Examining the Deity of Jesus Christ. Two Popular Interpretations: “Oneness” (or Modalism), and “Trinity”. Are either correct?

This study will demonstrate the following:

  1. Introduction: We rarely get a chance to study the unfiltered doctrine of scripture without having already been told what we are supposed to get from it.
  2. Full understanding should not always precede faith. There are truths about Jesus Christ we can and should believe even if understanding is not there.
  3. The definitions of “Oneness” and “Trinity” are very similar yet also different.
  4. There could be some potential issues with rigid traditional “Oneness” teachings. The following beliefs/statements will be challenged:
    1. The Son is not eternal. The Son began at the virgin birth (the incarnation).
    2. Jesus is the name Father.
    3. Jesus Christ the Son is just another manifestation of God, such as the burning bush or voice of God from heaven.
    4. Jesus at the right hand of God is just a metaphor.
    5. There is only one on the throne in Revelation.
    6. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just three titles of Jesus.
    7. God does not change
  5. Trinitarians have done a poor job representing the deity of Jesus Christ due to 1) a misunderstanding of the original intent of the word “Trinity” 2) miscommunication through the word “persons” 3) learning the creed before experiencing the revelation of scripture.
  6. When one looks at the original intent of the word “person”, and how time works differently with God, a strong case could be made that the difference between “Oneness” and “Trinity” comes down to semantics.

*This study will use the NKJV version of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.

Introduction: Separating who Jesus says He is vs who I say He should be.

Very few people read the Bible without first having been taught on the subject of Jesus Christ. Most are either witnessed to or at the least have some scripture shared with them. Others may be given a follow-along Bible study guide to lead them through the basics. From there they will often attend a church and will learn more from the Bible through the lens of that Church’s beliefs.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this.

It is all biblical. How shall they hear without a preacher (Romans 10:14)? After believing on the Gospel, believers should gather together to fellowship and teach one another scripture (Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 10:25). I introduce the study in this way to show that almost all of us have had another person teach/share with us regarding Jesus Christ at some point in our walk. Even if one is reading the Bible alone, they will often have a guide or commentary cross their path at some point. Now those who know the scripture will say right about now, “Yes, but it is God who calls people and draw them to Himself.” Again this is absolutely correct. No man came come to Jesus except the Father draws Him (John 6:44). God saves, man does not. Nevertheless, God uses man to accomplish His word going forth, whether for salvation or teaching.

A danger arises in this though—one that is no surprise to God—but could catch us unaware if we do not take heed. It can happen like this: a person presents the saving word of God to us, whether one-on-one or in a church. When God touches our hearts through his word, we know it is God by his Spirit (John 6:63). We know it is God because of the saving transformative work done in our lives by none other than Him (Titus 3:5). The danger then arises when we assume everything that person (or church, book, religious tract, etc.) says is also the full and perfect revelation of God’s word. If a person is saved at a Methodist church, there is a good chance that person will adopt the doctrine of the Methodists and seek for ways to justify it in scripture. If a person is saved in a Apostolic church, there is a very good chance the same thing will happen. If someone reads something that is true on the first page of a religious tract, that person may assume the rest of the tract must be true as well. It is very rare that a person will have a chance to study and meditate on the entire Bible without first having been influenced by man on certain conclusions he should pull from scripture upon reading it. Don’t get me wrong, the Holy Spirit is still the ultimate teacher and can supply all the correct answers. But when one is being offered up all the answers from man, there is a tendency to lean towards the predetermined answers of man and rely less on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Can God keep us from this trap? Absolutely, yet it’s trap we all can fall into, especially when there are diverse religious organizations that are standing by to say “Amen!” to almost any set of beliefs we decide upon.

Again, forgive me if this sounds cynical. God is able to save those to the upmost, regardless of influence from man. I am merely pointing out a common occurrence among the human race. For example, a person may say, “I believe in free enterprise, therefore I must not only vote Republican, but agree with their main viewpoints and disagree with all Democrats.” This is of course, pure foolishness and quite frankly, laziness of the mind. It’s important that we not only serve God with our hearts, but seek to know him with our minds as well.

My point in this long-winded introduction is to show that it takes a conscious effort and strong faith in the power of God to look at the scripture objectively and rely on the Holy Spirit to “teach us all things” (John 14:26). This is due to the wealth of resources telling us the answers before we’ve even had time to understand the questions, or better yet, the revelation of the Father drawing us to Himself.

Oneness/Modalism? Trinitarianism? We have to choose a camp when talking about the deity of Jesus, right?

I don’t like the term Oneness. I don’t like the term Trinity. I love the name Jesus/Yeshua. And I love it when God is glorified through that wonderful name.

I cannot say that this is a “Oneness” vs “Trinity” study. Doing that would be assuming that one is absolutely right while the other is wrong.  What this study will do is attempt to examine the deity of the Messiah purely in light of scripture. It will then take some potential misconceptions or misunderstandings of each camp and attempt to bridge the gap.

I will also delve into my background to illustrate some points that may help some people. I come from a strict oneness/modalism teaching background when it comes to the Godhead. I will talk about the teaching I received on Godhead, and why I believe that by the grace of God we can do better. I will then talk about how the doctrine of the Trinity could also be presented better. Finally, I’ll examine the similarities and difference of both, and how each probably doesn’t do the absolute best job of describing God.

Biblical Truths About Jesus Christ

Let’s put theology, philosophy and denominations aside for a moment and look at a handful of truths the Bible says about Jesus Christ. This is easily my favorite part of the study.

I enjoy this portion of the study because I can look at the word of God and see that these things are true, and in turn believe and confess them. I don’t necessarily have to understand each statement, but I can say “amen” and be edified, believing each truth in faith. I don’t have to explain the mind or will of God.  I don’t have to have a definitive definition of how God orchestrated salvation from the foundation of the world and how that should sound in a creed.

How we must look at Doctrine.

We sometimes reject doctrines (teachings) because we do not understand them, but we would never say that, or in most cases even think that is what we are doing. I’d like to quote an author who puts it better than me:

“Now this is the way in which we do it. We are ready at all times to reject certain doctrines, or, perhaps, if we do not actually reject them, we hesitate to believe them, though they are clearly taught in the Bible. We do this because we cannot understand them, or because we cannot explain them, or because they do not seem to fit into our scheme of things. Quite often when you confront people with a specific statement from the Bible, instead of saying, ‘Well, I am prepared to believe that though I do not understand it,’ they say, ‘But, if that is right, then how can God be a God of love?’ or something like that. The moment they speak like that they are speaking as philosophers, and I think that if you examine yourselves you will find it is something that you do quite frequently.”

