O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4). And
with that, the Old Testament Jew rested on the assurance that there
was only one true God and Creator of all things from whom salvation
was given. No one can read Isaiah chapters 40-48 and not feel the
endless concern that God had to clearly represent His Being as the one
true God. Monotheism, the belief in one true God by
nature, is what separated the people of God from the crass
polytheism (i.e., the belief of many true Gods/gods), which flourished
in the surrounding pagan nations.
is simply the belief in one God (e.g., Deut. 4:35; Isa. 44:6, 8).
Monotheism must first be defined from biblical context in order to (a)
correctly apprehend the doctrine of the Trinity and (b) fully realize
as to why Oneness theology is not consistent with biblical theology.
Oneness theology as with all other unitarian
groups assert that monotheism equals one Person. Nowhere in
Scripture, however, is God defined as one Person, but rather as one
Being: mono (from monos,
meaning alone or only one)
and theism (from theos, meaning
God). Oneness adherents, though, wrongly assume that the word one
when referring to God (e.g., Deut. 6:4) has the strict denotative
meaning of absolute
there any merit to this contention, though? As we will see later,
while it is true that there are some Hebrew Old Testament terms that
can be translated this way, it is not true that every term carries
this same emphasis, particularly the key term that is significantly
applied to God. That is, the word that is exclusively applied to God
to denote that He is one is echad
(e.g., Deut. 6:4). Echad
carry the meaning of composite or compound unity (e.g., Gen. 2:24;
Gen. 11:6). It is merely asserted by Oneness unitarians that the
term means always means absolute solitude. For God is one, that is, one Being--not
one Person. In
point of fact, there is no place in Scripture which says that God is
monotheistic group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, will likewise say,
“yes, there is only one true God, the Father; and Jesus (“a
god”) was the ‘first of Jehovah’s works’—a created angel.”
Hence, they assume the conclusion (monotheism equals unitarianism;
i.e., God is one Person) that they are wishing to reach. This is a
very important point when dealing with Oneness believers. We must not
fall prey to their equivocation on the term monotheism.
the Christian church has always—and tenaciously—taught that there
is one true God ontologically (by nature) who alone
is eternal and uncreated. The very foundation of the doctrine of the
Trinity is ontological monotheism: There exist three distinct,
coequal, coeternal, and coexistent Persons or Selves that share
the nature of the one Being.
church Father and defender of the church’s regula
fidei (“rule of faith”) Gregory of Nyssa (c. A.D. 375) emphasized the ‘oneness of
nature’ shared by the three Persons by quoting Psalm 33:6: “By the
word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the power of
them by the Spirit of His mouth,” this he did to prove that the Word
and the Spirit are coordinate realities.
Against such language, Oneness teachers assert that the doctrine of
the Trinity departs from monotheism due to their gross misapprehension
that monotheism and unitarianism are interchangeable terms. However,
monotheism is the very foundation of the Trinity. As will be shown,
the triune nature of God consists of the three distinct Persons, not
three separate Gods. The theological misunderstanding that the Trinity
is three Gods was the very soil upon which Modalism emerged
and Church History)..
Pentecostals, also known as “Jesus Only” churches, with the United
Pentecostal Church International (hereafter, UPCI) are forms the
largest Oneness domination. Further, the Oneness Pentecostals are one
of the largest anti-Trinitarian movements in this country.
often, many well-meaning Christians simply assume that anyone who
declares, “Jesus is Lord” must, by these words alone, be a
Christian; it is for this reason that there is much confusion among
even mainstream evangelicalism. What do I mean? Well, there is
absolutely no question, whatsoever, that those who embrace the Oneness
system most emphatically declare that “Jesus is Lord.” Since this
is so, does it not follow, then, that they are true Christian
believers? Thus the confusion gripping many churches: are those who
hold to Oneness doctrine Christians or non-Christians? Hence, in this book we will analyze
Oneness theology on the basis of biblical truth. Our focus, then, is
not on the terms that Oneness adherents may use, for many systems use
similar language that, in point of fact, mean entirely different
things. Nor is our focus on the fact that Oneness people are involved
in many noble works; for nearly every group, even Atheistic ones,
could claim the same.
