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.

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.

Trinitarian Vocabulary

Trinitarian theology has long had its own technical vocabulary, comprised of special words used to speak about trinitarian ideas, as well as everyday words with special nuances and significance in trinitarian discussion. Since not being familiar with what these words mean, or how someone else is using them, can be very confusing, I’ve set out to briefly define some important terms below. Part of the debate over different articulations of the doctrine of the Trinity pertains to how these terms are understood, so these definitions will not be universally agreed upon; my goal is to clearly set forth how I use them and understand them, so that people can have a clear idea of what I mean when I use the terms.

beget: to cause to exist directly from one’s self. Used specially of the Son of God in reference to His unique and direct generation from the Father.

being: entity, of which there are two kinds: generic being, and individual being. Generic being is a nature; individual (or numeric) being is a particular concretely existing entity. Synonyms for being: substance, essence, ousia; these can be used in either a generic or individual sense, as the term ‘being’ can. Synonyms for ‘generic being’: nature, universal. Synonyms for individual being (or numerical being): hypostasis, person, particular.

consubstantial: of the same substance. Because substance can carry either a generic or individual meaning, so can this term as well. If meant generically, then it indicates that two distinct individual beings have the same generic being; such as, that two persons have the same nature. If meant numerically, it means that two persons are one individual being, or person.

create: to bring into existence, or to cause. In this sense only the Father is uncreated, as He alone is uncaused, and the Son and Spirit may be called creatures. In this sense the ante-nicene orthodox fathers, and Homoians following them, used the term.

deity: the dominion of a god; synonyms include godhood/godhead, and divinity.

essence: being, or substance (Greek term ‘ousia’). Subject to a generic or an individual meaning, see ‘being’ above.

god: a person or item in possession of dominion; so the term is used in the scriptures in reference to the Father, the one God, on account of His supreme dominion over all; in reference to the Son of God, on account of His sharing in His Father’s dominion over the universe, while Himself being subject to the Father as His God; and in reference even to angels, satan, and men, in respect to the relative dominion and authority they have. As Sir Isaac Newton said, “a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.”.

hypostasis: an individual being; in the case of a rational subject, a person. This term has been used since at least the time of Origen to distinguish Father, Son, and Spirit from one another, as three hypostases.

infinite: to be without any external limitation of bound

nature: a set of definitive communicable ontological properties. For example, human nature is the collection of all properties which define what it is to be human, and are passed on from parent to child.

ousia: the Greek term for being, also translated as ‘substance’ and ‘essence’. Admits of a generic and numerical usage, see ‘being’ above. It is noteworthy that prior to the ante-nicene era, the generic usage of the term was not a synonym for nature, as it has come to mean in the nicene era and since, but the ‘stuff’ or ‘material’ that an individual is composed of.

particular: an individual being; synonymous with hypostasis and individual being, and with person, in the case of a rational subject.

person: a rational individual being. So the term is used of men, angels, and persons of the Trinity. Synonym to hypostasis.

substance: being; can be used in either a generic or individual/numerical sense, see ‘being’ above. Synonyms include: being, essence, ousia.

Supreme Being: a term or title used to refer to that one individual Being which alone is the supreme uncaused Cause of all else that exists, and which has absolute supreme authority and dominion over all things which He has caused; the one God.

universal: a nature, or generic being. Synonyms include nature, and ousia, essence, substance, and being, used in their generic, rather than individual, sense.

That the Son Has a Distinct Will From the Father Shown From John 6:38

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38 NASB

The Word came down from heaven, we are told, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him. Now, this shows that the will of the Father and of the Son, are not only so distinct as that each individually possesses the power to will, and can individually perform the act of willing, but also that what the Father and Son will is not identically the same.

For if the Father and Son did not have distinct operations of will, then the Son could not speak of His own will, and that Him that sent Him; for every action of willing would be identically one and the same, and so the Father willing something, and the Son willing something, could not be distinguished one from another, as they are here.

And if the content of each person’s will were identically the same, then the Son’s will and the Father’s will could not be distinguished. For the Son says that He came to do the will of Him Who sent Him, and not His own will. But if their wills were identically the same, this would be impossible; for doing what the Father willed, the Son would be equally doing what He Himself willed; and so, He could not say that He did the Father’s will but not His own. He can only have come to do the Father’s will and not His own, if their wills were not identically the same.