And again he says:

“We must fully accept truths in the Bible even if we cannot explain or even understand them. Does full understanding precede faith? It most certainly does not. All doctrines and truths in the Bible must be accepted.”

Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1996). God the Father, God the Son (4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

A difference between doctrine and theology.

Doctrine is that which is taught. Biblical doctrines are teachings taken directly from the scripture. The word doctrine is found 56 times in scripture. Scripture states that there is the doctrine of man (Colossians 2:22), the doctrine of devils (1 Timothy 4:1), and the doctrine of God. We are to avoid the first two and accept the latter.

Theology, while occasionally used synonymously with doctrine, can be different depending on who is defining the word. Theology means a more general study of God. It can mean interpreting God through the word, experience, and philosophy.

“Biblical theology is understood as revealing God’s nature, deeds, and relationships to creation, human communities, individuals, and human relationships.”

Perdue, L. G. (2012). Old Testament Theology. In J. D. Barry & L. Wentz (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary (J. D. Barry & L. Wentz, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

“the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God’s relation to the world”

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theology

Here is what Lloyed Jones said when describing the difference between doctrine and theology:

“In other words, the theologian does something like this: he goes to the Bible; he studies it; he traces and extracts its doctrines or he considers what somebody else has already done. He then proceeds to reflect upon these doctrines; he thinks about them and analyses them. He tries to bring them into a scheme. He brings in philosophy, which means human thought and thinking, and he takes all these things together and reflects upon them, and the end of that process is what is called theology.”

Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1996). God the Father, God the Son (4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

If any disagree with how I’ve described doctrine and theology, please feel free to stick to your own understandings. The points I’m trying to make are:

  • Perfect understanding does not need to precede faith
  • It’s important to examine doctrine before siding with any theological viewpoints.

“Oneness” and “Trinity”. Re-examining some of the Oneness (also called Modalism) teaching I received.

As much as I’d like to start off from scratch and share what the pure word says of Jesus Christ, I must share how I got to where I am today. I hope it will cause us to seriously consider how we treat the deity of Christ as well as how we view one another in the faith.

I’ll give a brief overview of what I’ve been taught. We’ll address each of the points in this overview later on in the study and evaluate their accuracy against the Bible.

The doctrine of Oneness. What I have been taught is:

God is one singular being. This is foundational teaching throughout the Old Testament. One means absolutely one entity. God is a spirit. When one reads the New Testament, it must be read in light of truths already revealed. In the Old Testament we know with certainty that: God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4) and God does not change (Malachi 3:6). Since He is a spirit (John 4:24), He has no form or substance. Any reference to God in the Bible that doesn’t reference God in heaven is a “manifestation”. The word “manifestation” is being used as a noun. What it actually means in this sense is a “role” or “mode”. This includes the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Father, a burning bush, one of the three men that met Abraham, etc. These are all ways of one God making Himself known to his people. God is eternally singular in his being, and there is no division or distinction within His deity.

Since God does not change, he must remain singularly one in the New Testament. Therefore, any reference to the Father, Son or the Holy Spirit is referring to one God revealing himself in different temporary “roles” or “operations”. God will often be performing two or more roles at once in the New Testament simultaneously. This is possible because he is a spirit that fills both heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:24).  “The Son” is temporary flesh that houses the fullness of God. The Father is a title for God performing the role of a father to us. The Son is the title of God manifesting himself in flesh. The Holy Spirit is a title used to refer to God moving on the earth and indwelling man.

When Jesus prays, it is the flesh talking to God in heaven to be our example. When the Bible records Jesus talking, in some instances he will be talking as a man, and in other instances he will be speaking as God. When the Bible talks about Jesus being in Heaven at the right hand of God, this is a metaphor to help us understand the operation of God. The Son is not actually at the right hand of the Father because God is a spirit without shape or form. “At the right hand” means Jesus is the power of God or God’s actions are taking place through Jesus. Again, since we take all truths in conjunction with other truths, the initial truth God gave us is that He is one; therefore we must base all future revelation on that fact. God says in the Old Testament that he “does not change” (Malachi 3:6).

When we think of God, a common example I was taught is that a man can be a father, son, and fireman all at the same time (or a nephew, uncle, brother, etc), yet that does not mean there are three of that man. He is one man with various titles. God has many titles or names throughout the Bible as well as various manifestations.

God gave us the name Jesus to know him by. Jesus is the name of God. Therefore Jesus is the name of the Son, Jesus is the name of the Father, and Jesus is the name of the Holy Spirit. Or one could say that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three titles our God Jesus uses. One can look at Matthew 29:19 and conclude by the singular use of the word “name”, that Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, and Jesus is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus died for our sins, or better, the flesh Jesus was encased in died. God therefore reconciled the world and defeated death by allowing the human side of his incarnation to die and rise again. God gave us the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the title used to describe God indwelling man and God spiritually moving upon the earth.

“They believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are manifestations, modes, offices or relationships that the one God has displayed to man. Church Historians have used the terms modalism and modalistic monarchianism to describe this view as held by such early church leaders as Noetus, Praxeas, and Sabellius. In the twentieth century, those who believe in both the indivisible oneness of God and the full deity of Jesus Christ frequently use the term Oneness to describe their belief.”

Bernard, David K. The Oneness of God. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame, 1983. Print.

There is one God, who has revealed Himself as our Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and as the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is God manifested in flesh. He is both God and man. (See Deuteronomy 6:4; Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 2:9; I Timothy 3:16.)

“UNITED PENTECOSTAL CHURCH INTERNATIONAL.” What We Believe. N.p., 25 Apr. 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. http://www.upci.org/about-us/beliefs

Now this study is mainly about the deity of Jesus Christ, but it was necessary to describe the fullness on what I’ve been taught regarding how to view the Godhead.

The most common viewpoint among Christians today has been labeled the doctrine of the Trinity, and could be summed up like this.

God is one God who exists eternally in three distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each of the three persons are co-equal and co-eternal. Some Trinitarians will say that the uniqueness of the Father is displayed in creation, the Son in redemption, and the Spirit in sanctification (1 Peter 1:2). The can operate distinctly within one “being”. 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. There is clearly an element of mystery to this, but this is acceptable because the Bible references it as being a mystery (1 Timothy 3:16). God’s ways are not only higher than ours but beyond understanding, and without faith it is impossible to please God.

Trinitarians strongly reject any accusation of belief in three gods, or “tritheism”.

“The Trinity must be thought of neither as one God in three manifestations nor as a symmetrical triad of persons with separable functions; instead the Trinity signifies one God in three modes of existence––Father, Son and Spirit, and each of these participates in the activity of the other.”