Rather, our focus will be on the sole infallible
standard that defines true Christianity from a false or professing
one: the Scriptural teaching concerning the Person, nature and
finished work of Jesus Christ. So, it is not the mere name “Jesus”
itself that has salvific value, for there were many who were named
“Jesus” (that is, Joshua) in the first century, but, in
contradistinction, it is only
the Jesus of biblical revelation who can truly save those who are
enslaved to sin. It is this Jesus who alone can
forgive sins, and it is this
Jesus who alone can grant
Jesus said, “He who believes
has eternal life” (John 6:47), we must consider the meaning of the
word “believe.” The word “believe”
in soteriological (i.e., salvation) contexts has the denotative
meaning of fully trusting in Him, intellectual assent, and accurate knowledge
of Him (cf. John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 1 John 5:1). What does this mean?
Simply, genuine Christianity is determined only by having accurate knowledge of the Person, nature, and
finished work of the Jesus Christ of biblical revelation (cf. John
17:3). It was Jesus who asked, “What do you think
about the Christ?” (Matt. 22:42). So, on that note, we will examine
Oneness theology in the light of biblical exegesis, and not on the
philosophical arguments so often presented by Oneness defenders in
their endeavor to attack and discredit the biblical doctrine of the
properly understand Oneness doctrine, it is helpful first to define
some technical terms, so that we will have a correct theological
cognition of the doctrine. Historically, Oneness theology was first
known as monarchianism,
which comes from the Greek word monarchia,
meaning single principle. There
were two forms of monarchianism: modalistic,
and the far less accepted, dynamic
(or more properly called adoptionism),
both of which emerged at the end of the second century.
monarchianism taught that Jesus became divinely inspired at His
baptism to do miracles, but without becoming deity. God merely
“adopted” Him to be His Son, hence the term adoptionism.
Accordingly, the early Christian church quickly refuted and debunked
this Christological heresy, which clearly denied the deity of Christ.
Because of this radical denial of the deity of Christ, dynamic
monarchianism never really gained popularity and eventually fizzled
the other side of the spectrum, there was modalistic monarchianism,
known also as Modalism, Sabellianism,
and even patripassianism (from
Lat. meaning “father to suffer”).
Today, however, Modalism is generally classified as “Oneness.”
Later on, we will explore the historical particulars of Modalism, but
for now, a general summary will suffice. Modalism
earned its name from its distinctive theology. Basically, Modalism
teaches that God is a unitarian (i.e., unipersonal), indivisible
monad. The titles “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit” were
merely the different modes, roles, or offices that the unipersonal
deity temporally manifested
for the sake of redemption. Oneness teachers today tell us that Jesus
is the name of the single, lone Person behind the three masks of the
“Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit” (in contrast to early
Modalism which taught it was the Father Person behind the masks). In a
Oneness doctrinal tract titled “60 Questions on the Godhead with
Bible answers” (Hazelwood: Word Aflame, 1997), we read in question
11: "Does the Bible
say that all the Godhead is revealed in one person? Yes, in Jesus
Christ. II Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:19; 2:9; Hebrews 1:3.
Oneness teachers present a Jesus who, while on earth, had two natures: divine as the Father/Holy Spirit and human as the Son
of God (though not God the Son). By asserting that the divine nature
was the mode of the Father (and Holy Spirit), Oneness believers are
able to say that “Jesus is God in the flesh.” However, this is a
play-on-words; for when they say “God” what they have in mind is
that Jesus as the Father is
God (i.e., Jesus’ divine nature). In this way, they can say that
Jesus (as the Father) is the eternal God, or that Jesus (as the
Father) preexisted. As we will see, they will claim that it was only
for the sake of redemption that the Father came down and wrapped
himself in human flesh (though, not actually becoming flesh).
Therefore, according to Modalism, when Scripture speaks of
Jesus as God (e.g., John 8:24, 58; 20:28; Titus 2:13) it is really
Jesus speaking [about Himself] in the Father mode. But when Scripture
speaks of Jesus as man (e.g., “I thirst” or “who touched Me”)
it is really Jesus speaking about Himself in the Son mode. So, when reading
Scripture we must determine in which mode Jesus was speaking: the
“Father” mode, the human “Son” mode, or the “Holy Spirit”
mode, which is it?
