Against Generic Co-essentiality

Having dealt a lot with the heretical doctrine of numerical or individual coessentiality in past articles, I want to address in this post the doctrine of generic or natural co-essentiality. This doctrine differs enormously from the former; while the former teaches that the Father and Son are the same individual substance, that is, the same individual being or person, the latter which we shall address here pertains to the notion that the Father and Son, as two genuinely distinct individual beings, or persons, share one and the same generic nature.

This idea was the view which prevailed, thanks to Emperor Theodosius, within the Roman Empire at the close of the fourth century, becoming the official dogma of the Eastern churches under Byzantine rule (the Western churches only very briefly, if at all, held to this view, instead embracing the Sabellian doctrine of numerical coessentiality). Such notable Homoousians as Athanasius and Basil the Great held and promoted this doctrine of generic coessentiality, which to this day, despite modalistic influence, has a continued following in Eastern Christianity and among some Protestants.

The idea of generic co-essentiality is that of a shared nature, genus, or species; Basil summed it up as “The distinction between οὐσία [essence] and ὑπόστασις [person] is the same as that between the general and the particular ; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man.” (Letter 236); Athanasius said “Even this is sufficient to dissuade you from blaming those who have said that the Son was coessential with the Father, and yet let us examine the very term ‘Coessential,’ in itself, by way of seeing whether we ought to use it at all, and whether it be a proper term, and is suitable to apply to the Son. For you know yourselves, and no one can dispute it, that Like is not predicated of essence, but of habits, and qualities; for in the case of essences we speak, not of likeness, but of identity. Man, for instance, is said to be like man, not in essence, but according to habit and character; for in essence men are of one nature. And again, man is not said to be unlike dog, but to be of different nature. Accordingly while the former [men] are of one nature and coessential, the latter are different in both.”

The idea, then, is of a nature shared among multiple distinct persons or individual beings (hypostases); just as three men share a common human nature, a set of communicable ontological properties possessed by all men, which define a given being as “human”, so the persons of the Trinity, these fathers taught, share a common nature which makes them ontologically identical. The Son in comparison to the Father is often summed up, in this view, to be ‘everything that the Father is, except that He is begotten, not unbegotten’. He is then equal to and identical to the Father in all attributes, except the causal relation of having been begotten by the Father, rather than being unbegotten, as the Father is.

This doctrine simply does not work; it contradicts the holy scriptures, our divine, inspired source of knowledge in such matters.

The holy scriptures teach us that God (the one God, the Father) is omniscient; He knows all things perfectly and unchangingly. “God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 1 John 3:20 NASB. “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” Psalm 147:5 NASB. The Son, on the other hand, evidently did not know all things when He said “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Matthew 24:36 NASB. Someone might object that the Son only said this in reference to His human nature, and that while His human nature did not know, His divine nature did; to this I respond that natures do not know anything, nor do they possess any consciousness or mind of their own, but rather, persons do. So long then, as it is acknowledged that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, is one person, not two, it must be admitted that He, that is, the person Himself, did not know all things, while the Father in His own person always does know all things.

The holy scriptures also teach us to believe that God is immutable; He does not change. “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” Malachi 3:6 NASB. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17 NASB. The Son, however, has often changed since the foundation of the world, although He has now come to change no more, as having been perfected. For the Son changed to take on various forms to appear to men in the Old Testament, as the Angel (that is, Messenger) of the Lord. He appeared as a man to Abraham; He appeared in fire to Moses at the burning bush; in the form of man He again wrestled with Jacob; and in the form of God He was seen by Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel on Sinai, and again, in that same glory, by Isaiah. But more on these appearances later. And at last, He took on human flesh from the virgin Mary, and in that flesh grew, and matured, and died, and rose from the dead.

Surely no thinking man can regard such actions as not involving change in the Son’s own person; who will be so insane as to say that He is the same, and unchanged, after He has taken a human body into the unity of His person, as He was before, when he had no flesh? One might respond that the Logos Himself, considered in His capacity as Logos specifically, did not suffer change in taking on flesh. To which I say, such may well be the case; yet when we consider not merely the part of Him that was the Logos, but His person on the whole, it cannot be avoided that, as a person, to go from having no body, to having a body, is a change. The Son then, was capable of changing, and did so, only upon His perfection coming finally to the state of immutability of which it is said that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrew 13:8 NASB.

The Father then, is entirely unchanging and immutable, always and eternally being the same without any change or alteration; while the Son indeed, having first been begotten by the Father before the world was, changed into various forms to appear to men, and then for our salvation even took human flesh into the unity of His person, finally coming to change no more once He had risen from the dead. The Father, as being unchanging, would never have appeared to men under various forms, nor would He have taken on flesh; and so there is manifestly a great difference in the attributes of God and His Son shown here by the holy scriptures.