*Bloesch, Donald. Essentials of Evangelical Theology, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978

The use of the word “persons” to describe aspects of God can be misleading or misrepresented (often by Trinitarians themselves). This will be addressed later.

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were all present at creation. At the appointed time, God the Father sent forth his Son from Heaven to be born of a virgin. The Son was made a little lower than the angels and humbled himself to live as a man while still remaining God. Jesus was fully God, and fully man. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, for it was not possible that death should hold him. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit, the third “person” in the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is also God. He was present at creation, he moved on mankind throughout the Bible, and He dwells in born-again believers today.

“TRINITY Theological term used to define God as an undivided unity expressed in the threefold nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As a distinctive Christian doctrine, the Trinity is considered as a divine mystery beyond human comprehension to be reflected upon only through scriptural revelation. The Trinity is a biblical concept that expresses the dynamic character of God, not a Greek idea pressed into Scripture from philosophical or religious speculation.”

“Perhaps four statements can summarize and clarify this study.
1. God is One. The God of the OT is the same God of the NT. His offer of salvation in the OT receives a fuller revelation in the NT in a way that is not different but more complete. The doctrine of the Trinity does not abandon the monotheistic faith of Israel.
2. God has three distinct ways of being in the redemptive event, yet He remains an undivided unity. That God the Father imparts Himself to mankind through Son and Spirit without ceasing to be Himself is at the very heart of the Christian faith. A compromise in either the absolute sameness of the Godhead or the true diversity reduces the reality of salvation.
3. The primary way of grasping the concept of the Trinity is through the threefold participation in salvation. The approach of the NT is not to discuss the essence of the Godhead, but the particular aspects of the revelatory event that includes the definitive presence of the Father in the person of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
4. The doctrine of the Trinity is an absolute mystery. It is primarily known, not through speculation, but through experiencing the act of grace through personal faith. See God; Holy Spirit; Jesus Christ.”

Henry, J. M. (2003). Trinity. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler, Ed.) (1627). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Two Camps? Why?

These are two very similar but different ways to understand our God. You may say to yourself that they sound so similar that there is not much difference except for the portions that reference things one could refer to as a mystery. I would agree with you to a point, but let me tell you what else I was exposed to as I was taught the Bible. I don’t want to find fault with anybody, so I will not cite the source of this, but here is some of the information I was exposed to in basic studies on the Godhead, as well has hearing it from the pulpit.

Source 1

“There is a false teaching called “Trinity” which is used by some to describe an incorrect concept of the godhead. This teaching takes the three ways that God has ministered to man–as the Father, the Son (or the Christ), and the Holy Ghost–and claims that these are actually three persons of one God, which are all co-equal, co-majestic, and co-eternal. This description is similar to that of one person with three personalities. This teaching has no biblical foundation[1]; in fact, many scriptures directly contradict the Trinity. Throughout the Bible, God is always shows to be one in all aspects: as Lord, as Father, as King, as Creator, as Savior, as Judge.”

Source 2

“God bless you as you study further with us now into the word of God concerning the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost and what Jesus meant when He spoke in Matthew 28:19. This scripture, by the way, is the only scripture from which the Trinitarian theory is drawn. Other scriptures from the New Testament as well as the Old have been used, but inconclusively.”

And while it was not often said out-load, it was implied by some (please note the use of the word some, meaning not all) that anyone who confessed the doctrine of the Trinity was a heretic. Some believed and taught that anyone who confessed Trinity worshiped three Gods.

Already, I was being taught to use some scripture to fight against certain viewpoints and others to justify the “team” I was on.

And on the other side of that coin, when I would boldly confess that I did not believe in the Trinity, Christians who did believe in the Trinity would typically label me a heretic as well. We each felt the other was denying the existence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so very little edifying conversation was had that may have lead to mutual understanding of the others’ viewpoints.

Here is an excerpt from croswalk.com

 “All Christians believe the doctrine of the Trinity. If you do not believe this—that is, if you have come to a settled conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true—you are not a Christian at all. You are in fact a heretic. Those words may sound harsh, but they represent the judgment of the Christian church across the centuries. Christians in every land unite in proclaiming that our God eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those who deny that truth place themselves outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy.

Having said that, I admit that no one fully understands it. It is a mystery and a paradox. Yet I believe it is true.

I can think of at least three reasons for believing in the Trinity:

1. The Bible teaches this doctrine.

2. Christians everywhere have always believed it.

3. No other explanation makes sense. ”

http://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/god-in-three-persons-a-doctrine-we-barely-understand-11634405.html

I am well aware that this above quote does not represent the views of all Trinitarians, but nevertheless it is a common viewpoint.

I have a feeling that both sides don’t represent the fullness of God and the deity of Jesus Christ to the fullest by our petty creeds, flyers and workbooks.

Growing further into the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The journey of a ‘Oneness’ Christian.

I’m very thankful for the teaching I received on the Godhead. A while back I was asked to do a study on the Godhead. I had my main points laid out. God is one. God is a Spirit. And God does not change. I did something different for this study though. I really tried to look at scripture objectively. And when I mean objectively, I mean I pretended not to know anything but that a man named Jesus Christ was crucified. I knew I could back up my beliefs with scripture. And if my beliefs truly represented the word of God, then I should be able to read the scripture objectively without following any pre-made studies or statements of faith and arrive at the beliefs I had been taught.

It was this time where some issues arose that began to bother me. Some of them were actually there before but they were just ignored. It’s easy to dismiss small things because our understanding should grow over time by the grace of God. But what I did not wish to become guilty of was trying to force my beliefs into portions of scripture that did not gel with my beliefs as well as I’d like. When I was very honest with myself it seemed like that would happen on occasion. It took a while, but I began to be OK saying “I don’t know”.

“I don’t know” is a difficult thing to say in a typical western evangelical church organization. If we don’t have clearly defined mission statement and statements of faith, how will we know what to believe? How will we separate ourselves from the church down the street?

I’ll restate that I’m not completely happy with the way most people try to make creeds or statements of faith that define our God down to a perfect formula. But I must also at this time delve into some of the issues that made be begin to challenge my traditional Oneness teaching and begin the journey of completely re-examining who Jesus Christ is from the ground up. This is really the core of the study right here. I’m not saying the next seven teachings I address below our wrong, but I do think they may can probably be represented better. And possibly one of the ways to represent them better is to say, “I don’t know” for some of them, instead of forcing a meaning that scripture did not intend.

For even if the overall lesson being taught is true, if the teacher twists facts or misrepresents teachings in order to explain that overall truth, then that truth can be tainted, or even disbelieved because it is now associated with falsities.

Outline of potential issues with strict Oneness/Modalism teaching.