In studying the ancient heresy of Modalism and its
relationship to modern Oneness Pentecostalism, it is vital to have a
basic knowledge of its doctrinal origins. Modalism emerged at the end
of the second century. Noetus of Smyrna (c.
was the first known modalist. Additional leaders of the movement
included Praxeas (according to Tertullian), and the Libyan priest
named Sabellius. One
point is firmly agreed upon by all Oneness believers: God is
unipersonal and has not revealed Himself in three
distinct, coequal, coeternal, coexistent Persons or Selves.
after the Christian church condemned Sabellius as a heretic, Modalism
generally died off, at least until Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) had
a “revelation” that Jesus was the one Person behind the masks of
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Early Modalism (Sabellius in
particular) taught that the one Person behind the three masks was the
Father, not Jesus; so we find that Modalism made somewhat of a
Oneness Pentecostalism, however, is really an offshoot from early
Pentecostalism (early 1900’s), emerging out of the Assemblies of God
in 1914. From 1913 to 1916 several Pentecostal leaders—including R.
E. McAlister, Frank J. Ewart, Glenn Cook, and Garfield T.
Haywood--began teaching that the baptismal formula must be “in the
name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and not “in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
In April 1913, R. E. McAlister preached a sermon based on Acts 2:38 in
which he argued that the baptismal formula should be in the name of
Jesus only; not in the Trinitarian formula. A preacher named John
Scheppe was greatly influenced by the message and in prayer that night
encountered a type of revelation or mystical experience confirming the
power of the name of Jesus. Certain passages of Scripture (Matt. 17:8;
John 10:30; Phil. 2:9-11; and Col. 3:17) led Scheppe to adopt a
modalistic view of the Godhead that—contrary to Sabellius—made
Jesus, and not the Father, the one true God.
the largest Oneness denomination is the UPCI. According to the
UPCI’s website, presently (2013):
UPCI in the United States and Canada grew to 4,400 churches
(including daughter works and preaching points) and 9,234 ministers
in 2012. In the same year it reported works in 203 nations outside
the U.S. and Canada with 36,804 churches and preaching points,
22,129 licensed ministers, 853 missionaries, and a constituency of
2.4 million. The international fellowship consists of national
organizations that are united as the Global Council of the UPCI,
which is chaired by the general superintendent of the UPCI. Total
constituency is estimated at 3 million."
the mind even further is that there are literally hundreds of non-UPCI
Oneness churches around the world that while divesting themselves of
the strict legalism of the UPCI, still retain the same modalistic
definition of God. It is difficult to ascertain an accurate count of
Oneness believers worldwide. These non-UPCI Oneness churches have
various names and many are not concerned about membership data. Thus,
it is fair to say that the total number of Oneness believers could
range from fifteen to twenty million making it the largest
anti-Trinitarian non-Christian group in the world. There are many
popular and prolific preachers on the airwaves that propagate the
Oneness idea of God (e.g., Trinity Broadcasting Network [TBN]
features one of the most recognized Oneness preachers, T. D. Jakes of
the Potters House, Dallas, TX; see n. 22 below);
regrettably, the ancient theological heresy of Sabellianism has been
resurrected from Swedenborg to the present.
Oneness doctrinal syllogism is as follows:
There is only one God, the Father (e.g., Mal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 8:6; cf.
Bernard, 1983: 66, 126).
Jesus is God (e.g., John 8:58; Titus 2:13).
Jesus is the
Father (and the Holy Spirit). Jesus has two natures: divine
as the Father/Holy Spirit and human as the Son of God.
syllogism is a brief description of the modern Oneness view of God,
it serves, nonetheless, as an accurate representation. Bernard
clarifies the Oneness doctrine of God:
modalistic doctrine is usually explained simply as the belief that
the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are only manifestations, modes, of
the one God (the monarchia), and not three distinct persons
(hypostases) … In summary, modalistic Monarchianism can be defined
as the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are
manifestations of the one God with no distinctions of person [sic]
being possible. Furthermore, the one God is expressed fully in the
person of Jesus Christ.
position is made clear: modalistic Monarchianism, that is, Oneness
theology, is unitarian in its doctrine of God, thus categorically
rejecting the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Fundamentally,
Oneness theology maintains that God has revealed Himself as three
roles, modes, manifestations, etc., and that the entire Godhead
consists in one Person—Jesus Christ.
an official UPCI doctrinal tract entitled “60 Questions on the
Godhead with Bible answers” (UPCI, 2008c), question 11 asks, “Does
the Bible say that all the Godhead is revealed in one person?
