongly interpreted in such a way). There are, in like manner, numerous scriptures clearly showing that the Son is not equally God with the Father.
Shimer has stated,
Critics have responded that Jesus was one with the Father only in the sense that there was unity but not oneness of nature and essence. Lest someone draw an erroneous conclusion, Jesus explains what He means by this oneness in John 10:38,”the Father is in Me, and I in the Father”. Jesus is one in essence, character and nature with God the Father. Hengstenberg says of this verse,”the existences of the Father and of the Son perfectly cover each other”’ (Shimer n d:9).
Biblically orthodox understanding
Let’s check out some promoters of biblical orthodoxy who have a high view of Scripture.
Leon Morris wrote of John 10:30,
The bracketing of ‘I’ and ‘the Father’ is significant in itself quite apart from the predicate. Who else could be linked with God the Father in this fashion? ‘One’ is neuter, ‘one thing’ and not ‘one person’. Identity is not asserted, but essential unity is. These two belong together. The statement does not go beyond the opening words of the Gospel, but it can stand with them. It is another statement which puts Jesus Christ with God rather than with man. It may be true that this ought not to be understood as a metaphysical statement, but it is also true that it means more than that Jesus’ will was one with the Father’s. As Hoskyns remarks, ‘the Jews would not presumably have treated as blasphemy the idea that a man could regulate his words and actions according to the will of God’. But they did regard this as blasphemy as the next verse shows. They had asked Jesus for a plain assertion of His messiahship, and they got more than they had bargained for (Morris 1971:522-523).
Ryan Turner wrote:
John 10:30 records Jesus as stating, “I and my Father are one.” The Jews attempt to stone him because they understood him to be claiming deity (v. 33), which was something Jesus did not dispute. Metzger points out the Witnesses attempts to get around the obvious implications of this passage, “The marginal note of their translation, suggesting that ‘are one’ means ‘are at unity,’ is an alternative interpretation which is so lacking in justification that the translators did not dare to introduce it into the text itself” [Metzger 1953:72]. Again, the Jews understood his claim and attempted to kill Him. Metzger comments, “Psychologically, there was no reason for them to become angry at Jesus if all he asserted was his being one in purpose and outlook with the Father” [Metzger 1953:72] (Turner n d).
One of the most comprehensive orthodox summaries that I have encountered is by Don Carson, who wrote of John 10:30 that
verses 28-29 affirm that both the Father and the Son are engaged in the perfect preservation of Jesus’ sheep. Small wonder, then, that Jesus can say, I and the Father are one. The word for ‘one’ is the neuter hen, not the masculine heis: Jesus and his Father are not one person, as the masculine would suggest, for then the distinction between Jesus and God already introduced in 1:1b would be obliterated, and John could not refer to Jesus praying to his Father, being commissioned by and obedient to his Father, and so on. Rather, Jesus and his Father are perfectly one in action, in what they do: what Jesus does, the Father does, and vice versa (cf. notes on 5:19ff).
This verse has generated profound and complex controversies over the question of Jesus’ nature. Arians (those who deny that Jesus is truly God) both ancient and modern have entered the lists, while many scholars of orthodox conviction nevertheless hold that this verse supports only a functional oneness. The following five points may help to clarify the issues (Carson 1991:394-395):
(1) The language of ‘oneness’ itself is not decisive. This is made clear by 17:22, where Jesus prays that his disciples ‘may be one as we are one’.
(2) On the other hand, an appeal to 17:22 cannot decisively prove that the claim ‘I and the Father are one’, in this passage, refers merely to a oneness of will or action, and stands utterly devoid of metaphysical overtones. After all, this is a book in which the Word is openly declared to be God (1;1, 18), in which the climactic confession is ‘My Lord and my God!’ (20:28), in which Jesus takes on his own lips the name of God (8:58), in which numerous Old Testament references and especially allusions portray Jesus standing where God alone stands (e.g. 12:41). The reader should therefore hesitate before denying that there is any claim to deity whatsoever in these words.