Typical oneness teachings have the statements below as some of their core teaching on God. I will address each issue in the order presented below

  1. The Son is not eternal. The Son began at the virgin birth.
  2. Jesus is the name of Father.
  3. Jesus Christ the Son is just another manifestation of God.
  4. Jesus at the Right hand of God is just a metaphor.
  5. There is only one on the throne in Revelation.
  6. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just titles of Jesus.
  7. God does not change.

1. Did the Son pre-exist before the incarnation, or did He begin at the incarnation?

Here is the biggest issue by far. Many doctrines on the Godhead come down to this in some way. It’s a difficult topic.

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

The word “with” here means “Directed/oriented towards”.

http://ichthys.com/mail-John%201-1.htm

The Word then must be distinct from God, yet also be God. “With” something implies a distinction between the things that are with each other. The Word was with God, yet also was God, or of the same divine nature as God.

This is a difficult scripture to understand since God is always said to be one. Yet the reader cannot deny both the distinction and the unity in this sentence.

We could make the argument say that “the Word” (logos) is referring to the foreknowledge of Christ in the mind of God. Basically, Jesus Christ existed as an idea or thought from the foundation of the world. Some verses indeed lend truth to this argument:

Revelation 13:8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Because Jesus Christ was not literally slain from the foundation of the word, this can indicate that the plan or idea was in place from the foundation of the world but the manifestation of that plan only came to fruition at a certain point in history.

The passage goes on to say that:

John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

So if Jesus is the Word, and God created everything by his Word, one could say that Jesus Christ was God’s voice on earth, speaking for God and as God. Having a voice does not mean there are two distinct persons. It just means there is one person or being with a voice.

This explanation allows us to keep God as absolutely one in person. Although the fact that John took the time to write “with God” still demands more of an explanation. Could we write the scripture as:

In the Beginning was the plan, and the plan was with God, and the plan was God?

or

In the beginning was the voice, and the voice was with God, and the voice was God.

or

In the beginning was the wisdom, and the wisdom was with God, and the wisdom was God.

Again, why would the author use such hard to comprehend language as the logos “being with God”? If it is God, of course it is with Him, it is a part of Him.

As we move on in the chapter, John begins to refer to the Word as a “He” in the personal sense, not just a thought or idea.

John 1:2-5 He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.   

Despite his, I can accept the idea that the Word was a plan or voice of God, and was not distinct from God if we take this scripture alone.

This viewpoint doesn’t seem to hold up however when one examines the other places in the New Testament that go as far as to say that the Son (not the word) was with God from the beginning. Had John 1:1-3 been the only place this mystery was brought up, we may be able to dismiss it by defining logos in a way that makes sense to us. But let us now examine two more scriptures:

Hebrews 1:1-3 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by [His] Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of [His] glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself  purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, God made the world through his Son.

Another scripture:

Ephesians 3:9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;

And another:

Colossians 1:12-17 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed [us] into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

The passage is clearly talking about the Son and it specifically uses that word. All things were created by the Son, through the Son, and for the Son. In verse 17 it mentions that the Son is before all things.

When one thinks of Son, they can think of God begetting Jesus Christ. Son can refer to the incarnation/virgin birth. Therefore we have one God, and that God begets a son at an appointed time by giving Mary a child by the Holy Spirit. This would be a solid belief were it not for the scriptures we just read. These scriptures speak of the Son as creating the worlds, not the Word or the Father. But we know that God spoke the world into existence. Can “word” and “son” be used synonymously? It’s a difficult question. If “son” only refers to the humanity of Christ (as the Oneness doctrine claims), then saying the son existed before the incarnation would not work.

This puts a big dent in the argument that the Son is just a temporary manifestation of God, that God is just performing a temporary role on earth whenever the Son is mentioned. Throughout the Bible the Son is said to be in the image of God, but distinct from the Father. We see in these scripture that the Son existed from the foundation of the world, and God created everything by Him.

It’s also important to realize that this passage is not just talking about the Son. The Son is not just “a title” being used for creator God in this passage. The Father and the Son are both being referenced (vs 12-13), and a clear effort is made to show a distinction between the Father and the Son in the creation of the world.

Remember, John 1:14 says that “the Word” became flesh and dwelt among us. It doesn’t generically say, “God became flesh and dwelt among us”. The word was shown to be God, but also distinct from God. It was that distinct Word that was made flesh.

This passage tells us that the Son was from the foundation of the world, and that the Father created the world by the Son.

And there are other scripture that would seem to indicate Jesus was preexistent before the incarnation.

John 6:62 “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?

If the son only refers to the temporary flesh put on by God, how could the Son of man ascend to “where he was before”. We can look at this passage in two ways: 1) It is only referring the spiritual portion of his deity (the fullness of the Godhead that is inside him [Colossians 2:9]), 2) or if the Son existed before the incarnation.

Another scripture:

John 1:29-30. 34 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

John says this man existed before him. John was older than Jesus, so this implies pre-existence. The oneness teaching would imply that John here was referring to God inside Jesus that actually existed before him. But John calls Jesus “The Son of God” and the “Lamb of God”. If he meant to say that the Lamb of God/Son of God did not really exist before him, but God himself did and Jesus was just a “manifestation” of God, he did a poor job of saying it. Or, one could read this scripture and accept that the Son of God/Lamb of God existed before John, meaning existed eternally before the incarnation.

Jesus “came down from heaven”.

John 6:33 “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

John 6:51 “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

Two witnesses:

John 8:17-18 “It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. “I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.”

Again, to reiterate the point we are examining. Was Jesus God manifest in the flesh? Yes. We can all agree on that. But what conclusion should we come to based on the numerous scripture that indicate a distinction of “modes/persons/roles” before God was manifest in the flesh. Trinitarians have come to the conclusion that the Son and Father are distinct from one another, but also inseparable as the same God, or different “persons” of the same God. Oneness/Modulists have come to the conclusion that the only way the Son existed with God before the incarnation was as a thought or idea. They argue that Jesus is the Father in heaven. Both beliefs can be supported with scripture, but the latter belief is strongly challenged based on the scriptures we’ve just reviewed. This would be an appropriate time to move into another topic.

2. Is Jesus the Name of Father?

One belief I’ve personally been taught is that since God is one and Jesus is the name of God, then Jesus is not only the Son, but the Father also, that there is no distinction in persons, only in manifestations.

I believe scripture shows that Jesus is God, but to say “Jesus is the Father” might not be the most accurate representation of what scripture says.

There are multiple scriptures in the New Testament that people use to justify the saying that “Jesus is the Father.” Two of the primary ones are:

John 14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

and

John 10:30 “I and My Father are one.”

We’ll look at John 14:9 first.

