How can Jesus talk to God and be God?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: I’m a Muslim, but please note that I’m asking this question sincerely and respectfully. John 17:1–3 says, "[1] 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, [2] since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. [3] And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (ESV)"

The question is, was Jesus saying that the father, as a person, is the only true God in verse 3? If Jesus was saying that the Father is the only true God, how is (the person of) Jesus and the (person of the) Holy Spirit are also considered God without negating Jesus' explicit statement? (Thank you).

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries — and thank you for asking such an important question. If Jesus is God (as we Christians affirm), how can he say that the Father is the only true God and not be in contradiction? That’s a “respectful” question because it’s a “fair” question… and it will be my pleasure to answer it today.

Unfortunately, I cannot do this without talking about the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ. These are definitive doctrines in Christianity — ones that send Jews and Muslims packing — because these are the ones that separate us from the other monotheistic religions. But, to understand my answer, it is critical that you understand what I mean by the terms… not what you currently understand by these terms. So, indulge me while I explain the basics of both.

Although the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible, our “One God” revealed himself amply in the New Testament Scripture as a Trinity — that is, as a tri-personal unity. We agree with Muslims and Jews that our God is One God. We differ by accepting the New Testament revelation that this Unity manifests as three distinct persons. (Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; Acts 5:3-4; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:7)

This means that when you read the New Testament, it is not a contradiction when one person of the Trinity speaks to (of or about) another person of the Trinity. This is no more a logical contradiction than when you and I speak to each other.

This is because God exists as three discrete persons as part of his nature — that is, ontologically. This means that these three persons are not merely modes of being or literary devices. Each person is as much a person as we are. The difference is that I am a single unity who is one person, and God is a single Unity who is three persons. I have to describe it in those direct terms because analogies simply fail.

Part of what makes the Trinity work congruently is the “dual nature” of Christ. (This is often discussed under the term “hypostatic union.”) It has been the consensus for most of Christian history that Jesus is truly human and truly divine. Via his human nature, he atoned for our sins through his death (Romans 3:25). Via his divine nature, he is in continual unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

So, when Jesus prayed that priestly prayer that you cited — Jesus holds the office of High Priest, too (Hebrews 4:14-16) — he was acting logically according to the structures that I’ve set up and the conditions on the ground. The Son was speaking to the Father — but in the hearing of his disciples. So, in addition to this prayer being a moment of petition to a Superior, it was a moment of teaching. This is why Jesus spoke of himself in the third person — “your Son.”

When I pray publicly, I often say, “God bless us...” … but sometimes, when the occasion is more formal — like at a wedding or funeral (or when I’m in teaching mode) — I will say, “God, bless your people…” Since this phrase includes me, this puts me more deeply in the third person. Besides, it has a more formal tone. This is the same kind of phrasing Jesus used in this public moment of prayer.

Now… I want you to relax. I am not asking you to believe in the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ. It’s just that you need to understand what we mean by those terms to understand the answer. A being who is — by definition — a tri-personal Unity, can have any of his persons talking to any other person — inside or outside the Trinity — without contradiction. Furthermore, a person who is both human and divine can pray to God as a human about himself as a deity in the third person without logical contradiction.

That concludes my answer, but not my response. You need to investigate for yourself whether our claims about Jesus Christ are true… and if true, are they the best explanation for all the data — the physical, metaphysical and spiritual? To that end, I will leave you with a few links to information about the Trinity and the credibility of our claims about Jesus Christ.

I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to investigate — to go out of your way and send us a question. I pray that your earnest seeking will lead you to the truth… wherever it may lie. God bless you. Here are those links:

The Trinity

Who did Jesus think he was?

Did Jesus rise from the dead? Part 1: the facts

Did Jesus rise from the dead? Part 2: the explanation

An Alternative to death

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210104 How could Jesus talk to God yet be God?).

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