If you like please read disclaimer in the post “The Trinity – Jesus as God – The Names Used”
When looking at the idea of “one God in three persons” it’s important that we look at the words Jesus uses to describe his relationship to the Father. The significance of this resides in understanding not only the words Jesus uses, but how these words are understood: For example, as in John 10:32-36, when Jesus talks about the “good works” he had shown the people along with the Jewish leaders, they accuse him of blaspheming. Jesus inquires “for which of (the works) are you stoning me?” Their response centers not on the “works” but that Jesus, “being a man,” made himself out “to be God.” After quoting a portion of Psalm 82 Jesus goes on to say with precision, “…Do you say of him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said ‘I am the Son of God?’” Jesus did not claim to make himself out to be God even though they may have understood his words and actions as such. But he does make it clear that he is the Son of God. This distinction is not an exception but a consistent rule throughout the Gospels.
Let’s look at something radically different than the above example. In Matthew 12 there is a discussion of the unforgiveable sin. Jesus said with specificity, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or the (age) to come.” Why the emphasis on the Holy Spirit? Why does Jesus specifically differentiate himself from the Holy Spirit? If Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God are one, why didn’t he simply say “whoever speaks against us or God, it will not be forgiven him?”
When it comes to the Trinity – “God eternally exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God and there is one God” – we should not lose sight of two things: 1) The relationship between Jesus and the Father as outlined in the Gospels and 2) the relationship between Jesus and the Father as outlined in Acts and the Epistles. Although not entirely different, there is more fodder for the Trinitarian concept in the later than the former. At least that’s my observation. As indicated earlier, Acts and the Epistles are not my focus at this juncture. They will be considered separately. The reason for that is fairly simple – I want to know and understand how Jesus describes his relationship with his Father more than I want to understand how Paul, Peter, James or others explain that relationship as their own expressions of theology.
As part of the description of the Trinity, it is said that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same abilities; omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. If this is so, even in Jesus’ earthly ministry he would have the availability to those attributes since he is fully God and fully man. But you will see and may already know that on more than one occasion Jesus admits his limitations and authority.
In order to put some flesh on the bones of this area of study I’ll list a number of passages from each of the gospels. These verses are not necessarily conclusive when it comes to marking a clear and present distinction between God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son of God and their relationship, but they do move the needle. Also, this list will not be exhaustive by any means and if it seems context is necessary, I’ll note it. If the passage can stand on its own, then so be it.
- Jesus notes that it is the Father who knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt 6:8)
- The Lord’s Prayer is “authored” by Jesus but directed to “Our Father who is in heaven…” (Matt 6:9)
- If we forgive others it is our “heavenly Father” who will forgive us. Jesus does not claim that action for himself at this point. The same is true if we do not forgive others our “heavenly Father will not forgive” our transgressions. (Matt 6:14-15) It is true that later in his ministry Jesus does forgive sin. Nothing remarkable about his ability to do that or contrary about that.
- It is those who do “the will of my Father” who will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 7:21)
- If we confess Jesus publicly, He (Jesus) will confess us before his Father. (Matt 10:32-33)
- Jesus gives praise to the Father, “Lord of heaven and earth…” (Matt 11:25)
- Note this one carefully; “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal (him).” ( Matt 11:27 ; Luke 10:22; John 14:7,9) This is a significant passage when it comes to relationship and authority. It seems clear, even when looking at the verbs used, that Jesus is noting both an intimate relationship with the Father and a shared responsibility to make the other known. It seems apparent that Jesus is not claiming anything close to equality with God. He is simply stating that the Father knows the son precisely because he is his Son. The Son knows the Father precisely because he is his Father. This passage also echoes what Jesus was referring to when he said “you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” It seems not so much an issue of oneness as much as affinity.
- When asked by James and John to have special seats in the Kingdom, Jesus’ reply exposes His limited authority; “…To sit on my right and on my left is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matt 20:23) Speaking further to the idea of “limited authority” or limited knowledge, Jesus confesses that he does not know the day or hour when end time events will take place – that knowledge is reserved for the Father alone. (Matt 24:36; Mk 13:32)
- In Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer he prays as follows: “Abba, Father! All things are possible for you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what you will.” (Mk 14:36, John 12:27)
- During his final moments with the twelve, Jesus makes this commitment to them; “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and just as my Father as granted me a kingdom, I grant you…” (Luke 22:28-30)
- On the cross, Jesus says “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Why didn’t Jesus simply say, “I know you don’t know what you are doing, so I forgive you?” Why did he make the request of the Father if he had that ability and power himself?
- In Luke 24:49, regarding the Holy Spirit, Jesus said “I am sending forth the promise of my Father upon you…” (see also John 14:16)
- “My Father is working until now and I myself am working.” (John 5:17) Both are working – It’s not a work in unison as equals, but each has a “job” to do in ushering in the Kingdom.
- Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
- “…so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” (John 5:23)
- Jesus said “I have come in My Father’s name…” (John 5:43a) This also speaks to their relationship not so much their oneness.
- In an oft quoted passage Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44)
- Jesus was “taught” by the Father. (John 8:28)
- Jesus indicates that he came as Emmanuel not of his own initiative but because he was sent by the Father. (John 8:42)
- In John, after a lengthy discussion with the Jewish leaders about works, Jesus makes a titillating statement; “…believe the works so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father.” (John 10:38; 14:11) Now on the surface this seems to be a dead bang no brainer that Jesus is equal to the Father. However, it must be pointed out that according to Paul, Christ is “in” us and we are “in Christ.” Does that make us equal to God? Does that make us God? (Rom 6:11; 8:1-2, 10-11; 12:5; 1Cor 1:2, 30; Gal 2:16, etc. See Also John 14:20)
- Jesus indicates that he “…Did not speak on his own initiative, but the Father himself who sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49-50)
- Keeping Jesus’ commandments is an expression of our love for him. In addition to that, Jesus said “…And he who loves me will be loved by my Father…” (John 14:21,23)
- Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes whom he will “send from the Father.” He also makes special note that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” (John 15:26)
- Note these words of Jesus: “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” (John 16:25-28)
- Jesus speaks to his divinity (if he understood it in that way) or at least his eternal presence with the Father in John 17:5. He does not speak of their equality, but of his presence with the Father “before the world was.” This passage does NOT speak against Jesus having been created before time began or the creation process began, it simply speaks to his presence with the Father “before the world was.” Don’t flame me on this one yet. I did not say Jesus was created, I said “this passage does NOT speak against Jesus having been created…”
It is apparent there was a special relationship between Jesus and the Father. Nevertheless, it is indeed a relationship and it does not seem to imply a co-existence or equality.
Jesus praises the Father, is taught by the Father, gets his words from the Father and mimics the actions of the Father. Does that equate to being equal to the Father – being God? That may be proved as we go along, but it does not seem to be evident from much of what Jesus said about his relationship to God the Father. This is significant in order to help us avoid reading too much into the text or the words that Jesus used. It is also important to help us lay a proper foundation when looking at specific passages that seem to speak to a Trinitarian view.
What do you think? How would you describe Jesus’ relationship to the Father based on Jesus’ words?
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p.226