Yes, in Jesus Christ. II Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:19; 2:9;
In the same
tract, question 56 asks, “Can Trinitarians show that three divine
persons were present when Jesus was baptized by John? Absolutely
not. The one, omnipresent God used three simultaneous
manifestations. Only one divine person was present—Jesus Christ the
Lord.” Oneness teachers thus present a Jesus who while on earth had
two natures: divine, as the Father/Holy Spirit, and human, as the
Son of God (though not God the Son).
Most of them radically misdefine the doctrine of the
Trinity, assuming that it teaches three Gods. The belief in three
separate Gods is tritheism.
That the Trinity is three separate Gods is a straw man argument that
redirects the issue.
all Oneness teachers and believers unconditionally reject the
biblical presentation of God revealing Himself in three distinct
Persons: “To say that God is three persons and find substantiation
for it in the Scripture is a work of futility. There is literally
nothing in the Bible that supports God being in three persons” (see
Weisser, 1983: 2).
manifested in flesh—that is, deity in the human nature. . . . We can
never use the term “Son” correctly apart from the humanity of Jesus
Christ. . . . The Son always refers to the Incarnation and we cannot
use it in the absence of the
human element. . . . The Son did not have pre-existence before the
conception in the womb of Mary. The Son pre-existed in thought but
not in substance.
Jesus could be referred to as the “Father-man,” similar to what
Sabellius said: “Son-Father.” Sabellius was clear in his
teachings: the one unipersonal God was the Father that created all
things, but then manifested
itself as the human Son for
the sake of redemption and then manifested
itself again as the Holy Spirit for the sake of regeneration. Hence,
Sabellius, and early Modalism, taught that the modes were
“successive” or developmental. Today, most Oneness teachers hold
to a simulations or static Modalism, which teaches that the modes can
both beliefs, as many Christian theologians have pointed out,
doctrines like Jesus as divine Mediator, Intercessor, and Redeemer are
reduced to a mere charade. If Jesus is not a distinct Person, for whom
does He mediate? For whom does He intercede? If He is not a distinct
Person from the Father, for whom did He propitiate? Himself? Since the
unipersonal deity of Modalism is a master of illusion, we can never
know what the real nature of this God is, only the roles that he
strains to convince Oneness followers that they should not take the
plain reading of texts but rather think of it this way:
verses of Scripture distinguish between the Father and the Son in
power, greatness, and knowledge. However, it is a great mistake to use
then to show two persons in the Godhead. If a distinction exists
between Father and Son as persons in the Godhead, then the Son is
subordinate or inferior to the Father in deity. This would mean the
Son is not fully God, because by definition God is subject to know
one. . . . The way to understand these verses is to view them as
distinguishing the divinity of
Jesus (the Father) from the humanity of Jesus (the Son).
The humanity or Sonship role of Christ is subordinate to his deity
to say, “If a distinction exists . . . then the Son is subordinate
or inferior to the Father in deity,” begs the question. It does not
follow in Trinitarian theology that the Son being distinct from His
Father means that He, as to His nature,
was ontologically inferior to the Father. He was subjected
to the Father by way of function or position (cf. Phil. 2:6-11), and
is not referring to ontological inferiority. Secondly, to say that
“the Son was not fully God, because by definition God is subject to
no one,” ignores the fact that Jesus was
not part man and part God, but fully
man and fully God. Jesus was the
God–man, (not the Father-man). Remember that in Oneness theology,
the Father came down and took on flesh—and that flesh was called
Hence, one must decide just who was speaking in the New Testament; was
it Jesus as the Son, Jesus as the Father, or Jesus as the Holy Spirit?
teachers are quick to explain to their naïve followers that when
Jesus prays to the Father, Jesus’ human nature (the “Son”) is
actually praying to His own divine nature (the “Father”); that is,
Jesus talks and interacts with Himself! Think of it, Jesus spent a
whole lot of time giving nothing more than a divine monologue to His
hearers. The great weakness of this notion is that natures
do not love and interact with
each other; only persons, that is, self-aware subjects, do.