We may also note that the scriptures reveal that the Father is invisible; “Who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.” 1 Tim 6:16 NASB. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” 1 John 1:18 NASB. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17 NASB. The Son, the only-begotten God, on the other hand, as we have already mentioned above, was often seen by men; He is the visible Image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). As the Angel of the Lord He was the one by Whom God spoke with Abraham (Gen 18), Who rained fire from His Father on Sodom and the surrounding cities (Gen 19:24), Who wrestled with Jacob (Gen 32:22-40), Who spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex 3:2), and from the pillar of cloud and of fire (Num 14:14), Who appeared to Joshua as the Captain of the Lord’s hosts (Josh 5:13-15), Who spoke to Hagar (Gen 16:7-14), Gideon (Jud 6:22), Manoah (Jud 13:9-23), and other saints of old (Jud 2:1-6), the Word of the Lord Who came to the prophets and spoke with them (1 Kings 9:9, Isa 38:4, Jer 1:1-2, Ezek 1:3), Whose glory was seen by Isaiah (Isa 6, John 12:41). He was seen then, not only in His incarnation, and after His resurrection, but also beforehand. There is a clear difference then between the Father and the Son, that the one, no one can see or has seen, and the other was seen at many times under different forms, and finally, when He took on flesh for our salvation.

The Father, we read in the scriptures, is absolutely Almighty; the term ‘Almighty’ only ever being used for Him in the whole New Testament, and meaning, literally ‘Ruler over all’ (Gr. ‘Pantokrator’). He is “the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev 4:8). He, the living God, the Father of His people, is alone Almighty; “For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 NASB. And it is clear from the very nature of things, that only one person, one individual being, can be Ruler over all, Almighty, absolutely. For if that one had an equal, neither one having higher authority than the other, and so, neither one ruling over the other, neither would be found Almighty, since neither would truly rule over all, and there would be no supreme Ruler over all at all. If then it is acknowledged that the Father alone is Almighty absolutely, as having dominion not only over the whole universe, but even over the Son (1 Cor 11:3, 1 Cor 15:28), then the Son is not equal to Him in this respect, but subject to Him as to His own God and Father (Rom 15:6). And while the Son, as sharing in the Father’s dominion over the universe, may even be said to be ‘almighty’ in that lesser respect, as He, subordinate to the Father, rules over the universe according to the Father’s will and on His behalf, yet only one of Them is Almighty absolutely, as ruling over all things without exception, namely, the Father, and so, this is shown to be a difference between the Father and the Son also.

We may also note that the scriptures declare that the Father is the one from Whom are all things, as He is the supreme uncaused Cause of all things. “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NASB. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36 NASB. Yet all things are not from the Son in this same way, but are through Him. For the Father is the supreme Cause of all things, having made all things through the Son. Their functions, then, are clearly distinct; the Father acts towards the universe through the mediation of the Son, and not the other way around.

Scripture further reveals to us that God (the Father) is infinite. To be infinite is to be without external bound or limitation; and as God is, as we have said above, the Supreme Ruler over all, and further, the Supreme Cause of all. If then, He is entirely uncaused, and simply eternally and unchangingly is, and is absolutely sovereign over all, it follows that God is subject to no external bound or limitation whatsoever, in either His ontological being, nor in His actions. That He is not bound by anything external to Him in His being and attributes necessarily follows from the fact that as the Cause of all else that exists, He Himself is uncaused; thus no one ever determined what God’s attributed and being would be. He was not made, caused, or begotten according to the will or design of another, but rather He simply is, and is as He is, eternally and unchangingly, without any cause, source, or origin. This is a respect in which God is totally unique compared to everything else in existence, for everything else, including His own Son, does owe its cause and origin, and thus, its being and attributes, to Him. All that God caused has its being and attributes according to His will. Likewise, since God is sovereign over all, there is nothing external to Him binding His actions; He is not subject to another, so as to have anything required of Him by another, but is totally free. “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.” Psalm 135:6 NASB. There is none to place Him under obligation or law; His future is not predestined by another.

God’s absolute freedom and infinitude in these respects is unique to Him, as we have said, and so, is not shared by His Son. While of the Father is is written “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Psalm 115:3 NASB, the Son declares “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” John 5:19 NASB. He says, “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 NASB. The Son clearly teaches us to believe that He is limited by the Father’s will. In this the Son clearly stands in contrast to the Father then, that while the Father is absolutely free and infinite, not bound or subject to the will of another, the Son is indeed limited by the Father, as respects both His being and attributes, which He has from the Father, and as respects His actions.