John 14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

I’ve heard that these scripture are proof not only that Jesus is the Father, but Jesus is the name of the Father. This indeed proves Jesus’ divinity as God. Yet there is still room for distinction between Jesus and the Father. I’m no Greek scholar, but I do understand basic English. Jesus didn’t say “I am the Father”. One may say, “it’s the same thing”, but they most certainly are not. Jesus said what he said for a reason. Jesus did not say, “I am the Father”. In fact, Jesus said in his discourse about the bread from heaven in John 6 that no man had seen the Father.

John 6:46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.

Jesus first says that no one has seen the Father except Himself. He says later on in his ministry that is you’ve seen him (Jesus Christ) you’ve seen the Father. Jesus can say this because the purpose of the Son on earth is to glorify the Father and allow the Father to glorify the Son.

John 14:13 “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 

John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

Jesus is the express image of the Father.

Hebrews 1:3 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself  purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

“Express image of His person”… The Son is the express image of the Father.

The NASB says:

Hebrews 1:3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

The Son is the exact representation of the Father. This is why Jesus can say with assurance that if you’ve seen Him then you’ve seen the Father. Please note that this does not mean Jesus is not God. In fact, a few verses down scripture makes is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is God.

Hebrews 1:8 But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.

The Son is being referred to as God, but always spoken of as distinct from the Father.

Take a look again at Hebrews 1:3. Note the use of the word “person” in the KJV/NKJV. This word can also be translated “nature”.

…who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person… NKJV

…And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature… NASB

This is of course, very relevant to our topic. This is one of the few (maybe the only) time in scripture we hear the Father described using the word “person”. “Person” of course, is what most (I say most because even some Trinitarians are not comfortable using the word) Trinitarians use to describe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Greek word is hypostasis.

Thayer’s Lexicon:

A word very com. in Greek. auth., esp. fr. Aristo. on, in a widely different senses, of which only those while be noticed which serve to illustrate N. T. usage;

1. a setting or placing under

     1. thing put under, substructure, foundation

2. that which has foundation, is firm

     1. that which has actual existence

             1. a substance, real being

     2. the substantial quality, nature, of a person or thing

     3. the steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution

          1. confidence, firm trust, assurance 

“The substantial quality, nature, of a person or thing” seems to be the possible definition of the word in this context.

To say Jesus is the Father does not seem to line up with scripture. To say Jesus is the name of the Son of God who is also God/deity is more accurate.

Let’s examine the other scripture.

John 10:30-33 “I and My Father are one.” Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”

This is another wonderful scripture showing Jesus Christ as God.

Jesus did not say I am the Father. He says He and His Father are one. Later on he goes to say that He and His disciples are one.

John 17:20-22 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;“that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

Jesus calls Him and his disciples one in the same way the Father and the Son are one. I’m quite certain everyone would agree with me that the disciples are distinct from God our Father, yet through God they can be one with the Father and the Son. “One” here can then be thought of as one in unity, but obviously still distinct. One body with Jesus as the head, yet there is a clear distinction between the head and the index finger.

There are a few times in scripture when Jesus refers to himself and the Father as “us” or “we”. This is one of those instances. They are one in each other, yet still distinct.

Therefore “Jesus” and “The Father” are both used to describe God, but Jesus is used to describe the Son, and “The Father” is used to describe, well… The Father. They are not used synonymously in scripture according to the majority of scripture when read in context.

The Common New Testament Salutation: God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Had the Disciples just assumed that the Son Jesus Christ and the Father could by used synonymously because Jesus is the Father, they would not have used the following saying over 15 times in their letters:

Galatians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 John 1:3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

Yes, over 15 times. Can you greet someone and say “Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”? I must confess, until recently I would have had a problem with this, even though this was clearly common practice among the New Testament church. I was so big on protecting the “oneness” of God that scriptures like this only caused me to pass over them and focus more on other scriptures.

There are some who look at these scripture and say the word and (Kai in Greek) really implies “even” or “who is”. So the scripture should actually read: Grace to you and peace from God the Father even our Lord Jesus Christ,. Reading the scripture this way would take any distinction out of the Father and Jesus.

There are some instances where kai means “even” or “who is”. Galatians 1:4 is one example, it says “…according to the will of our God and (kai) Father,…”

It is doubtful however, that the original writers intended for kai to mean “even” in all the salutations. First of all, no translation has ever translated it that way, which means that some of the best Greek scholars in the world, from the Geneva Bible all the way up to modern translation have never seen it fit to translate this passage to read “even” or “who is”.

Second, when translating the word kai, “context determines the appropriate meaning” (Helps Word Studies http://biblesuite.com/greek/2532.htm). So if the writer actually meant to say “Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, even the Lord Jesus Christ”, which would mean that Jesus is the Father, we should expect to see them speak in the same way throughout the rest of their letters. This simply does not happen however. Let’s take Romans 1:7 as an example.

Romans 1:7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul uses the standard greeting, then goes on to say in the very next verse:

Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

Paul again makes a distinction by using the word “through”.

And in the next verse:

Romans 1:9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,

Paul once again makes a distinction.

And if we go to the beginning of the chapter, we see Paul doing it again:

Romans 1:1-4 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

In conclusion, if context determines whether “kai” means “and” or “even”, there is very little justification for it to read “even” when used in New Testament salutations. This is because throughout the whole New Testament (especially the book of John), Jesus is used to describe the Son, not the Father.

3. Jesus “The Son” is another just manifestation of God, like the burning bush or pillar of fire.

Manifestation

Strong’s Definition

g5321 phanerosis from 5319; exhibition, i.e. (fig) expression, (by extens) a bestowment;

Vine’s

lit., “an uncovering, unveiling” (apo, “from,” kalupto, “to hide, cover”), denotes “a revelation, or appearing” (Eng., apocalypse). It is translated “the appearing” in 1Pe 1:7, AV (RV, “revelation”).

I can understand using the word manifest as a verb. “He manifested himself (made known, revealed, he appeared, expressed himself).” But to use manifestation as a noun to describe the Son leaves much open for interpretation. I think everyone would agree that God “revealed” himself in the Son. So the Son is a manifestation. But that does not mean He is not a Son.

Parents, if your son is hiding in a bush, then jumps out at you, he has manifested his presence. Would you then refer to your son as a manifestation from now on? Of course not, he is still your Son, and his name is _________. When the Bible uses the word manifest as a verb (action, i.e. revealed in the flesh), we need to be careful how quickly we turn around and use it as a noun (person, place or thing).

