On Being One:

The Biblical Trinity and Deification


These two subjects are probably the ones used most often by critics to claim that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are somehow not Christian. And yet the Apostle John explains quite plainly that Jesus Christ's understanding of the Trinity and of our eternal destiny are equivalent to the view of The Church of Jesus Christ. Trinity and deification are intimately linked; and the second issue helps explain the often perplexing and controversial first issue.

Statement of the Trinity Problem

Most discussions about the Trinity are attempts to prove either that Jesus and God the Father are "Two" or that they are "One", depending on which particular heresy the writer is trying to combat. The Gospel of John testifies to both of these truths.

The example of Jesus praying to His Father and referring to His will being separate from His Father's will, [1] among many other statements and scriptural events naturally make them seem like two different people. Nevertheless, Jesus also says, "I and my Father are one." [2] This along with several other statements forces the conclusion that although they are two, they are one. This is the paradox of the Trinity, which men have fought and died over (both figuratively and literally) for centuries. The important question comes down not just to proving that they are two or that they are one, but how they are two and how they are one.

How They Are Two

It is not difficult to understand the concept of how they are two. Jesus came to the world proclaiming that he was the Son of God. [3] Like he did so often he used common day-to-day relationships to teach about heavenly or spiritual things. Every one knows and understands the relationship between a good father and a son without any further explanation. 

Jesus and His Father have separate wills. In John 5:30 Jesus states, "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me".  And again in John 6:38 Jesus states, "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me."  The Greek word for "will" from Strong's Concordance is #2307 "thelema" and is defined as: "1) what one wishes or has determined shall be done; 2) will, choice, inclination, desire, pleasure". 

When Jesus Christ was confronted by some of his critics who said "Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true,"[4] part of his answer to them was, "It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me."[5] Here Jesus Christ compares Himself and his Father to two men.  This would make each of them as separate an individual as any other two men, since the entire purpose and intent of this law is that it takes at least two people to prove a point.  This Old Testament law is expressed as  "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death."[6] Although this verse deals specifically with capital murder cases, it was also the standard for all judgments based on witnesses.

If Jesus and His Father cannot be considered as if they were two separate persons, bearing two separate witnesses, then Jesus' use of this scripture as a defense is at best a bending of the truth to justify Himself, and at worst it is an out and out lie. Since Jesus Christ is the very definition of truth,[8] neither one of these options are acceptable. 

Therefore, our first scriptural principle is that Jesus Christ and God the Father are separate enough that they can be considered as two separate distinct individuals; a father and a son, who are capable of having separate wills, testimonies, inclinations, and desires.

 

An Introduction to The Idea That They Are One

Looking at Christ's most obvious statement, "I and my Father are one"[9] the word translated as "one" is, according to Strong's Concordance, the Greek word #1520 "heis" and is given only the definition "1) one". This word is used in many contexts, and by taking them all into consideration it can only be concluded that the word "heis" means "one", i.e. the number one (1). It is used in all the varied ways that "one" is used in English. There is no special significance to the word; it does not by itself connote anything supernatural. By itself this statement does not explain how they are one.   This rule can also be applied to other Biblical statements, which declare the unity of the Godhead.  Therefore, our second principle is that by itself a statement of unity between the Father and the Son does not determine ontological nature and does not explain how they are one. 

The "I and my Father are one"[10] interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees must be looked at in greater detail and note taken of what each of participant thought it meant.

I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God ? (John 10:30-36; italics added)

It is very clear from the above that the Jews understood the phrase "I and my Father are one" to be a mortal man claiming to be God.  Jesus then stated that he was claiming to be the Son of God.  Since most Christian readers will undoubtedly take these two terms to mean the same thing, there is little need to defend that question. Therefore, our third principle is that according to both parties involved in the conversation, the phrase "I and my Father are one" is equivalent to "I and my Father are God", which is equivalent to "I am God."

Jesus Christ understood that He was claiming to be God. From the reaction of the other 1st Century AD Jews, they obviously understood that Jesus was claiming to be God. Also it may be assumed that John, the author of this Gospel, being a 1st Century AD Jew, understood the statement in the same way.  Therefore, our fourth principle is that it can be generally assumed that a Jew in the 1st Century AD would understand the concept of claiming to be one with God equivalent to the claim of being God.