What more shall we say? Scripture teaches that the Father is alone good (Mark 10:18), alone holy (Rev 15:4), “the only wise God” (Rom 16:27), “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Tim 6:15), “the only true God” (Jn 17:3). It says these things on account the the surpassing and incomparable greatness of God, for in contrast to all else which is good, and holy, and wise, and which possesses sovereignty, and divinity, it is as though He alone is such things, and that all else is as nothing in these things, in comparison to Him Who is incomparably greater than all. Not only does the Son declare that His Father is “greater than all” (Jn 10:29), and “greater than I” (Jn 14:28), but even declares Him to be incomparably greater than all; for He says to the Father in the Psalm “There is none to compare with You” Psalm 40:5 NASB. God then has no equal, and the Son is not equal to Him in these attributes, as He is greater than the Son in goodness, and holiness, and wisdom, and sovereignty, and divinity -not that the Son is not very great in all these things- but His Father is still greater, as being incomparably greater than all, even greater than His Son. For as the Son says “There is none to compare with You.” Psalm 40:5 NASB. And God testifies Himself, saying “To whom then will you liken Me, That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.” Isaiah 40:25 NASB, and “To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike?” Isaiah 46:5 NASB.

Who then will make the Son equal with the Father, in contradiction to the words of both the Father and the Son, Who both testify to the truth that God has no equal, but is incomparably greater than all? Where is this teaching that there is another Who is identical to God and equal with Him in all respects and in all attributes, except that He is begotten while God the Father is unbegotten? Who can read these things and not recognize that rightly did Ulfilas characterize this a “devilish invention and doctrine of demons”, on account of how blasphemous these things are to God? For in supposing that they exalt the Son with this doctrine, really, they give the Son a false and empty honor (as no honor not founded in truth has any weight to it) and rather blaspheme the one the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to call “the only true God”, by making Him Who is incomparably greater than all out to merely be one of two or three of a kind.

The doctrine of generic co-essentiality, then, that ‘the Son is identical to the Father in all His attributes, except that He is begotten rather than unbegotten’, is shown to be quite unbiblical, and ultimately, quite blasphemous. I do not say that it is heresy, for it does not violate that ancient rule of faith; but it is a false and harmful doctrine, nonetheless, and one quite clearly opposed to the teaching of the scriptures themselves.

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The Incomparable Greatness of God

“Thus God the Father, the Founder and Creator of all things, who only knows no beginning, invisible, infinite, immortal, eternal, is one God; to whose greatness, or majesty, or power, I would not say nothing can be preferred, but nothing can be compared;” (Novatian, On the Trinity, Ch 31).

“Concerning Him, therefore, and concerning those things which are of Himself, and are in Him, neither can the mind of man worthily conceive what they are, how great they are, and what they are like; nor does the eloquence of human discourse set forth a power that approaches the level of His majesty. For to conceive and to speak of His majesty, as well all eloquence is with reason mute, as all mind poor. For He is greater than mind itself; nor can it be conceived how great He is, seeing that, if He could be conceived, He would be smaller than the human mind wherein He could be conceived. He is greater, moreover, than all discourse, nor can He be declared; for if He could be declared, He would be less than human discourse, whereby being declared, He can both be encompassed and contained. For whatever could be thought concerning Him must be less than Himself; and whatever could be declared must be less than He, when compared in respect of Himself. Moreover, we can in some degree be conscious of Him in silence, but we cannot in discourse unfold Him as He is. For should you call Him Light, you would be speaking of His creature rather than of Himself — you would not declare Him; or should you call Him Strength, you would rather be speaking of and bringing out His power than speaking of Himself; or should you call Him Majesty, you would rather be describing His honour than Himself. And why should I make a long business of going through His attributes one by one? I will at once unfold the whole. Whatever in any respect you might declare of Him, you would rather be unfolding some condition and power of His than Himself. For what can you fittingly either say or think concerning Him who is greater than all discourses and thoughts? Except that in one manner — and how can we do this? How can we by possibility conceive how we may grasp these very things?— we shall mentally grasp what God is, if we shall consider that He is that which cannot be understood either in quality or quantity, nor, indeed, can come even into the thought itself. For if the keenness of our eyes grows dull on looking at the sun, so that the gaze, overcome by the brightness of the rays that meet it, cannot look upon the orb itself, the keenness of our mental perception suffers the same thing in all our thinking about God, and in proportion as we give our endeavours more directly to consider God, so much the more the mind itself is blinded by the light of its own thought. For — to repeat once more — what can you worthily say of Him, who is loftier than all sublimity, and higher than all height, and deeper than all depth, and clearer than all light, and brighter than all brightness, more brilliant than all splendour, stronger than all strength, more powerful than all power, and more mighty than all might, and greater than all majesty, and more potent than all potency, and richer than all riches, more wise than all wisdom, and more benignant than all kindness, better than all goodness, juster than all justice, more merciful than all clemency? For all kinds of virtues must needs be less than Himself, who is both God and Parent of all virtues, so that it may truly be said that God is that, which is such that nothing can be compared to Him. For He is above all that can be said. For He is a certain Mind generating and filling all things, which, without any beginning or end of time, controls, by the highest and most perfect reason, the naturally linked causes of things, so as to result in benefit to all.” (Novatian, On the Trinity, Ch 22)

The Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to believe that the one God, His Father, is “greater than all” (Jn 10:29); and this “all” did not exclude Himself, for He also said “the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28). It is well established then that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the only one Christ teaches us to believe to be “the only true God” (Jn 17:3), is greater than all.

