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John 6:38

For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me

Surely this implies they have separate wills?

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    Most Trinitarians say that there is a singular divine will. When I used this phrase with deeply-knowledgeably Christians who regularly debated no one batted an eye. I wonder how this belief can be reconciled with John 6:38.
    – dimo
    Commented Mar 15 at 10:43
  • I'm not very knowledgeable on this topic. Could the Father and the Son go against eachother - and why not?
    – dimo
    Commented Mar 15 at 11:35

8 Answers 8

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In mainstream Trinitarian theology, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have one Divine Will but Christ is true God and true Man and hence has two wills, a human will and a divine will. This was explicitly taught by the 3rd Council of Constantinople:

For when we confess two natures and two natural wills, and two natural operations in our one Lord Jesus Christ, we do not assert that they are contrary or opposed one to the other (as those who err from the path of truth and accuse the apostolic tradition of doing. Far be this impiety from the hearts of the faithful!), nor as though separated (per se separated) in two persons or subsistences, but we say that as the same our Lord Jesus Christ has two natures so also he has two natural wills and operations, to wit, the divine and the human: the divine will and operation he has in common with the coessential Father from all eternity: the human, he has received from us, taken with our nature in time.

Since, as the truth of the Christian faith holds, the will is natural, where the one nature of the holy and inseparable Trinity is spoken of, it must be consistently understood that there is one natural will, and one natural operation. But when in truth we confess that in the one person of our Lord Jesus Christ the mediator between God and men, there are two natures (that is to say the divine and the human), even after his admirable union, just as we canonically confess the two natures of one and the same person, so too we confess his two natural wills and two natural operations.

Hence, when we see Christ using phrasings like "not my will but the Will of him who sent me" we understand the distinction as between his human will and his divine will (which is common to all 3 Persons).

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    "Jesus Christ is one Person and has one will" substantiation, please, otherwise, you know it's just your opinion.
    – eques
    Commented Mar 15 at 20:04
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    @NigelJ Dyothelitism is the dominant position of Nicene Christianity, and is seen as the correct implication of Chalcedon. I'm actually a little surprised to see you say that Jesus only had one will!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 15 at 22:30
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    @curiousdannii Will is a matter of Person. As is mind. 'I will'. 'I think'. That Christ is fully Divine and fully human does not suggest (in the slightest) that there is some kind of split personality.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 16 at 4:30
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    @NigelJ I won't try to persuade you otherwise (we already have others questions looking at the arguments for and against), but you should know that you're out of step with historic Christianity. But of course we dyothelites don't think Jesus had a split personality either!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 16 at 4:51
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    @curiousdannii Being 'out of step with historic Christianity' is not a criterion to amend one's doctrine. I wish to submit to the word of the Apostles and, often, 'historic Christianity' is at variance with their word. 'Not my will be done' saith Jesus, but that does not signify that he has another will, only that he submits, in all things, to the Father. But I note your caution and on a subject so sensitive I am not dogmatic, just unwilling to fall in line with what, to me, appears philosophical and conjectural. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 16 at 7:46
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Trinitarian theology, whether stated by Catholics, or Protestants, is agreed on the divine, and the human will of Jesus Christ. The logos agreed to be sent to Earth by the Father, the logos having the perfect, undivided will of the Godhead. In Luke 1:35, it is the Holy Spirit power of the Highest that overshadowed Mary, to cause her to give birth. The One born had manhood that was supernaturally originated yet was in itself essentially the same as ours. To quote here:

"He had a true human body and a reasonable soul. He was of the Virgin's substance, in the sense that she contributed to Him what any human mother contributes to her child... And the pattern of dependence upon the Father and the Spirit established at His conception continued throughout His entire ministry. He had to be upheld (Isaiah 42:1), He had to exercise trust (Hebrews 12:2), He had to be comforted. He had to pray and He had to have assurance that the Father was with Him. Indeed, it was through the eternal Spirit that He at last offered Himself without spot to God (Hebrews 9:14)....[At His resurrection] He is glorified because He was obedient unto death. Behold Your God, Donald Macleod, pp.54-55, Christian Focus, 1990

The logos became flesh in order to intrude into history as an utterly new force, come to effect a new beginning. His glory was veiled. He came as a Servant, to do the will of the Father. That is just what Jesus meant when he made that statement, while obediently performing his function as a Servant, his will conformed perfectly to the will of the Father. That will not satisfy anyone who thinks this Jesus only came into existence at the point of Mary's supernatural conception, but for those who grasp the biblical teaching of the logos who was with God in the beginning, and who was God, making everything that was made (John 1:1-3), then becoming flesh (vs.14), it makes sense.

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If we hold onto the following two passages, taking them both at face value without diminishing either, a very particular picture emerges.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us - John 1:1 & 14a

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. - Philippians 2:5-8

The Word (who was God) became flesh and, finding himself in the form, likeness, and fashion of a man, he humbled himself...as every man should do were it not for the disposition of sin. He who was in the form of God and who was God humbled himself as a man.