Furthermore, Jesus next used another expression to the Jews to indicate his oneness with the Father. Picking up at the verse following the above quotation: "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.  Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand."[11]

The Pharisees again wanted to take him because he repeated his claim using this second phrase, which also indicates his oneness with the Father. The statement "the Father is in me, and I in him" is a restatement of "the Father and I are one", such that the Jews attempted to stone him again for restating his claim.  Therefore our fifth principle is that normally, a 1st Century AD Jew would understand the claim of a man being in God, and God being in that man, to be the equivalent of a claim of being God.


How they are one

This interchange in John chapter 10 only shows that The Father and Son are one, but doesn't address how they are one. There are only four verses in all of scripture that directly answer how Jesus and God are one; these verses are found in John chapter 17.  This chapter is often called the great intercessory prayer, as it is the Lord's prayer to the Father on behalf of all those He has chosen.  First it must be understood that in the following verses the words "these" and "they" refer to the apostles and those who will believe the apostles. [12] The wording of John 17:11 & 21- 23 is plain and obvious, but "mainstream" Christian theologians can't (or won't) see it, because they can not tolerate the consequences of taking the Bible for what it plainly says. 

And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are ... That they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17: 11, 21-23; italics added)

 The first thing to notice about these verses is that Jesus is praying to his Father that the apostles may become one "even as" Jesus and the Father are one. These verses use the same words and same grammar as that used in John 10:30-39, except that it changes in person ("I" becomes "they") and the verb tense changes from present to subjunctive ("am" becomes "may be"). According to Strong's Concordance, the Greek word translated "as" and "even as" is #2531 "kathos. Alternate translations of the term from Strong's are: "according as", "just as", "in proportion as", and "in the degree that".  For a clearer understanding of Christ's meaning when he spoke the above phrase, replace the words "even as" with the alternate translations:

  • "they may be one according as we are one"
  • "they may be one just as we are one"
  • "they may be one in proportion as we are one"
  • "they may be one in the degree that we are one"
Notice this is a clear statement. Nowhere in the scriptures do either Christ or John attempt to dilute it's meaning by using words such as "almost", "but not quite", "sort of", or "similar to". Many readers feel that they must impose these phrases on the text in order to obtain a good night's rest, but the truth is Christ did not qualify this statement in any way. 

Setting aside whatever various disputes Christians may have about the Trinity, the Lord is quite plainly praying that His disciples should become one in the same way that Jesus is one with God The Father. So:

IF you believe the Oneness of God & Jesus is:

THEN consistency demands that you should also believe:

the "Jesus Only" Trinity (modalism)  

Christ is praying for His disciples to merge into one being, no longer as individual persons, and only showing itself as one aspect of the whole at a time, (so sometimes we would see this being as Peter, sometimes as John, sometimes as Matthew, but always just this same single being). 

the "Orthodox" Trinity 

Christ is praying for His disciples to merge into one substance together in the same nature but not confounding them; "nothing greater or less", "coequal to themselves"; "consubstantial [co-essential]"; "persons of one substance, power"; "neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance".  

the "LDS" Trinity 

Christ is praying for His disciples to remain separate and distinct individuals but become united in one heart and in one purpose.

the SomeOther Trinity 

Christ is praying for His disciples to become SomeOther being.  


The final answer to the question, "How are Jesus and God the Father one", is found in the answer to the question  "How did Jesus expect His disciples to be one"?  He expected them to be one in the same common sense way that all interpreters have always understood admonitions for the disciples to become one. The disciples are described as "of one heart and of one soul"[13].   Paul exhorts all to "come in the unity of the faith"[14],  "that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment"[15],  "that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel"[16], and "that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind"[17]

The Biblical testimony is that Jesus Christ and God are one in this same way, perfectly joined together in mind and judgment, likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord.  In other words, They are one in purpose, glory, joy, witness, might, mind, and strength; while remaining distinct individuals. And since this is the only reference in the entire Bible that indicates how God and Christ are one, there is certainly something missing from the Bible if we are not to believe that this really is how they are one.