Did the Son of God’s Life
In addressing this section, allow me to redefine some terms so
as to properly distinguish what the Oneness means when they say,
“Jesus is man,” and what they mean when they say, “Jesus is
God.” Without such distinctions, the task of understanding the
Oneness language becomes increasingly difficult. However, if
these terms are properly identified within their own system, then the
task of identifying the errors becomes increasingly easier. So, in the
presentation that follows, when I reference Jesus as “Son,” by
Oneness standards, I am referring to his human nature. When I refer to
Jesus as God, I am referring to his Father/divine nature. Having
established that, then, by asserting that God exists strictly as one
Person” it would necessarily follow that the Person of the Son,
Jesus Christ, did not exist before Bethlehem as a distinct
(from His Father) conscious Self for only the Father (God) is eternal.
Hence, they flatly deny that Jesus
Christ (the Person of the Son) was the actual Creator.
New Testament is clear: Jesus was Creator (e.g., John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:6-17; Heb. 1:2, 10).
The New Testament is clear: the Son as a
distinct Person from the Father was Creator (e.g., John 1:3; 1 Cor.
8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10). How could anyone read Colossians
1:16-17 and get the idea that Paul was really teaching his audience
that the Father created all things with the Son merely in view?
Historically, the book of Colossians was a clear refutation
of the heresy of Gnosticism (i.e., proto-gnosticism), which taught
that Jesus did not create “all things.” Failing to properly
understand this historical background, and utilizing the
interpretation put forward by Oneness advocates, literally robs Paul
of his apologetic refutation.
Further, the textual presentation of
Christ as the Creator of all things is so clear that it prompts me to
ask the following question: if this passage does not present such a
truth, then what on earth would such a passage look like?” As we
will see, the greatest weakness of Oneness theology is its denial of
the preexistent Son as the actual Agent of creation. The bottom line
in Oneness theology is this: Jesus Christ the Son of God did not have
a life distinct from His Father before Bethlehem; for only the lone
unipersonal deity, the Father, existed before time.
End of the "Son"
one of Bernard’s most popular books, The
Oneness of God, under the title “The Beginning of the Son,”
Sonship—or the role of the Son—began with the child conceived in
the womb of Mary. The Scriptures make this perfectly clear. Galatians
4:4 reads, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent
forth his Son, made of a women, made under the law.” . . . The Son
was made under the law—not before the law (See also Hebrews 7:28).
The term begotten refers to
the conception of Jesus describe in Matthew 1:18-20 and Luke 1:35.
1:5-6 also reveals that the begetting of the Son occurred at a
specific point in time and that the Son had a beginning in time. . . .
From all of these verses, it is easy to see that the Son is not
eternal, but was begotten by God almost 2000 years ago.
theology teaches that Jesus’ role or manifestation as the “Son,”
will have an end. Bernard
further explains in his book under the title “The Ending of the
only did the Sonship have a beginning, but it will, in at least one
sense, have an ending. This is evident from 1 Corinthians 15:23-28. .
. . This verse of Scripture is impossible to explain if one thinks of
a ‘God the Son’ who is co-equal and co-eternal with God the
Father. But it is easily explained if we realized that ‘Son of
God’ refers to a specific role that God temporarily assumed for the purpose of redemption. When the reasons
for the Sonship cease to exist, God (Jesus) will cease acting in His
role as Son, and the Sonship will be submerged back into the greatness
of God, who will return to His original role as Father, Creator, and
Ruler of all (emphasis added).
of the Son? That the Son is not eternal as a distinct Person cuts
straight through the heart of biblical Christianity. Believing that
Jesus is eternal, as His own Person, is a necessity for
salvation, as Jesus Christ Himself taught:
I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe
that I am He,
you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
of the essential theological errors of Oneness theology is that the
Person of the Son was created in
Bethlehem and His life, as the Son, will end! The key text that is
utilized (1 Cor. 15:23-28) does not teach what is assumed (i.e., the
Sonship ending). Hence, Oneness proponents commit a categorical
fallacy: they confuse, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, Jesus’
earthly position as a humble man with His Being or
nature. The only thing that will end, as clearly indicated from the
text, is the Messianic kingdom of Christ, not His Person.
