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My understanding is an adjective in the predicate function should generally match the subject in case, number, and gender. In John 10:30 that means the adjective “one” should be masculine (εἷς), but it is neuter (ἕν). What’s the significance of it being neuter?

I’m pretty sure this means you couldn’t argue from this verse that the Father and the Son are one person. Could you legitimately argue from it that the Father and the Son are one substance or being? Or is the most we can exegete from this verse that the Father and the Son have some more abstract unity of will and/or purpose?

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  • I know John 10:30 can be compared to John 17:11, but I’m less interested in that connection and more concerned with the grammatical construction and proper exegesis here. I think D.A. Carson was right to say arbitrarily linking two passages together can sometimes result in fallacious reasoning [Exegetical Fallacies, p. 139].
    – Joey Day
    May 25 '16 at 1:37
  • There are a lot of exceptions it seems on how the predicate should match the subject, especially when εἰμί (to be) is the verb. See my answer.
    – user33515
    Feb 17 '18 at 5:01
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Functional oneness

Virtually all modern commentators on John 10:30 take the position that the oneness immediately in view here is a functional oneness, or oneness of will, purpose, and action.

D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John:

Verses 28–29 affirm that both the Father and the Son are engaged in the perfect preservation of Jesus’ sheep. Small wonder, then, that Jesus can say, I and the Father are one. The word for ‘one’ is the neuter hen, not the masculine heis: Jesus and his Father are not one person, as the masculine would suggest, for then the distinction between Jesus and God already introduced in 1:1b would be obliterated, and John could not refer to Jesus praying to his Father, being commissioned by and obedient to his Father, and so on. Rather, Jesus and his Father are perfectly one in action, in what they do: what Jesus does, the Father does, and vice versa (cf. notes on 5:19ff.). 1

Gerald Borchert, The New American Commentary: John 1–11:

The statement in 10:30 that “I and the Father are one” has been an important battleground of theology. The first matter to note is that the word “one” here is neuter (hen) and not masculine (heis), so the text is not arguing for a oneness of personalities or personae (to use the Latin concept) but rather something akin to a oneness of purpose and will. 2

None other than John Calvin made this same argument centuries ago in his Commentary on the Gospel according to John:

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. 3

Metaphysical oneness?

D.A. Carson is one of the few who argues, on the basis of many narrow and wide contextual clues, that a metaphysical oneness of essence or substance is also at least partially or tangentially in view. Others who take this position generally cite Carson when they do.

In short, although the words I and the Father are one do not affirm complete identity, in the context of this book they certainly suggest more than that Jesus’ will was one with the will of his Father, at least in the weak sense that a human being may at times regulate his own will and deed by the will of God. If instead Jesus’ will is exhaustively one with his Father’s will, some kind of metaphysical unity is presupposed, even if not articulated. Though the focus is on the common commitment of Father and Son to display protective power toward what they commonly own (17:10), John’s development of Christology to this point demands that some more essential unity be presupposed, quite in line with the first verse of the Gospel. Even from a structural point of view, this verse constitutes a ‘shattering statement’ (Lindars, BFG, p. 52), the climax to this part of the chapter, every bit as much as ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ forms the climax to ch. 8. The Jews had asked for a plain statement that would clarify whether or not he was the Messiah. He gave them far more, and the response was the same as in 5:18; 8:59.4

(This last comment of Carson’s echoes the line of reasoning in Simply a Christian’s answer to this same question, that the Jews obviously understood Jesus to be making himself metaphysically one with God or they wouldn’t have taken up stones to stone him. I’ll defer to Simply a Christian’s answer for an excellent and convincing treatment of that idea.)

An important thing to note with respect to the Trinity doctrine (and I guess now I’m going beyond hermeneutics into systematics, so I hope you’ll indulge me briefly) is that these different kinds of oneness are not mutually exclusive. It is a false dichotomy to insist it could only be one or the other. Logically, the persons could certainly be functionally one and not metaphysically one, but if they are one in substance then surely they are also one in will, purpose, and action. So, even if all that’s in view in John 10:30 is functional oneness that wouldn’t rule out or trump metaphysical oneness being found on the basis of other passages. Distinction between the persons is one of the major tenets of trinitarianism, so either way this passage supports the Trinity. Indeed, an argument could be made that the very ambiguity of this passage is evidence for both oneness of essence and distinction of persons—the whole Trinity doctrine in a nutshell.

Notes

1 Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 394). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

2 Borchert, G. L. (1996). The New American Commentary: John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, p. 341). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

3 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, p. 417). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

4 Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 395).

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  • 1
    Take a look at this response to Bart Ehrman: dustinmartyr.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/… May 27 '16 at 22:27
  • 1
    another fallacy that needs to be avoided is posing semantic either/or options which overlook John's love of polysemy, just because "unity of purpose" appears to fit the context, this doesn't mean metaphysical unity is ruled out. Obviously Jesus opponents understood this claim to be one of metaphysical significance. Carson is ok, you should also look at Leon Morris, FF Bruce. May 27 '16 at 22:51
  • @C.StirlingBartholomew This is exactly what I have found in my own research (modest as it has been). Virtually all modern commentators say the oneness seen here is functional, a oneness of will and purpose. Carson is one of the few I've seen to posit metaphysical oneness being implied in this passage in spite of what it says on its face.
    – Joey Day
    May 27 '16 at 23:21
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Attempted Stoning Indicates More than a Claim to Unity of Purpose or Will

In John 10:30, what did the Lord Jesus Christ mean when he said, "I and my Father are one"?

Perhaps the Lord Jesus Christ meant "I and my Father are one in purpose" or "I and my Father are one in will," but then, how does one explain the Jews' reaction after they heard his statement?