An additional proof that this is the correct interpretation of the Trinity lies within the following argument about deification.

 

Statement of the Deification Problem

Most people are unaware that this is a problem. It has to do with the eternal destiny of man. The scriptures speak a great deal about how men are to become like God. The same scriptures in the Gospel of John quoted above teach just what our relationship to God and Christ is, and just what God wants us to be.

Jesus Christ and John Proclaim the Truth of Deification

The above quoted verses in John 17 combine the references about being "one" and being "in one another" several times, reiterating that they have equivalent meanings.  Read carefully the verses John 17:21 "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us". The above phrase "as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee" is a precise replica of the phrase "the Father is in me, and I in him" found in John 10:38.  In verse 22, Jesus also prays, "that they may be one, even as we are one", which is a recasting of the phrase "I and the Father are one", found in John 10:30. 

The phrases "that they may all be one," and "that they also may be one in us", and "that they may be one, even as we are one" are very straightforward in the KJV and other common modern day translations. They use the same words and grammar as in John 10:30,38. The Greek word for "one" is "heis", exactly as found in John 10:30.  Since this chapter has Jesus praying to the Father, "us" obviously refers to the two of them, who were earlier defined as God.  The verb, "may be", in the Greek is Strong's #1510 "eimi", and is exactly the same verb as used in John 10:30, except that it is in the subjunctive form "o" (Strong's #5600).  When Jesus used these terms to speak of Himself, He used the present tense, indicating that He was God at that moment. The subjunctive indicates a future or possible state.

Also the words for being "in me", "in him", "in us", and "in thee" ("en emoi", "en autos", "en hemin", and "en soi" in Greek) are unambiguous in both chapters.  Christ uses exactly equivalent wording (changing only the pronoun) when He speaks of Himself being "in" the Father and when He speaks of the disciples being in the Father.  By combining the phrases He used in John 10:30 & 38 to proclaim that He and God are one, Christ uses the exact same terminology when speaking about the disciples in John 17:11, 21-23. 

The real question that needs to be answered is this: How would the 1st Century AD Jews reading John's Gospel have understood these verses?  Based on their reaction in John 10, it is impossible that these Jews could have understand these verses in any way other than how they understood the earlier equivalent wording.  According to our principles established above (principles that probably seemed obvious when applied to Jesus Christ), the Jews would have to conclude that the verses mean that these disciples and God may become one, which is equivalent to saying that these men may become God.

This may be a shocking statement to many, but before it is rejected it out of hand, consider these questions:  How could Jesus have possibly uttered this statement in the same form as John 10:30,38 if the statement is not supposed to be understood in the same way?  Was he deliberately trying to confuse people?  If Christ had some special knowledge that would allow the same phrasing to mean two different things, how could John record it this way with no word of explanation?

It is simply impossible that the same words, spoken in the same order by the same man, and written to the same audience by the same man could have two different interpretations.  Since the Jews, who thought that Jesus was just another man, interpreted Christ's words in John 10 as claiming to be God, then it follows that in John 17 they would interpret those words as a claim that men can become God.  If this is an incorrect interpretation why did John not correct this false conclusion that would be made by the Jews, since he knew from his own Gospel that they would inevitably interpret it this way?

To restate the obvious once more; in John 10 and 17, Jesus uses phrases like "to be one" and "to be in one another", both of which were interpreted by 1st Century AD Jews (including the author John) to mean that men can become God.  Nowhere does John or Christ attempt to reinterpret the verses in John 17 to mean something else than what they meant in John 10.  Therefore in John's Gospel, Jesus Christ proclaimed that men could become god.

How Deification fits in to explain the How of Oneness

This deification doctrine supports the LDS Trinity doctrine. If men are to become one with each other (meaning one in purpose, heart, and mind) while remaining separate individuals; and then men are supposed to become one with God, it is logical that, as the wording indicates, man will be one in purpose, heart, and mind with God while remaining separate individuals. And that oneness is the same "even as" the oneness God has currently with the other members of the Godhead. The Biblical testimony of the nature of the Trinity is verified, simply by taking the straightforward obvious meanings that are in the Bible.