But if we may ask “how much greater than all is God?”, scripture answers us, “incomparably greater than all”:

“Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done,
And Your thoughts toward us;
There is none to compare with You.
If I would declare and speak of them,
They would be too numerous to count.” Psalm 40:5 NASB

Here the scripture, declaring God’s greatness, proclaims that He is so great that there is none to compare with Him. This incomparability to all is absolute; there is in some real sense, none Who compares with God- even His Son; for these words are spoken from the person of the Son Himself. We know this because in the New Testament, Hebrews quotes from this Psalm as Christ speaking to His Father:

“5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,

“Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;
6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.
7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come
(In the scroll of the book it is written of Me)
To do Your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 NASB)

These last lines are directly quoted from Psalm 40:6-8, and so, we can most appropriately see Psalm 40 as a prayer of the Son to the Father; a prayer in which, in proclaiming the glory and greatness of God, the Son declares that there is none who compares with Him.

This is not to say that there is literally no comparison to be made between God and His creatures; scripture is full of comparisons for our benefit, and even man is said to be made in the image and likeness of God, and we are commanded to imitate God -to be like Him- to His glory. Rather it is to say that if we compare God with all else, God is so much greater than all else, that it is as though, in comparison to Him, all else is nothing and less than nothing:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
14 With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn,
Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
18 To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?” Isaiah 40:12-18 NASB

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
25 “To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.” Isaiah 40:21-25 NASB

These are important truths scripture reveals about God. Scripture declares God’s glory- God proclaims His own glory- in terms of His being incomparably greater than all; so much greater is He than all else, that in comparison, even the greatest nations are as nothing and less than nothing in contrast to Him. This is something to be grasped and believed by faith as revealed by God; this is something to worship God for, as His own Son also did, Who has taught us to follow His example.

This truth about God is not one readily accepted by many professing Christians. In the name of the entirely unbiblical concept of a “co-equal” Trinity, it is professed that God is not truly incomparably greater than all; instead, it is taught, in contradiction to scripture, that there are two others Who may so closely be compared to God, that They may be proclaimed His equals. But God makes the point, especially in contrast to idols, the gods of the ancient world that men attempted to rival Him with, that He has no equal:

“To whom would you liken Me
And make Me equal and compare Me,
That we would be alike?
6 “Those who lavish gold from the purse
And weigh silver on the scale
Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
They bow down, indeed they worship it.
7 “They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it;
They set it in its place and it stands there.
It does not move from its place.
Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer;
It cannot deliver him from his distress.

8 “Remember this, and be assured;
Recall it to mind, you transgressors.
9 “Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;” Isaiah 46:5-10 NASB

God then has no equal, and the prevailing doctrine that God is merely one of three of a kind is shown a blasphemous lie; we are forced to choose if we will believe the very words of the Son to the Father, “There is none to compare with You” (Ps 40:5), or the extra-biblical traditions of men, of Whom God declared “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matt 15:9 NASB).

We see this same truth of God’s incomparable greatness taught in the New Testament so many times as well; for so many of God’s glorious attributes, are attributed to Him exclusively:

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:4 NASB)

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 NASB)

“which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,” (1 Timothy 6:15 NASB)

“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:16 NASB)

“to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27 NASB)

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17 NASB)

We read that God (the one God, the Father) is alone holy, good, wise, immortal, sovereign, and God; these things are spoken of in this way, not to exclude these descriptors to all other beings, but to declare the incomparable greatness of God in these things. For God Himself declared all creation to be good; the Temple of Solomon was holy, as are the saints; Solomon was wise; men are blessed by God with immortality; and even the judges of Israel were called “gods”; it is absurd, then, to suppose that such qualities being ascribed to God alone, then, are meant to declare all other beings void of them. Rather, we must understand that God alone is holy, good, wise, immortal, sovereign, and God, inasmuch as in all these things, He is incomparably greater than all others; and so, when contrasted to all others, it is as though God alone is these things. For the goodness, the wisdom, the holiness, etc, of all else, however great it may be, in comparison with that of God Himself, is as nothing and less than nothing; and so, by way of this incomparable contrast, it is as though God alone is these things.

