I sometimes invite a non-Christian guest to lead a discussion. This past Saturday, we were blessed to have South African Muslim scholar Yusuf Ismail engage with us on the christology of John's gospel. Despite our strong disagreement, it was a cordial and respectful discussion, the way all-such dialogues should be.
One of the texts that we discussed is John 10:30 ("I and the Father are one"), and I was stimulated by our discussion to write a blog post dealing with this text. In order to understand exactly what Jesus was saying, we need to read the verse in the context of the surrounding verses (22-39):
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 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.”
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.John 10:30 does indeed teach the deity of Christ, but not for the reason that many Christians think. By saying "I and the Father are one", my personal view (which not all scholars hold) is that Jesus is not talking directly about his ontological unity with the Father. Rather, the context suggests that He is talking about a unity of purpose and will -- namely, in bringing about salvation. But could anyone who was not God have said the sorts of things Jesus said in the lead up to verse 30? Let's take a look at Jesus' statements in turn.
In verses 26-27, Jesus says, "...but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." This statement of Jesus parallels Psalm 95:6-8:
"Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness..."Jesus thus appears to apply this text from Psalm 95 to Himself, thus making Himself out to be Yahweh. But we are not finished.
Jesus goes on to say, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." Does that remind you of any Old Testament Scripture? Turn to Deuteronomy 32:39:
"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand."Again, in Isaiah 43:13, God says,
"Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?"In John 10:29, Jesus further tells us that no one can snatch out the Father's hand. He thus presents Himself as being the unique collaborator with the Father in bringing about salvation.
In light of these allusions, it is not difficult to see why the Jews reacted in the way they did in verse 31: "The Jews picked up stones again to stone him." In verse 32, Jesus asks them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" Their response to Jesus' question is given in verse 33: "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."
This would be an ideal opportunity for Jesus, were He not God, to deny the allegation. But what does He say? The answer is given in verses 34-39:
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.Yusuf Ismail used this text in an attempt to show that Jesus is here in fact denying His deity by showing that, in Psalm 82 (to which he alludes in verses 34-35), rulers are given the title of "god". In order to understand what Jesus is saying, we need to read the whole Psalm to acquire some context:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; 7 nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!It is certainly true that the title of "God", as here, can be used in some contexts to refer to earthly rulers. But the point of this Psalm is that the corrupt and evil rulers, whom the one true God has called "gods" are to be destroyed by the one true God as a result of their wickedness (verse 6). Does this sound like Jesus was placing Himself among them, as being like them, as being one of them, a "god" in the same sense that these wicked beings are called "gods"? Of course not.
Rather, Jesus' point is that, since even wicked and corrupt rulers whom God judges and destroys are called "gods", on what grounds do the Jewish leaders object to Him calling Himself the Son of God when He does everything the Father does?
Furthermore, notice in verse 35 of John 10 that Jesus says that these "gods" are those to whom the Word of God came. In verse 36, he tells us that He, the Son, was sent into the world by the Father. John, the author of the gospel, has already told us in John 1 that Jesus is the Word, who has come to save those who will believe. Jesus is saying that He is the Word of God who has been sent into the world to judge the world's wicked rulers and authorities. Thus, Jesus is saying that they are like the "gods" of Psalm 82 who are judged by the Word of God, namely Jesus Himself.
This gains further support from by John 5:22 and 9:39-41, in which we are told that it is the Son who judges everyone. In John 9:39, Jesus says, "For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” In John 5:22, he says, "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son."
In conclusion, John 10:30, when properly interpreted through the lens of its surrounding context, is a powerful affirmation to the deity of Christ. This is only one among many in the gospel of John.