31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

Certainly such a reaction by the Jews for the Lord Jesus Christ expressing unity of purpose or will was not warranted, but more importantly, the attempt to stone him if it were for a claim of unity of purpose or will was unprecedented.

In John 8:58, it is written,

58 Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I exist."

To which the Jews responded,

59 Then they took stones to throw on him.

Thus, we see that the Jews had previously attempted to stone the Lord Jesus Christ, but was it because he expressed unity of purpose or will? It is evident in John 8:58 that the Lord Jesus Christ was affirming that he existed before Abraham,1 regardless if one believes «ἐγὼ εἰμί» is a reiteration of a divine name (i.e., "I AM"). Because the Jews did not believe the statement of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, they rejected the notion that he existed before Abraham was born, they considered it blasphemous and picked up stones to stone him. But, they did not attempt to stone him because he expressed a unity of purpose or will in John 8:58.

The second attempted stoning occurrs in John 10:30 after the Lord Jesus Christ states, "I and my Father are one." Not unlike John 8:58-59, the Jews' attempt to stone the Lord Jesus Christ in John 10:30-31 indicates that they considered his statement to be blasphemous. Hence, the statement must have been more than a declaration of unity of will or purpose. To deny this, one must suggest that the Jews attempted to stone the Lord Jesus Christ for expressing a unity of purpose or will (a bizarre and unfathomable suggestion!).

The Explanation of the Unity (Oneness) as the Impetus for Stoning

As discussed, the Jews attempted to stone the Lord Jesus Christ because they considered his statement to be blasphemous. Therefore, rather than unity of purpose or will, which would not have warranted such a reaction, it is more likely that the Lord Jesus Christ, who existed before Abraham was born, was stating that he and the Father were of one nature.

Recall elsewhere that the Lord Jesus Christ distinguishes the manner in which God is his father versus the manner in which God is the father of other people. For example, in John 5:18, the author wrote that Jesus "also said that God was his own (ἴδιον) Father, making himself equal with God." Elsewhere, in John 20:17, the Lord Jesus Christ states, "I ascend to my Father and your Father," not "I ascend to our Father."

Because a father and son share the same nature, and the Lord Jesus Christ was distinguishing his relationship with "his own" Father versus that of other humans with the Father, and the author states that the Lord Jesus Christ made himself equal to God, then it is most likely that the unity declared by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 10:30 is unity of nature. Of course, this unity also implies a unity of purpose and will, but such unity is an effect of the unity of nature. It is the claim to unity of nature that caused the Jews' reaction, not a supposed claim to unity of purpose or will.

In his commentary on John 10:30, Hermann Olshausen wrote,

Olshausen, p. 498 Olshausen, p. 498


Footnotes

1 "Before Abraham was born, I exist."

References

Olshausen, Hermann. Biblical Commentary on the New Testament. Trans. Kendrick, A. C. Vol. 2. New York: Sheldon, 1866.

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    What if the Jews simply misunderstood what Jesus meant? I find it remarkable that when they picked up stones to stone him Jesus didn’t make any attempt to correct or retract his statement. In fact you can interpret his statements in the remainder of the chapter as him doubling down on what he had said. Jesus not making any attempt to correct their understanding is strong evidence they understood him exactly how he meant to be understood. Thanks for your answer. I especially appreciate the Olshausen quote. Great stuff!
    – Joey Day
    May 28 '16 at 18:39
  • 1
    @JoeyDay: I notice I didn't much cover the grammatical aspect. I'll improve this answer in the near future.
    – user862
    May 28 '16 at 18:53
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John 10:30 (ESV)

I and the Father are one.

The sentence itself is vague. It doesn't tell us what kind of union they have.

John 10:30 (Westcott and Hort 1881)

ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν.

1 Corinthians 3:8a (Westcott and Hort 1881)

ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν

1 Corinthians 3:8 has a similar phrase which shows us that it is a kind of unity -- a unity of action according to its context. Both Paul and Apollos are co-workers of God. Both of them do labor (v. 5-9).

Thus, the Greek word ἕν (neuter) is used in order to show us what the Father and the Son have in common. The context shows us what kind of unity they are having.

John 10:28-30 (ESV)

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.

30 I and the Father are one.”

The immediate context is explicit that Jesus and the Father have the same power (ability) to keep the sheepfold from going astray. The language employed by the 4th writer has shown us an allusion from an OT passage.

John 10 cf. Deuteronomy 32:39

   | 28:                                        |                              |

   | I give them eternal life                   | God alone gives life         |

   | No one snatch them out of my hand          | God's hand alone is powerful |

   | 29:                                        |                              |

   | No one snatch them out of my Father's hand | God's hand alone is powerful |

   | 30:                                        |                              |

   | I and the Father are one                   |                              |

The Jewish leaders, having known that Yhwh alone possesses this power in the OT Scriptures, accused Jesus of blasphemy (John 10:33). That is, they correctly understood Christ's claims.

Conclusion

There is a cogent evidence from both the immediate context and Hebraic vocabulary usage in the text that the one-ness (unity) of the Father and the Son in John 10:30 is a unity of substance (nature).

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The phrase εἰσί ἕν (using neuter form of εἷς) is an idiomatic use of εἷς that expresses a unity of multiple parts. See the Arndt and Gingrich edition of Bauer's A Greek-English Lexicon fo the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, entry for εἷς, definition 1(b).

Other examples:

1 Corinthians 3:8

ὁ φυτεύων δὲ καὶ ὁ ποτίζων ἕν εἰσιν·

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one

John 17:11

καὶ οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, καὶ οὗτοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ εἰσί, καὶ ἐγὼ πρὸς σὲ ἔρχομαι. πάτερ ἅγιε, τήρησον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου ᾧ δέδωκάς μοι, ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς.

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.

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