For God is what He is originally, absolutely, and supremely; while all else that exists is from God, participating in such qualities, which properly and originally belong to God, according to God’s grace and will. God simply is, and is as He is, eternally, and unchangingly, without cause, source, or origin; while all other beings which possess such qualities receive them from God Himself. God’s divinity, for instance, His dominion over all things, He possesses originally, as having it from Himself and no other; absolutely, as there is no exception or qualification to God’s divinity or dominion over all things; and supremely, as God alone is Most High over all, having supreme dominion over all. And so God is “the only God” in contrast to all others, even while others, and especially His only-begotten Son, are also properly called “God” on account of the divinity they have from Him.

Such exclusive language then, is indicative of the same thing taught elsewhere by scripture, that God is incomparably greater than all, such that all else in contrast to Him is as nothing; and so in contrast to all else that is good, and holy, and god, He alone is good, and holy, and God, as being incomparably greater than all else in such things, than whatever else may be described by such terms. For as the Son says of Him “There is none to compare with You.” (Ps 40:5).

One may then reasonably ask, what of the Son of God? Is He not like the Father? Indeed, He is; He is the Son of this one Who is incomparably greater than all; He is the Image of that Invisible God, the exact representation of His person, the brightness of His glory, His Word, and Wisdom, and only-begotten Son; God over, and greater than, everything else in the universe, but Himself having the Father, the one God, as His God, and confessing Him as greater than Himself. He is not equal to the Father, but subordinate to the Father; He does not make the Father one of several equal beings, but as the beloved and obedient Son and Image of the one Supreme Being, the only true God, makes His Father’s glory known, Himself being properly like the Father, but not equal with Him.

Would you desire to know the wisdom of the only wise God? Look to His Son, Who is His Wisdom, created by Him as the beginning of His ways for His works (Prov 8:22). Would you desire to know His goodness? Behold the good Word He begat (Ps 45:1), the Good Shepherd of His sheep (Jn 10:11). Would you desire to see His character, His actions, His dominion, His will? Look to the Son and you will see them in Him Who is the Image of the Invisible God, through Whom God performs His great works of creating, sustaining, ruling, redeeming, and judging the universe, for the Father and He are one in the unity of their actions toward the universe, the unity of Their will, and in the moral likeness to the Father which the Son shares (Jn 10:30).

And in this very expression “the Image of the Invisible God” (Col 1:15) we see at once the Son’s likeness to the Father, and subordination to the Father; for certainly to be the Image of Father, He must bear the Father’s likeness; and yet, there is an obvious inequality between a thing and its image, the image being derived from the original, and serving to reflect the original, not the other way around. And in the case of Christ we see this difference also, that obviously, as Image, He is visible; for nothing which cannot be seen is properly regarded as an Image, and we have testimony from the scriptures that not only was He seen by men when He took on flesh, but also prior to this, as the Messenger of the LORD. Yet the one God, Whose Image He is, the “the invisible God”, “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16 NASB) is invisible, and mortal men are wholly incapable of viewing Him except through the mediation of this one Who is His visible Image, His Son. And so the Son declares “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9 NASB). For by seeing that glorious being Who is the Son of the one and only God, and His proper Image, we behold the incomprehensible glory of the invisible only true God, in and through His Son.

The Son then is truly like the Father; but not so as to deny the very thing which He praises the Father for, that He is “greater than all”, and “greater than I”, and “There is none to compare with You”; He shows Himself to be good, and wise, and holy, and far greater and better than the universe which He has made at the will and command of the Father, yet never to the denial that His Father is alone good, is alone holy, is the only wise God, is alone sovereign, and that the His Father is “the only true God”, but rather He declares the incomparable greatness of His Father.

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John 10:30 Commentary

I and my Father are one – John 10:30

He intended to meet the jeers of the wicked; for they might allege that the power of God did not at all belong to him, so that he could promise to his disciples that it would assuredly protect them. He therefore testifies that his affairs are so closely united to those of the Father, that the Father’s assistance will never be withheld from himself and his sheep. The ancients made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is (ὁμοούσιος) of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father, so that whatever is done by Christ will be confirmed by the power of his Father.

