“…the Father is united with me, and I am united with the Father.” (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern)
1. In most versions, though not all, this phrase is rendered, “…the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” Trinitarian theology understands this to mean the Son and Father are unified in essence, and thus to be “in” one another, it is claimed, is to be mystically one-and-the-same in being, though remaining as separate, individual persons. This understanding of the phrase is biblically unsustainable, however. Only when the verse is isolated from other verses that use the same language and read from the perspective of an already developed Trinitarian theology, does it have the meaning Trinitarians ascribe to it. To get to the truth of what the verse means, we must read the entirety of Jesus’ teaching on this subject and let that guide our interpretation. There are two other passages in John where Jesus speaks of the same thing: John 14:10-23 and John 17:21-23. These shed light on his meaning here. When we study those passages, we see that the Lord has in mind being unified in purpose, and his words make no sense if they are understood in a Trinitarian sense.
2. In John 14, Christ makes the same appeal for the Jews to believe in him because of the works that he does, stating again that “…I am in the Father and the Father in me…” (v. 11). He goes on to say, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (v. 20). Christ thus applies the same language to his disciples that Trinitarians say indicates a co-indwelling when referring to him and God. Likewise, in John 17 Jesus prays that the disciples “may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (vv. 21-23). From these two passages we can see what the Lord means when he speaks of being “in” one another—he equates this with being “one,” i.e., unified, and he prays that the disciples would be “in” too, so they can be perfectly one. He uses the word kathos to say “in the exact same manner” that (“just as,” “even as”) the father is in Christ, so too the disciples can be “in” God and Christ. If Trinitarians are correct that Jesus’ use of “in” means mutual indwelling, then that would mean Jesus was praying that his disciples could join the godhead.
3. We can see from these passages that when John writes of being “in the father” he cannot mean it in any Trinitarian sense of having the same essence; rather, from reading the verse in its context within John, the phrase is best understood as being “one,” that is, being completely unified. Meyer, himself a Trinitarian, says that the unity referred to in John 10:38 is not “essential unity,” as in the Trinitarian understanding, which Meyer identifies as the “old orthodox explanation,” but rather it is a “dynamic unity.” He identifies this “dynamic unity” as “nothing else than that of inner, active, reciprocal fellowship” (Meyer, H. A. W., Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament, Winona Lake, IN, Alpha Publications, reprinted 1979. Vol. 3, The Gospel of John p. 333).
4. Several English translations do a good job of showing that the Lord has in mind this dynamic unity in the sense of “reciprocal fellowship.” The New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People by Charles Williams, and the NWT (New World Translation), translate the phrase, “the Father is in union with me and I am in union with the Father.” And the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) reads, “the Father is united with me, and I am united with the Father.” The reading “united” is better than “in union,” which can be easily misunderstood to mean a metaphysical union of some sort. The translation “united” clearly communicates the heart of Jesus’ meaning, that he and his Father are perfectly one in purpose.