This then shows beyond a doubt that the Son has a distinct will from the Father. And such we should expect, since the Son is not the Father, but a distinct person from Him; not the one God, the Supreme Being, but a distinct individual being besides Him.

Yet the heretics, trying to get around the obvious and natural implication that the Father and Son are genuinely distinct individual beings (persons), not merely modes of the same person, vainly imagine that a single person can have multiple wills. This is something foreign to our experience in creation, foreign to the pages of scripture, and utterly contrary to sound reason. For if a single person had two wills, then how could they decide between which will to follow in a given instance? Do they have a third will also, to break the tie, and decide between the two? Or if what is meant is only that they have two distinct conflicting desires, how is this any different from what all men experience? Yet we do not on that account declare that we have two wills. The concept of a single person having two wills, then, is shown to have no merit; it being itself a seemingly incoherent notion, and beyond that, one which, more importantly, we lack any reason to believe in, from either anything in creation, or the scriptures.

Rather the scriptures would have us believe in God, and in His Son, and have eternal life in Them; not in one God in two names or modes, but in one God, and one only-begotten Son of that one God, two distinct persons (that is, two distinct rational individual beings). “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 173 NASB).

 

Do You Know the Only True God, And Christ Jesus Whom He Has Sent?

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:1-3 NASB

From this rich passage, let us briefly observe this: that eternal life is to believe in the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent. This knowing is far more than a mere intellectual knowledge, but a relational knowledge; it is not to merely know about the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, but to know Them- both of Them. For we have been told another place, that no one comes to the Father, except through Christ; and so, no one can know the only true God without knowing His Son, and anyone Who knows the Son, shall know the Father, the only true God, through Him.

But it is important for us to observe here one small word, the word “and” in verse three. For the heretics, wanting to deny the existence of the Son by making ‘Son’ merely a another name of mode of the only true God, Whose Son He is, do not believe in the only true God *and* Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, but in a God of their imaginations, Who is Jesus Christ, sent by Himself. But their false teaching is refuted by this one small word; and so all forms of modalism dealt a deathly blow by the clear teaching of scripture here, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is not the only true God Whose Son He is. For if the Son were the only true God, one could not believe in the only true God and in His Son, for believing in one would be to necessarily believe in the other also, if They are the same person, or the same individual being.

But here we read that there is one “only true God”, and this is clearly the very same one that the Lord Jesus Christ calls His Father, in verse one. This is the Supreme Being, the one God, the Almighty, the uncaused Cause of all; and Jesus Christ is not Him, not this one God, but another, a distinct person and a distinct individual being, Who the only true God sent. Not only here is the Lord Jesus Christ distinguished from the only true God by the word “and”; nor only also by the identification of the only true God with His Father, Who He is manifestly distinct from; but also by the fact that He is sent by the only true God, and so is distinguished from Him by that as well, since it is evident that one is sent by another, not by themselves.

Since, then, it is eternal life to know the Father, Who is the only true God, and Jesus Christ His Son Whom He has sent, this cannot be regarded as any minor point of faith, but a very central and important teaching of scripture. For what is more central and foundational than the identity of the only true God? And alongside that, the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son? And if knowing God and His Son is eternal life, what can be said of those Who do not know, and do not believe, that the only true God is particularly the Father, and the Father the only true God? What life can those Who think that Christ is not sent by the only true God, and is not the Son of the only true God, have? For eternal life is to know the only true God, an Jesus Christ Whom He has sent; and one must doubt that a person knows Them, if he does not even understand their identity, and cannot correctly identify and distinguish one from the other.

Let us then believe the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, which is clear: that He is not Himself the only true God, but is another besides Him, sent by Him, His Son. Through this Son, we know the only true God, His Father; and if we deny these teachings, we deny the teaching of the Lord Himself, and deny ourselves of eternal life.

Individual Consubstantiality is Patripassionism

The Son of God suffered and died as the propitiation for the sins of men (1 John 2:2). The Father did not become man, or suffer, or die for our sins; and so this shows that the Son must be a distinct person and a distinct individual being from the Father. For if the Father and Son are the same person, then for the Son to have become incarnate, and suffer, and die, would be for the Father to do so equally; ‘Son’ and ‘Father’ being nothing more than two names for the same person. And as a person is a rational individual being, it then follows that the Son must be a distinct individual being, if He is a distinct person.