Source: Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible


The great question here is, whether these words are to be understood of the unity of the Father and Son, as to their same monadical essence, or (as many of the Ante-Nicene Fathers did interpret them) of an unity in will, design, affection and concord? That they could not be intended to declare an unity of their individual essence, seems highly probable, both from the context; from the like expressions in the Scripture; and from the very nature of the thing. First, from the context; for there our Savior saith, “The works that I do in my Father’s name”–that is, by his authority and power imparted to me–”bear witness of me” (ver. 25); which words are evidently repugnant to a numerical unity of essence in them both; since where the essence is one, the actions must be one, and done by the same authority and power. To which add, that the words, “I and my Father,” are words plainly importing two persons; for the word Father is personal, and the word I is a pronoun personal; so that if these two are one and the same God by virtue of this text, they must be one in person as well as essence. Moreover (ver. 29), “My Father which gave them me” (saith Christ) “is greater than all;” which again destroys the numerical unity of essence betwixt both; since no one essence can give any thing to itself, and much less a divine and all-perfect essence. Nor can one essence be greater than itself; whereas our Lord expressly saith, “My Father is greater than I” (John xiv. 28). Secondly: This will be farther evident from the parallel expressions used by our Lord in the same Gospel, where he prays that his disciples “may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they might be made perfect in one:” and yet, doubtless, he could not pray that his disciples might be one in essence with the Father and Son, but only that they might be one by having the Spirit of the Father and Son dwelling in them. In which sense, Athenagoras says the Father and Son are one, viz. ἐνότητι τοũ πνεύματος, by unity of the Spirit. Thus Origin interprets this verse. For, having cited these words, “I and my Father are one,”– If any one, saith he, is disturbed at these expressions, as if we favoured the opinion of the Noetians, who deny the Father and the Son to be δύο ὑποστάσεις, two singular existences, let him consider this text (Acts iv. 34), “All that believed were of one heart and one soul,” and then he will understand this, “I and my Father are one thing:” we serve, therefore, ὡς ἀποδεδώκαμεν, as we formerly explained it, one God the Father, and the Son; we worship the Father of the truth, and also the Son, who is the truth, being indeed two things in subsistence, but in agreement and consent and sameness of will, they are one. Here, indeed, he only saith we worship the Father of the truth, and the Son, who is the truth and wisdom; but in his comment on John (p. 70), he adds, that the Father is πλείων, μείζων ἀλήθεια, a fuller and greater truth, and, being the Father of wisdom, is greater and more excellent, as he is Wisdom, than the Son. Then he proceeds (p. 387) to shew, that among the multitude of believers, some, differing from the rest, rashly affirmed, as the Noetians did, that our Saviour was the God over all; which, saith he, we Christians, or we of the church, do not believe, as giving credit to the same Saviour, who said, “My Father is greater than I.” And, lastly, he saith (p. 38), We Christians manifestly teach, that the Son is not stronger than the Father, who is the Creator of the world, ἀλλ’ ὑποδεέστερος, but inferior in power to him; which words afford the clearest demonstration, that the church of that age did not believe that our Saviour was ὁ ἐπὶ πᾶσι Θεὸς, the supreme God, or one of the same numerical essence with the Father; and therefore could not interpret those words of such an unity, but only of an unity of concord, mind and will. Hence, in his comment upon St. John (p. 227), he saith, that this unity of will is the cause of why Christ said, “I and my Father are one;” and in his next page adds, that the will which is in Christ is the image of the first will, and the divinity which is in Christ is the image of the true divinity. Novatian is, if possible, still more express in this interpretation: for, in answer to the objection of the Sabellians from this place, he saith, that unum, being here put in the neuter gender, denotes not an unity of person, but a concord of society between them; they being deservedly styled one, by reason of their concord and love, and because whatsoever the Son is, he is from the Father. The apostle, saith he, knew this unity of concord with the distinction of persons, by writing to the Corinthians thus: “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” For who understands not that Paul is one person and Apollos another? and that they had divers offices, one to plant and another to water? And yet the apostle Paul saith of these two, ἔν εἰσι, “they are one,” though, as to the distinction of persons, they are two; with other things of like nature. And here it is to be observed, that Pamelius’s note upon these words is this: Nempe in hoc loco, non satis accurate scribere Novatianum, quod nullam essentiœ Patris, et Filii