Son is not “less then” or subordinate to God the Father
ontologically; rather, He is obedient to the Father in terms of
function and position. In contradistinction, however, the Son of this
decidedly unbiblical system is not eternal as a distinct Person from
His Father; rather, His real existence began in Bethlehem. This is the
Oneness solution to its misconstrued view of the doctrine of the
Trinity. Consequently, Oneness teachers make God fit into an
in Oneness Theology
their hubris in claiming to unwaveringly follow the “apostolic
teachings,” not all Oneness teachers are in complete doctrinal
agreement. Yet, they all adamantly proclaim to follow only “the
apostolic doctrine.” Notice, for example, the lack of unanimity
amongst two prolific Oneness writers and their interpretation of one
of the key texts on this issue, Philippians 2:5-11. Bernard interprets
this passage as referring to the Father, whereas Oneness writer Robert
Sabin interprets this passage as speaking of Jesus’ earthly life.
disagreements would include the so-called baptism formula: “In the
name of Jesus” only. Not all Oneness churches use the same baptismal
formula. Why? Because Oneness teachers take and dissect the book of
Acts, thoroughly disregarding both the context and grammar of each
relevant passage. Their reasoning is that in the book of Acts
believers were always baptized using the verbal
formula, “in the name of Jesus.” Therefore, Oneness believers
argue that we must follow what they perceive as the apostolic example.
However, following the apostolic example requires following the
apostolic meaning. That is, reducing Luke’s intent to the bare
words of these passages, bereft of the author’s intended
meaning, creates more problems than the Oneness advocate is prepared
to handle. Consider, for a moment, what we actually find in Acts. If
this position is to be considered, then which formula is the correct:
“on [epi] the name
of Jesus Christ” (2:38); “in [en]
the name of the Jesus Christ” (10:48); or, “into [eis] the name of the Lord Jesus” (8:16; 19:5)?
objective truth has little value in most churches that have been
poisoned by a postmodern society. That’s why, sadly, it is not
uncommon to hear such statements like “It’s all the same God,”
and “As long as they love Jesus,” coming from the mouths of the
unstudied and theologically-challenged will cry out. It is important,
then, to realize that this is not mere semantic quibbling or the
splitting of theological hairs. Nor, is this a matter of simply
differences of opinion; get it wrong here, and the consequences are
eternal. For there is a qualitative difference between a unipersonal
deity that temporarily manifests at different times in different
modes, roles or offices, and a Triune God who has eternally existed in
three Persons in a loving unbroken, intimate relationship with
each other. Jesus the “Son” declares: “Now,
Father glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I
had with You before the world was” (John 17:5; emphasis added).
cannot emphasize this point enough: beware of those who herald:
“unity, unity, why can’t we just have unity and all get along?”
Yes unity, but unity around essential doctrines, not in spite of them.
Who God is, as to His nature, is not only essential, but also
determines one’s salvation (cf. John 8:24; 17:3). The unipersonal
deity of Oneness theology cannot save, for a false God does not exist.
Oneness Church Tag
you are unsure about the orthodoxy of a particular church (or pastor),
examine the church’s doctrinal statement concerning God. If it
avoids the word “Person,” and/or describes God as three
“manifestations” or “dimensions,” use extreme caution!
Orthodox Christianity has never described God as merely temporary
appearances, manifestations, or even worse, “dimensions” (see ).
Oneness churches typically describe God in those terms. If a church
claims to be Trinitarian, yet uses terms like “manifestations” to
describe the three Persons of the Trinity, it
reveals theological ignorance or carelessness. In my
observation, the term “manifestations” in a doctrinal statement
frequently indicates Oneness rather than Trinitarian theology.
Therefore, when churches avoid the term “Persons” in their
Unlike many of today’s churches, the early church sharply
resisted Christological heresy with such passion that when a heresy
would spring up, it was quickly and sharply refuted. As they saw it,
when one attacks the church’s biblical rule
of faith, they attack the Person of Jesus Christ in the worst way,
thereby redefining Him.
cannot read the writings of church Fathers like
like Hippolytus, Tertullian.
