God the Father and Jesus Are One - The Confusion Removed Once and For All, by John Lilley
Recently a reader sent me an email asking me what to say to some Jehovah's Witness friends of his who kept challenging what Christians believe about God the Father and Jesus. Here's part of his email:
"They just keep on about how there's no way possible Jesus was God in any way...their examples deal mainly with how Jesus prayed to God, and how on the cross He said 'Why hast thou forsaken me', and other similar verses. To them they think it's ridiculous that Christians can believe that the Father the Son and Holy Spirit are all one God. They think it's so simple to see otherwise."
Here is my reply to this reader. I think it will help to remove the common confusion on this issue so prevalent among Christians and non-Christians alike, and clear it up in your mind once and for all.
The Father and Jesus Are One - But HOW EXACTLY Are They "One"? Answering This Question Clears Up All the Confusion
These Jehovah's Witnesses are hanging their hats logically on the idea that because Jesus is obviously a separate person to His Father, that they can't be "one" and they can't both be God.
Unfortunately, we Christians are often the ones who confuse people on this issue with the way we talk. We say the Father and the Son are "one" but we aren't careful enough to explain how or in what exact way they are "one". These Jehovah's Witnesses say, "You Christians are ridiculous because you say you have one God but it is obvious that Jesus and the Father are not the same person." But the only reason that argument even crosses their mind is because we Christians did not clarify for them exactly how Jesus and the Father are "one".
Thankfully, the Bible does explain exactly how the Father and Jesus are one. If I had to explain it to these Jehovah's Witnesses here's how I would do it.
I would start by mentioning that the Bible says that a man and a woman become "one flesh" when they get married. Does this mean they become the same person or end up in one body? Obviously not. It's just saying that two separate persons are "one" in a particular way (not that they are the same person or in the same flesh/body).
It's the same with Jesus and the Father. The Bible makes it clear that they are separate persons (Jesus prayed to His Father, for example), but it also makes it clear that they are "one" in a particular way: they are totally united in character and purpose.
The Bible explains it like this: Jesus said, "If you've seen Me, You've seen the Father". In other words Jesus was saying that He was a perfect representation of His Father's character. The Bible also says this in a couple of different ways; for example it says that the Father was pleased to see His fullness dwell in Christ, and that Christ is the visible (human) image of the Father.
In other words, the Bible is perfectly clear about the particular, specific way in which the Father and Jesus are "one" and the particular, specific way in which we have "one God": Jesus is a perfect representation of the Father and they are completely united in character and purpose, even though they are obviously two separate persons.
It Is Correct To Say That Christians Have One God; It Would Be Incorrect and Confusing To Say That We Have Two (or Three) Gods
Even though the Father and Jesus are two separate persons, it would not be correct to say that Christians have two Gods (or three Gods if you include the Holy Spirit). It would be confusing! Saying "two Gods" (or "three Gods") implies that each of those Gods has their own character, personality, agenda, goals, etc. - like the multiple Greek gods of the pagan Greek culture. But the two persons that carry the title God (Father and Son, or three if you include the Holy Spirit) are perfectly united in
character and purpose. To say that they are "two Gods" (or "three Gods") would confuse people about their nature.
To give another example, Jesus said "I only do what I see the Father doing". Even during Jesus' earthly ministry, He and His Father were perfectly united in every way except for the fact that they happen to be two separate beings, Father and Son.
So for all practical purposes we have one God, not two (or three) Gods. Saying that we have two Gods (or three Gods) would imply that the two (or three) Gods could have different
opinions, purposes, character, goals, agendas, etc. That's why the Bible says we
have "one God". The separate persons (Father, Son, and many Christians would include the Holy Spirit of course) are "one" in a particular way which the Bible
explains clearly: they are perfectly united in character and purpose.
Unfortunately, Christianity as a whole often fails to explain this clearly, carelessly throwing around the term "one" without explaining exactly how Jesus and the Father are "one". This lack of clarity gives people like these Jehovah's Witnesses ammunition to attack this particular area of our beliefs when in reality there is nothing to attack.
Put it this way. If the Bible really taught that Jesus and the Father are only one person, yet at the same time that they are two separate persons (for example, Jesus praying to His Father), I would agree with the Jehovah's Witnesses that such a teaching makes no sense - it is self-contradictory. This is what these Jehovah's Witnesses are claiming - that our belief in this area is self-contradictory.
But these Jehovah's Witnesses are taking it upon themselves to falsely assume that when Christians say "we have one God" or "Jesus and the Father are one" that we mean "they are one person". They correctly point out the parts of Scripture that make it clear that Jesus and the Father are not one person (Jesus praying to His Father, etc.), but then they ignore the parts of Scripture that clearly explain exactly how Jesus and the Father are "one", instead falsely assuming that the Bible says Jesus and the Father are one person.
That's not fair. These Jehovah's Witnesses are cherry-picking Scriptures, trying to make the Bible appear self-contradictory by making the Bible say something it doesn't say, and trying to say we believe something we don't actually believe. They claim the Bible says in some places that Jesus and the Father are not one person, but then in other places says they are one person. They claim the Bible contradicts itself, by failing to examine carefully exactly what the Bible says. The Bible does not contradict itself at all on this issue - it says that Jesus and the Father are two separate persons that are "one" - completely united - in character and purpose.
The confusion is cleared up simply by pointing out that the Bible does not teach that Jesus and the Father are one person when it says they are "one" or "one God", but rather it teaches is that they are separate persons that are united, or "one" in a particular way. This concept is expressed by the popular Christian phrase "God in three Persons". In other words, with this phrase Christians are saying that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not one person, they are separate persons, but they are so united in character and purpose that it is more correct to speak of them as "one God" or as being "one" (in character and purpose) than it would be to speak of them as "three Gods".
(Note - some Christians argue about whether the Holy Spirit is separate from God the Father or whether the Holy Spirit is simply the expression of the Father, but that issue does not affect the logic of this discussion at all).
It really is a very simple issue. When we say that "the Father and Jesus are one" we have to clarify exactly how they are "one" (exactly what we mean when we say they are "one"). The Bible and Christianity do not teach that the Father and Jesus are "one" in the sense that they are the same person; rather, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the Father and Jesus are two separate persons that are "one" in character and purpose, so much so that it would be deceptive and confusing to speak of them as "two Gods", and it is much more accurate and much less confusing to speak of them as "one God".
Copyright 2012 John Lilley