The Apostle John ----- On Being One
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 LDS view. Trinity and Deification are intimately linked; and the second issue helps explain the often perplexing and controversial first issue.

Statement of the Trinity Problem

Many of the discussions about the Trinity that I have read are trying 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. We believe both and take the words of the Bible quite literally.

The example of Jesus praying to His Father and referring to His will being separate from His Father's (John 26:39), 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" (John 10:30). 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 Are They 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. (John 9:35-37) 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. (... I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. John 5:30; For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. John 6:38) The greek word for "will" from Strong's Concordance is #2307 "thelema {thel'-ay-mah}  " 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." (John 8:13), 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" (John 8:17,18). 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 ("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". Duet 17:6). If Jesus and His Father can not 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 (John 14:6), neither one of these options are acceptable.

Therefore, 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 able to have separate wills, inclinations and desires.

An Introduction to The Idea That They Are One.

Let's look at Christ's most obvious statement, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30). First of all the word translated as "one" is, according to Strong's Concordance, the Greek word #1520 "heis {hice} and is given only the definition "1) one". This word is used in many contexts, and by taking them all into consideration we can only conclude 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.

"I and my Father are one" does not determine ontological nature [Axiom #1]


But let's also look at the "I and my Father are one" interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees and note what each of them 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)
Since the term "my Father" was understood to refer to God the Father, the Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be God . Jesus then stated that he was claiming to be the Son of God. (Since most readers [if there are any] will undoubtedly take these two terms to mean the same thing, [as I do], I will forgo any defense of that question). Therefore, according to the parties involved:

"I and my Father are one" =
"I and my Father are God" = "I am God"[Axiom #2]

We assume that Jesus Christ, understood himself to be claiming to be God. From the reaction of the other 1st Century C.E. Jews, we can see that they understood Jesus to be claiming to be God. And we may assume that John, the author of this Gospel, also being a 1st Century C.E Jew, understood this statement in the same way.

Normally, 1st Century C.E
Jews understood Axiom #2 to be true.[Corollary #2A]

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, (John 10: 37-39)
The Pharisees again wanted to take him because he repeated his claim using this second phrase, which also indicates his closeness to the Father. Therefore this statement was a repetition of Axiom #2, a claim of Godhood.

"the Father is in me, and I in him" = "I am God"
[Axiom #3] And

Normally, 1st Century C.E Jews understood Axiom #3 to be true.[Corollary #3A]


How are they one?

This interchange in John chapter 10 only shows that they are one, but doesn't directly address how they are one, as expressed in Axiom #1. There are only three verses in all of scripture that 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 word "they" refers to the Apostles and "them also which shall believe on me through their word" (John 17:20). 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)
The first major 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 {kath-oce'} ". Alternate translations of the term from Strong's Concordance are "according as", "just as", "in proportion as", "in the degree that". For a clearer understanding of Christ's meaning when he spoke this, replace the words "even as" with the alternate translations: 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". If you must add these or similar phrases to what He said so that you can sleep at night, then do so, but the truth is He 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 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.


Therefore how are Jesus and God one? In the same way that He expected His disciples to be one.

How did He expect His disciples to be one? In the same common sense way that all interpreters have always understood admonitions to become one. The disciples are described as "... of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32). Paul exhorts all to "come in the unity of the faith" (Eph. 4:13); "...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" (1Cor 1:10); "...that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" (Philip 1:27); and "...that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind" (Philip 2:2).

The Biblical testimony is that Jesus Christ and God are one in the same way -- one in purpose, glory, joy, witness, might, mind, and strength, while remaining distinct individuals. And since this is the only inference in the entire Bible which indicates how God and Christ are one, there is certainly something missing from the Bible if we are not to believe that this is how they are one . This is the only consistent conclusion, based on the only scripture that reveals how they are one.

But the real 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 is our relationship to God and Christ, and just what God wants us to be.

Jesus Christ and John Proclaim the Truth of Deification

These 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 verse in 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" in John 10:38 . Jesus next states, " that they may be one, even as we are one", which is a repetition of "I and the Father are one" or as stated in Axiom #2 "I and my Father are God" or "I am God". But it is these words in connection with the first part of the verse that is so interesting.

The phrases "that they may all be one.." and "... that they also may be one in us", are also 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 above. Since this chapter has Jesus praying to the Father, "us" obviously refers to the two of them, who were earlier defined as God (Axiom #2). The verb used, "may be", is exactly the same verb as used in John 10:30, except that it is the subjunctive form. The subjunctive indicates a future or possible state, not a current state of being as used when Jesus spoke of Himself. Also the words for being "in us" are the same words Christ uses when He speaks of 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.

The real question is -- How would the Jews, to whom John was writing, have understood these verses in John 17:11, 20-23 -- a prayer that men would become one with God?Based on their reaction in John 10, it is impossible that 1st Century C.E. Jews could understand these verses in any way other than how they understood equivalent wording in John 10 --- "That they may become God". This obvious conclusion follows from Axioms #2 ["I and my Father are one" = "I and my Father are God" = "I am God] & #3 ["the Father is in me, and I in him" = "I am God"]

This may be a shocking statement to many, but before you reject it out of hand - ask yourself - 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 phrase 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. If the Jews, who thought that Jesus was just another man, interpreted Christ's words in John 10 as claiming to be God, in John 17 they would also interpret those words as a claim that other men can become God. If this is an incorrect interpretation why did John not correct this false conclusion which would be made by the Jews, when he knew from his own Gospel that they would inevitably interpret it this way?

To restate the obvious one more time, in John 17, Jesus uses phrases like "to be one" and "to be in one another", both of which according to Axioms #2 / #3 and Corollaries #2A / #3A above, would have been interpreted by 1st Century C.E. Jews - including the author John - to mean that men can become God. Nowhere does John or Christ attempt to reinterpret these verses in John 17 to mean something else than what they meant in John 10.

Jesus Christ Proclaimed that Men Can Become God. [Axiom #4]

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 He 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

To better understand the meaning of Deification the reader must eliminate the habit of thinking 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 (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 can not be broken - He didn't really mean it literally - He meant it as an ad hominem argument; i.e. He was not arguing a logical position but only used this statement on an emotional level. 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.

If the above verses in John were the only Biblical indication of the doctrine of Deification it would not be a very strong argument. But there is ample evidence in the New Testament and early writings of the Church Fathers that God said that He is going to make us into gods. I will only present a brief outline here.

The LDS Prophet Lorenzo Snow said, "As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be". Early Christian theologians said similar things. Irenaeus said, "If the word became a man, it was so men may become gods" (Against Heresies), and Athanasius wrote that "[Christ] became man that we might be made divine" (On the Incarnation, 54).

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,

He said that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine.


Summary

When the verses in the Gospel of John, 10:30-39 and 17:11,21-23 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..



write: donovan@byu.net

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HERE is my Standard Disclaimer

This is not an official web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . The opinions expressed, although generally representing the beliefs of the Church, are my own responsibility. I do not speak for the Church as a whole or any other individual members. Any errors are merely a reflection of my own limitations, don't condemn the things of God based on my faults.
[All quoted Bible scriptures are from the King James Version (KJV) unless otherwise indicated.]