“My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me”
I’m amused by that first phrase spoken by Christ, “My teaching is not mine.” It seems contradictory – He uses the word ‘my’ just to immediately say it is not His. A similar contradiction is seen a few chapters later: “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me” (Jn 12:44). The Gospel of John highlights the Incarnation of the Son, and thus in these writings we get many chances to reflect on Trinitarian ideas. These seemingly contradictory phrases, I believe, should be examined in light of what we know about the Holy Trinity.
By revelation we understand that the Father and the Son are one in essence; Christ makes mention of this in the same Gospel, saying, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). But while they are the same in essence, there is a distinction of Persons; we know the Father to be distinct from the Son, who is the divine Word. In the passage “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me”, this ‘teaching’ is understood as God’s teaching, or said another way, His Word. So by Christ saying that the Word (who is Christ Himself) is not His own, we can understand Him as saying that He is not from Himself.
And we know this to be true from the Gospel, where Christ tells us, “I proceeded and came forth from God” (Jn 8:42). The Word is not from Himself, but proceeded from the Father; this is where the distinction of Persons rests. Thus, this passage refutes the Sabellian heresy, which confutes the Father and the Son. Yet it does so in a way that prohibits us from erring in the other direction – believing that they are altogether different beings.
This seemingly contradictive passage, then, makes more sense in light of the mystery of the Trinity. It’s strange to say that a divine mystery helps make sense of something that was already confusing. But I think this mystery helps to explain the intention behind each of the words in the line “My teaching is not mine”. The word ‘my’ emphasizes the unity of the Father and the Son, while the whole phrase conveys also the distinction which comes from the divine procession, as I explained. Though the confusion caused by this text might lead some to dismiss this specific language as erroneous or accidental, a consideration of the Trinity helps us to understand the depth of Christ’s words.