(3) The immediate context is the most important single control. This includes not only the clearly functional categories of vv. 28-29 (viz. Jesus and his Father share the same will and task, the preservation of Jesus’ sheep), but two other factors. First, this is of a piece with 5:16ff. There, too, the Jews understood Jesus to be speaking blasphemy, because he claimed to be God. As we saw, they were partly right and partly wrong. They were wrong in that they envisaged another God, a competing God; They were wrong in that they envisaged another God, a competing God; they were right in that Jesus not only claimed that he could do only what his Father gave him to do, but that he did everything the Father did (5:19). No other human being in the stream of Jewish monotheism could meaningfully make such a claim. Second, 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.
(4) It is important to remember that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is the unique Son. Others are children of God; only he is the Son, the revealer, the one who has come down from heaven, the good shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep, the true vine, the light of the world, the Word made flesh.
(5) In 17:22, the order of the comparison is not reciprocal. The unity of the Father and the Son is the reality against which the unity of the believers is to be measured, not the reverse. And like any analogy that generates a comparison, the analogy cannot be pushed to exhaustion.
In short, although the words I and the Father are one do not affirm complete identity, in the context of this book they certainly suggest more than that Jesus’ will was one with the will of the Father, at least in the weak sense that a human being may at times regulate his own will and deed by the will of God. If instead Jesus’ will is exhaustively one with His Father’s will, some kind of metaphysical unity is presupposed, even if not articulated. Though the focus is on the common commitment of Father and Son to display protective power toward what they commonly own (17:20), John’s development of Christology to this point demands that some more essential unity be presupposed, quite in line with the first verse of the Gospel. Even from a structural point of view, this verse constitutes a ‘shattering statement’ (Lindars, BFG, p. 52), the climax to this part of the chapter, every bit as much as “before Abraham was born, I am!” forms the climax to ch. 8. The Jews had asked for a plain statement that would clarify whether or not he was the Messiah. He gave them far more, and the response was the same as in 5:18; 8:59’ (Carson 1991:394-395, emphasis in original).
This is as solid a summary as one will get to expound the meaning of John 10:30 from a scholar who supports the integrity of Scripture.
Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Also available as a Google book HERE.
DelCogliano, M 2012. The Interpretation of John 10:30 in the Third Century: Anti-Monarchian Polemics and the Rise of Grammatical Reading Techniques (online), Journal of theological interpretation 6.l, 117-138. Available at: http://www.academia.edu/1859907/The_Interpretation_of_John_10_30_in_the_Third_Century_Anti-Monarchian_Polemics_and_the_Rise_of_Grammatical_Reading_Techniques (Accessed 2 October 2013).
Metzger, B M 1953. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal (online), Theology Today, April, 65-85. Available at: http://archive.org/stream/TheJehovahsWitnessesAndJesusChrist/Jehovahs_Witnesses_and_Jesus_Christ_Metzger_djvu.txt (Accessed 2 October 2013).
Morris, L 1971. The Gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Neyrey S.J., J H n d. “I said: You are gods”: Psalm 2:6 and John 10 (online). Available at: http://www3.nd.edu/~jneyrey1/Gods.html (Accessed 2 October 2013).
Shimer T, n d. A biblical basis for the Trinity (online), 1-16. Available at: http://www.stumo.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Biblical-basis-for-the-Trinity.pdf (Accessed 2 October 2013).
Turner, R n d. Arianism and its influence (online). CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry). Available at: http://carm.org/arianism-and-its-influence-today#footnote11_kaidm48 (Accessed 2 October 2013).
Wikibooks 2009. Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 5 (online), 13 June. Available at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Biblical_Studies/New_Testament_Commentaries/The_Gospel_of_John/Chapter_5 (Accessed 2 October 2013).
 Examining the Trinity, ‘ONE – John 10:30’ (online), available at: http://examiningthetrinity.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/one-john-1030.html (Accessed 2 October 2013). On the homepage of this website it was noted that ‘this website is NOT an official website of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. This is a personal website that is not officially supported nor endorsed by the WBTS. The Watchtower Society cannot be held responsible for the content found on this blog/website’ (see: http://examiningthetrinity.blogspot.com.au/http://examiningthetrinity.blogspot.com.au/ (Accessed 2 October 2013).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 19 August 2019.