Hey TGCA! I’ve been chatting with a friend about the Trinity recently and I’m struggling to understand how the Bible can call the Father God, yet Jesus can be God as well? Is this a unique characteristic to God, or are there other examples of something similar in our day-to-day lives? Thanks.

Thanks for asking this great and important question. There are a few issues tied up here but let me begin by offering a basic answer and then try to explore it a bit more deeply.

You ask how the Father can be God and yet Jesus can also be God. Of course, this is similar to what John talks about at the start of his gospel. Referring to Jesus as the “Word”, he declares that:

In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

How can the Word (the eternal person who became Jesus) be with God and be God. Is this simply a contradiction?

How can this make sense? How can the Word (the eternal person who became Jesus) be with God and be God. Is this simply a contradiction? Or is God one person and multiple persons at the same time (like a person with multiple personality disorder?)

The answer is that it isn’t a contradiction—and I think I can demonstrate it with a simple analogy. Imagine visiting a country town and walking into an old shop called “Smith and Son”. You walk up to the counter and see two men standing there: one older, one younger. You ask “which one of you gentlemen is ‘Smith’?”

Now the most obvious answer might be that the older man is Smith—he is, after all, the “Smith” on the sign out the front: the Smith who runs the store with his son. 

But it’s also true that the younger man standing next to him is also Smith—indeed he has just as much right to the name. He also owns the shop and does the same work as the older man—but he is his own person. He is with Smith but it’s also true to say that he is Smith.[1]

Unpacking the Analogy

Okay that’s the basic analogy. Let’s think about how it works.

It works by observing the fact that there are two different meanings for the word “Smith”. “Smith”, in the analogy, is a family name—a marker of the natural relationship between the two men. But it is also being used as a personal name for one of the two men called Smith.

This seems too simple. Is this how it is in the Bible? Actually, yes it is. In John 1 for example we see a slight difference in the two uses of Theos, the Greek word for “God”. The first use (with God) comes with a definite article (the), the second (was God) without. Commentators such as C.K. Barrett and Don Carson see this as significant:

… if John had included the article [in the second case], he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the Word with God that no divine being [he means Person] could exist apart from the Word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say … that the Word was with God. The “Word does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the God­head belongs also to Him.” [2]

This grammatical observation fits with what the rest of the New Testament says. Very often, “God” is used a personal name for God the Father:

… It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, “He is our God.” (John 8:54)

… for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist … (1Cor 8:6) 

But Jesus is God too. He shares so completely in the Father’s own “Godness” (as Smith the son shares in Smith’s “Smithness”) that the word applies to him as well. 

  • He too is the “Lord” of the Old Testament (e.g. Is 40:3 c.f. Mark 1:3; Joel 2:32 c.f. Rom 10:13; John 8:58);
  • He too is Creator, Sustainer, Lifesaver and Judge etc. (John 1:3; Heb 1:2; John 5:21-23); 
  • He is in such solidarity with God the Father that to see him and hear him is to see “the Father who dwells in me [and] does his works,” (John 14:10).

Jesus then is the ultimate “chip-off-the-Old-Block”

Jesus then is the ultimate “chip-off-the-Old-Block”. He’s “Smith” all over again. Whatever the Father has, or is, or does—Jesus has/is/does too. Just as Smith shares his Father’s DNA, name, character, business, tools, and goals, so Jesus shares his Father’s power, will and purposes.

Christian Orthodoxy 

And this is how our Christian forebears understood it. The Church Fathers who defended the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth century insisted that God the Father and Son were “of one essence” (homoousios) because they were a real Father and Son: 

[Sharing a common nature] is a property of children with reference to their parents. And like manner also, when the Fathers said that the Son of God was from His essence, reasonably have they spoken of Him as coessential [homoousios].
Athanasius, De Synodis 51

Men are not really fathers and really sons, but shadows of the True.
Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1.6.16

… since the similarity of a Son begotten of the substance of His Father does not admit of any diversity of substance … the Son and image of the invisible God embraces in Himself the whole form of His Father’s divinity both in kind and in amount: and this is to be truly Son, to reflect the truth of the Father’s form by the perfect likeness of the nature imaged in Himself.
Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis 1.5

He is called Son because He is identical with the Father in Essence; and not only for this reason, but also because he is of Him … the living reproduction of the Living One, and is more exactly like than was Seth to Adam, or any son to his father.
Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio 30.20 ).

So where does that leave our “Smith and Son” analogy?

Well it looks pretty strongIt seems to capture the key idea.

Not Quite Right

But it’s not perfect is it? Did you notice how Gregory says that Jesus is more exactly like his Father than Seth was to Adam? And did you notice what Athanasius says about fatherhood? “Men are not really fathers and really sons, but shadows of the True.” His point is one that when we use the words “father” and “son” for God, they aren’t just concepts that begin with us that we then apply to God; it’s the other way around. Our human relationships are faint echoes of Their perfect original Fatherhood and Sonship. 

This is an important point and it means that we have to be careful with our analogies.[3] Even using the analogies of Scripture (e.g. Father/Son) can lead us astray if we don’t notice what else the Bible says. For example, if we just used our own logic, we might end up thinking that:

  • God became a Father at some point in time;
  • Jesus and his Father have their own power as individual humans do;
  • The Father and Son might have different desires, or might quarrel as human families do.

None of these things is true: 

  • God’s Son is so inseparable from his Father that he is like his Word; like the “radiance of his Glory” (John 1; Heb 1:3)—God could not be himself without out his Son. 
  • Jesus’ “coming-forth” from the Father doesn’t happen at a moment in time. It is always happening such that the Father is always in him and working through him (John 14:10)
  • Jesus doesn’t have his own separate power or plans but “he can do only what he sees his Father doing,” (John 5:19)


So I hope all this helps answer your question. 

With regard to the first part of your question—how the Bible can call the Father God, yet Jesus can be God as well?—Jesus and God are a true father and son who share the same (divine) nature.

With regard to the second part—Is this a unique characteristic to God, or are there other examples of something similar in our day-to-day lives?—It’s “yes” and “no”: human parents and children can show us a kind of likeness and unity; Jesus and his Father show us a total and inseparable likeness and unity.

[1] I remain grateful to my friend David Walter with whom I developed this analogy—which is to say neither of us can quite remember who added which bits.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: An Introduction and Commentary. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 117—The included quote is taken from Edmund P. Clowney.

[3] Some people—often reacting against unhelpful trinitarian metaphors of eggs, ice and shamrocks etc.—believe we shouldn’t use analogies at all. They want to stick to the language of the Nicene Creed which describes how the persons are distinct but share one being.

Of course they are right to observe that no created analogy can fully or adequately describe God—they all break down at some point. But the objection is also wrong at face value. When Scripture describes Jesus as God’s “Word”, “Radiance”, “Imprint” and “Firstborn” these are all (at least partly) metaphors.

Furthermore, the language of “person” and “being” is itself analogical as most people use it. As I have pointed out elsewhere, when modern (western) Christians think of God as “one being”, they tend to understand “being” as a referring to an individual—as in “one human being”. 

But this is an anachronism, and it gets the meaning wrong. The Greek word ousia, which occurs in the Nicene Creed—the word “being” stands-in for—doesn’t mean “individual” but something like essence/substance or nature. The Father and Son are not one individual, but distinct individuals who share one undivided nature.