Is the God of the Bible a single-person God like Allah?
Was God alone before creating man?
Are the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit modes or manifestations of God?
Or is the God of the Bible unique among the religions of the world?
Do the titles Father and Son and Holy Spirit
point to real persons in the one true God?
This short article aims to show that the conversations and transactions between the Father and the Son point to the reality of the mutual existence of the persons in the Godhead. Most of this article is drawn from the writings of “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the Apostle John. More specifically, most of the focus is on Christ’s “high priestly prayer,” the night before going to the cross, which Jesus addressed to his Father in heaven:
ESV John 17:1–3 — When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Here the Son makes requests of his Father. He points to their interrelationship, the distinction of persons within the Godhead, and speaks of the mission that his Father has given him to provide eternal life.
- As Jesus approaches the cross, he acknowledges to his Father that it is now the hour for him to glorify his Son (v. 1).
- The Son will in turn glorify the Father (v. 1).
- The Father gave the Son all authority over all flesh (v. 2).
- The Father gives people to the Son (v. 2).
- The Son gives eternal life to those the Father has given him (v. 2).
These transactions point to real distinctions between the persons. While the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. The following is adapted from an ancient digram of the Holy Trinity:
Three Persons, but Only One God
At same time, Jesus underlines that there is only one God, “the only true God” (v. 3). While many other passages make it abundantly clear that Jesus is God (for example, John 1:1, 18; 5:18; 10:30, 33; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1), my purpose here is to show that the Scriptures point to the real interrelational existence “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
These distinctions between the persons are further laid out in the verses which follow:
ESV John 17:4–5 — I [the Son] glorified you [the Father] on earth, having accomplished the work that you [the Father] gave me [the Son] to do. And now, Father, glorify me [the Son] in your [the Father’s] own presence with the glory that I [the Son] had with you [the Father] before the world existed.
Four times in those two verses, Jesus distinguishes himself from his Father. The Son glorified the Father on earth. The Father gave the Son work to do. The Son accomplished the work which the Father gave him. The Son asks the Father to glorify him in the Father’s presence even as the Son glorified the Father on earth.
Then Jesus makes the astounding statement that he was with the Father before the world existed:
ESV John 17:5 — And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
The Son’s existence is not linked to the world or his mission in the world. He existed before the world existed. He was with the Father before the creation of the world. He shared the Father’s glory. Before “the beginning,” the Father and the Son were in eternal fellowship.
Furthermore, eternal life is inextrincably bound up in a relationship with the Father and with the Son:
ESV John 17:3 — And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Jesus here defines eternal life. It is knowing the only true God AND Jesus Christ whom God has sent. It is a knowledge of BOTH the Father AND the Son. The Apostle John emphasizes this truth in his First Epistle when he writes:
ESV 1 John 1:3 — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
“Indeed our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
As Christians, our fellowship is not only with the Father, nor is it only with the Son: It is “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Later in his letter, John points to the grave danger of denying the Son’s real existence:
ESV 1 John 2:22–24 — Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.
“No one who denies the Son has the Father” (v. 23). To deny the existence of the Son and to deny that Jesus is the Christ, that is the work of the antichrist. The spirit of antichrists—for John says that there are many (1 John 2:18)— is to deny the real existence of “the Father and the Son” (v. 22). Those who deny the Son do not have the Father, but “whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (v. 23). The word “also” like the word “and” in verse 22 shows us that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father.
John goes on to explain that this is the message that his readers heard from the beginning. If this truth abides in them—and in us—then they and we “will abide in the Son and in the Father” (v. 24). This again shows that our fellowship is with both the Father and with his Son as John said in 1 John 1:3.
The Apostle John insists on this truth in no uncertain terms in his Second Letter:
ESV 2 John 9–11 — Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
Apparently some felt that they were more progressive and advanced (v. 9). They went “on ahead” and did not hold to this teaching about Christ being sent into the world by his Father so that through the Son we might have eternal life. They felt that the doctrine or teaching about the Son was not necessary; having God was enough. The Apostle John warns that these progressive teachers who do not hold on to the Son “do not have God.” But “whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” Both… and… Not just the Father, but also the Son.
This teaching is wholly consistent with the teaching of the New Testament that while both the Father and the Son are God, the conversations and transactions between them are not a matter of biblical or literary fiction. They point to the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son.
On virtually every page of the New Testament, we see the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit —the one true God— working together in perfect harmony to bring about the fulfillment of “the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11).