Paul explains in many of his writings that there is a mind of the Spirit (which is the mind of Christ) and a mind of the flesh. Our flesh, and the mind thereof, is corrupted by sin and at enmity with God but the flesh of Jesus, and the mind thereof, was sinless. Jesus' human will was not in opposition to Deity's will; both existed within him in harmony.

The statement of Jesus asked after is the expression of sinless humanity desiring only to obey God rather than elevate it's own will. It is fullness of Deity (which is Spirit) inhabiting fullness of flesh.

The two great dangers associated with correct understanding of Christ's nature are magnifying either his Deity or his humanity to the diminishing of the other. He is fully both.

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@eques, @MikeBorden, and @Anne's answers already speak of the two wills of Christ. I'm adding a brief historical background, theological reasoning, and one "practical" implication.

Historical background

When the early church fathers wanted to understand better the nature of Jesus as both human and divine, while responding to Christians who held dangerous opinions that were not consistent with the Biblical data (such as the verse you mentioned, plus a dozen others) interpreted through the lens of the Apostolic Tradition, they held councils to come up with definitions to protect the Church's true understanding of Jesus. The debate was most intense around the 5th century culminating in the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) although the debate on various conceptions of the will(s) of Jesus continued on (see Wikipedia article on Dyothelitism) until Monothelitism was condemned as Christological heresy by the sixth ecumenical council at Constantinople, in 680-681. Most Christian denominations today adhere to the Chalcedonian definition but in recent times several theologians influenced by modern philosophy question this again, most notably by apologist William Lane Craig who holds his own version of Monotheletism, making him unorthodox in his Christology (which he claims to be Neo-Apollinarian but refuted to be simply Apollinarian) but who is orthodox in everything else.

To learn more about the relevant topics and the history of how the discussion unfolded, please consult textbooks on historical theology of that period such as Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought, 3rd Edition or a standard history book that focuses more on the history of councils such as J.N.D Kelly's Early Christian Creeds, 3rd Edition.

Theological Reasoning

Understanding Jesus's two wills have far reaching consequences in other areas of theology, especially in the Trinitarian doctrine of God and in Theological Anthropology. An excellent overview can be read in a 2015 Southern Baptist Journal of Theology journal article: A Model of Jesus Christ’s Two Wills in View of Theology Proper and Anthropology.

A practical implication

To answer your comment: "Could the Father and the Son go against each other - and why not?", from the perspective of Dyothelitism the answer is a clear YES but in his human nature Jesus decided to proceed with God's plan, out of his perfect love for the Father, to fulfill his mission to save the human race, his brothers and sisters. This model allows us to feel acutely how much Jesus understands our own struggle against temptation (his solidarity with us and his compassion for us through his Passion) as well as allowing us to be inspired by his human love for our neighbors, that is, a perfect human will completely soaked by God's infused grace, a will which believers can also have because we are united with Christ, though to a lesser degree while on earth.

For a short explanatory video linking the Chalcedonian definition to philosophical reflection of how Jesus lived out his two natures and two wills, please see Elenore Stump interviewed in the Closer To Truth in the episode Jesus as God. For a short article on why Jesus's two wills matter, read "Your Will Be Done": The Glory of Christ's Human Choices.

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The only point during Jesus ministry where we see any indication that what He had determined to do conflicted with what He desired was the night of His betrayal.

Jesus had no primary desire to endure what was about to happen. If His death on the cross (and the separation from the Father that accompanied this) was not necessary, He wanted to avoid the ordeal altogether. But it was His Father's will that man be saved. He put aside what He desired, because it was necessary in order to accomplish the Father's will.

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I'll keep this one short: Jesus in His human body had emotions, pains and all other characteristics of Man. While I am not a scholar, and I'm sure the original Greek would provide insights, I'm guessing He was telling us that He was doing the LORD's will rather than what a human would do - telling us that rather than having separate wills, they have one and the same.

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If Jesus had a dual nature, both a perfect man and The perfect God, wouldn't be logical that both wills be in sync with each other.

Why not take John 6:38 just as it is written. Anything added to this is interpretation and/or conjecturé.

The Bible is consistant in describing the relationship between God and Jesus as Father and Son not Equal with Equal.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Mar 29 at 2:56
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The Father, Jesus Christ and The Holy Spirit are as different as you and me but in united in their divine will. Jesus is not The Father, neither is the Holy Spirit Jesus and as long as they are unique in terms of individuality then the will is also unique to each. This can be seen from the incident where a loud voice from heaven was heard saying he will glorify the son.

John 12:28

Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered.

Jesus is simply a messenger and the will of the messenger cannot be equal to the will of the One who sent him. The Father entered his rest after creation and has never left the Great White Throne ever since. Jesus left heaven and came here to dwell with us. The will of The Father was to remain on the throne and the will of Jesus was to come and die as a sacrificial lamb. The wills can differ literally but Jesus' will bends to align itself with that of the Father.

Remember the Will Of the Holy Spirit during the works of creation was to hover over the waters while the will of Jesus was to create or bring into existence everything that was being commanded into existence by The Father. Their wills can differ as they are all free within the cabinet but all their wills serve to fulfill The Father's will which is supreme.

The will of the Father overrides the will of the rest that is why Jesus said

let your will be done in heaven and on earth

In the Lord's prayer and during that prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane

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