Both “Oneness” and “Trinity” can say with a clear conscious that God was manifest in the flesh. In fact, here is an excerpt from the Holemen’s Ilustrated Bible Dictionary:

“While the term “trinity” does not appear in Scripture, the Trinitarian structure appears throughout the NT to affirm that God Himself is manifested through Jesus Christ by means of the Spirit.”

Both agree that God was revealed or expressed in the Flesh, one side defines it as God the Son coming down from heaven, one side says that it was the fullness of God that temporarily took on the mode (or role) of a fleshly man.

One of the biggest danger of only referring to the Son as a manifestation is that it’s essential to our faith that Jesus Christ the Son of Man, died and rose again. Jesus is living right now making intercession to the Father on our behalf . To say that Jesus was only a temporary manifestation of God begs one to ask if Jesus really died, was buried, rose and is living today. If the Son on Man just kind of “evaporated” back into the Spirit of God, then did he ever really live and die, or was it just God “playing a role”? Did Jesus Christ have a soul? Scripture says He was tempted in all like manners as we were. How could a man be tempted if the flesh was just a temporary shell, like when God spoke to Moses through fire? The Son of Man was born of man and God, therefore he did not inherit Adam’s sinful nature, but he still had to be a man in order to fulfill Genesis 3:15.

Romans 5:15,18 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.

Revelation 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

What was the whole purpose behind John writing his gospel? He tell us:

John 20:31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

We are to believe and confess that “Jesus is the Son of God”, not that “Jesus was God manifest in the flesh”. There is nothing wrong with believing and saying the latter, but scripture stresses the importance of the former. God sent his Son. The Bible says that God sent his Son to die, not that God robed himself in flesh and the flesh part died. I’m not a parent, but a father sending his son to die seems like one of the hardest things in the world to do, and I imagine it would be harder on the father than the son. It seems like God sending his only son to die could be one of the greatest sacrifices He could ever make. When our definition of God takes this sacrifice out of the Bible, it seems to be taking away some of the impact, grace, and power of the gospel message.

In Mark 12:1-9. we read the parable of the Father first sending his servant, and than finally sending his beloved son. Also in Romans Paul says:

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong to refer to Jesus as God manifest in the flesh, but look how scripture specifically describes him. When we have eyes to see, it’s littered throughout the New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation that Jesus is the Son of God.

Keeping with the idea that Jesus is only a manifestation, here is another topic that must be addressed.

4. Jesus at the right hand of God is just an expression meaning Jesus is God’s hand of power. God is a spirit, so he has no form or hands. Jesus is just a manifestation of God, so in heaven God’s presence goes back into himself. It does not and cannot reside beside him. Jesus is the Father, and there is no Father-Son relationship in heaven.

The justification for this belief is the scriptures in the Bible that talk about the right hand of power. It’s true that this symbolizes Jesus power, but it goes beyond that.

Here is what the Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies says:

“1270 Right Hand of God

A figure of speech that represents God’s ultimate power and authority, and where the exalted Jesus Christ now sits.

The right hand of God as a symbol

Jesus Christ at God’s right hand

  • Jesus Christ is exalted to God’s right hand Heb 1:13 Comparison between Jesus Christ and the angels confirms Christ’s absolute supremacy. See also Ps 110:1; Mt 22:44 pp Mk 12:36 pp Lk 20:42; Lk 22:69; Ac 2:34; 7:55-56; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 12:2
  • Jesus Christ rules every authority at God’s right hand 1Pe 3:22 See also Eph 1:20-21
  • Jesus Christ continues his work at God’s right hand Ro 8:34 See also Ac 2:33; 5:31; Heb 4:14-16; 8:1
  • Jesus Christ will return at God’s right hand Mt 26:64 pp Mk 14:62
  • Jesus Christ takes a scroll from God’s right hand Rev 5:1-7 The scroll probably refers to God’s decrees for the destiny of the world.

The right hand of Jesus Christ

  • The place of the righteous on judgment day Mt 25:32-34
  • A privileged place granted by the Father Mt 20:20-23 pp Mk 10:35-40
  • A place of protection for Christians Rev 1:20 The angels of the churches are probably the church leaders. See also Rev 1:16; 2:1″

Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser. 

We can see that the right hand of God is used as symbol, but when the Bible refers to Jesus at the right hand of God, does that refer to merely a symbol as well?

If Jesus being in heaven with God was merely symbolic of the “authority of the Name”, surely there would be a better way to say it than all the following:

Romans 8:34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

Mark 16:9 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.

Luke 22:69 “Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”

Acts 2:33 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

Now here is Phillip after ending the sermon that got him stoned to death:

Acts 7:55-56 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

Was Phillip actually saying he “saw” a metaphor? That is very unlikely.

And the big one:

Psalms 110:1 The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

Note that the first LORD is all uppercase, referring to God’s name. The second Lord is not. These are two different words denoting two different things.

Psalms 110:1 ASV Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

What other Lord is Jehovah/YHWH talking to? Is he talking to himself?

Does the Bible speak of the Son being with God in heaven? It most certainly does.

1 Corinthians 15:23-28 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted.

Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

Keep in mind, “Christ” means the anointed one, or “Messiah”.

The Son is reigning now. Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Jewish man will return in the same manner in which he left. They will look upon whom they pierced. When death is destroyed he will deliver up the kingdom to God the Father. Then the Son himself will be subject to the Father, that God may be all in all.

Whether one comes to the conclusion that the Son existed before the incarnation, or that the Son began at the incarnation, one thing is clear; the Son rose and is alive today. The Son is seen as distinct from God the Father throughout the rest of the Bible. We have to realize that a man was born through Mary; a seed was planted in woman by the Holy Spirit. A natural birth took place after that.  That soul probably did not just “evaporate” back into the Spirit of God upon his ascension, as some would say. Can a man be a man without a unique soul?

It is so important to acknowledge a risen and living savior. Most people I speak to, whether trinity or oneness, believe this. But I have seen those who argue the oneness of God (which I believe is important to do) so strongly that it seems to do away with the role of the Son upon his ascension.

Now, regarding the passage of scripture we just read, if the Bible goes into this much detail to explain this operation, surely we should see the Son in heaven correct? But doesn’t the scripture say that there was “one” seated on the throne? I will start a new point with this topic.

5. The Bible says in Revelation that there is only one on the throne. Case settled. There can be no distinction within the Godhead in heaven.

Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve heard this saying or a similar one quoted before. Here are scripture about the throne in Revelations:

Revelation 4:2 NKJV Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.

Revelation 4:2 NIV At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

OK, in the next chapter, the lamb shows up in the presence of God and receives worship.

Revelation 5:6-9 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

Who is the lamb that is standing at the center of the throne? Who was slain? Who overcame? Who is this lamb that the angels are worshiping? It is the risen Christ. He is the firstborn of the dead. He is our living sacrifice. He now begins the final process to unleash God’s judgment upon the earth.