But some false teachers redefine ‘person’ as a consciousness alone, or as a mode of subsistence, and propose that the Father and Son are two persons inasmuch as They are two consciousnesses, or two modes of subsistence, but yet are still both the consciousnesses or modes of one and the same being. We must examine this possibility: for if this is possible, then showing that the Father and Son are two persons will not make Them two distinct individual beings. We must inquire: when they say that the Son is the same individual being as the Father, the same God as the Father, do they mean that He is a part of this one God, this one individual being, or that He is the one God? For certainly, if the Father and Son are each a part of the one God, then what is done by one, need not be done by the other, and what is experienced by one need not be experienced by the other, for they are distinguished as one part from another. Yet if this were the case, then it follows that neither the Father nor the Son is equated with the one God, but each is only a part of Him. For just as a man’s foot will not be made equal to the whole man, so a part cannot be equated to the whole. If then the Father and Son, as two mere modes or consciousness of one God, are parts of that one God, then although They can be distinct, neither truly is that one God. And such a notion is utterly repugnant to scripture, which says not that the Father is part of the one God, but that He is the one God.

It follows then, that, as they say, they believe that the Son is God, the one God, in that He is not a part of the one God, but the whole of the one God. And they teach that the Father likewise, is not a part of the one God, but the whole of the one God- which is also the Son. Therefore, whether the Father and Son be supposed to be mere modes, or mere consciousnesses, inasmuch as each is identical to the whole Supreme Being, the whole of the one God, each must be identical to one another; and so it follows, that each will be the other, the Father being the Son, and the Son the Father. If this is the case, then we return to our original dilemma; for this is to then say that just as much as the Son became incarnate, and suffered, and died as the propitiation for sins, so the Father became incarnate, and suffered, and died as the propitiation for sins; although a propitiation to Who we cannot know, since there is no one higher than Himself Whom He might propitiate.

It is demonstrated then, that to make the Father and Son out to be the same person, or the same individual being, is the ancient heresy of Patripassionism, which since ancient times has been rightly condemned as heresy. For God did not die to appease His own wrath; but He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, that we might be forgiven, and live through Him: knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent.

Modalism Refuted From John 14:1

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1 NASB

This brief statement “Believe in God, believe also in Me” shows that the Son has real existence distinct from the Father, and is not merely a mode or name of the same individual being. And one must note that He does not say “Believe in the Father, believe also in Me’, so that one might argue that He is here teaching to believe not only in one mode of the Supreme Being, but two modes, but rather, by not merely distinguishing Himself from the Father, but from “God”, He shows that He is not Himself the God He is distinct from, but another distinct individual being besides Him. And certainly, if one will inquire into which ‘God’ the Lord intended to signify here by the word ‘God’, and enjoined His disciples to trust in, it must be acknowledged to be none other than the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the one and only true God, the Supreme Being, Who alone is the supreme Cause of all things, and supreme Ruler over all things. It is this God that Christ distinguished Himself from; not to deny His own divinity, but to show that He is divine, not as being the Father Himself, but as being the Son of the one and only God.

Now the modalists, including so many who falsely style themselves as trinitarians when they are not, cannot consent to such language as our Lord uses here. For to believe in God, according to them, requires one to believe in the Son and Spirit as well, for they define God as being Father, Son, and Spirit all together. And for this reason, they rage against anyone, for instance, who says that Jews, or Muslims, worship the same God as Christians; for they insist that such is impossible, when the God of Christians is ‘triune’ or ‘tripersonal’, while the God Muslims and Jews try to worship is one person only. And so according to their standards, no one can worship, or believe in, the true God, the Almighty, the God of the Bible, without worshipping and believing in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together; and to believe in God, for them, is to, in the same exercise of faith, believe in the Son, as well. And this is a necessary thing for them to think, who make the Father and Son out to be one and the same individual being.

Yet the Son of God here refutes them with only a few words when he says “Believe in God, believe also in Me”. For He makes clear, by His statement, and especially by the term “also”, that to believe in God and to believe in Him are two distinct things; and so it follows, according to the words of Christ, that one could believe in God, without believing in His Son. Now this shows that God and His Son are two distinct individual beings, or else, it would truly be impossible, as the modalists say, to believe in God without believing in Christ, Christ being the very self-same individual being. It necessary follows, from the words of the Lord here, then, that the Son is a distinct individual being from the Father, not the one God Himself.