Novatian, Dionysius of Alexandria, Dionysius
Cyril of Jerusalem, and
Epiphanius and not see the magnitude of importance attached to the
doctrine of the Trinity (viz. the eternal distinctions of the Persons)
and the utter impact of the heretical teachings of Modalism. The early Christian church universally saw Modalism for
what it taught: a doctrine that denied Jesus Christ as eternal God.
early church Fathers valued Scripture and the nature of God. When
false teaching attacked the very nature of Jesus Christ, the early
church Fathers would polemically and aggressively deal with those
promulgating these teachings. Scripture, their sole infallible
ultimate rule of faith, instructed them to refute publicly those who oppose sound doctrine.
So, in obedience to God’s word, they defended the truth because they
submitted to and loved Him. Moreover, a careful reading of most
Oneness writers will typically reveal a great misuse of historical
information. It is not too uncommon to see these writers quoting very
selectively, and even then, grossly out of historical context. Church
history is no friend of Modalism (see Modalism
and Church History)
Oneness God is a unipersonal deity that temporally
manifests in different modes, roles, or expressions. This
undifferentiated deity lived in absolute solitude until it temporally
appeared in the role of “Father” in creation, in the role of
“Son” in redemption, and in the role of “Holy Spirit” in
regeneration. Oneness Pentecostals insist the Father came to earth and
only appeared to become flesh (i.e., the role of the Son),
without actually becoming flesh. This utterly denies John 1:14, which
clearly teaches that the
Word, not the Father, became
(egeneto), not “wrapped” Himself in flesh.
modalistic deity had no loving relationships before time. Hence, the personal,
loving relation between the Persons of the Godhead, clearly taught in
Scripture, is reduced to an interaction among natures or modes. That
“natures” can actually and emotionally love each other or that a
nature can pray to another nature is irrational. Self-aware persons
love and communicate with each other—abstract natures cannot.
Oneness theology forcefully rejects the historic doctrine of
Trinity. The resulting doctrine completely undermines the very nature
of God. Unquestionably, the modalistic deity of Oneness theology is
not the God of the Bible. Either God exists in absolute solitude as an
invisible monad that comes out in different modes, roles,
manifestations, using the mere “language of plurality” to
seem as though these modes are distinct when they are not, or God actually
revealed Himself in three coequal, coeternal, distinct Persons
sharing the nature of one Being, existing in an intimate inseparable
indivisible unquantifiable loving relationship from eternity. The
latter is based in Scripture; the former is not. Salvation is only
granted by knowing God on
His terms as He revealed Himself (cf. Isa. 40:21, 28; John 17:3). We
cannot put God into easy-to-understand categories due to a laxity of
biblical study about the nature of God Himself. If we do not worship
God “in truth,” we err and worship a false God that cannot save
anyone. God has revealed Himself in His truth; we, as his creatures,
are not in a position to define God on our terms.
So, while some may
say, “we just can’t understand it” or, “it’s a matter of
meaning the same thing,” the Scriptures, as the very breath of God,
tell us differently: apart from the true God, the Creator of heaven
and earth and all that is, there is no Savior, there is no salvation.
Remember what we read earlier in John 8:24? Jesus, speaking to the
religious leaders of His day, drew the line in the sand on this very
issue. The meanings of His words are clear: If you believe Me to be
anything or anyone other than what I have revealed Myself to be, you
will perish in your sins. Obviously, then, it is not a matter of
semantics. A different God or a different Jesus cannot save, be he the
Jesus of Mormonism, of the Watchtower, of Islam, or, yes, of Oneness
dethrones Jesus Christ, God the Son, from His position as Creator because it denies
that He existed before Bethlehem. It also denies (among many other
essential doctrines) the biblical doctrine of the Incarnation, stating
that the role of the Father, not the Son, manifested or appeared
in flesh without actually becoming flesh. It denies the distinction of
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and thus denies God Himself.
E. Calvin Beisner, “Jesus
Only” Churches (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 7.
David K. Bernard, The Oneness of
God (Hazelwood: Word Aflame, 1983), 248. Since Bernard is
probably the most prolific and cited writer, and is agreed by most
Oneness believers to accurately represent Oneness theology, I will
be citing him primarily as to what Oneness theology teaches.