This Lamb is also worthy to receive glory, honor and praise forever. Forever is an important word here.

Also, note the many references to God and the Lamb:

Revelation 5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Revelation 5:16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!

Revelation 7:10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:17 “for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 14:1 NASB Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.

Revelation 14:4 These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.

Revelation 21:22 But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Revelation 21:23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.

Revelation 22:1 And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Revelation 22:3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.

This is heaven described for us. We worship in the presence of God and the Lamb. Remember, Jesus remains a high priest forever (Hebrews 6:20) and is in the presence of God, worshipped as God, yet shown by these many scriptures to be distinct.

Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

Now it’s also important to note that we don’t see three thrones or even two. We see one throne, and God and the Lamb in the midst of the throne. What does this mean? What specifically does this look like? Nobody knows. The thing we can take from this is that God and the Lamb are shown as united but distinct in heaven.

And this does not make wrong the assumption that we will only see one God in heaven. Even most Trinitarians I’ve heard speak confess that we will only see one God in heaven. Nor does it make wrong the oneness doctrine. God can be one in his glory, yet the Son of Man can remain in his glorified state as God and with God. I don’t understand a lot in Revelation, but I do get excited about the idea of seeing Jesus face to face. Revelations seems to imply the glory and majesty of one God and the glory of majesty of the lamb that was slain. The man who overcame now remains our high priest forever in a glorified state.

6. Father, Son and Holy Ghost are just titles of one God, like father, uncle and son can be titles of one man.

Logically the second half of this statement makes perfect sense. But let me ask you a question: can a man be his own Father? No he cannot. Can a man be his own son? No, he cannot. Again, one could make the case that “the Son” only refers to the physical manifestation of God in the man Jesus Christ. This would be a solid belief on it’s own, yet as shown in point one, the Son is spoken of as existing with God before the incarnation. Also in point two, the name of Jesus is given the deity of God, yet an obvious distinction is made between Jesus and the Father.

And even if you come to the conclusion that the Son did not exist before the incarnation, it’s very difficult to deny the Son or Lamb with the God in places like 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 and other places in the New Testament, especially Revelations.

So even if one believes the Son did not exist until the incarnation, there is strong evidence that the Son exists forever in heaven. Therefore it arguably could be incorrect to refer to the Son as a “temporary” manifestation.

It’s important to acknowledge the Father and the Son, regardless of how you define them.

2 John 1:7-11 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

1 John 2:22-24 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father

There are many people today, especially those of Jewish descent, who claim they believe in YHWH , the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator of the world. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give them a pass. Unless one believe that Yeshua, the son of the virgin Mary, the man from Nazareth, was the Son of God, the anointed one, they do not even have YHWH . Therefor it is essential to believe on Jesus Christ the best way we know how.

Can one answer:

  • Do you believe in One God, Lord and Creator of All? Yes.
  • Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God? Yes.
  • Do you believe that Jesus Christ came in the flesh (was born of God and man), lived a perfect life, died, rose again, and was received up into Glory? Yes.
  • Do you believe that there is no other name given under heave whereby we must be saved? Yes.

I am willing to bet that every “Trinitarian” and “Oneness” will answer yes to the above questions. If your theology does not allow you to answer yes, or to say “sort of”, but give a quick clause to better redefine the statement, there is a good chance your theology is misguided.

7. God does not change…

God does not change, but He does provide progressive revelation about who He is:

Exodus 6:3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

Ephesians 3:8-11 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,

So if God reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testament, would it be wrong to say that we now know Him in a more intimate way? I think everyone would agree that no, it would not be wrong to say that. The issue of course is how we define the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It cannot contradict what God revealed about himself in the Old Testament.

Now if God’s goal was to reveal more of the fullness of his Godhead to us, or relate to us in a way we could understand better, would He do it by “temporarily” manifesting himself in three different ways at the same time and using three different titles? Maybe. Or is it possible God simply revealed to us his triune nature? Maybe. If either explanation were simple, there would probably not be as intense debate as there is. Even within “Trinity” camps, there is debate on certain issues within the Godhead, the same with “oneness/modalism” camps.

This concludes the portion of this study where I challenged some of the traditional teaching I have been taught.  I’d now like to briefly examine the doctrine of the Trinity.

Some potential issues with Trinitarian teaching.

1. 1+1 +1 = 1.

No. No it doesn’t. .333 + .333 + .333 = 1. We need to define what “1” is in order for this to make any sense. And this leads us to the main problem/controversy over the doctrine of the Trinity. If “1” equals “person”, then how do we define person?

2. The use of the word “person” and poor teaching on the topic over time.

I believe one of the reasons certain groups attack the Trinitarian doctrine so hard is because there are those who confess to believe in the trinity that misrepresent the doctrine. Then there are those who have actually belief in three gods due to a flat out misunderstanding of scripture. We need to base our beliefs on what the Bible reveals to each of us first, not taking something like the Apostle’s Creed first and then justifying that with scripture later. What has happened in some instances is people will learn a poor definition of what Trinity means before they even have a basic handling of scripture. They won’t learn about the importance of God being one, and therefore when many people try to describe the Godhead they end up actually describing tritheism (three different gods) and not one God who consists of three inseparable modes.

“The term ‘Trinity’ is not itself found in the Bible. It was first used by Tertullian at the close of the 2nd century, but received wide currency and formal elucidation only in the 4th and 5th centuries. Three affirmations are central to the historic doctrine of the Trinity: 1. there is but one God; 2. the Father, the Son and the Spirit is each fully and eternally God; 3. the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is each a distinct person. Nowhere does the Bible explicitly teach this combination of assertions. It may, nevertheless, be claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity is a profoundly appropriate interpretation of the biblical witness to God in the light of the ministry, death and resurrection-exaltation of Jesus—the ‘Christ event’.”

The New Bible Dictionary 

While the term “trinity” does not appear in Scripture, the trinitarian structure appears throughout the NT to affirm that God Himself is manifested through Jesus Christ by means of the Spirit.

Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

The hardest part of the Trinitarian doctrine to grasp is one God being three distinct “persons”. The question arises, what is meant by “persons”?

“As numerous contemporary historians and theologians have argued in recent years, the original Greek and Latin words that were used in the earliest Trinitarian creeds and from which the term “person” is derived (hypostasis, persona) were much less specific than the term “person” today. While not denying the personal nature of what they designated, these terms did not necessarily connote any sort of separate consciousness or will. They were not, in other words, synonymous with the term “individual” as the word “person” is today. Indeed, this individualized nuance to the term “person” is a relatively recent post-Enlightenment development. The ancient confession of “God in three persons” was thus not equivalent to “God in three individual people.”

