No Trinity, No Dice
The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraint that it be between 600 and 625 words.1
The meaning of the text
Everything Jesus did emphasized that he was one with the Father. John demonstrates this in three distinct arcs throughout the chapter. First, to the Jews’ criticism of his healing on the Sabbath, Jesus simply answered, "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (verse 17). Second, Jesus elaborates on the claim established at the end of the first section (vv. 19–31). He draws this out so far as to emphasize that attributes that only belong to God are his as well: the power to raise the dead and the authority to judge them. Third, Jesus claims the Father’s validation of his ministry through both miracles and Scripture (vv. 32–47).
Jesus uses the phrase, "the hour is coming" four other times throughout John’s gospel. In each instance, the context points to Jesus’ revelation of the Father. John first records Jesus’ using this phrase in his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sycchar (John 4:21–23), where he declares that people will now worship the Father not in some location but instead in spirit and in truth. This is the key that leads the Samaritan woman to see that Jesus is the promised Messiah.
John returns to this theme repeatedly in chapter 16. First, Jesus warns the disciples of the persecution that is coming from those who have known neither the Father nor Jesus (16:2–3). Second, he tells them that he would tell them plainly about the Father (16:25), and promises that they will be able to pray to the Father and the Father himself will answer because they loved Jesus believed that he came from God (16:26–27). Finally, he noted that even as they would fall away from him, he would not be alone, for the Father would still be with him (16:32).
The synoptic gospels record a similar (but distinct) healing of a paralyzed man on the Sabbath. In those recountings, the author demonstrates the power and authority of the Son of Man. John alludes to those passages both in the healing of a paralytic on the Sabbath and in his pairing "Son of Man" and "authority" (v. 27). He then extends the doctrines laid out in those passages: the Son of Man has the power not only heal a paralytic but also to raise the dead, and he has authority not only to forgive sins but also to judge all the world.
Jesus’ claim that believing Moses leads inexorably to believing him suggests both Jesus’ exposition of the Law and Prophets in Luke 24 and the many Messianic promises and types throughout the book of Moses (see Genesis 3, 12, 15, 18, 22, 26, 28, and 49). The allusion to Moses also suggests the Passover, a theme John immediately takes up and links to Jesus in the following chapter.
The significance of the text
John exhorts the reader to believe John the Baptizer, to believe God himself—that is, he exhorts the reader to believe Jesus. In particular, the reader ought to believe that Jesus is one with the Father, that he does nothing apart from the Father’s will, that he will raise the dead and judge them: in short, that the Word that became flesh is God. Given the broader goal of John’s book, that the reader might be saved and have eternal life—a note picked up in this very passage (verses 34, 39–40)—it becomes clear that there is no eternal life apart from believing in Jesus Christ as God. For the whole history of the church, this doctrine has come under assault, but John leaves no way out: if eternal life is found in Christ, it is because he and the Father are one.
I thought this was hard when I wrote my paper on Exodus 34. This chapter easily trumps that one for difficulty of writing a piece this short. After I finished the study for this paper, I spent about a third of my "writing" time just getting the length down. And you’ll note that it technically doesn’t qualify if you include just the body text in this post; I tweaked things a bit in the version I turned in for reasons unrelated to length.↩