communicationem adferat, sed exemplum ab apostolo unitati essentiœ veluti contrarium; in quo certe hallucinatum fuisse auctorem non vereor dicere, quum postea ecclesia in diversis conciliis, diversum definiverit. That is, Novatian did not write accurately in this place, as making no mention of the communion of the essence betwixt the Father and the Son, but introducing an example from the apostle, as it were, contrary to it; in which thing I doubt not to pronounce him erroneous, seeing the church afterwards in divers councils defined the contrary. And yet it is certain that many of the Ante-Nicene fathers in effect said the same thing: for Justin pronounces the Son to be ἕτερος ἀπὸ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἀριθμῷ οὐ γνώμῃ, another from the Father in number, but not in consent. And his reason follows thus, because he never would do any thing but what ὁ τὸν κόσμον ποιήσας, ὑπὲρ ὃν ἄλλος οὐκ ἔστι θεὸς, βεβόληται καὶ πρᾶξαι καὶ ὁμιλῆσαι, the Maker of the world would have him do and speak. Where, first, this God the Father is plainly styled another in number from him that made the world; and, secondly, the Son is represented as one not doing his own will, but being in all things subservient to, and delivering the words of that God, from whom he is thus distinguished. Lactantius saith, that the Father and Son are one, quia unanimes incolunt mundum, because they unanimously dwell in the world. Eusebius pronounces the Father and Son to be one, οὐ καθ’ ὑπότασιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν κοινωνίαν τῆς δόξης, not as to the essence, but as to communion of glory. And lastly, the council of Antioch pronounceth the Father, Son and Holy Ghost to be τρία μὲν ὑποστάσει τῆ δὲ συμϕωνίᾳ ἓν, that is, three in subsistence, but one only in consent or concord. Terullian declares, in answer to this objection of the Sabellians, that these words, “I and the Father,” duorum esse significationem, signify two; and then adds, that unum neutrali verbo non pertinet ad singularitatem, sed ad unitatem, ad similitudinem, ad conjunctionem, ad delectionem Patris qui Filium diligit; et ad obsequium Filii qui voluntatis Patris obsequitur: which last words shew that it is impossible that this text should be interpreted of the numerical essence or unity of the Father and Son; seeing one and the same essence cannot be obsequious or obedient to itself. And yet there is nothing more common among the Ante-Nicene fathers, than to say with Novatian, who having affirmed that the Son, obedierit Patri, et obediat, always did and always doth obey the Father, thence make this inference–Quid tam evidens esse ptest hunc non Patrem esse, sed Filium, quam quod obediens Patri Deo proponitur? What more evidently shews that Christ is not the Father, but the Son, than this, that Christ is obedient to the Father? (Cap. xxiii.) And again (Cap. xxx.), Filius nihil ex arbitrio suo gerit, nec ex concilio suo fecit, nec a se venit; sed imperiis paternus omnibus, et preceptis obedit, ut quamvis probet illum nativitas Filium, tamen morigera obedientia asserat ipsum paternæ voluntatis, ex quo est, ministrum. Ita dum se Patri in omnibus obtemperantem reddit, quamvis fit et Deus, unum tamen Deum Patrem de obedientia sua ostendit, ex quo et traxit, originem; that is, in short, the Son of God,  by his dutiful obedience to all his Father’s commands, and to his will (he doing nothing by his own will and counsel), by this demonstrated, that though he was God, yet the Father, from whom he came forth, and whom he obeyed, was the one God, even that one God, of whom he saith, Nos scimus et legimus et credimus et tenemus, unum esse Deum, qui fecit eælum pariter ac terram, quoniam nec alterum novimus, aut noscere (cum multus sit) aliquando poterimus; that is, we Christians know, believe and hold, that there is one only God, the Creator of heaven and earth; nor know we, nor can we know any other, because there is no other. And again, God the Father is unus Deus, cujus neque magnitudini, neque majestati, neque virtuti quicquam non dixerim præfferri, sed nec cimparari potest; that is, that one god, to whose greatness, majesty and power, nothing can be compared (Cap. xxx.). And indeed all the Greek fathers, from Justin to Eusebius inclusive, do frequently inform us that the Son did ὑπηρετεῖν τῷ θελήματι τοῦ Πατρὸς, obey the will of the Father, that he did ὑπουργεῖν, διακονεῖν, ὑπηρετεῖν, minister, and was subservient to him. And all that writ in Latin, from Tertullian to Lactantius inclusively, that he did Patris voluntati administrare, administer to the will of the Father; that he did obedire in omnibus Patri, obey the Father in all things; that the Son voluntati Patris fidelitur paret nec unquam faciat aut fecerit, nisi quod Pater aut voluit aut jussit, faithfully obeyed the will of his Father, and never doth or would do any thing but what the Father willed or ordered him to do (Lb. iv. C. xxix.). It being therefore certain, that one and the same essence can have but one and the same will, and that one singular and numerical essence cannot administer to the will, obey, and be subservient to the will and commands of another; hence it is demonstratively evident that he who does so, cannot have the same numerical essence and will with the Father.