“Because the word “person” has become far more individualized, many well-respected Trinitarians feel that is misleading and should actually be dropped from contemporary Trinitarian creeds. It should be replaced, they argue, by a phrase such as “mode of being” (Barth) or “manner of subsistence” (Rahner), which they content, are better translations of the original hypostasis and persona.

Boyd, Gregory A. Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992. Print. 

I find the suggestion of the Trinitarian Barth (listed above in the second paragraph) very interesting. If a Trinitarian person would be fine saying, “God is one and exists in three eternal modes”, and a oneness person would be fine saying, “God is one and has revealed himself in three temporary modes”, then those are close definitions of God. If we factor in the concept that they way God looks at time and eternity is completely different than us (2 Peter 3:8), the definitions get even closer.

This was a very encouraging thought when it came to me. I was hoping to learn something by putting my thoughts on paper (digital paper), and this was what seemed to come out of this study. So if you skimmed over that last paragraph, please review it again.

Here is another description of the Trinitarian doctrine I found surprisingly close to the Oneness description. You’ve already read it earlier in the study, but here it is again:

“Perhaps four statements can summarize and clarify this study.
1. God is One. The God of the OT is the same God of the NT. His offer of salvation in the OT receives a fuller revelation in the NT in a way that is not different but more complete. The doctrine of the Trinity does not abandon the monotheistic faith of Israel.
2. God has three distinct ways of being in the redemptive event, yet He remains an undivided unity. That God the Father imparts Himself to mankind through Son and Spirit without ceasing to be Himself is at the very heart of the Christian faith. A compromise in either the absolute sameness of the Godhead or the true diversity reduces the reality of salvation.
3. The primary way of grasping the concept of the Trinity is through the threefold participation in salvation. The approach of the NT is not to discuss the essence of the Godhead, but the particular aspects of the revelatory event that includes the definitive presence of the Father in the person of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
4. The doctrine of the Trinity is an absolute mystery. It is primarily known, not through speculation, but through experiencing the act of grace through personal faith. See God; Holy Spirit; Jesus Christ.”

Henry, J. M. (2003). Trinity. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen & T. C. Butler, Ed.) (1627). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

And another excerpt:

“Whether or not the term “person” is retained, Trinitarians have always agreed that the doctrine of “God in three persons” cannot be understood to legitimize (say) picturing God as three literal divine “people” in heaven who are so distinct that they have to (as it were) vote on what activity they might perform–as though their wills and minds were indeed separable! God is not a committee! Such an understanding of the Trinity is simply a misapplication of the creedal language.” (emphasis mine)

Boyd, Gregory A. Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992. Print. 

I’d like to believe that more Trinitarians think like the authors above. Alas, I fear that there is a good portion that do not. Instead of seeking out the God of the Bible, they were “taught” Trinity. Therefore because they have not sought out God in scripture, when they try to describe him using the Trinitarian formulas they’ve been taught, they end up describing tritheism.

Not scripture vs scripture, but concept in light of concept

There are singular scriptures that support the  Oneness view, and there are singular scripture that support the Trinity view. Once one has an idea, they can typically justify it with scripture. Here is an example:

Ephesians 4:5-6 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

I could look at this and come to the conclusion that because Jesus is Lord (Acts 10:36), verse six is referring to Jesus as well. Therefore Jesus is the one Lord who is also the God and Father of all who is above, through all and in us. I just made a case for oneness.

Or, I could start in verse 4:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Note the sentence starts in verse four, and ends in verse six. Verse four says “one Spirit”, verse five says “one Lord”, and verse six says “one God and Father of all”. I could look at this complete sentence and argue that this refers to the Holy Spirit (vs 4), the Son ( in vs 5 who relates directly to our fait and baptism), and the Father (vs 6). Verse six even goes on to give three attributes, 1)above all 2)through all 3) in you all. I just made a case for trinity.

Which case is stronger?

I used this example (and I could use countless others) of using one scripture to support a pre-determined belief. When it comes to the deity of Christ, I’ve seen this done countless times; two opposing viewpoints are touting the same scripture to support the view.

What I hope I have done in this study is examine concepts in light of other concepts. For instance, when I spoke about the possible pre-existence of the Son, it was difficult for me. It was difficult because normally what I would have done was taken the scripture that says:

Isaiah 44:24

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer,
And He who formed you from the womb:
“I am the LORD, who makes all things,
Who stretches out the heavens all alone,
Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself;

…and argued that it would be impossible for the Son to be pre-existent because God created the worlds alone. Yet I saw in at least three separate passages in the New Testament that God created the world through his Son or Word. Therefore I had to examine these two concepts together instead of pitting one against the other in a dogfight.

As believers and followers of Jesus, we need to pray more than ever for pure, unfiltered revelation from the Holy Spirit when we read the Bible.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve probably challenged some traditional Oneness viewpoints in this study and maybe some Trinitarian viewpoints as well. Again, I’m leaning towards the conclusion that each does not do a very good job of describing the deity of Jesus Christ and the Godhead to the fullest. I’ve specifically spent more time challenging some of the Oneness beliefs in this study because that is the background I was strongly taught. I believe the Oneness doctrine is more accurate in some ways than the Trinitarian, but can become a huge stumbling-block if misunderstood or misrepresented. The danger of the Oneness is that it may take away the power of the resurrection if misunderstood. The danger of Trinity is making our one God seem like a plurality of gods. I hope what has happened here is the realization that perhaps the two, when examined honestly with all pride and prejudices aside, are each efforts that probably started out noble enough, with an intention to fight heresy against the deity of Jesus Christ, and have evolved (or perhaps de-evolved) into theologies that can cause more harm than good.

Honestly, this study was written primarily for myself as a way to organize my thoughts. I’m also interested in the thoughts of others.

I’ll review what I’ve attempted to show in this study:

  • We rarely get a chance to study the unfiltered doctrine of scripture before hearing what we should conclude from our studies.
  • Full understanding should not always precede faith. There are truths about Jesus Christ we can and should believe even it understanding is not there.
  • The definitions of “Oneness” and “Trinity” are very similar yet also different.
  • There could be some potential issues with rigid traditional “Oneness” teachings based on the points I covered.
  • Trinitarians have done a poor job representing the deity of Jesus Christ due to 1) a misunderstanding of the original intent of “trinity” 2) miscommunications through the word “persons” 3) learning the creed before experiencing the revelation of scripture.
  • When one looks at the original intent of the word “person”, and how time works differently with God, a strong case could be made that the difference between “Oneness” and “Trinity” comes down to semantics.