Some More Notes on Deification

Many people ar under the impression that the word "God" is a name; it is not.  The word "God" is a title, like "Ruler" or "Judge". In the Old Testament many others, besides God the Father are given the title of god (or elohim). Often the translators used different words instead of god, because they did not like the idea. But, although God the Father may make us to be gods (i.e. judges or rulers), He will always be our Father and our God; in the same relationship we have with Him now. He simply causes us to become one with Him, and He therefore calls us gods. Since God the Father is infinite, he is unchanged by making us one with Him. Infinity plus one still equals infinity.

Understanding the deification of man clarifies other verses that must be twisted in order to fit mainstream Christian theology. For example we have already read one verse that causes problems - John 10: 34-36 where Christ, quoting Psalms 82:6, says that the Old Testament scriptures testify that those who receive the word of God are called gods. Mainstream Christian theology must assert that although Christ said this and asserted that the scripture cannot be broken, He didn't really mean it literally.  Some have said that He meant it as an ad hominem argument, or that Jesus was not arguing a logical position but only used this statement on an emotional level. To take this stance means that Jesus was employing the classical logical fallacy of quoting out of context, which means He was defending His position by manipulating a quote from an authority in a way that the original meaning of the statement is altered. In other words, Jesus had skirted the truth in order to win an argument. When the correct understandings of the Trinity and Deification are used however, we can simply take Christ at His word and assume He believed what He was saying, and that He did not need to teach false doctrine to get His point across.

The above verses in John are not the only indication of the doctrine of deification.  There is ample evidence in the New Testament and early writing of the Church Fathers that God said that He is going to make us into gods. I will only present a brief outline of the New Testament doctrine here.

We are commanded to become perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect[18].  If someone is as perfect as God they would have to be God. Christ explains the way that this is to be accomplished is through deification, "That they may be one, even as we are one:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one"[19]

We are to become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, being glorified together [20].  A "joint-heir" does not inherit a part of the inheritance. Each joint-heir owns the entire inheritance. 

We are to inherit all things that the Father has as sons of God [21].  Again we inherit all things just as Christ already has all things. 

We are to sit with Christ on His throne, "even as" Christ sits on the Father's throne. [22]  Not displacing anyone just part of receiving all things. 

We are to receive a glorified, immortal body like Christ's body. [23] 

We are to partake of the divine nature and be given all things pertaining to life and godliness, receiving glory [24]. If someone has all things pertaining to godliness, then they have all that God has. 

We are to be like Christ when He returns. [25] 

We are to be made kings and priests unto God and his Father. [26]

We will be partakers of his holiness. [27] 

We will be exalted by God. [28]

Summary

When the verses 10:30-39 and 17:11,21-23 in the Gospel of John are understood in a plain literal sense, the Trinity ceases to become a mystery, but instead a clear statement about the Nature of God.  The members of the Godhead are united in just the same way that they want us to be united, in purpose, glory, joy, witness, might, mind, and strength, while remaining distinct individuals. And as Christ's fervent prayer before His crucifixion shows, His goal was to bring all of His followers into that same unity with Him and God The Father.



[1] John 26:39

[2] John 10:30

[3] John 9:35-37

[4] John 8:13

[5] John 8:17,18;  italics added

[6] Deuteronomy 17:6

[8] John 14:6

[9] John 10:30

[10] John 10:30

[11] John 10: 37-39; italics added

[12] John 17:20

[13] Acts 4:32

[14] Ephesians 4:13

[15] 1 Corinthians 1:10

[16] Philip 1:27

[17] Philip 2:2

[18] Matthew 5:48

[19] John 17:21

[20] Romans 8:14-18

[21] Revelation 21:7

[22] Revelation 3:21

[23] Philip. 3:21

[24] 2 Peter 1:3-4

[25] 1 John 3:2

[26] Revelation 1:6

[27] Hebrews 12:9-10

[28] 1 Peter 5:6