Source: The Last Thoughts of Dr. Whitby

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That the Son and Father Are Numerically Two, Shown From John 8:12-18

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to Him, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. 16 But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me. 17 Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.”” -John 8:12-18 NASB

Here we see the Son teach that He is not alone, either in His judgements, or His testimony concerning Himself, because the Father was with Him in both of these things. He says “My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.” Well, if the Father and Son are one and the same person, one and the same rational individual being, then the Son would indeed be alone in His judgement, the Father not in fact being another, but merely a different name or mode or manifestation of Himself. But the Father, we see, is indeed another, and not individually the same, as the Son; or else the Son’s point is nullified, that He is not alone in the judgement.

But let us also observe that the Jews tried to discredit the Lord by saying that, since He testified of Himself, His testimony was not to be accepted. The Son rightly responds, firstly, that His own testimony is reliable; but then, refutes them from this fact: that the law establishes testimony on the witness of two men; and since His Father testifies to Him as well, the Son is not alone, but has a second witness, the Father; and so, having two testifying to the Son’s identity, the Jews ought to have accepted this, even on the basis of the Law’s standard. Now, this entire argument made by the Son here, will be found to be utterly worthless, false, yeah, even deceptive, were the Father and Son not really distinct from one another, if They are not really numerically two, not one. For the whole argument depends on the fact that the Father and Son together are two witnesses, not one; a thing which will be impossible, if They are both the same person, or the same individual being. For one person testifying to himself is but one witness; and even if we wish to indulge the scholastic heresy, of an individual being which is both Father and Son, then we must ask, how does this make for two witnesses, when They are taught to be numerically and individually one and the same? Two modes of one person, or of one individual being, do not make two witnesses, but will rather be found to be one witness, testifying to Himself twice.

We see then, from this passage, that those who make the Son and Father out to be numerically and individually one and the same individual being or person, make the Lord out to be a liar; contradicting His own testimony, that He and the Father are two distinct persons, or individual beings; metaphorically one in the close unity between Them, as many men are said to be one in unity; but numerically and individually two, or else, the Lord’s testimony here, would be false.

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Unity & Distinction In John 14:8-11

“Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.” John 14:8-11 NASB

Here we see at once the unity and the distinction between God and His Son declared. The unity, in that the Son is the Image of the Father, and like the Father, is such a way that to have seen the Son, is to have seen the Father; inasmuch as to have seen an image of something, is to have seen that thing through its image. For we know that “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15 NASB), to Whom God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen 1:26 NASB), so revealing that the Son and Father share one image and one likeness; which is so well represented in the Son, that to see the Son, is to see the Father through Him. The distinction between the persons is seen from this as well; for in the Son being the Image of the Father, we see His distinction, in that the Image, and the Original pictured in the Image, must be two distinct things; or else one could not be said to be the Image of the other. For one is the invisible God, Who no one has ever seen in His own person; the other the Image of that Invisible God, through Whom He is beheld. And so it will appear obvious that the Sabellian, or modalist, interpretation of these verses, which is to say that the Father is seen in the Son because They are one and the same, is impossible, and inconsistent with what the rest of scripture says on this point.

We also see the close relational unity between God and His Son, that the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, in verses 10-11. But in this description of their close unity, we still see the distinction between the persons, in that were the Father and Son not truly distinct, it could never be said that one was within the other, and the other within the one, since, if each were numerically one and the same individual, this would be saying nothing beyond that one individual dwells within itself, as all do. But for one to dwell in the other, and the other in the one, each must be distinct, so that there is a real mutual indwelling of each person within each other. And so we see that although the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son, the Father is not the Son, but They are two distinct persons, or two individual beings.

And so we see this rich passage reveals to use both the unity and the distinction between God and His Son; the Son imaging the invisible Father, and sharing His likeness, and dwelling in Him and the Father in He; yet not, as the modalists say, causing by this any confusion of persons, but rather revealing that, and only making any sense if, each person is truly distinct from the other.

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Distinction of Persons Shown From John 16:32

“Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32 NASB

Although all his disciples would scatter, when He, the Shepherd, was struck, the Lord says that even then He would not be alone, because the Father would be with Him. Now this shows that the Father is a distinct person from the Son; for were the Father the same person as the Son, under simply a different mode, manifestation, or name, the Son would not be able to say something like this. For in that case, the Father being with the Son would mean nothing beyond that the Son would be with Himself; and that this would indeed be to be alone. Yet the Son says that He will not be alone; which manifestly testifies that there will be another with Him; and we are told that this other is the Father. This passage proves then that the Son and Father are distinct from one another, as one person from another. And so the Son was not alone, because another person, the Father, was with Him.

This refutes the false teaching of modalism, which says that the Son and Father are but one and the same person, under different modes, manifestations, or names; for it is seen that there are two really existing persons here, distinct from one another, the Father and the Son. And those so-called trinitarians who believe that the Father and Son are numerically, or individually, one substance or being, run into the same problem; for if the Father and Son are numerical one individual being, then the Father, being the very same being as the Son, can hardly be rightly reckoned to be another, since He is numerically the same individual as the Son, in their view. For they teach that the Father is the whole Supreme Being, and the Son is that same whole Supreme Being; not in part, but each being the entire and whole Supreme Being. Each then being equated to the Supreme Being, will be equated to one another, then, as surely as it holds true that is F=G, and S=G, then necessarily, F=S (F=Father, S=Son, G=the one individual being They are supposed to share). This distinction, then, between the Father and Son seen in this passage, refutes there error as well.

And so the truth stands that the Father and Son are two distinct persons, that is, two distinct rational individual beings; the Father truly Father of another, the Son truly Son of another, so that, being together, each person may truthfully said to not be alone.

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