The term “subject” is from the Greek word hupotassō, which means “under” (hupo)
“organization” or “arrangement” (tassō),
and hence does not necessitate
an ontological superiority or subjection. The Son was functionally (positionally) subordinate to the Father but
ontologically co-equal. Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 15:27-28, Jesus
is said to be “subjected” (hupotassō)
to the Father. Again, it does not follow that being subjected to
someone means less than
or not equal with in terms of nature. Nor would it follow that because
the husband is the head of the wife (cf. Eph. 5:23) or that wives
are to subject themselves is to be “subject” (or submissive)
to their husbands (e.g., Eph. 5:21-24; 1 Pet. 3:1) that they are
not equal with their husbands in terms of nature. Likewise, in
Luke 2:51, Jesus was “obedient” (NASB) or “subject” (KJV)
to His parents. Both words are from the same Greek word hupotassō
(same with “subjected” in 1 Cor. 15:23ff.).
That Jesus was “subject” to His parents does not mean that He
was inferior by nature to Mary and Joseph. Thus, He is
ontologically co-equal with His Father as God (cf. John 1:1c; Phil.
2:6; Heb. 1:3). Hence, the Son is functionally subordinate to the
Father. In the same doctrinal vein, when Jesus says that the
Father is “greater” than He, it must be realized that the term
is a term that denotes position or function—not
nature. Jesus did not say that the Father was “better” (kreittōn)
which is a term relative to nature or being (cf. Heb. 1:4).
The full force of Jesus’ assertion is striking:
gar mē pisteusēte hoti egō eimi apothaneisthe en
tais hamartiais humōn
(lit. “For if you should
not believe that I AM [egō eimi] you will perish in
your sins”). He did not say, “If you do not believe that “I
am He” or “I am the one I claimed to be” as most
translations read (i.e., there is no supplied predicate). Jesus
clearly asserts here that salvation rests on believing that He (as
the Person of the Son; cf. vv. 16-18, 27) is the eternal God. In
the NT (primarily in John’s gospel), Jesus made seven (possibly
eight, cf. Mark 6:50) “absolute” (i.e., no supplied predicate)
egō eimi (“I AM”) declarations: John 8:24; 8:28;
8:58; 13:19; 18:5; 18:6; and 18:8. When Jesus claimed to be
the egō eimi, He
was essentially claiming that He was Yahweh. Hence, the Jews
wanted to stone Him for blasphemy (cf. John 8:58-59). The Hebrew
phrase ani hu, which was translated egō eimi in
the Septuagint (i.e., the Gk. version of the OT, hereafter LXX),
was an exclusive and recurring title for Yahweh (e.g., Deut.
32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4). Thus, salvation is conditioned
believing that the Person of Jesus Christ the Son (cf. John
8:16-18) is the eternal God.
1 Corinthians 15:23-28, which Oneness teachers use to teach that
the Sonship will end, is contrary de facto to the Oneness interpretation. The term “until” (achri;
1 Cor. 15:25) is a relational
term and hence does not say that Jesus’ position, as Son, will
end, only that His earthly Messianic kingdom will end. Thus, Oneness teachers assume their conclusion that
the Sonship will end without first proving it from the passage. It
is the “Son,” however, who sits on His throne in Revelation
3:21. Revelation 5:11-14 presents two distinct divine objects of
Him who sits on the throne [the Father] and to the Lamb [the Son]. . . .”
Further, it is to the “Son” that the Father can
say, “Your throne, O God, [ho theos] is forever and ever.
. . . You are the same, And Your years will not come to an
end” (Heb. 1:8, 12; emphasis added). Note that the Father
Himself said that the Son’s “years will not come to an end.”
Oneness teachers manipulate the text, ignoring word meanings and
context. As with 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 (cf. n. 18 above), the
Oneness assertion that the Sonship will end is not based on
biblical exegesis, but on the assumed conclusion that God is a
modalistic, unipersonal deity that will cast away his role as Son;
They do this in spite of the clear language of the text, which
militates against such a concept: “Your years will not come to
The Belief Statement on the Potter's House website (http://www.thepottershouse.org/Local/About-Us/Belief-Statement.aspx)
provides a unitarian and decidedly Oneness concept of God. In
strikingly modalistic fashion, under the title "God" the
Statement reads: "There is one God, Creator of all things,
infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in
three manifestations: Father,
Son and Holy Spirit." Using the term “manifestations”
(avoiding the use of “Persons”) to describe God is consistent
with Oneness doctrine, not Trinitarianism.
E.g., Ephesians 5:11; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:9, 13; and 2:1.
Department of Christian Defense, all
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